By Ashley Mason-Troutman, Oakland University
Transcript of Video Response
When we think about birthdays, what exactly do we think of? Do we think about how old we will be turning? Or about what type of cake we will have to celebrate. How about a party? A big celebration with lots of people and decorations or something with just ourselves?
Billy’s birthday cake is a unique multimodal piece that combines poetic language with rhetorical appeals and various design elements to describe the standards we hold for celebrating birthdays.
I will be honest, at first, I was a bit confused but fascinated when watching this video for the first time. It took me a few more watches to finally make things click.
The message Paine is trying to get across is how birthdays are held to a high standard within our world and the thought that we must act as consumers and go all out for just this one day. If we take an example from the video’s transcript, “I used to be given things like language, pens, and paper to write my hopes upon.” (Paine) This sentence pretty much explains how others will give us positive birthday wishes. Another common thing is how people will write down their birthday wishes, whether that is the items we want or what they hope to have accomplished before the next year. Ethos is present here, since Paine shows his credibility by sharing his own personal experiences with birthdays.
But this is not the only rhetorical appeal Paine uses. Pathos is heavily used within the piece in numerous ways. Poetically, through other words and phrases he uses throughout the piece, such as I consume,
consume, consume all those little hopes and fears. I do what anyone would do.” (Paine) I examined the emotional appeal of a feeling of need to consume and celebrate. We are pretty much taught that we need to do these things. Buy a birthday cake. Buy decorations. Buy people presents. These sentences explain that “need” perfectly. Design plays a role in Paine’s pathos, he uses weary images, like the feeder mice, and flashing light effects as well as excitement, like party decorations and cake (because who does not like cake?) It gives the piece a haunting yet substantial appeal, as it ties essential birthday items with a feeling of horror.
That, ladies, and gentlemen, is what I liked about this piece and what weirdly kept me engaged the whole time.
Outside of the general ethos, pathos, and logos strategy, Paine also establishes rhetoric in how he addresses his audience. He actually recognizes it, referring to us as the viewer multiple times. The tone of his poem is addressed directly to us and at the end, even questions us, stating “Tell me, viewer, this is what you would do.” (Paine)
Overall, yes, this is a beautiful nightmare of a way to portray consumerism with birthdays. But that is what makes it so unique. Plus, it made me stop and think deeply of just how much we consume on our birthdays when we choose to opt for having such elaborate celebrations. Do not get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with wanting a big birthday celebration. We just need to be more mindful of just how much we are consuming with items that will potentially become a buildup of trash. Though, yes, extreme, Paine establishes this message in Billy’s Birthday Cake.