August 02, 2011

The Power of the Rant

I recently had to consider the nature of the rant. I'd linked to a particularly sharp-toothed attack on the  politically and socially ultra-conservative part of America, framed in a 'North vs South' rhetorical narrative. I was called out for promoting the type of language and rhetoric that leads to denigration of people from the southern states as a whole. While that is a good point, and one I hadn't considered at the time (and I definitely am against attacks on (e.g.)  all Muslims for the position of Muslim extremists), I actually want to focus on the idea of the 'rant' itself as a device.

I actually really like rants. Not to write, or speak - I certainly don't have the raw emotional potency for that - but I really enjoy reading or hearing a wonderfully worded rant. For me, part of it is therapeutic. I'm not one to vent my emotions much, so having someone do it for me really can work a treat.

For a rant to work, it has to be eloquent. A page and a half of "Fffffuuuucccck off and die" won't do it for me, though I know some people enjoy that raw bitterness. Not me: that's not a true rant; that's profanity (which can be fine). I need rants to have a structure, a purpose, a reason, some character and to be convincing. I want to know why you're so angry and I want to be convinced or I'll just call you a raving pisspot, or something. I'm not good with insults.

Goodness gracious, I haven't even defined a rant yet. I assumed you'd all know what I meant, but for the purposes of this blabber: a rant is an argumentative essay, using the rhetoric of anger and/or insult to characterise its prose and make its points. Its tone and hostility may vary, but the idea is the same. It's offensive, in the sense that it's an attacking piece of debate, as opposed to a calm and balanced analysis.

I tend to prefer writing in that balanced, analytical style. I normally have a point to make and a side to take, certainly, but I'm not one to go all out on the offensive. But a rant is a massively powerful tool. For one, they are more interesting to the observer. Someone completely losing their rag over something is very entertaining and often hilarious, even if the subject matter is very serious: and this is, of course, the point. You want to suck people in; you want to persuade people to see your way of thinking by demonstrating the sheer emotional impact this issue has had on you. If something has caused the author to blow their top, then surely it's an issue worthy of your investigation, right?

The Daily Mail knows the power of the rant all too well. Its entire arsenal of columnists are essentially all rant artists, to varying degrees. The Mail (and most other papers, to be fair) use this technique for three main reasons: 1) it makes for an entertaining reading, so people will keep buying the paper; 2) it bolsters the opinions of its audience so it can keep covering topics like, say, immigration, because it's already formed an army of anti-immigrationists; 3) flame-baiting. Flame-baiting is the art of ranting to such a degree that you start sucking in your opposition, who can't help but flock to rubber-neck at the utter car crash of bile and spittle that has ranted across their website. The anti-tabloid folk have cottoned on to this and invented - a proxy server one can use to avoid reading tabloid rants directly and contributing to their hits.

So aware are the Mail aware of the power of a rant, that they recently moved to bully Kevin Arscott into removing a post he made against its editor, Paul Dacre. Mr Ascott, of Angry Mob (which is a lot less angry than the name suggests) was so incensed by the paper's behaviour that he wrote a long (and fairly out of character) rant about how Paul Dacre must die and how we would queue for miles to use his grave as a loo, to put it lightly. The Mail threatened his web hosts and now the article doesn't exist (but you can probably find it. The internet doesn't forget).

With the power of the rant, of course, comes a great responsibility (has a comic book ever again said anything so profound?). The melody of an offensive argument carries like the tune of the pied piper, with followers dancing to the oomph of the emotion, too caught up to stop and ask questions or check for evidence. The wave of support for classic ranters like Melanie Phillips, Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly, - people who are clearly so far removed from reality that you wonder how they get dressed in the morning - shows how a rant just isn't enough. It's a weapon. Like a gun: when used correctly, anyone can make headway, cause damage and lead armies with it. In a sense, it is neither good not bad outside of any context. But it is dangerous.

That's why I'd say, for goodness sake, if you're going to have a bloody good rant as part of your argument you'd better make sure that you've backed up that rant with facts and evidence. You'd better be sure that you know what you're talking about because you are wielding a powerful and persuasive weapon. And on top of that: be aware of your audience. Websites like Annotated Rant, have excellent, well-cited arguments in a terrifically bitter and furious style. But, my god, they tend to cast their net wide. With Fuck the South, they make very good points about the political problems in the American south, but unless you're aware that they are using the term 'South' as a metaphor, it can cause a lot of problems. You probably wouldn't get rants titled "Fuck Muslims", for example, because you wouldn't want to accidentally incite hatred towards all Muslims from people who don't pick up on your subtlety.

In conclusion: I love to read rants, I think they are a valuable and powerful tool, but when used carelessly they can be dangerous, so take care if you fancy having a public rant.

The word rant has lost all meaning, by the way.

PS: If you want to watch some world-class ranting, search for Matt Dillahunty on youtube. He is monumental at off-the-cuff, brilliantly reasoned takedowns.


  1. a rant is an argumentative essay, using the rhetoric of anger and/or insult to characterise its prose and make its points.

    Wowsa! That's eloquently put. I agree with your position that rants are therapeutic. I rant as a type of therapy, but it isn't a planned therapy; it just occurs as a kind of uncontrolled emotional/frustrative outlet.


    Can't remember how I found your blog but I bookmarked it in Reader several yonks ago.

    Hope my losership doesn't rank too highly on the scale.

  2. Hi Brennig! Good to have you as a reader - I just checked out your site and I'm already finding it very interesting :)


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