The Borgias and Rhetoric and Catholicism: Truth or Drama?

The Borgias:  A Showtime Series

The Borgias: A Showtime Series


Let’s face it.  Drama is interesting.  It is!  Think of what our lives would be like without it?  With whom would we compare our lives?  How would the more insecure of us find substance in our little lives without having a lessor one with which to compare?  Drama makes us feel better about ourselves.  Drama adds excitement to the mundane.  Drama makes us feel alive.

I was watching The Borgias last night yes, I’m admitting to it and reveled at how truly enticing this series is to me.  It’s not just that The Borgias were the first Mafia family.  It’s not just that the characters are so beautiful well most of them.  It’s not just the time in which it is set.  (one of my favorite historical times)  But what TRULY makes it worth watching is how the writers blur the lines between true history and “drama”.  In grad school I had an advisor that loved to debate the merits of what makes a perfect story (i.e. book or movie or play) I loved hanging out with him when I was writing a paper (Big props to you Dr. Litton)  He and I would debate every Rhetorician/Philosopher’s idea from Aristotle to Freud from  E.M. Forster to Nietzsche as to what made the perfect story.  We both had big dreams of being writers. What we both agreed upon, and what I have always kept is that Rhetoric is not just style over substance.  It is not just drama over reality.  Rhetoric is not just, as Plato so ridiculously stated, “mere flattery”.  No, Rhetoric is the blending of the black and white.  Rhetoric has a substantive as well as stylistic genome….and a good story, like good bone structure is a gift.

For the sake of today’s argument, and to keep you reading, I won’t dissect or re-educate you on the five canons of Rhetoric.  What I will do is explain why I think drama is necessary in our lives using rhetoric as my argument and the Showtime Series The Borgias as my subject.  Using some of the rhetorical and philosophical thoughts of greater thinkers than me, I will try to convince you of my argument:  Drama is a necessary evil.   Yeah okay, I may just be showing off my grad degree in Rhetoric, but shouldn’t I? Sheesh, I’m still paying for it!  Since literary devices are so akin to rhetorical devices, those of you who are purists may want to argue later….to that I say, “Bring it” with a smile.


Let’s start with Kenneth Burke who stated:

The most characteristic concern of rhetoric [is] the manipulation of men’s beliefs for political ends….the basic function of rhetoric [is] the use of words by human agents to form attitudes or to induce actions in other human agents.

I don’t know much about the writers of The Borgias.  Are they Catholic?  Are they Jewish?  Are they Atheistic?  Or are they just hacks getting paid to write an almost semi-porn series with historical overtones?  In other words, what is their will for writing this series?  In watching it, and because I tend to be optimistic, I think they are truly attempting to appeal to the more educated viewer while also appealing to the “voyeur” viewer who really is just watching it for entertainment.  For instance, the Pope Rodrigo (Alexander VI) quotes Socrates while his son Cesare lustfully beds his daughter Lucrezia.  In skillfully blending the two appeals, the writers attract a larger audience through drama.  Personally, the show has made me want to know more about The House of Borgia in order to delineate between dramatic truth and manufactured drama.  Which leads me to the next definition of Rhetoric by Francis Bacon who wrote in (1561-1626): Advancement of Learning:

  The duty and office of rhetoric is to apply reason to imagination for the better moving of the will.

Using Bacon’s definition, this would mean the writers of The Borgias are forcing us, the viewers, to use our imagination to make willfull observations, right?  But are they for the better?  I am not Catholic, but I empathize with those who are in regards to this series.  Has the Catholic Church become the media darling of all things wrong with religion?  Is this series just another testament to the abuses of the Catholic Church?  As a Protestant, I have suffered and witnessed  the hypocrisy of those who feel their religious worldview is better than others. It just seems that the Catholic Church has a history of drama; from the Borgias to medieval relics to modern day pedophilic priests.   Has the Catholic Church publically asked for an apology from the writers for making their religion look like a God-ordained form of organized crime?  And would other religions react the same?  Or do the writers have a more noble, daresay, religious agenda by athey showing that though religious, we are all still sinners….and there is no sin greater than another? nota bene:  the Catholic Church DOES believe that some sins are greater than others and they are divided into mortal and venial sins. Just knowing that makes a difference in applying reason to imagination. So what indeed are the writers’ trying to persuade their audience to see or believe?  Which leads me to….Sappho who was far from being religious:

Persuasion is Aphrodite’s daughter: it is she who beguiles our mortal hearts (frg 90).

Good rhetoric, communication, poetry,  writing, film, and speech are designed to persuade someone to see the artist’s point of view.  I’m not always the most fun person to watch a movie with, and definitely not commercials.  I immediately try to pinpoint the persuasive element behind the words, images, sounds and actions of others.  This could also be a reason I have difficult times in relationships!  ssshh!!  What I do know, is that if you can beguile my mortal heart, you have my attention.  The writers of The Borgias have done that for me.  Though I don’t condone nudity and violence for the sake of shocking the viewer into watching more, I do appreciate the artful mixing of history and fantasy to tell a good story. And I also appreciate drama that has intellect.  And maybe that’s where I should end this, because in the end, The Borgias is just a dramatic television series meant to entertain.  Don’t you think?










The Things Single Malt Scotch Makes Me Think

Stress.  When is it ever good?

I think I found the answer.  Well, maybe an answer just for me, but an answer all the same. When I am totally relaxed, I am the woman I was in my 30’s.  I can think.  I can debate.  I can be passionate (let your mind wander with that one) and I get ideas.  Some great, some not so great.  I have been highly stressed for awhile now, so the relaxation has had to come through yoga, sex or single malt Scotch.  Today I share with you the ideas that Glenlivet has given me through its amber aura of relaxation.

  • On Texas freeways, driving laws state that you may only use the left lane for passing other cars, presumably for safety reasons.  How does this make sense?  Cars enter and exit the freeways  from the right, thus forcing drivers driving the speed limit to move to the left lane.  All this moving and swerving.  Isn’t that more dangerous than driving at the speed limit rather than having to change lanes often?  Why isn’t the right lane the slow lane? and “NO” I wasn’t driving when this idea came about.
  • Have you ever analyzed a “Breaking News” newscast?  This week, there was a bomb scare at the University of Texas campus.  Local and National television stations all interrupted “regularly scheduled programming” to report this news.  It was terrible.  The uninspired news anchors (or news writers) could NOT get the phone in interviews to create any drama.  They asked leading questions like, “Did you see any terrorist activity?”  “Was there pandemonium on campus?”  “Were you scared?”  The students on the phone just answered in monosyllabic answers and seemed more interested in ensuring their friends and family heard them on air rather than creating any drama.  What happened to reporting the news rather than trying to create it?
  • I tweet a LOT during Ranger games.  A LOT!  I also follow several local and national sports beat writers for the Rangers as well as opinionated bloggers (I like opinionated people) I have noticed that these writers, especially those with many followers, can change the “judgement” of a team or player or organization through just a few tweets.  Are we really such sheep that we can so easily be influenced by a tweet?  Really?  I love Twitter, I do.  I find that the information there (for the most part) is new and engaging.  What I find disheartening (other than the deluge of political tweets, both Democratic and Republican) is how pervasive this attitude of changing public perception through “seeming expertise” is accepted.  People?  These men and women are people just like you and me.  They aren’t experts in stats, psychology or prophecy, they are writers.  They have opinions that they, of course are entitled to have, but there’s a difference in opinion and fact.  Educate yourselves people!
  • Conspiracies. The culture of no trust.  The generation of question.  What causes this?  I believe it is our government’s manipulation of the media, Hollywood and economics.  What happened to our search for the truth?  Are our politicians so busy passing laws to “payback” the big companies that funded their campaigns that the “people” no longer matter?  Is our country so far in debt that we’re about to fall so we must not let “we the people” be aware? Are the Christians and Atheists, Republicans and Democrats, Heterosexual and Homosexual communities so engaged in their own agendas that they can’t see the big picture?  Is this guy for real or just using the “Madonna” marketing meme of shock?

Glenlivet didn’t give me that answer.  Do you have one?