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March 29, 2012 / kflint93

Beckham Among the Tribesmen: How Tone Transforms Texts

The tone of a text is that thing that everyone understands, but is difficult to explain. Everyone knows when an author is being condescending, hopeful, arrogant or sceptical. When different people read the same text out loud, they often read it in the same way – with the tone that the author imparted to it. If a text had an attitude, it would be it’s tone.

But how is it constructed?

Within Peter McAllister’s article “Beauty ” in the book “Manthropology: the Science of the Inadequate Modern Male”, tone is created throughout the text using word choice, sentence structure and comparisons.

This text is introduced to us by the cover page, bearing a cartoon-ized version of the well-known ‘evolution of man’ image. It shows the evolution of an ape-like creature into a tall, muscular warrior which then descends into an overweight, bald, lazy, technophile – just one manifestation of the modern man. The title presents the pseudoscientific study of ‘manthropology’ and anticipates the condescension that is seen throughout the argument.

The text itself uses David Beckham as a ‘case study’ to observe and describe a modern metrosexual lifestyle. This oddly scientific approach compares Beckham to the Woodaabe tribesmen of Niger and the other famously narcissistic movements, such as the Dandies.

The use of statistics such as “the average man spends 3.1 hours in front of the mirror per week”, imparts a factual tone that the reader is likely trust. An anthropologist is also quoted, adding weight onto McAllister’s reports. However, all this is overridden when it becomes clear that this science is being used to contrast with the elaborate, artificial metrosexual lifestyle. McAllister refers to his own study in apostrophes, indicating that he knows his clinical approach isn’t truly scientific. This pseudoscientific tone is used to mock metrosexuality and reduce it to an inconsequential craze.

McAllister uses David Beckham in a similar way; he promotes Beckham as a metrosexual idol, acknowledging that it was through real sportsmen like Beckham himself that metrosexuality became mainstream. Then, Beckham, his lifestyle and his followers are reduced to ridiculously extravagant narcissists. They are compared with the ancient Woodaabe tribesmen of Niger, whom we might consider backwards and uncivilised, but have actually been conducting culturally significant ‘beauty contests’ amongst young men for centuries.

Nomads of the Woodaabe tribe in Niger compete in a traditional 'beauty' competition.

A degrading, mocking tone is definitely present during this episode. McAllister jokes about entering Beckham into a traditional Woodaabe beauty ceremony. He uses negative phrases such as “sartorial extravagance” and “legendary narcissicism” to describe Beckham and uses italics to express his incredulity at the fact that Beckham has written three autobiographies.

As with all literary techniques, tone is used to convey a message to the audience. Here, McAllister illustrates to us his view of the pathetic modern man has become and secondly, the age old adage “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

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10 Comments

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  1. annagardiner / Mar 31 2012 7:27 am

    I love the language in this post – words like narcissistic, condescension, incredulity. I know they usually say with writing, if a simpler word exists use it, but it’s nice to have your vocab challenged sometimes. For me it’s what made this post different from the others I’ve read, which use more layman terms.
    Through your writing it was easy to get a handle on the kind of tone Peter Mcallister had adopted and the techniques he’d used to do it, I do think your last paragraph could be worded better though. It seemed rushed and the last paragraph is really important to make your message stay with the reader.

    Also wow, Beckham really has three autobiographies? I’m sad with society

  2. alistairsisson / Apr 2 2012 4:29 am

    After reading your article, perhaps tone isn’t really difficult to explain – I think you did a really good job on a challenging topic, as tone is developed through so many different literary techniques.

    I’m still not really sure of how tone is used differently in science writing, as opposed to other genres (if there is any diference at all). Perhaps the author is using a scientific approach to the topic to create the derisive tone of the piece? I think by approaching metrosexuality scientifically it exposes how bizarre it can be.

    • muza2009 / Apr 3 2012 8:11 am

      Not sure how tone is used differently in science writing….good question! Let us talk about this in class…and what do you mean by science writing…because they are different genres within science writing.

  3. n20939715 / Apr 2 2012 9:33 am

    Great blog post. I really enjoyed the flow of your writing and found it an interesting topic.

    I think it could have been helped though with some more examples from the text, particularly earlier in your post as I found myself not being entirely convinced of what you were saying until I read down further to the examples. I also agree with ‘alistairsisson’s comment in that you didn’t seem to mention any implications towards or from scientific writing.

    Although I did enjoy the authors condescending tone towards metrosexual idols such as David Beckham.

  4. ashfonty / Apr 4 2012 2:46 am

    I agree that in some places McAllistar’s tone is very condescending, however I also feel in places he is also quite tolerant of Beckham’s ‘metrosexual’ status. Where he stated, ‘… when quizzed by Attitude magazine (a publication for gay men) as to why he was so comfortable with his status as a gay icon, Beckham stated, with disarming frankness, that what mattered to him was being admired, and the more, effectively, the merrier,’ I feel that while still mocking Beckham there is an hint of respect for his blatant honesty.

    I think its clear from the writing that McAllistar is not a metrosexual (or at least doesn’t consider himself one), however I think he has raised some great points while keeping it relatively credible. I like the evidence stating that men have ‘lost their place in society as the bread winners’ and so are searching for a new role. I think with this kind of topic, it is important to poke a little fun at it, because it is something that I am sure we can all relate to! David Beckham is also clearly a great example of metrosexuality with so many quotes from his own books available how could McAllistar resist?

    A really enjoyable read and you’ve summed up the use of tone to make is so enjoyable really well in your blog.

  5. thiarayoanita69 / Apr 4 2012 3:32 am

    A well-written blog post. In the beginning, you have stated 3 key elements that you are going to discuss : word choice, sentence structure and comparisons. This aids me as a reader to know what I am looking for. You have done a good job in explaining and providing examples for two of them; “word choice and comparisons” in the post. However I can’t seem to identify anything in regards to the “sentence structure” (or have I missed it?). I also like the fact that you have touched briefly on style (e.g. the italic font being used for some of the words). Sometimes we are too immersed in the content of the writing, it makes the presentation style goes unnoticed.

    I do agree with the others that you have done an excellent job in making your writing flow. That aside, I personally think there might be some more aspects that you can add in how McAllister has employed to convey the tone. For instance, the fact that McAllister has used first-person point of view in the writing; does it help in creating the “mocking tone” sounds stronger?

  6. selinamj / Apr 4 2012 7:19 am

    After reading this post I was really curious as to what sort of ‘science’ McAllister was trying to convey and how he was using such a tone to do it.
    The tone of this writing was so incredibly informal but I think it was appropriate for this topic. Dare I say that anthropology is a ‘soft science’ and lends itself to more descriptive discussions of topics than other sciences would. In order to captivate his audience I think the use of this casual tone was imperative especially considering the topic he was discussing. The development of the metrosexual man is something that people are going to investigate out of personal interest and for entertainment as this sort of social phenomenon does not have many significant detrimental implications. For this reason the light hearted tone was a good fit.
    McAllister’s use of colloquialisms and adjectives that really exaggerate his point helped to keep readers engaged. Humor was definitely present in the piece, however I feel that he runs the risk of his whole investigation being considered a bit of a joke because of this.
    I don’t want to rock the boat but I didn’t really feel that McAllister was really mocking or being overly condescending in this piece, he even says “we modern metrosexuals” including himself in that category. I more think his language was just very casual. Maybe this is an example of people interpreting tone differently?!
    I think this piece highlights the fact that tone can be a really good way to engage and entertain and audience however you would have to be careful using this tone when trying to communicate science that has significant implications for society as people may not take the information seriously.

  7. lindsayd20374453 / Apr 6 2012 5:57 am

    For me, McAllister’s article was a great example of how to put off your audience simply by your writing tone alone. If nothing else, this emphasizes the importance of selecting the tone carefully for the target audience, and to me confirms what you’re saying about the importance of tone. Every choice of every word brings with it a positive or negative connotation, and within the first two paragraphs, McAllister has managed to paint a uniformly negative picture of what a ‘metrosexual’ is. Look at the description, that you alluded to in your post: “narcissism, eroticisation, feminisation”. Three words, three negative allusions, one clear indication of the author’s opinions. It was also enough to put me offside with the author for the rest of the argument (what’s that say about me they hey?). It goes, more than anything else, towards demonstrating your point regarding the importance of tone, and I agree with your main points.
    Fun bonus related point: check out the sapeurs of the Congo. I think they might be the coolest people in the world:
    http://beyondvictoriana.com/2010/11/07/beyond-victoriana-48-les-sapeurs-gentlemen-of-the-congo-guest-blog-by-eccentric-yoruba/

  8. JamieAlexandraGraves / Apr 7 2012 8:06 am

    Your introduction explaining “tone” itself I found very straightforward and easy to understand. I agree with alistairsisson in that you have done a very good job of describing such a difficult subject.
    Also I think that you have done well in emphasizing the importance of tone in writing with your use of important statistics from the article “Beauty” from the book “Manthropology” by Peter McAlister.
    I also agree with annagardiner’s statement about the use of language in the article. However, perhaps you could have stated more clearly how these strong adjectives have been an important tool in conveying tone in the article.

  9. keikok / Apr 11 2012 2:54 pm

    Interesting topic!

    As alistairsisson mentioned above, I also want to know more about the tone used in science writing.
    For example, I can easily see the tone difference between Discover (http://discovermagazine.com/) and Kids Discover (http://www.kidsdiscover.com/). However, is there any good instance to show the difference of tone in the same magazine??

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