The Diag Preacher Yelled at Me and other Multimodal Stories

UMMA Screening of the NY Philharmonic

Last Tuesday night, while I was walking back to my apartment, I happened to catch a video screening. Normally I wouldn’t pay too much attention, but you don’t get many chances to watch an orchestra play on the side of a building. I later learned that the U of M’s Museum of Modern Art has been doing a bunch of nightly screenings on the side of the building, and I had caught the beginning of a live performance of the N.Y. Philharmonic playing “Mahler’s 5th Symphony”. I’m not going to pretend I’m a classical music fan. I didn’t even know Mahler was on his 1st symphony. That said, the novelty of the whole situation made me take notice, and trying to view the screening as a multimodal text only made it more interesting.

For one, outside of an introductory screen with expository text, there was barely any use of the linguistic mode. I always consider language, both written and verbal, as the primary means of communication. However, this performance was naturally dominated by an aural mode. Watching artists perform also was a very different aural experience for me, as I consume almost all of my music through headphones. Part of the effect was that the performers body language (gestural mode) was easily conveyed, and that energy got through to me as a viewer. Finally, the choice of screening this performance on side of the UMMA (spatial mode) was an effective way of reaching an audience that normally might not engage with classical music, such as myself.

Guy Preaching on the Diag

Anyone who has been on campus an appreciable amount of time knows that the Diag is not just home to clubs and fundraisers, but also some very impassioned doomsayers. The preacher I saw today didn’t have a giant sign telling me I was living a life of sin, so in my book he wasn’t that bad, and today he actually had a small crowd. I wasn’t sure if they were there out of curiosity (I definitely caught a friend filming on his phone and laughing), or if they really resonated with the whole fire and brimstone thing. Say what you will about this guy, but he was a solid orator. Obviously his speech was firmly in the linguistic mode, but his body language (gestural mode) and intonation (aural mode) are what made him effective. The Bible in his hand was also a strong visual indicator to cement his position of preaching salvation. I also shouldn’t have been all that surprised that he had a crowd, considering the sheer volume of people that move through the Diag every day. His choice of location (spatial mode) was definitely effective, in that even a lousy fisherman can be successful in a river teeming with fish. I wasn’t really looking to be caught though.

Me at the Gym

I’ll preface by saying that overgeneralizations are a logical fallacy, and never apply to everyone. Now that that’s out of the way, let me say that anyone that tells you that they aren’t self-conscious at the gym is definitely lying. I’m not saying that my every waking moment in the CCRB is spent thinking about what other people are thinking of me. However, I do think that the gym is a venue in which comparing yourself with others is inevitable. It’s almost too easy to look over and see what weight the other guy’s pushing, then look at what you’re pushing, and then do some mental math. In light of that, the way I conduct myself at the gym can be viewed as a multimodal performance. The visual mode of what I choose to wear immediately springs to mind (I didn’t wear tanks until a year into working out). Interacting with other gym-goers (“hey can I work in with you?, “How many more sets do you got?”) falls under the linguistic mode. Multiple choices play into the spatial mode. Which room do I do my push-ups in? Do I face a mirror or not? Where should I stand in-between sets? If you’ve ever done a deadlift, or maybe are a fan of loud grunting while curling, then you know that the sound you make in the gym is another variable. The gestural mode is particularly important in between sets. I don’t try and lie down and stare at the ceiling, but rather stay a little tense, tapping my hands to my music, maintaining the upmost focus as I sit on my butt for 2-4 minutes (really depends on how interesting my phone is).


Interestingly, all three of my multimodal examples ended up being variations of a performance, though only the Philharmonic was forthright about it. Even though so much of our day-today communication is dominated by the words and speech, only the Diag preacher relied heavily on the linguistic mode. I was also surprised at the consistent role of the gestural mode. Body language so often flies under the radar, but it is undeniable integral to effective communication. Lastly, it’s funny to think about how many elements of our lives are texts. Something as simple as going to the gym fits under the paradigm. There’s really no escaping English class.

One thought to “The Diag Preacher Yelled at Me and other Multimodal Stories”

  1. I thought your description of the UMMA screening as lacking a linguistic mode was ver interesting because people usually think of linguistics as the most popular form of communication. However, I think that your experience, similar to mine, helped you realize that communication is used in each mode in a unique and impactful manner. I also think that it is extremely interesting how you connected all of your pieces as variations of performances, especially when a guy on the Diag and you at the gym are rarely seen that way. I think the connection is surprisingly strong.

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