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Logical Fallacies in Popular Documentaries

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1 Logical Fallacies in Popular Documentaries

2 “There’s a mighty big difference between good, sound reasons and reasons that sound good.”
Burton Hills, cited in Laurence J. Peter’s Peter, Quotations: Ideas for Our Time (1977), p. 425

3 What is a logical fallacy?
A "fallacy" is a mistake, and a "logical" fallacy is a mistake in reasoning.

4 Remember! Recognizing the director’s Choices Claims Evidence
Logical fallacies = Understanding Bias in Documentaries

5 Appeals to Pathos Attempt to make the audience to experience ideas on an emotional, instinctive, and “gut” level. Commonly used in essay films in which directors assert a particular position on the issue.

Appeal to Emotion ("argument from pity"): An emotional appeal concerning what should be a logical issue. While pathos generally works to reinforce a sense of duty or outrage at some abuse, trying to use emotion merely for the sake of getting the person to accept what should be a logical conclusion is a fallacy.

7 Appeals to Pathos in Documentaries
Use visual and sound elements to pull on emotions. Combines visual and written rhetoric to put through the director’s thesis or point of view.

8 Bowling for Columbine What A Wonderful World

9 Remember! Pathos is a powerful rhetorical appeal, but it can backfire and undermine credibility for the rest of the arguments presented.

10 Argument to the People:
"Using an appeal to popular assent. Bandwagon Approach: “Everybody is doing it.” Snob Approach: doesn’t assert “everybody is doing it,” but rather that “all the best people are doing it.”

11 Argument to the People:
"Using an appeal to popular assent. Patriotic Approach: "Draping oneself in the flag." Asserts that a certain stance is true or correct because it is somehow patriotic, and that those who disagree are unpatriotic.


13 Wal-Mart: The High Price of Low Cost
Sequence represents director’s “call to action” segment of a traditional essay. Director asserts Wal-Mart has negative impacts on individuals, businesses, communities and the global economy.

14 Wal-Mart: The High Price of Low Cost – 01:32:36 – 01:34:48
How do the visuals images, text, voice-overs, and music combine to create different emotions and moods, and how do these emotions reinforce the “call to action”? Sequence begins with community protest. Let’s see what happens!


16 Questions to Consider What is the effect of repeating Lee Scott’s comment “don’t want you in the community”? Are the sliding photographs effective? How does this segment make use of the bandwagon fallacy? What are some of the ways the director asserts both the popularity and possibility of standing up to giant corporations like Wal-Mart?

17 Appeal to Tradition: asserts that a premise must be true because people have always believed it or done it. Alternatively, it may conclude that the premise has always worked in the past and will thus always work in the future.

18 Appeal to Tradition: uses the logic that the way things used to be is better than they are now, ignoring any problems of the past


20 Bowling For Columbine Chapter 5, ‘Michigan Militia” 00:08:06 – 00:08:58
What seems to be Moore’s attitude toward the Michigan Militia? How do you know?

21 Bowling For Columbine Chapter 5, ‘Michigan Militia” 00:08:06 – 00:08:58
When the 1st Militia member refers to the Second Amendment of the US Constitution in his statement, “This is an American tradition…it’s an American responsibility to be armed. If you’re not armed, you’re not responsible. Who’s going to defend your kids? The cops? The federal government?” do you accept his reasoning? Does Michael Moore seem to agree with him? Explain.

22 False Analogy In an analogy, two objects (or events), A and B are shown to be similar. Then it is argued that since A has property P, so also B must have property P. An analogy fails when the two objects, A and B, are different in a way which affects whether they both have property P.

23 False Cause Definition: Assuming that because B comes after A, A caused B. Of course, sometimes one event really does cause another one that comes later—for example, if I register for a class, and my name later appears on the roll, it's true that the first event caused the one that came later. But sometimes two events that seem related in time aren't really related as cause and event. That is, correlation isn't the same thing as causation.

24 How to Identify Faulty Analogy
Question whether the comparison is reasonable. Do the two ideas or events have a cause and effect relationsip?

25 Bowling For Columbine Marilyn Manson
Moore looks at the who and what people blamed for Columbine. Is there really a correlation?


27 Scare Tactics Common emotional appeal that convinces audience to fear the opposition. Not necessarily logically unsound – scare tactics rely on presenting the actual facts, but in a way that heightens or exaggerates fear.

28 Bowling for Columbine

29 Supersize Me

30 Appeals to Ethos Appeal to authority uses experts and expert testimony to advance the argument. Watch out for Appeal to False Authority or Appeal to Improper Authority, which uses a famous person or a source that may not be reliable.

31 Pathos, Ethos & Logos – Oh,My!
Combining statistics, facts and logical reasoning with expert interviews or statements and a scare tactics can be very effective, and often very believable.


33 Super Size Me Morgan Spurlock, 2004 Chapter 11, “The Impact” 00:29:09 – 00:30:15
Why might Spurlock have used cartoon illustrations of each of the diseases or health conditions? Are these illustrations effective? What does Spurlock achieve by having these illustrations tile over the McDonald’s exterior?

34 Super Size Me Morgan Spurlock, 2004 Chapter 11, “The Impact” 00:29:09 – 00:30:15
Based on this segment, who might Spurlock’s intended audience be? Spurlock uses ethos, pathos, and logos in this segment. Which of these appeals is most convincing? Explain.

35 Slippery Slope Works well in conjunction with scare tactics.
Both are alarmist; both refer to actual facts

36 Slippery slope Definition: The arguer asserts that if we take even one step onto the "slippery slope," we will end up sliding all the way to the bottom; he or she assumes we can't stop halfway down the hill.

37 Wal-Mart: The High Price of Low Cost – Robert Greenwald Chapter 2: “Out of Business” 00:10:15 – 00:12:46 Why might Greenwald open with one family’s story? Even though this is one small business’ story, what might this scene suggest about similar small businesses? What effect does Greenwald create by fading to black and shooting the final scene of the store at twilight? What is this a visual metaphor for?

38 Wal-Mart: The High Price of Low Cost – Robert Greenwald, Chapter 2: “Out of Business”

39 Wal-Mart: The High Price of Low Cost – Robert Greenwald Chapter 3: “Razing Main Street America” 00:12:47 – 00:13:55 Why might Greenwald have chosen sepia tone for the empty Main Street shots? What effect does he create by jumping back to full color, and then again to sepia tone? What emotions are raised by the song “This Land is Your Land”? What other techniques convey the inevitability that this will happen to all small businesses and communities?

40 Hasty generalization Definition: Stereotypes about people ("frat boys are drunkards," "grad students are nerdy," etc.) are a common example of the principle underlying hasty generalization.

41 Hasty generalization Another common example is the misleading statistic. Suppose an individual argues that women must be incompetent drivers, and he points out that last Tuesday at the Department of Motor Vehicles, 50% of the women who took the driving test failed. That would seem to be compelling evidence from the way the statistic is set forth. However, if only two women took the test that day, the results would be far less clear-cut.

42 Statistical Fallacies
Benjamin Disraeli is credited as saying, “There are three kinds of lies – lies, damn lies, and statistics.” Do not accept statistics blindly – question validity of sources, relevancy, and accuracy!

43 Hasty Generalizations
Occur when people jump to conclusions based on data from a sample size that is not large enough. This generally happens after the person notices something that holds true from personal experience and extracts that from a more general trend.

44 Super Size Me by Morgan Spurlock, 2004 Chapter 18, “Fast Food Advertising”

45 Super Size Me Morgan Spurlock, 2004 Chapter 18, “Fast Food Advertising”
Margo G. Wootan claims “most kids can say McDonald’s” by the time they can speak. What techniques does Spurlock use in this segment to make it seem that children overwhelmingly recognize McDonald’s? What effect does he create by including the image of Jesus? What other famous people, whom Spurlock did not include, might have been more easily recognized by these children?

46 Super Size Me by Morgan Spurlock, 2004 Chapter 18, “Fast Food Advertising”

47 Super Size Me Morgan Spurlock, 2004 Chapter 18, “Fast Food Advertising”
What effects do the cartoon illustrations and piles of money achieve? How do they emphasize the statistics Spurlock presents?

48 Super Size Me Morgan Spurlock, 2004 Chapter 18, “Fast Food Advertising” 00:44:48 – 00:46:52
Why might those suit colors have been chosen for each of the four characters, and what might the colors and the relative sizes of the figures (especially the green suited Five-A-Day figure) represent, both literally and symbolically? Why Might Spurlock have chosen this method for relaying these statistics, as opposed to, for example, a black screen with white text, or a bar graph showing the relative amounts?

49 Logical Fallacies Remember that these types of persuasion are used in media because they appear to be legitimate arguments. Be aware of these and you will not be fooled!

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