Month: May, 2013

Cover Letter

Today I had to pick two essays from this semester, my best and my worst. My worst was pathetically easy to find, my meme project this semester was a sad showing of subpar work, rushed (even more than usual) into an evening two days after its due date. While I had an extension for legitimate reasons, I still underperformed, and I see the meme project as my one great failure of the semester in Writing & Rhetoric. Despite this feeling of distaste with the essay, I still received a ‘B’ for my work, which sees high given my dismal description of the essay. However, in context this ‘B’ is still my lowest grade thus far and I hope to improve my work in this portfolio.

My best work was much more difficult to choose, but discovering which piece I felt earned the title was helpful in discovering how I see myself as a writer and what I have learned and will take away from this course after midnight tonight. I felt I had two options: my movie review of Spirited Away, or my rhetorical analysis of the video game Bioshock Infinite. Each received an ‘A’ and praise from Prof. Matos, and I felt happy with the final product in both cases. I reread both essays, hoping that I could find the answer by considering pros and cons. However, the plan backfired and the end result was my disliking both essays, and believing each to be worse in reality than in memory. Disgusted, I abandoned my plan to finish my portfolio a week early and left my work for a later date.

I didn’t return to the project until this morning, May 1st, the last day of classes. I sat at my desk staring at the two papers and front of me, dreading the decision I was about to make. But then I stopped, stood, and turned my gaze away from the white sheets of torture before me. Instead of focusing on what the essays were, I decided that I would decide based on how the essays had made me feel while writing them.

I normally dislike writing any type of essay, quite often I actually end up despising and hating the professors and classes I attend that require any significant words to appear in a document. I was very skeptical about my enjoyment of Writing & Rhetoric when I walked into the classroom on the first day of the semester, and I remained skeptical for a long time. But then I wasn’t. In fact, looking back, I truly believe that Writing & Rhetoric was the most rewarding class I took this semester. Before this class I would have told you that logos wasn’t a word and that ethos meant something about a courtroom. It was sad. I was a fairly strong writer before this semester, especially in argumentative styles, but I lacked the knowledge of why my arguments worked or why arguments consist of what they do. That has all changed. Now when I look at an argument and see evidence and emotional writing and drawn conclusions, I see the rhetorical devices I have learned during this semester. My confidence in my writing and thinking has also grown over the semester with each successful project. This class has also taught me to analyze many different mediums such as images and audio clips. Additionally, I have learned to write different types of papers instead of just dry research papers, which has been a refreshing change. The infomercial and audio narrative projects were interesting ways to work with rhetorical devices outside of writing, and I enjoyed both of them, even if working in groups was sometimes difficult. In fact, I actually enjoyed writing most of the assignments for this class, which is unheard of in my academic history.

Now that I reflect on my semester as a whole, I find myself wondering where everything changed, when I stopped doubting this course and stated enjoying going to class and writing my assignments. As I tracked my progress and continued further into the past, I suddenly realized it all began after the second project: my movie review. For the first time I can remember, I felt excited to write an essay. So that’s the one I chose.


Meme Project (REVISED)




For my meme project I chose “The Most Interesting Man In The World.” This meme is one of the most popular memes on the internet, ranking as the fifth most popular meme on the internet, and earning the title of “God Tier” by This meme was first introduced after internet users watched an advertising campaign by Dos Equis in 2006. This advertising campaign, created by Euro RSCG Worldwide, “starred American actor Jonathan Goldsmith as ‘the most interesting man’ with narration by Will Lyman, best known for his narrating role in the public affairs TV program Frontline” (knowyourmeme). In each advertisement, Will Lyman would list interesting things that Jonathan Goldsmith’s character has done, and then at the end of the commercial, Jonathan Goldsmith says “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis,” followed by “stay thirsty, my friends.” From this setting, a still image of Jonathan Goldsmith’s character sitting in front of a Dos Equis bottle was transformed into a very popular meme in early 2010. The meme’s caption is designed as follows: “I don’t always do X, but when I do, I Y.” In this template, “I don’t always do X” is the top line, and “but when I do, I Y” is the bottom caption. However, like all memes, this template can be broken and used as a meme itself.

I chose “The Most Interesting Man In The World” because it is one of my favorite memes and it’s interesting to analyze. It was not created as a meme, it was created as an advertisement, which I believe makes it more exciting than say, “Y U NO” guy, which was created from an obscure comic reference and “carefree grammar” (knowyourmeme). The obscurity of “Y U NO” reduces the audience’s ability to relate to the meme, whereas “The Most Interesting Man In The World” is created from an extremely mainstream advertisement that almost anyone who watches television is familiar with. Relating to the audience is important because it transforms a meme from a carefree choice of grammar into a relevant and emotionally compelling reference to a familiar idea. Additionally, Mr. Interesting over here has a nice caption template and a sarcastic tone that appeals greatly, but that’s more of a bonus.

This sarcastic tone is important in understanding the kinds of messages the meme tries to send. For starters, this meme, like most internet memes, is meant to be humorous. If you aren’t at least amused after reading derivations of this meme, it is an invalid derivation, even if it uses the template correctly. Additionally, this meme is meant to be ironic. “I don’t always do X, but when I do, I Y” can be rephrased as “Whenever I X, I Y.” As these two sentences are equivalent, either both of them will be funny, or neither will. If you look as the second sentence, it is easy to see that the only way that statement can be humorous is if sarcasm and irony are used to choose an X and Y that either a) you wouldn’t normally associate together, or b) is very relatable to you. For example, my memes about meat and music are both very relatable, but to different overlapping audiences. On the other hand, my meme about this project works because it’s bizarre to think about turning in a project late and making a meme for your professor about it. This audience may seem limited because very few students have turned in an assignment late and then made a meme about it, but relating to your audience isn’t exclusively limited to appealing to experience. For example, movies such as Braveheart and WallE are very relatable to their audiences, but none of their viewers lived in Europe 1000 years ago or are an intergalactic robot. It seems like many students could appreciate the irony of joking about late assignments.

As you can see, audience is an extremely important consideration when creating or describing a meme. First of all, my audience is limited to English speaking people. I admit this is obvious, but it is always an important factor to consider. Also, an internet meme’s audience is immediately limited by the nature of internet memes. If someone doesn’t know what a meme is, most if not all memes won’t make much sense to them. Additionally, anyone who doesn’t know “The Most Interesting Man In The World” will be excluded from my audience because they are unfamiliar with the image macro. Without knowledge of the caption template, some of the meaning will be lost. These considerations give us the maximum audience for a “The Most Interesting Man In The World” meme. Now each meme will have a different audience. Let’s start with the meat example. This meme probably has the smallest audience of the three memes, because I am referencing a feeling about Notre Dame in particular. During Lent at Notre Dame, there is no meat served in the dining halls. Because dining halls are almost the exclusive source of a student’s food while on campus, meat consumption is usually zero on these days. So Notre Dame students who happen to have craved meat during one of these Fridays are the audience for this meme. The music meme is much more universal, because I’m pretty sure anyone who listens to music knows how it feels to forget the name of a song you like. So this audience would be pretty close to everyone who understands the meme. Finally, the project meme doesn’t depend solely on relating to the audience, but the audience still has to understand the context of the situation. So the audience of this would be anyone who both understands the structure of the meme and has turned in a project late.

My three memes of “The Most Interesting Man In The World” are diverse and serve as an example of the important considerations to take into account when creating any type of meme. Audience is the biggest factor to think about, because the relevance of a meme to its viewers is the primary determinate of its reception. Memes are meant to be humorous, so a meme that fails to connect with its audience will always fall flat. For my particular meme, sarcasm and irony are the primary conduits through which humor is conveyed to the viewers. From a lowly television advertisement seven years ago, Dos Equis inadvertently created an internet sensation that shows no signs of stopping soon.

Afraid & Amazed (REVISED)

I desperately wanted each frame to draw itself a moment longer as I stared with unblinking eyes. Each click of the pause button was minutes spent admiring the detail in the fantastical dreamscape before me. One watching turned into two, and then three, and so it went as I fell helplessly into Spirited Away, and the imagination of filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki.

As director, artist, and screenwriter, Miyazaki is the mastermind of Studio Ghibli, and has breathed life into some of the greatest animated films of all time. Love and creativity permeate all his movies, creating exquisitely drawn worlds filled with compelling characters. However, the clear pinnacle of Miyazaki’s achievement is Spirited Away, a seemingly unassuming film about a 10-year-old girl’s coming-of-age experience while trying to rescue her parents. While the story may not seem particularly interesting at face value, few movies ever produced form as powerful an emotional connection as Spirited Away, and none of Miyazaki’s films achieve the same level of feeling. The source of this personal impact in the movie is Chihiro, the most sympathetic protagonist anywhere in Miyazaki’s filmography. Recapturing childhood feelings of wonder, longing, and fear, Miyazaki forcers the viewers to see his unfamiliar world through Chihiro’s eyes, allowing Chihiro’s emotions to run parallel to the audience’s.



Chihiro, the aforementioned 10-year-old girl, is moving to a new town with her parents. Along the way, her father makes a wrong turn into a forest and they reach a dead-end with a tunnel. On the other side is an abandoned theme park filled with empty restaurants. Chihiro’s parents are taken away, and Chihiro finds herself trapped in a world populated by strange and fantastical spirits. Helpless and alone, Chihiro finds work at a bathhouse as she stubbornly attempts to rescue her parents.

The opening scene of the abandoned theme park plays a pivotal role in the movie, and leaves one of the strongest emotional impressions upon the viewer. While Chihiro and her parents are strolling down a street surrounded by empty restaurants, food inexplicably appears at one counter and her parents immediately begin to gorge themselves. Chihiro wants to leave but she can’t convince her parents to move, so she decides to walk around the town. Night is falling and the park’s paper lanterns begin to light. Fading in from silence, he suspenseful song “The Dragon Boy” begins to play ominously.

Shadows deepen and transform into faceless figures mulling around inside buildings and staring towards Chihiro. Spinning frantically to eye the spirits surrounding her, Chihiro runs back to find her parents as the music comes alive in full swing. As Chihiro approaches her father, he turns to face her, but he has been turned into a giant pig. Chihiro runs away back towards the tunnel, but instead of green rolling hills, she finds a lake. A boat is approaching the park, and spirits wearing elaborate otherworldly masks step out onto the street, Chihiro has no escape. Trapped in a bizarre spirit world, Chihiro must now singlehandedly rescue her parents so they can return to safety.


Following this opening scene, you first feel nervous, then suspenseful, followed by afraid, shocked, and confused. Notice that these are the exact emotions that Chihiro experiences through the first ten minutes of the film. This effect is neither accident nor coincidence, but directly intended by Miyazaki. Chihiro plays such a powerful character, that she becomes a piece of cinematography herself, acting as a conduit between the viewer’s emotions and the images flying across the screen. Miyazaki can simply mold Chihiro’s story, scare and amaze her, draw out tears, or paint a beaming smile, and the audience will stare on, engrossed. It seems amazing that a character could hold so much sway with an audience, but of course this is no accident either.

Although Spirited Away is an animated film, cinematography is just as important as in a live-action movie. In fact, animation can achieve many things a traditional movie cannot, such as angles that would be impossible to capture with a camera, or landscapes and characters that exist nowhere outside the mind. Size is an important factor that is exploited by Miyazaki in the film. Chihiro is often portrayed as small and feeble to dramatize her peril and sorrow, forcing the audience to sympathize more with her struggle. As the film progresses, she appears stronger and more confident, which eventually allows the movie to switch gears towards the end to a more optimistic view of her situation. Additionally, water is used to convey a sense of both entrapment and freedom, increasing the feeling of the film. Chihiro stares off into the distance towards the pen where her parents are being kept and towards the human world on numerous occasions. Each time, there is a large body of water between where Chihiro stands and where she longs to reach, making the distance feel larger and more inaccessible than it would otherwise.


Music is always crucial in any serious film, and Spirited Away would not evoke the same emotions without the award-winning soundtrack created by Joe Hisaishi. However, Miyazaki understands the value of silence, and there are many moments where the movie quiets, and you are just left with your feelings for Chihiro and her fantastical story. For example, the main theme of the movie is “One Summer’s Day,” which is a slow, sad song that is often inserted during Chihiro’s episodes of longing for her old life.

Miyazaki does beautiful work by effectively placing the viewer into his world and relating them to Chihiro’s situation, but this still doesn’t explain why the audience cares, not only for Chihiro but also for then complete cast of misfit characters. Roger Ebert, a famous movie reviewer for the Chicago Sun-Times, has his own idea of how Miyazaki’s creations inspire so much feeling.

Miyazaki’s imagination never rests. There is a scene where the heroine and her companion get off a train in the middle of a swamp. In the distant forest they see a light approaching. This turns out to be an old-fashioned light pole that is hopping along on one foot. It bows to them, turns, and lights the way on the path they must take. When they arrive at a cottage, it dutifully hangs itself above the gate. The living light pole is not necessary. It is a gift from Miyazaki.

Small stories of complex characters are everywhere in Spirited Away. Boh is the sheltered child of Yubaba, the owner of the bathhouse and the villain of the film. Zeniba, Yubaba’s sister, transforms Boh into a mouse, who follows Chihiro on her adventure and sees the world for the first time with wide eyes. Boh’s excitement and awe serve to fill viewers with a renewed sense of wonder at the amazing sights of Miyazaki’s world, and remind us how strange it all really is.


Despite the world being strange, most creatures Chihiro finds are friendly, and sometimes even cute. For example, tiny soot balls populate the boiler room of the bathhouse. These soot cannot talk, or move beyond a little square on the floor where they carry coal to the furnace, yet they convey complex emotions and are engaging characters. At first Chihiro is afraid of them, then she tries to help them, and they help hide her human clothes so she can remember her old self.


The imaginative world of Miyazaki is lovable and beautiful, but also necessary. Spirited Away would flop in any other setting because the normal world no longer creates the emotions we felt when we were children. Chihiro is constantly filled with fear and awe, and so are the viewers. The primary purpose of Miyazaki’s imagination is to separate his audience from familiarity, and allow them to feel the sense of discovery from their youth. Miyazaki’s skillful animation is key to creating a “believable” setting for Chihiro’s story. His creativity and skill places everyone in the same place as Chihiro: confused, awestruck, and in the unknown. Tim Brayton, a movie critic, perfectly explains the point of Miyazaki’s animation and world.

That’s the great achievement of this great animated film: it understands that the true meaning of fantastic worlds is not what they show us, but how they make us feel in doing so.


Chihiro, cinematography, music, and lovable characters all help the viewer emotionally connect in different ways, but act in tandem to achieve the same goal. Late in the film, Chihiro must travel on a train to save her friend, which seems to be the only way to leave the bathhouse where she works. She must take a small boat to the station, a small platform raised above miles of water. The tracks run about a foot under the surface, and stretch out into the distance. Chihiro is traveling with the baby-turned-mouse named Boh, and the spirit No Face, neither of who can talk. As the train approaches, “The Sixth Stop” begins to play in the background.

When Chihiro boards the train, a faceless trainmaster shreds her tickets and disappears into a different cabin. She doesn’t know where she’s going, she only knows she must take the sixth stop. The train is full of more faceless figures, shadowy humans who are stuck in the spirit realm. They don’t talk either. The music is mysterious yet serene, and seems to hang a wondering silence over the scene. Who are these people? What are their stories? As the stops go by the train becomes emptier. At one stop the camera is shown from Chihiro’s point of view looking behind to a shadowy girl who looks about her age. Did she stumble into this world like Chihiro did, and is now stuck? Could this be her future? Chihiro looks determined, but the entire sequence is somewhat unsettling, and mysterious. Eventually the train is empty except for Chihiro and her company, and they reach the sixth stop.


Spirited Away may be a coming-of-age story about a sullen 10-year-old girl, but for viewers it is an impactful emotional journey. Miyazaki gives this film as a gift to the world, so everyone can remember what it once felt like to be afraid and amazed as a child. Some critics, such as David Nusair, believe that the film is “unwatchable strange.” However, these people are the minority and fail to understand the true purpose of Miyazaki’s animated world, and are unreceptive to the imagination of a genius. I could tell you to watch Spirited Away because it grossed more than any other film in Japan, ever. I could tell you it won an Academy Award for Best Animated Picture, the only foreign film to do so. But instead I’ll tell you this: watch Spirited Away because when its over and the credits roll, you will remember the wonder of being a child, and smile.



Works Cited

Brayton, Tim. “Antagony & Ecstasy.” : MIYAZAKI HAYAO: SPIRITED AWAY (2001). N.p., 31 Mar. 2010. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.  <;.

“CUTE OVERLOAD!!” Spadgermatazz! N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2013. <;.

Ebert, Roger. “A Magical Dot Over in the Corner.” N.p., 11 July 2012. Web. 28 Feb. 2013. <;.

Grant, Jesse. “Photos from Ponyo.” IMDb., 27 July 2009. Web. 28 Feb. 2013. <;.

“Mildly Interesting: They Sit down and Watch Ghibli Films.” Mildly Interesting: They Sit down and Watch Ghibli Films. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2013. <;.

Nusair, David. “The Films of Hayao Miyazaki.” Reel Film Reviews. N.p., 3 Mar. 2012. Web. 28 Feb. 2013. <;.

“Passion for Movies.” : Spirited Away. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2013. <;.

“PudgyBear.” Tumblr. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2013. <;.

“Spirited Away – Dragon Boy.” YouTube. YouTube, 07 July 2010. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.

“Spirited Away – Sixth Stop.” YouTube. YouTube, 01 Feb. 2011. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.

“Spirited Away.” Dvdbeaver. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2013. <;.

“Spirited Away OST 01 – One Summer’s Day.” YouTube. YouTube, 01 Feb. 2012. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.

“Spirited Away Trailer.” YouTube. YouTube, 22 Mar. 2006. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.

“Spirited Away.” Little Wolf. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2013. <;.

“Tumblr.” Background Characters. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2013. < characters>.


First off, it is obvious that the virtues and ethics of discourse are important in any setting. Traits like honesty and humility are obviously positive qualities in an individual, and it is important to keep these values firmly in mind at all times. Therefore, instead of learning rhetorical ethics and virtues for use in this class, I see rhetoric as an example of why such virtues are important. I personally see accountability as the most pervasive virtue in this course, as every statement written or spoken has been required to have evidential support. Humility is also a grossly important virtue in this course, especially in class discussions, when you sometimes must be forced to change your views in light of a convincing argument. One virtue I struggled with this semester was judgement. I had one absence this semester where I decided to just not attend because I hadn’t finished a draft of my paper and it was peer review day, so I slept instead. Bad judgment, right? Another virtue that I sometimes failed to implement was generosity. Although I believe I am humble in accepting when someone else is right and I am wrong, I sometimes have trouble allowing that person to make their point. I have a habit of talking over people and interrupting ideas when I should be more considerate of others, which doesn’t exemplify the trait of generosity. Although knowledge was connected to the meme project slightly, I believe the much greater use of knowledge in this course was knowledge of rhetorical devices and virtues, which was more exemplified in the rhetorical analysis essay. However, I believe that the rhetorical analysis essay was the best use of many virtues in the class, and represented a sort of pinnacle of rhetoric use in the class. Honesty is probably best embodied in this portfolio, because of the heavy amount of reflection and consideration into the past assignments and material in the course. Overall, I believe this course succeeded in indirectly teaching the virtues of rhetoric, but failed in explicitly teaching them. This may be by design, as an indirect knowledge of the virtues is sufficient for practicing them. However, I do not believe it is sufficient for studying how rhetorical virtues are used in class, and that it would be more beneficial to explicitly discuss how these virtues are used during the semester.