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Rhetorical Analysis of "Sugar Dating" Ads and Audience(s)

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Sugar Dating Sites Unabashedly Target Cash-Strapped Female Students
Brief Assignment Overview: 

Students work on argumentation techniques, rhetorical fallacies, and other concepts via reading a heavily-biased article from the New York Post discussing the relatively new but quickly growing phenomenon known as "sugar dating," which consists of web sites that pair older men (sugar daddies) who are willing to pay money for the company of young girls ("sugar babies").  The amount that any potential sugar daddy can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars. 

While sugar dating sites seem to be happy to recruit young girls of all stripes, they are clearly most interested in attracting students, as evidenced in part by the fact that membership fees are waived for any potential sugar baby who registers with a .edu email address.  The banner ad above is illustrative of most common underlying technique found on these sites.  That is appealing to the fact that the typical undergraduate student is cash-strapped, and that being a sugar baby is an easy way to solve the problem.  The titillating subject matter and the fact that half of the classroom are part of the demographic being so narrowly marketed towards caught everyone's attention from the get-go.

After they finish reading the article, displaying and bouncing through one of the sites on a projetor is great in a classroom that is equipped to do so, but it is by no means necessary.  

The class is divided into two groups who assemble their respective arguments as to the propriety of selling such a product using the rhetorical appeals employed and the audience to which they are marketing (primary and otherwise); a loosely-moderated class debate/discussion ensues.  

Pedagogical Goals - Literature: 
Pedagogical Goals - Writing: 
Pedagogical Goals - Digital Literacy: 
Additional Pedagogical Goals: 

Increasing Classroom Participation, Building Rapport Between Students, Building Rapport Between Instructor and Individual Students, Building Rapport Between Instructor and Class as a Whole

Required Materials: 

Nothing other than copies of the article distributed by the instructor at the beginning of class.

Timeline for Optimal Use: 
Full Assignment Description: 

The instructor distributes copies of an article taken from the web site of what is generally regarded as a reputable source for news.  The class has no access to the article beforehand.  The instructor asks the class if any of them are familiar with “Sugar Dating;” calling on student(s) with raised hands to explain what sugar dating generally refers to.  The instructor then elaborates on the definition provided, paraphrasing points that might have been lost in the student’s explanation, adding any aspects of the concept that were not mentioned in the process.  (5 minutes)

Students read the article individually.  (5-10 minutes)  phenomenon

The class then divides into two equally-sized groups, and discuss positive and negative aspects of the concept of sugar dating in general, along with the article’s presentation of the concept.  One group is identified as the “pro” group, with the other identified as the “con.”  However, the instructor does not articulate a specific question upon which they are taking sides.  The two groups each work to flush out and organize what they believe to be their most salient points.  (10-15 minutes) 

An open discussion in a point/counterpoint format is the conducted, with the instructor keeping the discussion from straying to far afield, while casually interjecting to emphasize and elaborate upon the concepts that are relevant to rhetoric and/or law as they arise during the discussion.  It is important that the instructor is as unobtrusive as possible throughout the ensuing discussing, to the extent that the collective “personality” of a particular class will allow.  (30 minutes for a class meeting twice a week)

The instructor wraps up the debate and the class by highlighting some of the most important substantive points and the most effective argumentation techniques from each side of the discussion.  Students are informed that there is a discussion prompt related to the day’s discussion; each student must submit one original posting, along with at least one response to another student’s original posting before the next class meeting.  (5-10 minutes)

Suggestions for Instructor Preparation: 

To prepare for the class, the instructor should spend time analyzing the specific article to be distributed to the class, composing a rough outline of considerations such as (1) the arguments (and counterarguments) most likely to be made by students, (2) the rhetorical concepts the instructor is most interested in covering,  (3) questions that the class discussion might not touch upon.

The instructor should also do their due diligence in researching the subject in general.  Visiting the actual sugar dating web sites is especially important.  Students will have varying degrees of knowledge on the subject.  Given the fact that these sites specifically target female college students, there is a strong likelihood that at least a couple of students will be well-versed on the subject; the instructor does not want to be learning about nuances of the sugar dating process, etc. from one of their students.

Instructions For Students: 

As indicated above, instructions to be given to students are minimal (intentionally so).  They're instructed to take about 10 minutes reading the article being contemporaneously distributed, with particular attention to tone, word choice, authorial bias, context, and visual rhetoric.  They are then divided into two groups with opposing viewpoints, and are instructed to construct the most persuasive argument that they can, taking rough notes (to be submitted at the end of class) outlining the same.  

They're reminded to consider likely arguments from the other side, and the best way to address/respond to them.  Students then partake in a debate wherein the instructor guides them back on track if they are getting off-topic, overly emotional, or missing each other entirely (from a stasis theory standpoint).  

At the end of the class, the students are given instructions to make a substanive blog posting responding to an instructor-provided prompt; the will seek to continue aspect(s) of the in-class discussion.  Along with one original blog posting, students are instructed to post at least one response to the original posting of a classmate.

There is not any reading students are instructed to do in preparation for the class.

Notes on Reception, Execution, etc.: 

The article’s author has a clear bias from the title onward, so I ask for a show of hands as to who agrees with the author’s…unflattering…representation of sugar dating and their advertisement and recruitment techniques.  To my surprise, about 18 of my 22 students said that they agreed with the author.  To keep the group numbers equal, I (somewhat lightheartedly) pointed out that the pinnacle of achievement for any rhetorician is to be able to effectively argue a point with which they wholly disagree.  As my class is entitled “Rhetoric of Law,” I pointed out that this skill is of particular importance to attorneys, given that they take an oath to be “zealous advocates” for their clients in court, even if those clients are individuals whom they might find repugnant on a personal level.  I then split the class roughly in half, based only upon where they happened to be sitting (or standing) at that moment, and then moving individual students towards one of two camps in order to arrive at numerical parity.  I did not give consideration as to what side any particular student chose during our initial show of hands.

This lesson plan is well-suited for developing familiarity between students, increasing student participation, and establishing rapport between the instructor and his students- both individually and as a class.  For these reasons, the lesson plan might be particularly useful at the beginning of the semester, or later on if class participation begins lagging.

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