On August 19, 1992, Mary Fisher addressed the Republican National Convention on the issue of AIDS awareness. Throughout her speech "The Whisper of AIDS" she urges the Republicans to no longer hold onto the stigma surrounding the word, and to address the problem rather than turning a blind eye to it. Her main point is that everyone has the potential to contract the virus, but since its discovery in 1981, people are still afraid to talk about it openly, and that it shouldn't be like that. Fisher is HIV positive, and she uses herself as an example to display her point that everyone is capable of the illness. Mary Fisher is a republican and mother of two children. After she was married she contracted HIV from her husband, yet her two children did not contract the virus. She uses an array of techniques to convey her message that I will analyze throughout the essay. I will describe the different aspects of the speech in steps and give an interpretation and evaluation as well, in order to dissect the speeches different elements and to give an understanding as to why and how it was delivered.
The main objective of Fisher's speech was to stop the silence surrounding the discussion of AIDS. During the early 1990's, the word "AIDS" had a negative stigma around it and it was a common misconception that it could only be transmitted through homosexual males and drug users. She emphasized the problem that AIDS was causing, and the possible future problems that might bloom from it, and how things could look up if more people were aware of it. A powerful tool that Mary Fisher uses to get her message across is her own personal HIV diagnosis.
Fisher boldly stresses how she contracted AIDS from her husband, and this example breaks through all previous misjudgments and illuminates how powerful the disease actually is. Due to the fact that she's speaking to the Republican National Convention, she discusses how President Bush (serving as president at the time speech was presented) had supported her and her family and then stated that "much good had been done". Throughout the speech she tells everyone that they are completely at risk, by using scare tactics and stating that no one is safe. She even mentions both political parties when she states "It [AIDS] does not care whether you are Democrat or Republican…" This specific statement (much like mentioning Reagan) was used in order to attract attention from the Republicans gathered around, comparing the polar opposite parties as equally susceptible to AIDS, in order to show that it truly could affect anyone. Along with saying that "It does not ask whether you are Democrat or Republican" she also lists other differences amongst people as a stylistic device, carefully choosing vocabulary words that relate to the stereotypes that commonly surrounded AIDS. "It does not ask whether you are black or white…" was used to combat the stereotype that only Africans or African American's were afflicted by AIDS. The stereotype was initially perceived because Africa has a massive AIDS problem and the virus is thought to have originated in Africa. "It doesn't ask whether you are…gay or straight" was used in order to dispute the stereotype that only homosexuals could contract the virus, due to a large number of HIV/AIDS infected people being homosexual.
Fisher relies on the Republicans specific view of morality when she uses pathos. She stresses that homosexuals, drug users, and those without families are not the only ones that can contract AIDS. Her emphasis against these groups and her emphasis that "normal" people can contract AIDS just as easily, shows that she is preaching to an audience that she felt wasn't concerned about homosexuals, drug users, and those without families as well. The Republican party (which is conservative on most issues) tends to seemingly be unsupportive of homosexuals, which is why she emphasized the fact that even straight women (herself) with families could obtain the virus just as easily. This arrangement was intentional, because she felt as if the problem wouldn't have been a concern to the Republicans if they weren't affecting who they deemed as "worthy".
The use of ethos was incorporated when Fisher explained that she contracted AIDS from her husband, had a family, discussed caring for her children, and mentions God. Also, it was widely known that Fisher was very wealthy (Kelly). These statements were all used in order to add credibility to her and display that she is of good moral character. This allowed the conservative audience to trust and respect everything she had to say. If she didn't mention her story, they may have deemed her as immoral in their minds and not wasted their thought on someone that they did not uphold.
By being straightforward about how she contracted AIDS from her husband, this also allowed the audience to see her as honest. She didn't hide how she contracted it, opening up the door of respect. She showed good will, good sense, and a good moral character which completely allows the conservative audience to side with her.
Fisher also uses logos in her speech when she lists shocking facts about the AIDS virus. Early on she states that forty, sixty, or a hundred million infections will be counted in the coming few years. These harsh developing statistics display logos because they are statistical claims that she uses. Enthymeme is used when she states "The reality of AIDS is brutally clear" before she lists the facts.
The ideas that Fisher presents are arranged in their specific order for a reason. At first she explains that she is HIV positive, so that she can use this to her advantage. If she hadn't came out and said this, then at first she would have seemed to be someone who could not really relate to the struggle she was fighting for. By telling this fact, the audience will understand that she is the perfect spokeswoman for the struggle at hand.
Also in the beginning, she delivers her direct goal. At first she says "Less than three months ago, at the platform hearings in Salt Lake City, I asked the Republican party to lift the shroud of silence which has been draped over the issue of HIV/AIDS" This statement explains that she has a history with the Republican party, and uses the technique of memory in order to come across as someone who is really fighting for what she believes in.
Then Fisher says "I have come tonight to bring our silence to an end." This is in the first paragraph of her speech in order to quickly bring to light what she is addressing and to proclaim what she is fighting for. This shows that she is assertive with her mission and is very passionate about what she believes in.
She explains that she is straight, married, a mother, and white in order to gain approval from the conservative audience, and then voices concern for those who differ from her afterwards, by mentioning the "black infant struggling" and "the lonely gay man." This technique was arranged in order for her to still be accepted when she mentions those who might not have been accepted by the audience of the Republican National Convention.
At the end of her speech Fisher makes a pledge to her children. To her son Zachary, she claims that she will not give in because she draws her courage from him. This statement means that she will not stop what she is doing until something is done about it. To Zachary she says that his prayers give her strength, and the he is the reason she wants to tell America "You are at risk."
Then she addresses her son max. She claims that she will not rest until she has done all that she can in order to make the world safe. She wants her children to not be afraid to speak of AIDS out loud, because she wants everyone to be aware.
This device was used in order to gain sympathy from the audience. By her making a pledge to her children (that almost sound as if these are the last words she might say to them) this tugs on the emotions of the crowd and may induce some last second thought. An HIV positive mother making the same pledge to her children that she initially stated to the audience in her speech makes every word that she said seem more valid and important. If these are the pledges she makes to her children, and she is addressing a crowd in order to fulfill these pledges, then the crowd might attempt to resolve the issues a little harder.
The most important elements that Fisher used in her speech were arrangement and invention. The way that the speech was arranged made it effective from the very beginning. The arrangement allowed her to relate with her audience and then throw in those that did not relate and it made the audience actually realize her struggle and the impact that AIDS has on society.
Invention was important because the ethos, pathos, and logos all gained her favor within the audience. Without her displaying that she was of good moral character, and if she wasn't able to have emotional appeal from the audience, then her speech wouldn't have been nearly as successful. Invention allowed the speech to be respectable.
I believe that Fisher intentionally used scare tactics to the audience in order to make them concerned. When she tells them that the only thing that AIDS is concerned about is if they are human, it seems as if she is saying that anybody in the building could easily attract AIDS. These scare tactics would make the issue seem more of an issue to someone that overlooked the problem and tried to ignore it. The scare tactics were used so that everyone in the room would be concerned about what she was saying, so that they would actually care about it because it might someday involve their lives.
The statements that she makes were logical because AIDS can in fact affect anyone at all. As she says "People with HIV have not entered some alien state of being." Even a mother can infect her baby with AIDS during pregnancy and AIDS can be spread through blood transfusions (William W. Mallory). She is being honest even when she uses her scare tactics, making her speech completely credible.
The rhetorical choices of Fisher were effective because throughout the speech the crowd applauded her words, as if to say that they were all truly touched by her words. Bob Neal, a delegate from Lake County, IL stated "All of our hearts poured out to her" and "Everyone in this hall is going to go home realizing that if they think they are safe, they are in danger." This proves that she gained their sympathy through her story, and that she was successful through her scare tactics that she used.
Later she claims that everyone who decides to turn a blind eye to the matter at hand is "tolerating ignorance and practicing prejudice" and that this has to be stopped for the safety of the children. She discusses her own children to garnish sympathy from the Republican Convention and to truly display that she is just like them.
Her goal was to open the minds of conservatives who might have had a specific view of the AIDS problem during that time. She stressed the fact that anyone at all could contract it, and that no one was safe in order to remove the misjudgments and cause people not to be afraid to talk about. She knew that if AIDS were able to be discussed openly, then more would be done to prevent it, and more would be done to help those who had it.