Post Cards of Identification: The Rhetoric and Form of PostSecret

Symposium:


Session Title:

  • Critical Approaches to Mainstream and Consumption

Presentation Title:

  • Post Cards of Identification: The Rhetoric and Form of PostSecret

Presenter(s):



Abstract:

  • Frank Warren’s website, PostSecret, has experienced over 380 million visitors since its inception in 2004.  His blog began as a community art project in 2004, where he encouraged people to submit their secrets in postcard form.  He said,  “You are invited to anonymously contribute a secret to a group art project.  Your secret can be a regret, fear, betrayal, desire,  confession, or childhood humiliation.  Reveal anything – as long as it is true and you have never shared it with anyone before.  Be brief.  Be legible.  Be creative” (website).  This secret could range from the mundane (“I pray all those potato chips go straight to your ass”) to the profound (“I’ll be married to him for another 20 years.  I am that afraid of being alone.”).  Since its debut, the blog has become immensely popular, with over 380 million visitors.   Each Sunday, the creator, Warren, posts 10 new post cards with secrets he has received.

    At its core, PostSecret reflects Foucault’s notion of “Western man” as a “confessing animal.”  The confessions of PostSecret also complicate and extend traditional notions of rhetorical theory, such as Kenneth Burke’s concept of rhetoric as identification. In Burke’s Rhetoric of Motives, he claims that rhetoric is not the art of persuasion as Aristotle would have us believe, but rather it is “rooted in an essential function of language itself, the use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols”.  Most, if not all of the confessions of PostSecret either inflict self-blame or assert victimage.  In addition, the postcard, removed from its traditional form as a message of place, is reconfigured in a digital space and is an indicator of an individual’s identity. In Derrida’s “The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond”, he employs the postcard form to engage in philosophical questions, all addressed to his love, but observed by a third party (the reader).  His use of subverting a playful medium as a space to engage with profound questions parallels the intense confessionals of PostSecret. Instead of a postcard depicting the Duomo in Florence or the rolling hills of Ireland, the image is the medium for the “guilt” of one’s past, read by a third party, and offers a reader a digital example of Burke’s concept of the human condition.

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