May 24, 2005 8:35 PM   Subscribe

Do you know your rhetoric? You can hear how it is used in the top 100 American speeches of all time, 63 of which have the original audio recordings! (prev.) The list has some odd omissions, such as the Gettysburg Address (and here in convenient presentation form) and non-American speakers like Churchill, so this shorter international list may be useful. While the slow decline in the quality of presidential addresses is much lamented, scriptwriters are stepping up, see for example, top movie speeches of all time ("Smells like victory" beats "You can't handle the truth"). So, MeFiers, do any of these still inspire, or is rhetoric dead?
posted by blahblahblah (31 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Someone forgot Kenneth Branagh's speech in Henry V, okay so it was Shakespeare, but anyways.
posted by jsavimbi at 8:55 PM on May 24, 2005

Ah, the Seven Arts: logic, grammar, rhetoric, mathematics, geometry, music, and astronomy. (No painting, photography, dance, or conceptual performances consisting of riding the bus with a washcloth stuffed in your mouth.)
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:09 PM on May 24, 2005

Are any of the 100 even from before the 20th century?
posted by aaronetc at 9:24 PM on May 24, 2005

Though it's corny, I half expected to see Mary Schmich's famous "Wear Sunscreen Speech".

As for movie speeches, Cedric the Entertainer's speech on Rosa Parks in Barbershop was priceless.
posted by bobo123 at 9:40 PM on May 24, 2005

"History chooses from countless hours of blah-blah-blah, discards most and preserves only the best," she said.
Hey, you were name-dropped in the WashPost!
posted by obloquy at 9:44 PM on May 24, 2005

It’s ridiculous and i feel ashamed admitting it... but I was watching Independence Day the other night and the final speech kinda gave me goose bumps. I think it was just some flashback to when the speech seemed really cool when I was like 13 and I really tried to turn it off, but I felt my hairs standing up for a microsecond, "today, we celebrate OUR INDEPENDENCE." No real life speech has ever done what movie rhetoric has done in terms of motivation and emotional resonance.

Please don't tell anyone.
posted by trinarian at 10:00 PM on May 24, 2005

Just to clarify, visit the home page for speeches and you'll find out it's the Top 100 American Speeches of the 20th Century.
posted by argybarg at 10:04 PM on May 24, 2005

wait no, that Robert Kennedy MLK speech... wow. Especially the screaming when he announces MLK died. I can't comprehend a time when news wasn't instantaneous and politicians delivered breaking news through speeches instead of anchors.
posted by trinarian at 10:09 PM on May 24, 2005

Trinarian...I'm dispatching a team of emergency taste-makers to fix you. They'll start the detox by reading The Old Man and the Sea out loud to you. We call that good writing, and it may scare you at first, but let it wash over you.
posted by NickDouglas at 10:15 PM on May 24, 2005

Thanks for this post, blahblahblah. The 100 Speeches link is terrific; I am amazed at the MLK "I Have a Dream" speech, which I don't think I've ever heard completely.
posted by anarcation at 10:27 PM on May 24, 2005

I think it entirely appropriate that a post on rhetoric was posted by someone called blahblahblah. Great post.
posted by sharpener at 10:39 PM on May 24, 2005

Thanks argybarg, I forgot to mention that the list is actually the top political speeches of 20th century.

Similarly, I forgot to mention this page at the American Rhetoric site that illustrates 37 different rhetorical techniques with clips from famous speeches. A neat lesson.
(Note the [weak] use of conduplicatio in this reply, rhetoric is fun!)
posted by blahblahblah at 10:59 PM on May 24, 2005

Good Lord, Dr. King could speak. Thanks for the reminder, blahblahblah.
posted by jack_mo at 2:07 AM on May 25, 2005

So, MeFiers, do any of these still inspire, or is rhetoric dead?

Is that a rhetorical question?
posted by ori at 2:28 AM on May 25, 2005

It saddens me that the list of movie speeches has left out the Shoveler's inspirational sandwich speech from "Mystery Men."
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:01 AM on May 25, 2005

We need Dr. King back. He could out-Christ the American Taliban any day.
posted by By The Grace of God at 5:20 AM on May 25, 2005

I think that the wrong Trainspotting speech was entered into the movie list. I much prefer Rent-Boy's rant:

"It's SHITE being Scottish! We're the lowest of the low. The scum of the fucking Earth! The most wretched miserable servile pathetic trash that was ever shat on civilization. Some people hate the English. I don't. They're just wankers. We, on the other hand, are colonized by wankers. Can't even find a decent culture to get colonized by. We're ruled by effete assholes. It's a shite state of affairs to be in, Tommy, and all the fresh air in the world won't make any fucking difference!"

I wish I had this much clarity of thought when I am trying to come up with a snappy reply. Instead, I usually default to some variation of, "I know you are but what am I?"
posted by Armen Tanzarian at 5:25 AM on May 25, 2005

Armen, I couldn't agree even more. That whole "who needs reasons" deal was just a prelude.
posted by jsavimbi at 5:31 AM on May 25, 2005

The movie's just OK, but Al Pacino's speech in City Hall is great.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:11 AM on May 25, 2005

If you ever get a chance, go hear Dennis Kucinich speak. Try this, alhough it's not as compelling as some events I've attended.
posted by theora55 at 8:32 AM on May 25, 2005

During the campaign, I went and saw Dennis speak. It was awesome! He spoke for about a half hour longer than he was scheduled and then said, "I have to do a phone interview -- but I'd love to keep talking to you. If you can hang out for 20 minutes, I'll be back."

Twenty minutes later, he came back and almost no one had left. The discussion continued for another 40.
posted by trey at 8:35 AM on May 25, 2005

Hoo boy. So nice to see so much of Reagan's blather is now considered great rhetoric.

Particularly galling is that there are six Reagan rants on this list - including the Old Gipper's 1987 Brandenburg Gate speech, which comes in at No. 94 - and yet no mention whatsoever of Reagan's most significant contribution to the annals of American rhetoric: his 1982 speech at the airport in Berlin. What's so special about that one? This passage:

You know, there've been four wars in my lifetime. I don't want to see another. I'm going to tell you a story about one of those wars, only because it tells the difference between two societies, ours and that society the other side of the wall.

It goes back to a war when a B - 17 bomber was flying back across the channel badly shot up by anti-aircraft fire. The ball turret that hung beneath the belly of the plane had taken a hit, was jammed. They couldn't get the ball turret gunner out while they were flying, and he was wounded. And out over the channel the plane started to lose altitude. The skipper ordered bail-out, and as the men started to leave the plane, the boy in the ball turret knew he was being left to go down with the plane. The last man to leave the plane saw the captain sit down on the floor and take his hand, and he said, ``Never mind son, we'll ride it down together.'

The Congressional Medal of Honor, posthumously awarded. That citation that I read when I was serving in that same war stuck with me for many years and came back to me just a few years ago when the Soviet Union gave its highest honor, a gold medal, to a man, a Spaniard living in Moscow.

Stirring. Truly stirring. And the incident described, as Reagan fails to note, is a proud moment in America's cinematic history, in that it occurred not in World War II itself but in an entirely fictional 1944 film about the war called A Wing and a Prayer.

Reagan repeated this remarkable lie several times in speeches throughout 1982 and 1983, telling it once to a gathering of actual Medal of Honor winners, through repetition turning a scene in a movie into a powerful true-life tale of the innate superiority of the American character. And in so doing, he formalized the split between word and deed in American rhetoric. On that day in Berlin, the era of "I did not have sex with that woman," Colin Powell's UN "evidence," and of course George W. "Mission Accomplished" Bush began. Truly a proud moment in the nation's history.
posted by gompa at 9:18 AM on May 25, 2005

Modern rhetoric finds its roots in the Attic orators and the Sophists of Greece (5th. Century B.C.) - among them: Gorgias, Isocrates and Protagoras.

It has been reported that John F. Kennedy's rhetorical style was greatly influenced by his study of Cicero ("On the Genres of Rhetoric") at Choate and Harvard.
posted by ericb at 9:35 AM on May 25, 2005

posted by ericb at 9:37 AM on May 25, 2005

Alec Baldwin's Speech in Glengarry Glen Ross is conspicuously absent from the film list.
posted by Kwantsar at 9:52 AM on May 25, 2005

Coffee's for closers, Stanley.
posted by klangklangston at 11:53 AM on May 25, 2005

Where can I find full transcripts of all these movie speeches?
posted by gottabefunky at 11:57 AM on May 25, 2005

I'm listening to Faulkner's magnificent Nobel speech as I write, and wondering why there isn't a politician today willing to say anything remotely like Huey Long's:
Now was it the meaning of the Declaration of Independence when it said that they held that there were certain rights that were inalienable -- the right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Is that right of life, my friends, when the young children of this country are being reared into a sphere which is more owned by 12 men than it is by 120,000,000 people?

Is that, my friends, giving them a fair shake of the dice or anything like the inalienable right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, or anything resembling the fact that all people are created equal; when we have today in America thousands and hundreds of thousands and millions of children on the verge of starvation in a land that is overflowing with too much to eat and too much to wear? I do not think you will contend that, and I do not think for a moment that they will contend it.
(You'd think they could have stretched the 20th-century boundary enough to include William Jennings Bryan's "Cross of Gold" speech, one of the most famous political speeches ever delivered in the United States.)
posted by languagehat at 2:24 PM on May 25, 2005

Kenneth Branagh's speech in Henry V

Which one would you choose? Tennis balls, into the breach, or we happy few?

trinarian, I was pleased to see that that Independence Day claptrap didn't even rate an honorable mention, and then I saw your post. I'm telling your mom.
posted by joaquim at 2:56 PM on May 25, 2005

It's got to be the St. Crispin's Day speech. God, I love that.
And anything by FDR.

Great post.
posted by puddinghead at 7:20 PM on May 25, 2005

I can't believe Gary Cooper's speech in Pride of the Yankees isn't up there. If that doesn't bring a tear to your eye, you're not human.

There are several bits from Cyrano de Bergerac, on patronage and at his death that are sublime, of course it's not American...
posted by Smedleyman at 12:41 PM on May 26, 2005

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