History is rich with examples of speeches that changed the world in different ways. While the speeches were given by different people and aimed to address different social and political issues, the use of rhetoric is common in all of them. Rhetoric can be defined as the art of using language persuasively. To enhance persuasion, various rhetorical strategies are used. Logos, ethos, and pathos are some of the most commonly used strategies. Logos is the reliance on logic to appeal to the audience. The speaker takes certain facts and draws conclusions or generalizations from them. They can also start with generalizations and then link them to specific cases in the course of the speech. While logos is the appeal to reason, ethos seeks ethical appeal depending on the credibility, reliability, and character of the speaker. To establish credibility, the speaker should use reliable sources and create a common ground with the audience. Pathos is the emotional appeal and seeks to speak to the needs, values, as well as the emotional sensibilities of the audience. Mary Fisher employed these strategies in her speech, A Whisper of AIDS, a factor that contributed to its popularity. This paper seeks to evaluate and analyze this speech.
Mary Fisher delivered this speech during the 1992 Republican National Convention. She was a white HIV patient, who had contracted the diseases from her husband. She had two children, neither of whom were infected (Fisher). During this period, HIV/AIDS was seen as a death sentence and was mostly associated with drug addicts, homosexuals, and blacks (Donovan 27). Since the disease was relatively new, it was associated with a lot of stigmatization, myths, and stereotypes. Therefore, having a white woman, who was affected by the disease, speak about it was bound to start a much-needed conversation among the people. Her speech dwelt on the stereotypes surrounding the disease, as well as the fallacy of stereotypes, the impacts of the disease on both individuals and families, and what needed to be done to address the issue. Her stand was that more needed to be done to address the disease, the stereotype and stigma had to be tackled, and those suffering from the disease had to be embraced. Through the brilliant use of rhetorical strategies, the speech appealed to millions of Americans and became one of the most influential speeches of the last century (Shaw).
Fisher starts the speech by stating that she had spoken about the same issue before at a major gathering. This forms the foundation of her speech. The audience feels that she has unquestionable authority on the issue, and hence she arrests their attention. She then goes ahead to demonstrate that contrary to the belief of the public, all Americans are at the risk of contracting the disease. "I would never have asked to be HIV-positive" (Fisher). This statement is meant to appeal to both the logic and emotions of the audience. As mentioned earlier, the disease was primarily associated with drug addicts, homosexuals, and blacks (Donovan 27). However, here was a white married woman standing in front of millions of Americans and declaring that she was suffering from the disease. Therefore, the message that she was passing across was that all were vulnerable regardless of their race, gender, age, political affiliation, or sexual orientation. This was aimed at helping the audience look at the problem objectively, as well as divorce it from any political arguments, views, and stereotypes. To show the seriousness of the disease she states various facts. She says that 200,000 citizens are either dying or dead and a million more were infected (Fisher). She also states that despite the efforts the White House had put, the disease was winning. In an ethical appeal, she asserts that stereotypes cannot protect Americans any longer. She then urges the public to give up their stereotypes and treat everyone right regardless of their status. She also challenges the party to take a similar stand to that taken by President Bush and the First Lady.
Appeals to ethos are seen throughout the speech. This is meant to stir people's emotions and hence get them to own the challenge that the speaker was putting forward. "I am one with the lonely gay man sheltering a flickering candle from the cold wind of his family's rejection" helps the people see the bad side of stigma (Fisher). She further states that "We have killed each other with our ignorance, our prejudice, and our silence" (Fisher). This statement is meant to show the public how their attitude and behavior towards those affected by the disease had caused them more harm. She appeals to logic by giving various statistics and also showing how the disease threatened the entire society. For instance, she states that AIDS cannot be compared to heart disease or cancer. The speaker also makes several references to the family, a unit that is greatly respected in American society. She pledges to her children that she would not give up until she made the world a safer place for them. She also states how supportive her family had been and asks the same of all American families. Finally, she creates parallels between the AIDS epidemic and other events in history, such as the Holocaust, to underline the seriousness of the issue.
At a time when the AIDS epidemic was sweeping across the nation leaving behind hundreds of casualties, hundreds of speeches must have been given regarding the disease. However, none had more effect than A Whisper of AIDS. By appealing to the logos, pathos, and ethos of the nation, Fisher managed to convince the nation of the seriousness of the issue as well as the need to address the stereotypes and stigma associated with the disease. Through the brilliant use of rhetorical strategies, the speech did not only touch millions of Americans but also became one of the most influential speeches of the century.
Donovan, Mark C. "Social constructions of people with AIDS: Target populations and United States policy, 1981-1990." Review of Policy Research 12.3-4 (1993): 3-29. <https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1541-1338.1993.tb00548.x>.
Fisher, Mary. "A Whisper of AIDS - Aug. 19, 1992." 19 August 1992. Iowa State University. 3 February 2020. <https://awpc.cattcenter.iastate.edu/2017/03/09/a-whisper-of-aids/>.
Shaw, Dan. "Defined by Words, Not by a Disease." 22 August 2012. The New York Times. 3 February 2020. <https://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/23/fashion/aids-activist-mary-fisher-is-defined-by-words-not-disease.html>.
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