There’s a thing that’s sometimes called “rhetorical television”: where someone walks around on screen, basically, and tells you what they think on a given topic. Here’s how I perceive the world, they say, and here’s the history and the evidence to back it up. It’s what we in Britain call Reithian, after Lord Reith of the BBC; the idea that tv can be both compelling and educational. A good recent example is Richard Dawkins’ THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL?, presenting his view that religion is disgusting. It’s not objective television, and it’s not supposed to be. There’s no law that says he has to present the other side, or a (cough) “fair and balanced” coverage of the topic.
You don’t see much of it in comics, for obvious presentational reasons. Scott McCloud’s comics on comics are obviously rhetorical (leading to a parody single called FILIBUSTERING COMICS). There’s Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz’s BROUGHT TO LIGHT, which uses a surreally-imagined CIA operative as the voice, poking through the fourth wall at us as he recounts the secret history of US intelligence according to the Christic Institute (who, people have told me, were not happy with the hypervivid treatment of their research).
I occasionally “went behind the camera” with Spider Jerusalem when he went off on a flight of anecdote and rhetoric, but they were almost all short pieces. I did an entire episode in that style, though, and I’m thinking about digging that story out and going through it again.
Because the lesson of rhetorical television is that a visual narrative does not have to be about conflict or even character, in its commonly understood frame, to be a compelling piece of art.
And I just got interrupted by a phone call and totally lost my train of thought, so…
(Originally written 9 January 2006)