“Liking isn’t Helping” A Visual Rhetorical Analysis
Crisis Relief Singapore (CRS), a Christian disaster relief organization, launched the “Liking isn’t Helping” campaign to recruit humanitarian support and reduce human suffering and poverty. The Christian disaster relief organization partnered with a French advertising company to create the series of altered , black and white photographs. “Liking isn’t helping” flooded various digital mediums—popular news, discussion forums and social media networks. The images persuade the audience to change their perspectives on “Facebook philanthropy”.
This visual argument (Blair 26) unfolds into logical propositions supported by a number of rhetorical devices such as William’s proximity; Phillip’s juxtaposition; and Ehses & Lupton’s Antithesis, Synecdoche, hyperbole, and amplification. Photographs shown retrieved from BuzzFeed.
The audience for this campaign is anyone with access to social media or popular new feeds, interested in environmental issues, helping those in poverty, and more or less seeing a world outside their own lives. The primary and secondary audiences are important, equally for different reasons. At least for this campaign, persuasion of the secondary audience will net the most monetary benefits to the campaign. Primary audiences receive the ads in a context (Arola 22) where humanitarian views already exist; and when they share the ads in social networks, the life-changing effects of the campaign occur. The new [secondary] audience sees an available means to adopt a more humanitarian sense.
The secondary audience is theoretically more widespread (And intended?) than the primary (Arola 23) audience. The campaign was published in online philanthropic communities and typically members in those communities already take time out of their lives to educate themselves on crises around the world. They may already, and financially, help those less fortunate suffering in poverty. The primary audience will agree with the statement “Liking isn’t helping” because their donations, volunteering, activism, etc., far outweigh the “faux ‘do-gooders’’” contributions. Sometimes a faux do-gooder may see error in their ways.
Arguments like this have an obvious claim, but the visual argument can only speculate the goals of this organization. For me, it’s difficult to tell if this campaign is intended to make those currently contributing feel superior, or to guilt people [who’s only contributions are virtual] to become actual contributing philanthropists.
The strongest claims in these photographs are proximity and antithesis, elements of the rhetorical device, juxtaposition. To create this, the creators found the saddest images of poverty (innocent children in danger or hurt) and surrounded them with thumbs up. Although these images of thumbs and suffering are not visually connected, they are intellectually connected (Williams 21) through the claim of proximity. The two images together create a proposition that utilizes logos (Ehses & Lupton 14) to connect the symbolism of the thumbs up to people using social mediums such as Facebook to share non-contributing humanitarian and philanthropic attitudes.
For example, a Facebook user will share an image to indicate a philanthropic cause to collect likes and feel rewarded by that act. This image is visual support to a claim that proposes an outcome resembling a philanthropic cause but is actually not helping those in need. Those rewarding feeling a Facebook user receives (when sharing a philanthropic idea, or liking another’s superficial humanitarianism) proposes humanitarianism, but on false claims and is not genuinely helpful to the cause.
The ad campaign uses proximity to juxtapose (Phillips 114) two elements that should not be connected (Williams 21), using antithesis (Ehses & Lupton 16) as the assertion function (Blair 26) for the claim “liking isn’t helping”. The visuals alone carry expressive meaning—sadness with suffering, liking with thumbs up—but the juxtaposition expresses the claim (26) beyond obvious, singular expressions, and this is what constitutes a proposition for an argument.
Proximity and Antithesis provide claims for propositions on a macro-level, but they require symbolism as reasoning on the micro-level. Symbolism in the form of synecdoche deepen these photographs when a part of an idea represents the whole idea (Ehses & Lupton 16). This rhetorical device is used in two ways. The suffering children in all three photographs are meant to represent the innocent people who are suffering and need help from those in better living conditions with the funds to donate. The boy with his mouth open (picture 1), the baby missing a limb (picture 2) and the little girl wading through flood conditions (picture 3) are symbols for people that need and deserve help.
The thumbs are also synecdoche tropes (Ehses & Lupton 16) signifying the lazy, leisurely, cheerful, uninvolved faux do-gooders, who see ways to help and talk about helping without actually contributing. The thumbs are Photo-shopped into the photograph to signify the ever-so-familiar symbol on Facebook used to “like” or agree. The argument for this campaign builds strength using the proposition: these thumbs are useless to the sad-faced child in need of a helping hand. As mentioned with antithesis, disconnected acknowledgement from privileged media-users is more ironic than humanitarian.
One final trope is employed to visually support the proposition built on juxtaposition. Ehses & Lupton’s would be proud to see the usage of amplification and hyperbole in the imagery of these photographs. The devastation is exaggerated (not unrealistically, but vividly) to enhance the poverty and suffering by the faces and bodies in all three photographs. The thumbs up are equally exaggerated, not a single version of the thumbs up can be disputed as another symbol.
The rhetorical effect of the hands is amplified by repetition and the repeating elements expand the effect of the thumb-up image. The numerous amounts of thumbs up also indicate the many hands of a widespread audience on social media; and that no one is helping those in desperate need. Instead of one thumb up icon, as shown in real-time face book, which an individual sees on a daily basis, it is proposed that many, many people access information about these crisis and do nothing but perpetuate the leisurely pleasures in their own lives.
Arola, Sheppard, & Ball. Writer/Designer: A Guide to Making Multimodal Projects. ISBN-10: 1457600455
Blair, A. (1996). The Possibility and actuality of visual arguments. Argumentation and Advocacy 33 (1) 23-39.
Ehses, H., Lupton, E. (1996). Rhetorical handbook: An illustrated manual for graphic designers. Halifax, N.S: Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Design Division.
Phillips, B., McQueen, E. Beyond visual metaphor: A new typology of visual rhetoric in advertising. Marketing Theory 3 (113). DOI: 10.1177/1470593104044089
Williams, The Non-Desiger’s Design Book. ISBN-10: 0961392169