Published on August 7, 2007
The Giant That Ate El Paso Electric: The Giant That Ate El Paso Electric A Historical and Rhetorical Analysis of Corporate Annual Reports Ken Baake Two Tools for Analysis : Two Tools for Analysis Aristotelian rhetorical theory Forensic rhetoric: critiquing the past Epideictic (display) rhetoric: Laying praise or blame on someone or something in the present Deliberative rhetoric: proposing future action Theories of Postmodernism Modernist discourse assumes predictable and steady change. Postmodernist discourse reflects fragmented truths, inability to predict future change. The Early Epideictic Reports: A Steady Course: The Early Epideictic Reports: A Steady Course The annual report (above, left) states that 'generally speaking, business has been quiet throughout 1922.' Life is still smooth for El Paso Electric in 1948, serving an economy of cotton, cattle and copper. “Reddy Kilowatt” An Industry Icon: 'Reddy Kilowatt' An Industry Icon A graphic in the 1948 report—the first to use color—features this happily charged character descending the stairs, showing that electric rates are falling lower and lower. Soon electricity in Camelot will be 'too cheap to meter.' The late 1940s and Early 1950s: The late 1940s and Early 1950s Photos at the bottom of this report show the post World War II building boom in El Paso, while the top photos show El Paso Electric rising to the occasion by building new generators; the epideictic message was that science and technology will always anticipate our needs and provide for them. Hints of a change to come: Hints of a change to come Reporting1955, the height of epideictic praise: 'From the Rim Road high above the city a million lights illumine the streets and buildings as darkness falls.' But notice the deliberative foreshadowing in the 1954 report—an innocent little atom. It was only a matter of time before El Paso Electric would need new sources of power. “Gold Medallion Homes”: 'Gold Medallion Homes' Optimism prevails in the 50s and early 60s, as El Paso Electric promotes all electric living. Note the June Cleaver image of domestic bliss, mom in her high heels in the kitchen and laundry room. The feminist revolution was still to come, as was the energy crisis. Eden Embraces Technology: Eden Embraces Technology This epideictic 1966 report cover shows nature and human society in perfect harmony, with electricity as the grand benefactor of light and knowledge. The late 60s and Early 70s: The late 60s and Early 70s Still promoting all electric living. Note the clumsy cutout photo design in the report on the left, borrowing from arty rock ‘n’ roll album covers of the era. Were those designers also on drugs? A Quick and Pronounced Turn to the Deliberative: A Quick and Pronounced Turn to the Deliberative The 1973 report (left) replaces campaigns for 'Gold Medallion' all- electric homes with 'WISE Homes,' meant to encourage electricity conservation. Still, modernist science and 'man’s ingenuity' would find a solution to growing energy shortages with nuclear power. Complex Reports, Complex Times: Complex Reports, Complex Times This 1976 report features deliberative language calling for increased rates ('rate relief') to meet the challenges of the present and future, which would include much higher fuel costs for conventional electricity power stations. These were the Carter presidency years, the years of the Arab Oil Embargo, of rapid increases in fuel prices and gasoline shortages. The report also moves into forensic rhetoric (right) by justifying the company’s venture into nuclear power. All Forensic by the Late 1980s: All Forensic by the Late 1980s The modernist regulatory process designed to allow citizens to control electric rates through municipal hearings was failing. These intimidating reports reveal fragmented discourses, a blend of complicated legalese and accounting acrobatics aimed not to comfort an audience of citizens and shareholders, but to prove the company’s case to lawyers and regulators called in to sort out the company’s financial problems. The company could not accurately foresee the postmodern future—the trust with customers and shareholders was broken.. Slide13: 1989: Rhetorical asphalia, when the speaker or writer offers himself as a guarantor. Alas, the time for clever persuasion is over. The time for candid honesty arrives. 'Dear Shareholder: As expected, 1989 was a tough year for the company and its shareholders…' Cautious Recovery : Cautious Recovery The 1996 report returned to a deliberative tone and call for shareholders to accept the new challenges, those of a world where the utility business is deregulated and unpredictable. Notice the return to epideictic photographs showing employees hard at work. Still, these were small photographs, in keeping with the company’s post- bankruptcy austerity.