A Professor, A Friend, and Dancing Mormons: Examples of Multimodality in a Handful of Texts

Multimodality in Everyday Texts

            These days, I find that my consumption of texts is at an all-time high; between my varied and hefty course-load and my slight addiction to social media and creative digital content, there is rarely a time of day that I am not interacting with multi-modal texts (I don’t know if I’m necessarily proud of this, but it’s true nonetheless). Below are some of the texts that I interacted with this past week.

 

Professor Wagner’s Musical Theatre History- Lyrics Lecture

  • Visual
  • Linguistic
  • Gestural
  • Aural
  • Spatial

The original chair of the Musical Theatre Department, Professor Brent Wagner, has since retired as leader of the group, but has continued to teach a couple of his original courses- one of them being Musical Theatre History (truly one of the best classes I have ever taken folks, let me tell you). Last Tuesday we continued our lecture of lyrics, focusing mostly on the work of the legendary Irving Berlin. We first discussed the lyrics to songs, such as “How Deep is the Ocean” and “Always,” printed on a sheet of paper which are traditionally written in poem-like lines based on their phrasing and rhythm (linguistic/spatial). Then we went through to identify the important words by speaking them aloud, in and out of rhythm (linguistic). After a close lyric analysis, Professor Wagner passed out sheet music for another song by Irving Berlin, “Play a Simple Melody,” and headed to the piano; we all sight read the music to his accompaniment to better analyze the significance of and relationship between the lyric, melody and harmony (aural/visual). For the songs we did not sing, we listened to popular recordings (i.e. Ella Fitzgerald’s version of “Remember” which gets me every time). Professor Wagner highlighted important musical elements with a conductors’ hand (gestural).

 

Letter from a Friend

  • Linguistic
  • Visual

One of my close friends from home sent me a thank you letter along with a collection of her published photography that I purchased. The front of the card featured a generic spring-colored floral wreath and a matching calligraphy “thank you!,” which was accompanied by a scribbled note on the bottom (linguistic/visual). The inside included the second verse of one of our all time favorite jams, “212” by Azealia Banks, in my friend’s iconic handwriting- all capital letters (linguistic/visual). I would post a picture of the inside, but those who know the song can agree that it is not entirely appropriate for the blog (but man does it slap)!

BOOK OF MORMON National Tour

  • Linguistic
  • Aural
  • Visual
  • Spatial
  • Gestural

Our department was lucky enough to get offered comp tickets to the National Tour of the musical BOOK OF MORMON that performed in Toledo, Ohio this past week. Not only would I never pass up the opportunity for a free show but I was also part of the 1% of people in my community that had not yet seen the Tony Award winning hit, so I snagged a ticket. The crude yet comedic show featured all the aspects of a multi-modal project- from the Playbill to the pristine nametags on each Mormon, the men belting A’s to the extremely heightened physicality of each goofy character (linguistic/aural/visual/spatial/gestural).

 

Facebook Post/Habitat for Humanity Fundraiser

  • Aural
  • Visual
  • Gestural
  • Spatial
  • Linguistic

After the ruthless natural disasters that have hit southern North America, many people have turned to social media to spread awareness and to encourage donating to aid the thousands of people affected. Just this evening I came across the post of a friend who has friends and family who’s homes have been devastated by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. He shared his family’s story, stories of his own experiences in Puerto Rico this summer, and statistics that highlighted the poverty in Puerto Rico within a written post [not pictured] (linguistic). At the bottom of the post was a video of him singing a beautiful, call-to-action ballad called “If You’re Out There” by John Legend (aural/gestural/visual). Attached below the video, you were given the option to donate to a fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity in Puerto Rico with the simple click of a button (spatial/gestural).

 

It is interesting that three of my four examples used all five of the modes of communication. It may be due to their relationship to the arts/performing arts. Regardless, I find that each of these texts exists, or existed, in a unique situation. In the case of the “lecture,” the multi-modal aspects made the ideas and theory easier to learn and comprehend (Professor Wagner caters to an audience of performers quite well, knowing that this style of academic analysis goes hand in hand with aural and gestural modes in much of the work we do). In my opinion, the Facebook post would not have caught as much attention if not for the unique combination of video and post; the arrangement of the “one-click” donating beneath the video is also a very effective way to encourage an audience to take action, rather than just become aware. As for the musical, I expect nothing less than five modes from a performance of that caliber; the theatre is meant to entertain and communicate, and productions like the BOOK OF MORMON do so with grand spectacle and a certain flair. It’s interesting to compare the simplicity of the letter from my friend; it is just as effective as it provides the audience (me) with personalized gratitude which, in this case, doesn’t require many modes. In short, each of the choices made by these authors was strong and purposeful in the context of each rhetorical situation.

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