A Humorous Appeal


Maddox is a satirical, sarcastic, and often vulgar and rude blogger. He describes his blog as "This page is about me and why everything I like is great. If you disagree with anything you find on this page, you are wrong," and even titles it The Best Page In The Universe. In his numerous posts dating from as far back as 2000, Maddox provides his take on a variety of popular issues prevalent in the news at the time. The catch is, these blog posts are far from normal commentary like you'd see on a tv news channel or from any "civilized" source. Professional news sources tend to use logos to rhetorically appeal to their audience. Maddox makes use of pathos and his well crafted humor to appeal to his audiences emotions thus transfering his viewpoint. Maddox's posts are vulgar and forceful, demanding your attention, but not rant-y.

What is pathos?

Pathos is a rhetorical move appealing to emotion. "Pathos invokes the audience's emotion to gain acceptance and approval for the ideas expressed."[5] Maddox seems to be a firm believer that appealing to this emotion, in his case humor, works to spread ideas. In a blog post about swine flu he writes, "I just deleted my mom's number from my cell phone. That's because she called me in a panic after seeing a special on CNN about swine flu asking me what she should do. How about getting a clue, mom? Idiot."[2] Some may regard this as rude and distasteful and choose not to continue reading. That's ok. But I believe Maddox's readers understand this as a joke, in the same way that fans of vulgar stand up comedians acknowledge the truth in a lot of what the comic says, even though the fan may not dare say it themselves. Maddox's blog post about swine flu says how stupid people are for buying into the media incitement. His mother bought into it, so she is an idiot.

Rhetorical humor sticks

Jon Stewart, Colbert, and late night TV hosts like Conan and Leno are great at taking an important real world issue, blending it with humor, and facilitating discussion of it. These programs are perfect examples of use of humor to successfully encourage discussion of typically dry (but very important) topics. In a Salon magazine interview Maddox says, "When you’re trying to send a message to someone, if you wrap it in humor it sticks a lot better. It’s like the sugar with the medicine. People remember things when they laugh."[1] The success of these programs is rooted in the success of rhetorical appeals. These appeals play off of common human emotions to grab your attention and interest.

Criticism of pathos

On the contrary, Silva Rhetoricae mentions"Criticism of rhetoric tends to focus on the overemphasis of pathos, emotion, at the expense of logos, the message."[3] I disagree that this can cause an issue, but I am bias towards shows like Colbert and Jon Stewart and blogs like Maddox. I buy into these messages more so than dry news. A 2006 study at Indiana University concluded that when it comes to substance, the amount of information in a news program, that The Daily Show is on par with regular news outlets. "The findings should allay at least some of the concerns about the growing reliance on this nontraditional source of political information, as it is just as substantive as the source that Americans have relied upon for decades for political news and information."[4] Like these satirical news programs, Maddox augments his pathos-filled claims by meshing them with logos. For example, "You're all idiots. If you've spent more than a few minutes worrying about swine flu, you are an idiot. That's because it only takes a few minutes to look up the symptoms, mortality rate, and treatment to realize that it's no different from the common flu (which kills way more people and by extension is way more awesome), and going back to whatever it is you were doing." This is a good example of pathos blended with logos to create a powerful, sticking, and accurate message.


Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Maddox are three great exploiters of pathos. Stewart and Colbert are primarily actors in that they deliver their messages in person on a stage to their audiences. Maddox however delivers his through digital writing. Since we do not actually get to see Maddox speaking as we read his blogs, it is more up to us to interpret his ideas and persona. And that persona fuels his rhetoric. Digital writing enables these sorts of identities to be created. The Salon interviewer who spoke to Maddox as one of his first conversations with the press described him as "a soft-spoken young man, short on media training and practiced answers, who seemed slightly stunned by his own success."[1] But his online personality is the exact opposite. Without digital writing, this side of him probably would have never been revealed to such large audiences. When all of the content of his website is taken as a whole, it creates an identity Self-Identity Creation of this writer known as Maddox. He describes himself as a pirate. He is rude. He has a lot to say. But hidden amongst the cursing and insults there is actually some sense.