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Rhetoric Analysis of Survival of the Prettiest

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Philosophers ponder it and pornographers proffer it. Asked why people desire physical beauty, Aristotle said, "No one that is not blind could ask that question." Beauty ensnares hearts, captures minds, and stirs up emotional wildfires. From Plato to pinups, images of human beauty gave catered to a limitless desire to see and imagine an ideal human form.

But we live in the age of ugly beauty, when beauty is morally suspect and ugliness has a gritty allure. Beauty is equal parts flesh and imagination: we imbue it with our dreams, saturate it with our longings. But to spin this another way, reverence for beauty is just an escape from reality, it is the perpetual adolescent in us refusing to accept a flawed world. We wave it away with a cliché, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," meaning that beauty is whatever pleases us (with the subtext that is inexplicable). But defined this way, beauty is meaningless-as Gertrude Stein once said about her childhood home, Oakland, California, "There is no there there." (page 3 of 245)

This quote from Survival of the Prettiest by Nancy Etcoff can be found early on in the introductory chapter. It deals with questions such as, "What is beauty?" and "What role does beauty play in this flawed world?" Since it is still at the beginning of the novel, Etcoff is establishing her authority by showing multiple opinions and viewpoints. This reveals her to be an unbiased source of information that can be trusted. Using familiar names such as Aristotle and Plato also helps with establishing ethos, because the intended audience should have enough general knowledge to regard these two men as great intellectual philosophers from the olden days. Surely everyone has heard of the cliché, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder", correct? By talking about things familiar to the reader, the author is establishing a common ground with her audience. She also employs various rhetorical techniques to keep the passage interesting and smoothly flowing. The very first sentence of this quote, "Philosophers ponder it and pornographers proffer it", immediately captures the reader's attention. "What could she be talking about?" they wonder. It is also emphasized through the use of alliteration with the letter P. This device is employed again later on in the paragraph but with much less severity. Beauty is personified as something that "ensnares hearts, captures minds, and stirs up emotional wildfires". By doing this, Etcoff is exaggerating the power of beauty, and is also inculcating the reader's feelings of beauty in a clever use of the pathos appeal.



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