Essay, Research Paper
June 21, 1999
“Federal Courts, the System that Shagged Me”
Peter McWilliams, both an aids and cancer victim, is a self-published, best-selling author. In July 1998 he was arrested and charged with being the ringleader of a conspiracy to grow and distribute medical marijuana. As a condition of his pre-trial release, he cannot smoke marijuana even though proposition 215 states that he can for his illnesses. The magazine article, detailing his dilemma in HighTimes, (June 1999), uses clever rhetoric shrouded in simplicity to instill the reader with a defensive stance against the government. He does this primarily by destroying the opponent’s credibility and logic to increase his own.
The article is primarily directed toward the sub-culture audience of America. This is an audience that is constantly bombarded on by the mainstream. Although McWilliams was charged with the intent to distribute marijuana, it also happened to be his medication. Currently, he is prohibited to take his medication. Is it considered inhumane to deny the suffering the relief they so desperately need? Questions of this nature arise as well as the simple, gruesome facts of how Peter McWilliams is living a government-enforced life of pain,
The article has strong overtones of derisiveness towards our government’s decision. It points out the blatant catch 22 situation for McWilliams , “And if one of his urine tests indicate that he did smoke pot, it’s back behind bars, while his mother and brother lose their homes, because that’s how they bailed him out.” This use of logos is incredibly simple yet it conveys a huge meaning. The article is just stating the facts, and the facts make our government look bad.
The effective use of logos is again displayed in the end of the article. McWilliams’s is denied his right to take his medicine on the grounds that it, “amounts to a license to violate federal law.” The author now adds McWilliam’s logical response to the decision, “Federal judges routinely give people authority to break federal law – every search warrant issued by a federal judge does just that – as well as stop any law Congress passed dead in its tracks by declaring it unconstitutional.” The author points out a logical inconsistency in the government, which becomes his own logic.
Additionally, there is also an interweaving of logos and pathos. The author brings to light the horrible pain McWilliams must endure minus his medication. The descriptive account of pain instills the audience with sympathy, and a feeling of vindictiveness, bringing pathos into play. The picture in the middle of the article has a quote beneath it, “I am virtually cornered by the government. Clinton says ‘I feel your pain, but if you do anything about it, I’ll kill you.’” McWillaims has a look on his face that belies his extreme determination and confidence to see things through till the end. This is also moving for the audience in the sense that it brings a feeling of hope over the reader that injustice will not be tolerated. Thus, effectively playing on pathos.
In the race for selfishness, the media and the government seem to be running head-to-head. Woody Harrelson came to the court hearing to show McWilliams his support. The NBC correspondents soon took notice of him and “immediately rushed into the hall to make a phone call to their contact at the local NBC channel.” The media promptly forget about Peter and persistently chase Harrelson through the streets with a running camera. This displays the obvious shallowness of the media. The author cleverly builds up his own ethos by downgrading and destroying his opponents. This is also evident when the author makes a reference to King George, the colonies oppressor during the revolution. “Judge George King, whose name in the phone book is King George.” He is pointing out that the government and its people have a long history of confrontation. Again, exploiting the opponent’s ethos has strengthened his own.
Often times, the subculture is averted and attention given strictly to the mainstream audience. The writer digresses to a scene that occurred during the O.J Simpson trial. There were some medicinal marijuana activists demonstrating outside of the courthouse and there was a camera crew and many reporters sitting idly on lawn chairs. The author invites them to cover the demonstration. However, the crew refused, stating they were waiting to hear Johnny Cochran speak about the double murder. By showing how the media completely disregards the opinions of the subculture, he connects with his audience resulting in building his ethos incredibly high.
Most writers seem to justify their rhetoric by focusing strictly on their own logos and ethos. However, this article is written with another approach in mind. It’s a successful example of reverse rhetoric. He points out the inconsistency of the government’s logic, as well as ripping apart the opponent’s ethos , which becomes his own. His audience is made up of the subculture, a culture that is under constant oppression and disdain by the mainstream. By pointing out the mainstream’s shortcomings he provides somewhat a fuel for the fire, a way to connect with his audience in retaliation. This article shows how rhetoric is cleverly used but under a guise of simplicity. Straightforwardness – proven to be an effective form of persuasion.
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