It Works Coz You Get to Fill in the ____

The first thing I do in the morning when I wake up is turn on the T.V. This morning, I became struck by the ad for a product I always keep in my house: SmartWater. The ad shows an image of Tom Brady, the quarterback of New England Patriots working out. It was eye catching and appealing.

Image 1

I also logged on the Facebook as I was watching T.V., and there I saw that my friend just posted a picture from a political protest:

Image 2

After checking Facebook, I went on to Miami’s website to check my email, and this image emerges:

Image 3

Since I’ve seen it before a thousand times, I didn’t never really think much about it. It’s another example of advertisements, I thought to myself.

But what do these images have in common, despite their different purposes?

I want to show that they work by letting us (the viewers) fill it the blank. They work because we supply the missing link or what rhetorician and logician call the premise. They are examples of enthymeme—a truncated syllogism. But what does that mean exactly?

To understand enthymeme, we must first learn about syllogism.

In brief, a syllogism is an argument that contains 3 parts: premise 1, premise 2 and a conclusion. The premises logically lead to a conclusion that is irrefutably true as in this famous example that has been used over the years:

  • Premise 1: All men are mortal beings.
  • Premise 2: Socrates is a man.
  • Conclusion: Therefore, Socrates is a mortal being.

The conclusion that Socrates is a mortal being follows from the premise, and it is irrefutable. For Aristotle, syllogism is used in philosophy and demonstration to help one derives at the truth.

Enthymeme, on the other, hand is different. It is an “abbreviated syllogism.” The premise is omitted, and the conclusion drawn is a probability—unlike syllogism. An example might be helpful here:

“He must be a socialist because he favors a graduated income-tax.” (taken from Corbett and Connors, 1999)

This statement is an enthymeme because the premise (“anyone who favors a graduated income-tax is a socialist”) is missing. What we have then is one premise and a conclusion. The conclusion in this case is not an irrefutable truth. We don’t know for sure if the man is in fact a socialist.

Let’s now return to the three images I saw this morning and apply what we know about enthymeme to them.

Image 1:

  1. Several enthymemes are evident in this ad:Tom Brady drinks SmartWater, so you should drink it too. (Omitted premise to be supplied by the viewer: What Brady chooses is good for you.)
  2. SmartWater can get you fit and attractive like Tom Brady, so you should drink it. (Omitted premise to be supplied by the viewer: Being fit/having a fit body like Brady is desirable.)

Image 2:

This image too is an enthymeme. The missing premise (assumption) is that gays like to shop. The omitted premise draws from and reinforces a stereotype about gay men. Though problematic, this example illustrates the point that the conclusion from an enthymeme is not an absolute truth and can be subject to debate. Legalizing gay marriage does not guarantee that gay men will go out and shop, and as a result, the economy will be rescued.

Image 3:

Here study abroad is being used as a marketing strategy to attract students to Miami University. The enthymeme behind this ad: Miami encourages study abroad; therefore, you should consider going here. The missing premise: Study abroad and international perspectives are important and good for you.

I hope that the analysis I have provided, thus far, have clarified what an enthymeme is. There’s one more thing I want to say about the omitted premise. As you might already notice, the missing premise behind each of the three enthymemes reflects the assumption (in the case of image 2 a stereotype) that our society holds about a particular topic, group, or people. These assumptions should be subject to careful critical interrogation because they often indicate a way of thinking that privileges one social order, class, appearance, race, nation, ethnicity, ideas, etc. at the expense of another. In other words, behind each missing premise lies an ideology. In image 1, for instance, we have the ideology of the athletic superstar and normative body type. This ideology reinforces how people should look, what type of body they should have, and it also helps to prop up the status of athletes in our society. Knowing this, it is important to always question the missing premises that an ad asks us to supply. Doing so can help us become a more informed consumer, citizen, and thinker in the future.

Exercises:

Can you identify the enthymeme and ideology behind these images?

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One Response to It Works Coz You Get to Fill in the ____

  1. Jim Porter says:

    Great analysis and exercise! This is a very thorough analysis, exposition, and demonstration of how the enthymeme works … and why it’s important. Really nicely done! And this would make a great handout for ENG 111 — and for the Teachers Guide.

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