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See attached.

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assignment for my Coms430 on Pentadic Practicum analysis on this Youtube video as an
artifact (I will put a link down below), its an essay for May 17th, please take a look and let me
know if you can work on this essay, here is the descriptions. I Attached the textbook and also
here are the guidelines for paper 2.

here is the research question “How does Language affect our reality?”

The following guidelines provide a basic organizational framework for your critical papers. A
similar method of organization is presented in the textbook, Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and

Criticisms should be divided into five sections as described below:

[1] Introduction.

In this section, the critic needs to introduce the topic of the paper and present the thesis
of the criticism. Remember, a rhetorical criticism should not be a mere application of a method
to some rhetorical artifact. Rather, the criticism should have some point, and that point will be
expressed in the thesis of the paper. As the point of the criticism depends upon the conclusions
of your analysis (see [5] below), it is often not possible to frame the thesis of the criticism until
the analysis has been completed and at least a rough outline of the conclusions prepared.

[2] Background

Once the thesis has been clearly presented, the critic needs to describe the selected artifact. In
this description, the critic needs to address a number of topics. First, the critic should provide a
summary of the artifact and an analysis of the factors that gave rise to the artifact, especially the
exigence the artifact seeks to redress. Second, the critic should describe the rhetorical
function(s) of the artifact, explicating the attitudes, beliefs, or actions the artifact seeks to induce.
Third, the critic should demonstrate the significance of the artifact, explaining why their selected
artifact merits critical attention. Significance can be established in three ways. First, a rhetorical
artifact may be significant because it has had a strong or widespread effect on one or more
audiences. Second, a rhetorical artifact may be significant because it is typical or
representative of many other rhetorical artifacts. Third, a rhetorical artifact may be significant
because it is unique and, therefore, may demonstrate some unusual rhetorical principle.

[3] Summary of method.

In this section, the critic will present their analysis of the artifact. This requires two basic
steps. First, the critic needs to present a brief introduction to the critical method. This need not
exceed two paragraphs, but should nonetheless fulfill two functions: [1] it should acquaint the

reader with the general nature of the method and [2] it should justify the suitability of the
selected method for the purposes of the critic’s analysis.

[4] Analysis

After reviewing the critical method, the critic will then present the findings of the analysis.
This section will typically be the most developed section of the criticism. Although the
organization of this section will vary depending upon the particular critical method employed, the
critic must present their findings using a clearly articulated organization. Two such
organizations are commonly used. First, a critic might organize their analysis in terms of the
features of the rhetorical artifact itself (e.g., the main points of a speech or the chronological
presentation of scenes in a movie). Second, the critic might organize their analysis in terms of
the rhetorical concepts being applied (e.g., the terms of Burke’s pentad). A conceptual
organization is generally, though not always, preferred. Additional suggestions for organizing
this section are presented in the chapters of the textbook corresponding to the various critical

[5] Discussion.

In this section of the criticism, the critic will interpret the findings of their analysis and
suggest further implications. In the first of these tasks, the critic is seeking to answer two
important questions. The first question is: “How do the findings of this analysis illuminate the
rhetorical function or significance of the selected rhetorical artifact?” This question focuses on
explaining the artifact based the findings of the analysis. The second question is: “What do the
findings of this analysis tell us about the value of the selected rhetorical artifact?” This question
focuses on evaluating the artifact based upon the findings of the analysis and is typically
answered in terms of the effectiveness and/or appropriateness of the artifact. The answers to
these questions constitute what are commonly called the conclusions of the criticism. The
conclusions of your analysis are the payoff of the analysis and should be prepared and
presented carefully. As noted above, the conclusions will also guide the development of the
thesis of the criticism in that they establish the point of your criticism.

The second task—presenting the implications of the analysis—also requires the critic to
consider two questions: “What might this analysis tell us about the nature and/or functions of
other similar rhetorical artifacts?” and “How might this analysis contribute to rhetorical theory?”
Thus, the purpose of the implications is to provide some generalizations based upon the
findings of the analysis. This section is typically brief but is useful for providing a context for
your analysis within the field of rhetorical studies.

Youtube video on Secrets of success by Richard St John

Pentadic Criticism essay samples startinng- Page 382

-‐—-‐————– —————–“—–

The criticism is about his purpose and the motives behind the speech that he is giving.

For Paper #2, you can do ANY of the methods EXCEPT Neo-Aristotelian. FULL GUIDELINES

You must also use a NEW artifact for your analysis (one that you have not used before, one we
have not seen another student already do, and one we have not already discussed in class). If
you struggle with artifact selection, you can always look to politics, art, architecture, advertising,
music, etc. There are tons of options out there. Get creative!


This paper is 6-8 pages. You must hit page 6, not including your works cited page, to be eligible
for a C or higher.

Rubric below:

Fifth Edition


Exploration and Practice

Sonja K. Foss
University of Colorado at Denver


Long Grove, Illinois

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For information about this book, contact:
Waveland Press, Inc.
4180 IL Route 83, Suite 101
Long Grove, IL 60047-9580
(847) 634-0081
[email protected]

Copyright © 2018 by Waveland Press, Inc.

10-digit ISBN 1-4786-3489-8
13-digit ISBN 978-1-4786-3489-8

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval sys-
tem, or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in writing from
the publisher.

Printed in the United States of America

7 6 5 4 3 2 1

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Preface ix


1 The Nature of Rhetorical Criticism 3
Rhetoric 3

Humans as the Creators of Rhetoric 4
Symbols as the Medium for Rhetoric 4
Communication as the Purpose of Rhetoric 5

Rhetorical Criticism 6
Systematic Analysis as the Act of Criticism 6
Acts and Artifacts as the Objects of Criticism 6
Understanding Rhetorical Processes as the Purpose of Criticism 7

2 Doing Rhetorical Criticism 9
Selecting an Artifact 9
Analyzing the Artifact 10
Formulating a Research Question 11
Reviewing Relevant Literature 13

Identifying the Literature to Review 13
Coding the Literature 15
Creating a Conceptual Schema 16
Writing the Literature Review 17

Writing the Essay 18
Introduction 18
Description of the Artifact 19
Description of the Method 20
Report of the Findings of the Analysis 20
Contribution to Rhetorical Theory 21


iv Contents

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Applying the Analysis in Activism 22
Assessing the Essay 24

Justification 25
Reasonable Inference 25
Coherence 26

What Comes Next 26

3 Neo-Aristotelian Criticism: Genesis of Rhetorical Criticism 29
Procedures 32

Selecting an Artifact 32
Analyzing the Artifact 32
Formulating a Research Question 36
Writing the Essay 36

Sample Essays 36
Conventional Wisdom—Traditional Form—

The President’s Message of November 3, 1969 38
Forbes Hill

Laying the Foundations of Power: A Neo-Aristotelian Analysis
of Jiang Zemin’s Address at the Handover of Hong Kong 50

Andrew Gilmore

Critical Approaches

4 Cluster Criticism 61
Procedures 63

Selecting an Artifact 64
Analyzing the Artifact 64
Formulating a Research Question 68
Writing the Essay 68

Sample Essays 68
Crisis Leadership and Hurricane Katrina: The Portrayal of Authority

by the Media in Natural Disasters 70
Robert S. Littlefield and Andrea M. Quenette

An Invitation to Reopen Debate: Jimmy Carter’s Speech
at Brandeis University 89

Mary E. Domenico

Artifact: Speech by Jimmy Carter 95

A Rhetoric of Reassurance: A Cluster Analysis of Jiang Zemin’s
Address at the Handover of Hong Kong 99

Andrew Gilmore

Contents v

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5 Fantasy-Theme Criticism 105
Procedures 109

Selecting an Artifact 109
Analyzing the Artifact 110
Formulating a Research Question 115
Writing the Essay 115

Sample Essays 115
Rhetorical Visions of Health: A Fantasy-Theme Analysis

of Celebrity Articles 117
Amanda Hinnant and Elizabeth Hendrickson

Coping with Loss: U2’s “One Tree Hill” 132
Kelly Mendoza

Reassurance Through Normalization:
A Fantasy-Theme Analysis of Jiang Zemin’s Address
at the Handover of Hong Kong 135

Andrew Gilmore

6 Feminist Criticism 141
Procedures 146

Selecting an Artifact 146
Analyzing the Artifact 147
Formulating a Research Question 154
Writing the Essay 154

Sample Essays 155
“The Man for His Time”: The Big Lebowski as

Carnivalesque Social Critique 158
Paul “Pablo” Martin and Valerie Renegar

Americanizing Gay Parents:
A Feminist Analysis of Daddy’s Roommate 170

Dara R. Krause, See Vang, and Shonagh L. Brent

The Enactment of Advanced Style:
Strategies Fashioned to Disrupt the Ideology of Aging 174

Karen A. Foss, Sonja K. Foss, and Yufang Zhang

7 Generic Criticism 179
Procedures 183

Selecting an Artifact 183
Analyzing the Artifact 184
Formulating a Research Question 190
Writing the Essay 190

Sample Essays 190
Dismantling the Guitar Hero?

A Case of Prodused Parody and Disarmed Subversion 194
Jörgen Skågeby

The Transference of Power: A Generic Description
of Handover Rhetoric 207

Andrew Gilmore

vi Contents

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Artifact: Speech by Jiang Zemin 215

Artifact: Speech by Barack Obama 216

Artifact: Speech by Pope Francis 219

Beauty in Conflict: Discussion on Art 222
Danielle Montoya

Artifact: Photograph by Ansel Adams 222

Banksy at Disneyland: Generic Participation in Culture Jamming 229
Joshua Carlisle Harzman

8 Ideological Criticism 237
Procedures 242

Selecting an Artifact 242
Analyzing the Artifact 243
Formulating a Research Question 248
Writing the Critical Essay 248

Sample Essays 248
Memory and Myth at the Buffalo Bill Museum 253
Greg Dickinson, Brian L. Ott, and Eric Aoki

Artifacts: Photographs of Buffalo Bill Museum

Cyber Ideology: An Ideological Criticism of the
UNICEF, UNAIDS, and UNFPA Websites 273

Khadidiatou Ndiaye

Legitimation of an Unwanted Transition: Jiang Zemin’s
Ideology to Legitimize the Handover of Hong Kong 280

Andrew Gilmore

9 Metaphoric Criticism 285
Procedures 289

Selecting an Artifact 289
Analyzing the Artifact 290
Formulating a Research Question 294
Writing the Essay 294

Sample Essays 294
Hugo Chávez and the Building of

His Self-Image Through Metaphor 297
Isabel Negro Alousque

Architectural Metaphor as Subversion: The Portland Building 310
Marla Kanengieter-Wildeson

Artifact: Building by Michael Graves 311

Contents vii

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Reframing an Unwanted Transition:
A Metaphoric Analysis of Jiang Zemin’s
Address at the Handover of Hong Kong 314

Andrew Gilmore

10 Narrative Criticism 319
Procedures 323

Selecting an Artifact 323
Analyzing the Artifact 325
Formulating a Research Question 337
Writing the Essay 338

Sample Essays 338
“You Don’t Play, You Volunteer”: Narrative Public

Memory Construction in Medal of Honor: Rising Sun 342
Aaron Hess

Facilitating Openness to Difference: A Narrative Analysis of
Leslie Marmon Silko’s Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit 357

Laura S. More, Randi Boyd, Julie Bradley, and Erin Harris

To Ensure a Smooth and Successful Transition:
A Narrative Analysis of Jiang Zemin’s
Address at the Handover of Hong Kong 361

Andrew Gilmore

11 Pentadic Criticism 367
Procedures 369

Selecting an Artifact 369
Analyzing the Artifact 369
Formulating a Research Question 379
Writing the Essay 380

Sample Essays 380
Fahrenheit 9/11’s Purpose-Driven Agents:

A Multipentadic Approach to Political Entertainment 382
Samantha Senda-Cook

The Construction of Agency as a Cause for Recall:
A Pentadic Analysis of Wisconsin Governor
Scott Walker’s Victory Speech 403

Rachael Shaff

Artifact: Speech by Scott Walker 405

Circumvention of Power: A Pentadic Analysis of
Jiang Zemin’s Address at the Handover of Hong Kong 407

Andrew Gilmore

viii Contents

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12 Generative Criticism 411
Encountering a Curious Artifact 411
Coding the Artifact 413
Searching for an Explanation 420
Creating an Explanatory Schema 422

Talking with Someone 424
Introducing Random Stimulation 425
Shifting Focus 426
Reversing 427
Questioning 427
Applying Aristotle’s Topics 428
Applying Metaphors 428

Assessing the Explanatory Schema 430
Formulating a Research Question 431
Coding the Artifact in Detail 432
Searching the Literature 433
Writing the Essay 433
Sample Essays 435

Toward a Theory of Agentic Orientation:
Rhetoric and Agency in Run Lola Run 438

Sonja K. Foss, William J. C. Waters, and Bernard J. Armada

Coding for Coping with Fatal Illness 459

Coping with Fatal Illness: Avery’s Bucket List as Reality Television 467
Rachael L. Thompson Kuroiwa

Romancing the Chinese Identity:
Rhetorical Strategies Used to Facilitate
Identification in the Handover of Hong Kong 476

Andrew Gilmore

Foss-RC Page ix Monday, June 19, 2017 2:08 PM


Rhetorical criticism is not a process confined to a few assignments in a rhe-
torical or media criticism course. It is an everyday activity we can use to
understand our responses to symbols of all kinds and to create symbols of our
own that generate the kinds of responses we intend. I hope this book not only
provides guidelines for understanding and practicing critical analysis but also
conveys the excitement and fun that characterize the process.

I am grateful to a number of people who assisted me in various ways with
earlier editions of this book: Bernard J. Armada, Ernest G. Bormann, Kim-
berly C. Elliott, Richard Enos, Karen A. Foss, Cindy L. Griffin, Sara E.
Hayden, Richard L. Johannesen, Laura K. Hahn, D. Lynn O’Brien Hallstein,
Kellie Hay, Michelle A. Holling, Gordana Lazić, Xing Lu, Debian L. Marty,
Clarke Rountree, Diana Brown Sheridan, Robert Trapp, and William Waters.
Their gifts of time, energy, and support have contributed immeasurably to
making this book what it is today. This book is also a product of the questions,
insights, and essays of criticism of the students in my rhetorical criticism
courses at the University of Denver, the University of Oregon, Ohio State Uni-
versity, and the University of Colorado Denver.

This edition of the book has benefited from sage advice from four scholars
and colleagues. Karen A. Foss read all of the chapters and provided her usual
valuable substantive and stylistic advice. Two of my colleagues at the Univer-
sity of Colorado Denver, Lisa Keränen, and Amy A. Hasinoff, read the chapter
on narrative criticism and helped me move into the digital world of storytell-
ing. Barry Brummett helped me sort through the method of homology, which
is part of the discussion in the chapter on generic criticism.

I also appreciate the scholars whose essays I have included as samples of
the methods for their willingness to share their critical essays; their excellent
models of criticism both enrich and clarify the approaches they illustrate.
Andrew Gilmore deserves a special note of thanks for his contributions to this
edition of the book. He is the author of nine sample essays in the book, in
which he applied different methods to the same artifact to help demonstrate
what each method reveals and conceals. Little did he know, when he wrote his


x Preface

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first essay of criticism in my rhetorical criticism class in 2014, that he would
be recruited to be involved in this project. He tackled each essay with enthusi-
asm, sophisticated critical skills, and unwavering dedication. Neil Rowe and
Carol Rowe, my amazing publishers, provided their usual enthusiastic sup-
port, freedom, and just the right amount of prodding to produce this revision.
My husband, Anthony J. Radich, himself a superb rhetorical critic, contrib-
uted to this project constant good humor, support, and love.


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The Nature of Rhetorical Criticism

We live our lives enveloped in symbols. How we perceive, what we know,
what we experience, and how we act are the result of the symbols we create
and the symbols we encounter in the world. We watch movies, television
series, and YouTube videos; listen to speeches by political candidates; notice
ads on billboards and buses; choose furniture and works of art for our apart-
ments and houses; and talk with friends and family. As we do, we engage in a
process of thinking about symbols, discovering how they work, and trying to
figure out why they affect us. We choose to communicate in particular ways
based on what we have discovered. This process is called rhetorical criticism,
and this book provides an opportunity for you to develop skills in the process
and to explore the theory behind it.

A useful place to start in the study of rhetorical criticism is with an under-

standing of what rhetoric is. Many of the common uses of the word rhetoric
have negative connotations. The term often is used to mean empty, bombastic
language that has no substance. Political candidates and governmental offi-
cials often call for “action not rhetoric” from their opponents or from the
leaders of other nations. The term is also used to mean “spin” or deception of
the kind we associate with the selling of used cars. In other instances, rhetoric
is used to mean flowery, ornamental speech laden with metaphors and other
figures of speech. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech “I Have a Dream” might
be considered to be an example of this kind of rhetoric. None of these concep-
tions is how the term rhetoric is used in rhetorical criticism, and none of these
definitions is how the term has been defined throughout its long history as a
discipline dating back to the fifth century BC. In these contexts, rhetoric is
defined as the human use of symbols to communicate. This definition
includes three primary dimensions: (1) humans as the creators of rhetoric; (2)
symbols as the medium for rhetoric; and (3) communication as the purpose
for rhetoric.


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Humans as the Creators of Rhetoric
Rhetoric involves symbols created and used by humans. Some people

debate whether or not symbol use is a characteristic that distinguishes
humans from all other species of animals, pointing to research with chimpan-
zees and gorillas in which these animals have been taught to communicate
using signs. As far as we know, humans are the only animals who create a sub-
stantial part of their reality through the use of symbols. Every symbolic choice
we make results in seeing the world one way rather than another. When we
change the symbols we use to frame an event, our experience of the event is
altered. Thus, rhetoric is traditionally limited to the human rhetor as the orig-
inator or creator of messages. Rhetor is a term you will be encountering fre-
quently in this book. A rhetor is the creator of a message—the speaker,
musician, painter, website designer, blogger, filmmaker, or writer, for exam-
ple—who generates symbols for audiences.

Symbols as the Medium for Rhetoric
A second primary concept in the definition of rhetoric is that rhetoric

involves symbols rather than signs. A symbol is something that stands for or
represents something else by virtue of relationship, association, or conven-
tion. Symbols are distinguished from signs by the degree of direct connection
to the object represented. Smoke is a sign that fire is present, which means
that there is a direct relationship between the fire and the smoke. Similarly,
the changing color of the leaves in autumn is a sign that winter is coming; the
color is a direct indicator of a drop in temperature. A symbol, by contrast, is a
human construction connected only indirectly to its referent. The word cup,
for example, has no natural relationship to an open container for beverages. It
is a symbol invented by someone who wanted to refer to this kind of object; it
could have been called a fish, for example. The selection of the word cup to
refer to a particular kind of container is arbitrary.

The following example illustrates the distinction between a symbol and a
sign. Imagine someone who does not exercise regularly agreeing to play ten-
nis for the first time in many years. Following the match, he tells his partner
that he is out of shape and doesn’t have much stamina. The man is using sym-
bols to explain to his partner how he is feeling, to suggest the source of his dis-
comfort, and perhaps to rationalize his poor performance. The man also
experiences an increased heart rate, a red face, and shortness of breath, but
these changes in his bodily condition are not conscious choices. They commu-
nicate to his partner, just as his words do, but they are signs directly con-
nected to his physical condition. Thus, they are not rhetorical. Only his
conscious use of symbols to communicate a particular condition is rhetorical.

The intertwining of signs and symbols is typical of human communication.
For instance, a tree standing in a forest is not a symbol. It does not stand for
something else; it simply is a tree. The tree could become a symbol, however, if
someone chooses it to communicate an idea. It could be used in environmen-
tal advocacy efforts as a symbol of the destruction of redwood forests, for
example, or as a symbol of Jesus’s birth when it is used as a Christmas tree.

The Nature of Rhetorical Criticism 5

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Humans use all sorts of nonrhetorical objects in rhetorical ways, turning them
into symbols in the process.

Although rhetoric often involves the deliberate and conscious choice of
symbols to communicate with others, actions not deliberately constructed by
rhetors also can be interpreted symbolically. Humans often choose to interpret
something rhetorically that the rhetor did not intend to be symbolic. Someone
can choose to give an action or an object symbolic value, even though it was
not intended as part of the message. In such cases, the meaning received is
often quite different from what the creator of the message intends. When the
United States deliberately deploys an aircraft carrier off the coast of North
Korea, it has performed a rhetorical action to warn Pyongyang not to continue
with its testing of nuclear weapons. Both sides read the message symbolically,
and there is no doubt about the meaning. If a U.S. reconnaissance plane acci-
dentally strays over North Korea without the purpose of communicating any-
thing to North Korea, however, the pilot is not engaged in rhetorical action. In
this case, however, the North Koreans can choose to interpret the event sym-
bolically and take retaliatory action against the United States. Any action,
whether intended to communicate or not, can be interpreted rhetorically by
those who experience or encounter it.

The variety of forms that symbols can assume is broad. Rhetoric is not
limited to written and spoken discourse; in fact, speaking and writing make
up only a small part of our rhetorical environment. Rhetoric, then, includes
nondiscursive or nonverbal symbols as well as discursive or verbal ones.
Speeches, essays, conversations, poetry, novels, stories, comic books, graphic
novels, websites, blogs, fanzines, television programs, films and videos, video
games, art, architecture, plays, music, dance, advertisements, furniture, auto-
mobiles, and dress are all forms of rhetoric.

Communication as the Purpose of Rhetoric
A third component of the definition of rhetoric is that its purpose is com-

munication. Symbols are used for communicating with others or oneself. For
many people, the term rhetoric is synonymous with communication. The
choice of whether to use the term rhetoric or the term communication to
describe the process of exchanging meaning is largely a personal one, often
stemming from the tradition of inquiry in which a scholar is grounded. Indi-
viduals trained in social scientific perspectives on symbol use often prefer the
term communication, while those who study symbol use from more humanis-
tic perspectives tend to use the term rhetoric.

Rhetoric functions in a variety of ways to allow humans to communicate
with one another. In some cases, we use rhetoric in an effort to persuade oth-
ers—to encourage others to change in some way. In other instances, rhetoric
is an invitation to understanding—we offer our perspectives and invite others
to enter our worlds so they can understand us and our perspectives better.1

Sometimes, we use rhetoric simply as a means of self-discovery or to come to
self-knowledge. We may articulate thoughts or feelings out loud to ourselves
or in a journal and, in doing so, come to know ourselves better and perhaps
make different choices in our lives.

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Another communicative function that rhetoric performs is that it con-
structs reality. Reality is not fixed but changes according to the symbols we
use to talk about it. What we count as real or as knowledge about the world
depends on how we choose to label and talk about things. This does not mean
that things do not really exist—that this book, for example, is simply a figment
of your imagination. Rather, the symbols through which our realities are fil-
tered affect our view of the book and how we are motivated to act toward it.
The frameworks and labels we choose to apply to what we encounter influ-
ence our perceptions and interpretations of what we experience and thus the
kinds of worlds in which we live. Is someone an alcoholic or morally
depraved? Is a child misbehaved or suffering from ADD? Is an unexpected situ-
ation a struggle or an adventure? Is a coworker’s behavior irritating or eccen-
tric? The choices we make in terms of how to approach these situations are
critical in determining the nature and outcome of the experiences we have
regarding them.

Rhetorical Criticism
The process you will be using for engaging in the study of rhetoric is rhe-

torical criticism. It is a qualitative research method that is designed for the
systematic investigation and explanation of symbolic acts and artifacts for the
purpose of understanding rhetorical processes. This definition includes three
primary dimensions: (1) systematic analysis as the act of criticism; (2) acts
and artifacts as the objects of analysis in criticism; and (3) understanding rhe-
torical processes as the purpose of criticism.

Systematic Analysis as the Act of Criticism
We are responding to symbols continually, and as we encounter symbols,

we try to figure out how they are working and why they affect us as they do.
We tend to respond to these symbols—like movies or songs—by saying “I like
it” or “I don’t like it.” The process of rhetorical criticism involves engaging in
this natural process in a more conscious, systematic, and focused way.
Through the study and practice of rhetorical criticism, we can understand and
explain why we like or don’t like something by investigating the symbols them-
selves—we can begin to make statements about messages rather than state-
ments about our feelings. We engage in more disciplined and mindful
interpretations of the symbols around us. Rhetorical criticism, then, enables
us to become more sophisticated and discriminating in explaining, investigat-
ing, and understanding symbols and our responses to them.

Acts and Artifacts as the Objects of Criticism
The objects of study in rhetorical criticism are symbolic acts and artifacts.

An act is executed in the presence of a rhetor’s intended audience—a speech
or a musical performance presented to a live audience, for example. Because
an act tends to be fleeting and ephemeral, analysis of it is difficult, so many
rhetorical critics prefer to study the artifact of an act—the text, trace, or tangi-
ble evidence of the act. When a rhetorical act is transcribed and printed,

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posted on a website, recorded on video, or preserved on canvas, it becomes a
rhetorical artifact that is accessible to a wider audience than the one that wit-
nessed the rhetorical act. Both acts and artifacts are objects of rhetorical criti-
cism. But because most critics use the tangible product as the basis for
criticism—a speech text, a building, a Facebook page, a blog, a sculpture, or a
recorded song, for example—the term artifact will be used in this book to refer
to the object of study. The use of the term is not meant to exclude acts from
your investigation but to provide a consistent and convenient way to talk
about the object of criticism.2

Understanding Rhetorical Processes as the Purpose of Criticism
The process of rhetorical criticism often begins with an interest in under-

standing particular symbols and how they operate. A critic may be interested
in a particular kind of symbol use or a particular rhetorical artifact—the
Holocaust Museum in Washington DC or Adele’s music, for example—and
engages in criticism to deepen appreciation and understanding of that arti-
fact. Critics of popular culture such as restaurant, television, theatre, film, and
music critics are these kinds of critics—they tend to be most interested in
understanding the particular experience of the restaurant or film they are
reviewing. But criticism undertaken primarily to comment on a particular
artifact tends not to be “enduring; its importance and its functions are imme-
diate and ephemeral.”3 Once the historical situation has been forgotten or the
rhetor or artifact is no longer the center of the public’s attention, such criti-
cism no longer serves a useful purpose if it has been devoted exclusively to an
understanding of a particular artifact.

In contrast to critics of popular culture, rhetorical critics do not study an
artifact for its qualities and features alone. Rhetorical critics are interested in
discovering what an artifact teaches about the nature of rhetoric—in other
words, critics engage in rhetorical criticism to make a contribution to rhetori-
cal theory.4 Theory is a tentative answer to a question we pose as we seek to
understand the world. It is a set of general clues, generalizations, or principles
that explains a process or phenomenon and thus helps to answer the question
we asked. We are all theorists in our everyday lives, developing explanations
for what is happening in our worlds based on our experiences and observa-
tions. If a friend never returns your calls, emails, or texts, for example, you
might come to the conclusion—or develop the theory—that the friendship is
over. You have asked yourself a question about the state of the friendship, col-
lected some evidence (made calls and sent emails and texts and observed that
they were not returned), and reached a tentative conclusion or claim (that the
other person no longer wishes to be your friend).

In rhetorical criticism, the theorizing that critics do deals with explana-
tions about how rhetoric works. A critic asks a question about a rhetorical
process or phenomenon and how it works and provides a tentative answer to
the question. This answer does not have to be fancy, formal, or complicated. It
simply involves identifying some of the basic concepts involved in a rhetorical
phenomenon or process and explaining how they work. Admittedly, the theory
that results is based on limited evidence—in many cases, one artifact. But

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even the study of one artifact allows you to step back from the details of a par-
ticular artifact to take a broader view of it and to draw some conclusions
about what it suggests concerning some process of rhetoric.

The process of rhetorical criticism does not end with a contribution to the-
ory. Theories about rhetorical criticism enable us to develop a cumulative
body of research and thus to improve our practice of communication. The
final outcome of rhetorical criticism is an improvement of our abilities as
communicators. As a rhetorical critic, you implicitly suggest how more effec-
tive symbol use may be accomplished. In suggesting some theoretical princi-
ples about how rhetoric operates, you provide principles or guidelines for
those of us who want to communicate in more self-reflective ways and to con-
struct messages that best accomplish our goals.5 As a result of our study of
these principles, we should be more skilled, discriminating, and sophisticated
in our efforts to communicate in our talk with our friends and families, in the
decoration of our homes and offices, in our online behavior, in the choices we
make about the clothing we wear, and in our efforts to present our ideas at
school or at work.

Knowing how rhetoric operates also can help make us more sophisticated
audience members for messages. When we understand the various options
available to rhetors in the construction of messages and how they create the
effects they do, we are able to question the choices others make in their use of
symbols. We are less inclined to accept existing rhetorical practices and to
respond uncritically to the messages we encounter. As a result, we become
more engaged and active participants in shaping the nature of the worlds in
which we live.

1 This function for rhetoric was suggested by Sonja K. Foss and Cindy L. Griffin in their theory of

invitational rhetoric: Sonja K. Foss and Cindy L. Griffin, “Beyond Persuasion: A Proposal for an
Invitational Rhetoric,” Communication Monographs 62 (March 1995): 2–18. Also see Sonja K.
Foss and Karen A. Foss, Inviting Transformation: Presentational Speaking for a Changing World,
3rd ed. (Long Grove, IL: Waveland, 2012).

2 This distinction is suggested by Kathleen G. Campbell, “Enactment as a Rhetorical Strategy/
Form in Rhetorical Acts and Artifacts,” Diss. University of Denver 1988, 25–29.

3 Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, “Criticism: Ephemeral and Enduring,” Speech Teacher 23 (January
1974): 11.

4 More elaborate discussions of rhetorical criticism as theory building can be found in: Roderick
P. Hart, “Forum: Theory-Building and Rhetorical Criticism: An Informal Statement of Opin-
ion,” Central States Speech Journal 27 (Spring 1976): 70–77; Richard B. Gregg, “The Criticism
of Symbolic Inducement: A Critical-Theoretical Connection,” in Speech Communication in the
20th Century, ed. Thomas W. Benson (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1985),
42–43; and Campbell, “Criticism,” 11–14.

5 Discussions of rhetorical criticism to increase the effectiveness of communication can be found
in: Robert Cathcart, Post Communication: Criticism and Evaluation (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Mer-
rill, 1966), 3, 6–7, 12; and Edwin Black, Rhetorical Criticism: A Study in Method (Madison: Uni-
versity of Wisconsin Press, 1978), 9.

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Doing Rhetorical Criticism

The definitions of the terms rhetoric and rhetorical criticism in chapter 1 have
provided a starting place for understanding rhetorical criticism. Knowledge
about what rhetorical criticism is does not automatically translate into the
ability to do criticism, however. This chapter is designed to provide you with
an overview of the actual process of producing an essay of criticism.

Because this textbook is a first experience with rhetorical criticism for
many of you, you probably will feel more comfortable initially practicing rhe-
torical criticism using specific methods. Using these methods enables you to
begin to develop your critical skills and to learn the language and basic proce-
dures of criticism. This chapter, then, provides you with information about
how to do criticism when your starting point is a formal method of criticism.
A variety of these methods are presented in chapters 3 through 11. Chapter 12
offers a different way of doing criticism—generative criticism—an approach
you probably will want to try as your skills as a critic grow. Using this
approach, you will create a method or framework for analyzing an artifact
from the data of the artifact itself.

Your starting place, however, in most of the chapters is with a method of
criticism—either one you have chosen or one selected for you by your profes-
sor. When you begin with a particular method, the process of rhetorical criti-
cism involves four steps and possibly five or six, depending on your
preferences or your professor’s assignment: (1) selecting an artifact; (2) ana-
lyzing the artifact; (3) formulating a research question; (4) reviewing relevant
literature (optional); (5) writing the essay; and (6) applying the analysis in
activism (optional).

Selecting an Artifact
Your first step is to find an artifact to analyze that is appropriate for the

method you will be applying. The artifact is the data for the study—the rhetor-
ical act or artifact you are going to analyze. It may be any instance of symbol
use that is of interest to you and seems capable of generating insights about


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rhetorical processes—a song, a poem, a speech, a YouTube video, a webcam
drama, a video game, a series of Tweets, a podcast, a work of art, or a build-
ing, for example.

An artifact is appropriate for a method if it meets two criteria. It first must
contain the kinds of data that are the focus of the units of analysis of the
method. Units of analysis focus attention on certain dimensions of an artifact
and not others. A critic cannot possibly examine all of the features of an arti-
fact, so units of analysis serve as a vehicle or lens for you to use to examine the
artifact. They are scanning devices for picking up particular kinds of informa-
tion about an artifact, directing and narrowing the analysis in particular ways,
revealing some things and concealing others. Units of analysis are things like
strategies, types of evidence, values, fantasy themes, and metaphors. If you are
using the narrative method, for example, you will need an artifact that is a
narrative or that includes a story within it. If you are using metaphoric criti-
cism, you will need an artifact that contains some obvious metaphors.

The artifact you choose also should be something you really like or really
dislike, something that puzzles or baffles you, or something that you cannot
explain. We have such responses to the artifacts around us all the time—we
love a particular song, we cannot understand why a political candidate has
the appeal that he does, we marvel at the artistry involved in a quilt, or we
cannot figure out what the message of a building is supposed to be. Let your
daily encounters with the symbols around you guide you in your selection of
an artifact. Your interest in, passion for, and curiosity about an artifact are
important initial ingredients for writing an essay of criticism.

Analyzing the Artifact
The second step in the process of criticism is to code or analyze your arti-

fact using the procedures of the method. Each method of criticism has its own
procedures for analyzing an artifact, and at this step, you apply the units of
analysis provided by the method. If you are applying metaphoric analysis, for
example, you will be involved in coding your artifact for metaphors and their
tenors and vehicles, the two parts of metaphors. If you are applying the cluster
method, you will be identifying key terms in the artifact and finding the terms
that cluster around them. This is the step at which you engage in a close and
systematic analysis of the artifact and become thoroughly familiar with the
dimensions highlighted by your method.

An easy way to do the coding of your artifact is to write or type your notes
about the artifact in a list, leaving some space between each “code.” Physically
cut the observations you have made apart so that each idea or observation is
on a separate strip of paper. Then group the strips that are about the same
thing and put them in one pile. Group the strips that are about something else
and put them in another pile. What is in these piles will depend on the method
of criticism you are using—perhaps different fantasy themes, different meta-
phors, or different elements of narratives. Play around with different ways to
organize your piles. The strips of paper allow you to group and regroup your
codes into different categories and encourage you to experiment with multiple
ways of conceptualizing the data of your artifact.

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Formulating a Research Question
The research question is what you want to find out about rhetoric by

studying an artifact. It suggests what your study contributes to our under-
standing of how rhetorical processes work—your contribution, in other
words, to rhetorical theory. In contrast to much qualitative research, the
research question in rhetorical criticism is typically generated after you do
your analysis because the analysis shows you what you have learned that can
constitute a contribution to our understanding of rhetoric. This contribution is
captured in your research question. Although you may choose to state your
research question as a thesis statement instead of an actual question in your
essay, you want to be able to articulate what your research question is in your
mind because it encourages you to be very clear about your objective in your
analysis. Research questions are questions such as: “How does an ambiguous
artifact persuade?,” “What strategies can help people regain credibility after
they have been discredited?,” “What strategies do marginalized groups use to
challenge a dominant perspective?,” or “How does a political leader construct
a nation as an enemy?”

To create a research question, use the principle behind Jeopardy and cre-
ate a question for which the analysis you have just completed is the answer.
Use your findings to discover what is most significant, useful, or insightful
about your artifact and make that focus into a research question. If your anal-
ysis reveals, for example, that an artifact is making a highly controversial topic
seem normal, your research question might be something like, “What rhetori-
cal strategies facilitate the normalization of a controversial perspective?”

Research questions tend to be about four basic components of the commu-
nication process—the rhetor, the audience, the situation, and the message. If
you are having trouble developing a research question, identifying the arena
in which your study belongs might help you formulate your question.

• Rhetor. Some research questions deal with the relationship between
rhetors and their rhetoric. Questions that focus on the rhetor might be
concerned with the motive of the rhetor, the worldview of the rhetor, or
how the rhetoric functions for the rhetor. “What is the meaning of the
term compassion in the homilies of religious leaders?” is a research
question that has the rhetor as a focus.

• Audience. Some research questions are concerned with the relationship
between an artifact and an audience. Although rhetorical criticism does
not allow you to answer questions about the actual effects of rhetoric on
an audience, you can ask questions about the kind of audience an arti-
fact constructs as its preferred audience or how an artifact functions to
facilitate the development of certain values or beliefs in an audience. A
sample research question centered on an audience is: “What is the ideal
audience constructed by reality television?”

• Situation. Other research questions deal with the relationship between
an artifact and the situation or context in which the artifact is embed-
ded. Such questions might deal with the impact of a situation on an arti-
fact, the rhetor’s definition of a situation in an artifact, or whether the

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artifact adequately addresses an exigency in a particular situation.
Research questions in which a situation is central are: “How do political
leaders define exigencies following a national crisis?” and “What is the
impact of those definitions on perceptions of the crisis?”

• Message. Most research questions in rhetorical criticism deal with the
message. The focus is on the specific features of the artifact that enable
it to function in particular ways. Such questions might deal with the
kinds of arguments constructed, the types of metaphors used, the key
terms used, or a combination of rhetorical strategies and characteristics
that create a particular kind of artifact. Research questions that focus on
a message are questions such as: “What are the features of effective
apologies?,” “How does rhetoric generate support for propositions that
are contrary to cultural norms?,” or “What rhetorical strategies do indi-
viduals subjected to involuntary confinement use to create families?”

When you formulate your research question, try to avoid three mistakes that
beginning critics sometimes make as they create research questions. One is to
make the question too broad and generic. A question such as “How does politi-
cal rhetoric about war function?” is too broad and unfocused to answer through
the rhetorical analysis of one or even several artifacts. Try to narrow the scope
of the question by paying attention to the specific features of the artifact that are
most interesting to you. You might narrow the question to one such as “What
rhetorical strategies do political leaders use to justify unpopular wars?”

A second problem that can occur with research questions is that the word-
ing of the questions does not allow for the exploration and explanation of any-
thing interesting. Yes-or-no questions, which typically begin with do, are one
example. “Do political leaders justify unpopular wars?” is this kind of ques-
tion. Not only do these kinds of questions require simple yes-or-no answers,
but the answers to them are usually obvious—of course political leaders try to
justify unpopular wars. To make sure your research question is one that takes
advantage of the interesting and useful insights your analysis has produced,
you might want to use the following questions as models. These are templates
for typical research questions in essays of rhetorical criticism:

• What rhetorical strategies are used to . . . ?
• How do . . . function in the rhetoric of . . . ?
• What are the rhetorical processes that characterize the rhetoric of . . . ?
• What are the mechanisms by which . . . ?
• How do rhetors construct . . . ?
• How is the rhetoric of . . . constructed?
• What rhetorical strategies are available to . . . ?
• What is the nature and function of rhetoric designed to . . . ?
• What is the nature of the worldview constructed to . . . ?
• What are the features of . . . ?
• What are the characteristics of . . . ?
• What strategies are used to construct worldviews that function to . . . ?
• What perceptions result from the rhetorical construction of . . . ?

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There is one more thing to avoid as you develop your research question.
Do not include your specific artifact or data in your research question.
Although there are exceptions with some methods of criticism (such as the
ideological approach), the question usually should be larger than the artifact
you are analyzing. You should be able to use any number of artifacts to answer
the question rather than being limited to the one you chose to study. Turn the
question that fits the analysis of your artifact into a more general one by mak-
ing the elements of the question more abstract. Instead of a question such as,
“How did George W. Bush reassure citizens after the terrorist attacks of Sep-
tember 11?,” your question could be, “What rhetorical strategies do political
leaders use to reassure citizens after catastrophic events?” You have made the
name of the rhetor of the artifact you are studying into the more abstract term
of political leaders and the terrorist attacks of September 11 into catastrophic
events. Instead of a question such as, “How does the National Rifle Association
make its ideology palatable to resistant audiences?,” your question could be,
“How do organizations with strong ideologies construct messages that appeal
to normally resistant audiences?”

Reviewing Relevant Literature
The next step in the process of rhetorical criticism is an optional one. You

will want to engage in this step if your professor requires that your essays of
criticism include a literature review or if you are preparing an essay for con-
vention presentation or possible publication in a journal. In this case, the liter-
ature review is designed to familiarize the readers of your essay with key
findings from previous studies. It is designed to provide contextual knowledge
the reader will need in order to understand your findings and their signifi-
cance. The literature review allows you to enter the conversation about a topic
in your field by acquainting yourself with what others are saying so you can
extend the conversation they have begun.

Identifying the Literature to Review
How do you figure out what literature to review? Let’s take a research

question and develop the categories of literature that you would include in
your literature review. Assume that you did a metaphoric analysis for your
essay and that the research question you came up with, as a result of your
analysis, is, “What are the metaphors used by state legislators in argumenta-
tion about children’s issues?” You are interested in seeing how the metaphors
create particular realities around children’s issues and encourage legislators
to perceive and deal with such issues in particular ways. As you search for lit-
erature on the topic, you might be tempted to search for all studies that have
to do with state legislators, children’s issues, argumentation, and metaphors.
But these topics are too large—you can’t possibly include in your literature
review all of the studies on even one of these topics, nor would you want to.
Such a literature review would be unfocused and would get your readers off
track from the narrative you want to tell about the current state of the litera-
ture and how it relates to the findings of your analysis.

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Working out the categories of literature to cover in your literature review
is not hard to do because the relevant studies come directly from your
research question. Begin by searching for studies that answer your exact
research question. For example, with the research question about legislators’
use of metaphors in their arguments related to children’s issues, you first
would search for studies about the metaphors used by state legislators in argu-
mentation about children’s issues. Type into your search box “metaphors +
state legislators + argumentation + children’s issues.” Let’s assume there are
no studies that directly answer your research question. Then you want to
select one of the key terms in the question and move up one level of abstrac-
tion and search again, using that more abstract term in your question. As S. I.
Hayakawa explained in Language in Thought and Action, the same concept
can be labeled with terms that are more or less concrete, and you can move up
and down the ladder of abstraction to talk about the concept in more specific
or more general terms.

We can see how the ladder of abstraction works by borrowing an example
from Hayakawa about a cow named Bessie. When you talk about this animal
as Bessie, she is the only thing in the category of Bessie. Moving up the ladder
of abstraction, you could refer to her as a cow. Notice that, as you talk about
Bessie in more general, abstract terms, the category has been expanded, and
there are now more items in it—all cows fit into the category, whereas only
one particular cow did when the category was Bessie. To move up another
level, you could label Bessie a farm animal, which now includes not only cows
but chickens, goats, pigs, and horses. You can continue up the ladder of
abstraction and call her a possession, and now you are including not only farm
animals but houses, tractors, cars, and clothing, for example. Again, this
greater abstraction increases the number of objects that fit into the category.

Notice that, when you make similar moves in your literature search, each
time you move up the ladder of abstraction, there are more possibilities for
studies that fit into the category. By moving up levels of abstraction with the
key terms of your research question, you open up the numbers of studies avail-
able to you. For example, in the research question about legislators and meta-
phors, state legislators could become politicians, which means you can now
look for studies that deal with how mayors, lieutenant governors, governors,
congressional representatives, senators, and presidents argue about children’s
issues. So now you would be searching for literature that answers the ques-
tion, “What are the metaphors used by politicians in argumentation about
children’s issues?,” and you would type into your search box “metaphors +
politicians + argumentation + children’s issues.” If there are no studies rele-
vant to this topic, you could move to a higher level of abstraction and turn pol-
iticians into policy makers, which could include people who work in nonprofit
organizations, corporations, education, and so on. If you don’t find studies
that deal with this question, you would want to repeat the process, selecting
another term in your original research question and replacing it with a term
that is more abstract than the original. So, for example, you could take the key
term children’s issues and make it into family issues, a more abstract term.

There’s one other source for developing bodies of literature to include in a
literature review—your artifact. In addition to looking to your research ques-

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tion for clues about what your literature review should contain, also look to
your artifact, particularly if it is an artifact that is well known, produced by a
prominent person, or significant for other reasons. You want to see if studies
of your artifact have been done, how they might inform your own analysis,
and whether they shed any light on the research question you are asking. If,
for example, you are going to use as your data a work of art by feminist artist
Judy Chicago, see if studies have been done on her art in the past and include
them in your literature review. If your data are Walt Disney cartoons, see what
studies have been done of them and what kinds of findings about what kinds
of questions those studies produced. In the case of legislators’ discussions
about children’s issues, you probably aren’t going to find many studies that are
all that useful to include in your literature review—”argumentation about chil-
dren’s issues” isn’t a particularly well-known kind of artifact, and it is not
associated with anyone of prominence. In this case, your artifact—a set of
speeches by legislators—would not be a source of literature for you.

Coding the Literature
You now have gathered the literature you want to include in your litera-

ture review, and you are likely to find yourself facing two common problems
when you survey the literature. One is how to keep track of and deal with all
the literature. You might remember when you wrote papers in the past and
highlighted passages or had Post-it notes stuck on virtually every page of every
book and article you collected. A second problem is how to organize and pres-
ent the literature. Even if you could process all of the material you have effi-
ciently, how do you organize it so that it makes sense to your readers? The
following system of coding the literature addresses these problems and
enables you to engage the literature in an efficient and manageable fashion.

Coding the literature means gleaning the ideas that are relevant and useful
for your project from the literature. Do this coding the first time you read a
book or an article instead of reading it first and then going back through it to
code. When your literature is gathered and is stacked before you, sit at your
computer and take a book from the top of the pile. Review it for ideas that
have a direct bearing on your research question and artifact. Use all the clues
the book provides to discover what is relevant for the rhetorical process you
are investigating—the table of contents, chapter titles, headings, and the
index. For each chapter that seems relevant to your research question, ask: “Is
this chapter relevant for my study?” If it isn’t, do not read it, and do not code
it. When you come upon a relevant chapter, review it heading by heading and
subheading by subheading. Ask at each heading, “Is this section relevant for
me?” If it isn’t, skip it. When you find a relevant idea, take notes about it on the
computer. Using single spacing, type either a direct quote, a paraphrase, or a
summary of the idea you find useful, and include the source and page number
for each note you take. Insert a double or triple space between the notes.

Use the same process to code your articles that you use to code the books.
Look through each article to see which sections seem relevant to your
research question and artifact. When you see a section that might be useful,
skim it, seeing if there are excerpts you want to pick up. Be careful when you

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are coding articles that you don’t get lost in the details of a study. Highlight
only the findings of the study. Because you are looking for claims and conclu-
sions that are relevant to your research question, you usually do not need to
know anything about how the findings that you are including in the literature
review came to be generated—the participants, data, or methods used in the
study that produced those findings, for example. You are interested in the find-
ings of the study because the findings are what are contributing to a theoreti-
cal discussion about your topic. After you have coded all of the literature, print
out a copy of the notes you took during your coding and physically cut the
notes apart.

If you are not a fast keyboarder, there is another way to code literature
that may work better for you. As you read a book or an article, make a line in
the margin beside each passage that is relevant to your analysis (be sure to use
a pencil if the book doesn’t belong to you so you can erase these lines later).
When you have finished reading a book or an article, take it to a copy machine
and make a copy of each page where you marked a passage or passages. On
the copies of the pages, write the source and page number in the margin by
each passage you have marked. Then cut out the passages from each copied
page. At the end of this process, then, each note or marked passage is on a sep-
arate slip of paper, along with a shorthand reference to the source and page
number from which the note or passage came.

The next step of the process is to sort the slips into piles according to sub-
ject, putting everything that is about the same topic in the same pile. For exam-
ple, all the slips of paper in one pile might have to do with power, those in
another pile with gender, those in another pile with agency, and those in
another pile with the role that material conditions play in rhetoric. Put the
piles into envelopes and label the envelopes. Storing the slips in envelopes pre-
vents you from losing track of the piles or having them messed up by unwitting
animal or human companions. You now have before you many different enve-
lopes with labels on them containing many excerpts or typed notes from your
literature. What you really have is a filing system for the major ideas of your
literature review. In the case of literature about metaphors used in argumenta-
tion about children’s issues, you might find that the literature sorts into piles
such as types of arguments used about children’s issues, major topics covered
in such arguments, the legislative outcomes linked to certain kinds of argu-
ments, and metaphors about children used in advocacy for children in general.

Creating a Conceptual Schema
Your next task is to turn the ideas represented by the envelopes into a con-

ceptual schema or creative synthesis for your literature review. A conceptual
schema is a way of organizing your literature review that creates connections
among the pieces of your literature and shows how they relate to one another.
Another way to think of a conceptual schema is as an explanation for what
you are seeing across your piles of slips. It is a framework for presenting your
findings that allows you to tell a story about the content of your literature
review and features the themes that you want to highlight in the theoretical
conversation to which your essay of criticism will contribute.

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A conceptual schema is not a chronological description of literature in
which you take each study and talk about it in the order in which it was done.
These kinds of literature reviews are tedious because they do not make an
argument or connect the studies in any way. Your literature review, in con-
trast, is going to be organized by major topics and not by individual studies. In
fact, you may find that the same study appears in more than one of the subar-
eas of your literature review.

You have the mechanism for creating a conceptual schema for your litera-
ture right in front of you. Go to your computer and make a list of the labels
that are on your envelopes. Leave a couple of spaces between each of the
labels as you type the list. Make the font for the list large—perhaps 26 point—
and then print it out. Grab your scissors again, and cut the labels apart. Take
the labels to your desk, a table, a bed, or the floor, and lay them out in any
order in front of you. Begin to play around with the relationships you see
among the topics represented in the labels. Maybe you have three different
topics that are the major variables that have been studied. Lay out those three
labels across the top of your space. Are there other labels or topics that belong
under them? If so, position them in that order. Do you have some topics that
disagree with a position? Some that agree? If so, group them together. Per-
haps you discover that the literature can be organized by influences, compo-
nents, functions, outcomes, models, different ways of doing something, steps
in a process, perspectives on a phenomenon, or comparison and contrast. You
can try out different ways of organizing the literature just by moving the labels
into different patterns. Keep trying alternatives until you come up with a con-
ceptual schema that encompasses all or most of the major labels and that
seems to you to be the most effective way to tell the story of your literature.

There is no right or wrong conceptual schema for a body of literature.
Someone else could review, code, and sort the same literature you did and
come up with a very different conceptual schema from what you did. That is
not a problem. You want to organize the literature in a way that makes sense
to you, connects the major subjects covered in the literature, and helps you
engage the theoretical conversation related to your research question in a
coherent way. Developing your conceptual schema from the labels enables
you to accomplish all of these objectives in a way that is grounded in your
unique interpretation of the literature.

Writing the Literature Review
Let’s assume that you now have your conceptual schema for your litera-

ture review. In other words, you have in front of you the labels that represent
your envelopes arranged in this schema on the desk or floor in front of you.
This layout is a visual representation of your conceptual schema. Take a pic-
ture of it with your phone so you won’t forget it.

Choose a section of the literature review that you want to write. You can
begin with any section because you know exactly what your sections are, how
they relate to each other, and the order in which you want to discuss them.
Find the envelope with the slips related to that topic, take them out of that
envelope, and lay them out in front of you. Move them around and play with

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different ways of arranging them to create a miniconceptual schema that pres-
ents the literature about that subarea. In other words, do the same thing you
did with the whole literature review on a smaller scale, and arrange the
excerpts or typed notes about that topic so that they make the argument you
want to make about what the literature says in that subarea. As you review the
slips, you undoubtedly will discover that some slips say the same thing. Group
them together and then choose the one that says the idea best or the one that
comes from the most credible source. If several sources make the same point,
you can cite them in one parenthetical citation or a footnote following your
discussion of that idea, alleviating the need to repeat the same idea multiple
times. You’ll also discover that some excerpts are not as relevant as you
thought they would be to the topic and that you can leave them out.

What is left is a layout in front of you of the literature on a particular sub-
area you want to talk about in the order in which you want to talk about the
ideas of that subarea. The excerpt or note you want to talk about first is at the
top of your workspace, the second one next, and on down through all of the
excerpts that remain from the envelope. Now comes the magical part because
the literature review almost writes itself. Start with the first slip and type its
content into your computer. Then type in what is on the second slip, the third
slip, the fourth slip, and all the way through your layout. You are literally writ-
ing your way through your slips. Of course, you have to add introductions,
overviews, your argument about the ideas on the slips, and transitions
between them, but those are easy to write because you see your argument and
know exactly where you are going. As a result, you are easily able to create the
context necessary so that your essay of criticism can contribute to a theoreti-
cal conversation in the communication discipline.1

Writing the Essay
After you have analyzed your artifact, you are ready to write your essay of

criticism. Think of doing the analysis and writing the essay as two separate
processes. All of the thinking you have done and the steps you have gone
through to conduct your analysis are not included in your essay. What you
want to put on paper is the end result of your analysis so that you produce a
coherent, well-argued essay that reports your insights. An essay of criticism
includes five major components: (1) an introduction, in which you discuss the
research question, its contribution to rhetorical theory, and its significance
(this also includes your literature review if you are including one in your
essay); (2) a description of your artifact and its context; (3) a description of
your method of analysis; (4) a report of the findings of the analysis; and (5) a
discussion of the contribution your analysis makes to rhetorical theory. These
components do not need to be discussed in separate sections or identified with
headings, but you want to include these topics in your essay in some way.

Your task in the introduction to the essay is the task of the introduction of

any paper. You want to orient the reader to the topic and present a clear state-

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ment of purpose that organizes the essay. In the introduction, identify the
research question the analysis answers. You don’t have to state the question as
an actual question in your essay—it often is stated as the purpose or thesis
statement in your essay, using words such as “I will argue,” “I will suggest,” or
“I will explore.” If the research question you have formulated, for example, is
“What are the functions of reality television for audiences?,” you may want to
state it in this way: “In this essay, I will explore how reality-television shows
function for audiences to try to discover the appeal of such programs.”

A major purpose of the introduction is to generate interest so that your
readers will want to read your essay, even if they have no initial curiosity about
your artifact. One way to invite them into the essay is by suggesting that they
will learn something of importance to them. If possible, think of some real life
examples of rhetorical processes with which your readers have had experience
that relate to your analysis. If you are analyzing a speech by a member of the
National Rifle Association to gun-control supporters, you might provide exam-
ples of individuals who have attempted to persuade those who hold views that
are hostile to theirs. If you are analyzing a speech in which a rhetor attempts
to synthesize two polarized positions, you might argue that this artifact is a
model of how rhetors can create identification between opposing positions.
Knowledge about how to do this, you can suggest, is important for managing
conflict effectively between other opposing factions.

Another way to generate interest is by providing information about other
studies that have been done on the artifact you are analyzing that are incom-
plete, inadequate, or do not provide a satisfactory explanation for it. If you are
including a literature review in your essay, this is a logical way for you to gen-
erate interest. You can suggest that your study is important because it extends,
elaborates on, builds on, challenges, or in some way adds to knowledge that
already exists concerning a particular rhetorical process. When you discuss
why the knowledge about the rhetorical process to which you are contributing
is important, you are addressing the “so what?” question in research. This
question asks you to consider why the reader should care about the topic and
continue to read the essay.

Description of the Artifact
If the readers of your essay are to understand your analysis of an artifact,

they must be somewhat familiar with the artifact itself. To acquaint readers with
the artifact, provide a brief overview or summary of the artifact near the begin-
ning of the essay. Give readers whatever information they need to understand
the artifact and to be able to follow your analysis. If you are analyzing a film, for
example, tell when the film was released and who directed it and provide an
overview of the film’s plot, major characters, and significant technical features.
If you are analyzing a speech, include in the description of the artifact who gave
the speech, on what occasion, and the date and place of the speech. You also
want to provide the context for the artifact, locating it within the social, politi-
cal, and economic arrangements of which it is a part. If, for example, you are
analyzing a Harry Potter book or movie, give a brief explanation of the Harry
Potter phenomenon—tell who the author of the books is, the number of books in

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the series, the number of books sold, the amount of money generated at the box
office by the films, and the controversies the phenomenon generated.

Your description of the artifact is, to some extent, an interpretation of the
artifact. You cannot tell the reader everything about the artifact, so you must
make decisions about what to feature in the description. In this process, you
want to describe and thus to highlight aspects of the artifact that are most
important for and relevant to the analysis that will follow. Do not describe the
artifact in too much detail here. You will reveal a great deal about the artifact
as you present the findings of your analysis, so details that will emerge later in
your analysis do not need to be included in your overview. This is the place to
provide a broad overview of the artifact, knowing that readers will become
much more familiar with the details of your artifact later.

In the description of the artifact, also provide a justification for why that
artifact is a particularly appropriate or useful one to analyze in order to
answer your research question. Many different artifacts can be used for
answering the same research question, so provide an explanation as to why
analyzing your artifact is a good choice for explaining the specific rhetorical
process your research question addresses. Many kinds of reasons can be used
to justify your artifact. You might explain that the artifact is historically impor-
tant or represents a larger set of similar texts that are culturally significant.
Perhaps the artifact you are analyzing has won many prestigious awards or
has been highly successful in generating money. Maybe the artifact has
reached large numbers of people or created an unusual response. Perhaps the
rhetorical techniques used in the artifact are highly unusual and warrant
exploration to explain their results.

Description of the Method
You need to cover one more topic to complete readers’ understanding of

what will happen in the essay—a description of the method you used to ana-
lyze the artifact. Identify the method you are using, explain who created the
method (if one person is identifiable with the method), define its key concepts,
and briefly lay out its basic procedures. If you are using the fantasy-theme
method of criticism, for example, your description might include mention of
its creator, Ernest Bormann; a definition of its basic terms, fantasy theme and
rhetorical vision; and a brief explanation of the major critical processes
involved in the method.

Report of the Findings of the Analysis
The report of the findings of your analysis constitutes the bulk of the essay.

In this section, lay out for readers the results of your analysis of the artifact.
Tell what you discovered from an application of the method of criticism to the
artifact and provide support for your discoveries using the data of the artifact.
If you used pentadic analysis as your method, for example, you would identify
the terms of act, purpose, agent, agency, and scene for your artifact. If you ana-
lyzed the artifact using the fantasy-theme method, this section would be orga-
nized around the fantasy themes of settings, characters, and actions evident in
your artifact and the rhetorical vision they create.

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Bring in relevant literature as you explain your findings to elaborate on or
extend your ideas. Be sure that you feature your ideas in your analysis section,
though, and make the topic statements of your paragraphs about your ideas
and not echoes of the ideas of others. Any theories or concepts you believe are
relevant to your analysis should be used to support, elaborate on, and extend
your ideas. Don’t let the ideas of others subsume yours.

If you used the technique of cutting apart your observations on individual
strips of paper in the coding step, you have available to you a very easy way to
write up your analysis. Organize the piles in the order in which you want to
talk about the components of your findings. When you are ready to write a
section of your analysis, take the pile relevant to the topic of the section and
sort the strips of paper within it, laying out the pieces in the order in which
you want to discuss ideas and examples and eliminating those you decide not
to include in your essay. As you write, connect the topics of the strips with
transitions, previews, summaries, and interpretations.

The approach of cutting apart and organizing your observations makes
writing up your essay easy. You have the freedom to write the sections of the
analysis in any order—you do not have to begin with the first component of
the schema. Each pile contains all of your ideas relevant to a section; you do
not need to see what happens in one section to be able to write the next.
Another advantage of this system is that you cannot lose track of where you
are because the ideas of your schema are clearly organized, and all the con-
tent you want to discuss is identified and waiting in the piles.2

Contribution to Rhetorical Theory
Your essay ends with a discussion of the contribution your analysis makes

to rhetorical theory. This contribution is your answer to your research ques-
tion. At this point in the essay, move away from your specific artifact and
answer your research question more generally and abstractly. Transcend the
specific data of your artifact to focus on the rhetorical processes with which
you are concerned. Suggest to your readers how your analysis of your artifact
contributes to an understanding of the larger rhetorical process with which
your essay is concerned, discussing the implications or significance of the
contribution you mentioned in the introduction.

Your contribution to rhetorical theory is likely to be made in one of two
ways: identifying new concepts or identifying new relationships among con-
cepts. Concepts and relationships are the two basic elements of theories. Con-
cepts are the components, elements, or variables the theory is about. The
concepts tell what you are looking at and what you consider important. State-
ments of relationship are explanations about how the concepts are related to
one another. They identify patterns in the relationships among variables or
concepts, and they tell how concepts are connected. One rhetorical theory
concerning the process of credibility, for example, suggests that, to be credi-
ble, a rhetor must demonstrate intelligence, moral character, and good will
toward the audience. The concepts of the theory are intelligence, moral char-
acter, and good will, and the theory posits that all three of these concepts,
interacting together and displayed in an artifact itself, contribute to an audi-

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ence’s perception that the rhetor is credible; this is a statement of relation-
ships. Your analysis can contribute to rhetorical theory, then, by identifying
important concepts in a rhetorical process, by suggesting how concepts relate
to one another, or by doing both.

Although you cannot generalize your findings to other artifacts like yours
or to artifacts characterized by similar rhetorical processes on the basis of
your one essay of criticism, you still can make a contribution to rhetorical the-
ory. David Zarefsky calls this kind of contribution a “theory of the particular
case” and suggests that “studying individual cases can yield generalizable
insights. The resulting generalizations will have but modest explanatory and
predictive power because they abstract out only the common elements of com-
plex individual situations and because the situations to which one might pre-
dict are likewise complex and individual.”3 But your analysis allows you to
suggest a theory that “more fully encompasses the case than do the alterna-
tives.” You are able to provide an initial general understanding of some aspect
of rhetoric on the basis of the necessarily limited evidence available in the
artifact.4 Your analysis can provide you with hunches or presumptions about
new cases. If you discover that a rhetor who is trying to reassure a group of
people uses particular kinds of metaphors to do so, you might guess that other
rhetors trying to do the same thing might do so as well. Should you discover,
in a follow-up essay of criticism, a different case of reassurance—the rhetor
does not use the same kinds of metaphors you identified earlier—you now
have something more to figure out in terms of how reassurance works.

The idea that you can and should make a contribution to rhetorical theory
in an essay of criticism makes many beginning rhetorical critics uncomfort-
able. You may feel as though you are not expert enough to develop a theory or
to contribute to an understanding of how rhetoric works. Perhaps you feel that
you have not yet earned the right to make such contributions because you are
still a student. You are an expert, however, in your way of seeing—in the appli-
cation of your perspective on the world. You have applied a method of criti-
cism and coded your artifact from your unique perspective. This is a
perspective that belongs to no one else. You will see things in an artifact that
no one else sees, and making a contribution to rhetorical theory is the way by
which you can share that unique perspective and offer a new understanding of
an artifact. Also remember that the perspective you share with others is not
coming out of thin air—you will have the backing of the careful and system-
atic analysis you have completed as the basis on which to make your contribu-
tion to rhetorical theory.

Applying the Analysis in Activism
For some rhetorical critics, there is a final step of criticism that goes

beyond writing an essay of criticism that makes a contribution to an under-
standing of a rhetorical process. They see critics as change agents whose role is
to use the criticism they produce to engage in activism. They want critics to use
their criticism to transform society in some way. For these critics, the “larger,
general public” is an audience for criticism5 just as much as scholars in the

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communication discipline because the critic should not simply try to “under-
stand or explain society but to critique and change it.”6 For critics who choose
to be activists, the objective is to challenge the “norms, practices, relations,
and structures that underwrite inequality and injustice.”7 They want their criti-
cism to “make a difference in the world” by addressing the questions, “How do
we live, and how might we live differently?”8 Karlyn Kohrs Campbell summa-
rizes this position by explaining that “criticism plays a crucial role in the pro-
cesses of testing, questioning, and analyzing by which discourses advocating
truth and justice may, in fact, become more powerful than their opposites.”9

Critics who adopt an activist stance justify this step in the process of criti-
cism by pointing out that “research is never a politically neutral act. The deci-
sion to study this group rather than some other, to frame the research
question this way rather than another, and to report the findings to this group
or in that journal rather than in some other forum privilege certain values,
institutions, and practices.”10 As a result, whether the authors claim to be
doing so or not, they are producing criticism that is either contributing to the
transformation of society into a more equitable and humane culture, or they
are reinforcing and reifying the status quo. As Samuel L. Becker explains,
“The major question most of us face in our lives as scholars is not whether our
research should be useful; it is, rather, what it should be useful for and for
whom it should be useful.”11 Others justify the activist stance for rhetorical
critics by pointing to the fact that communication inherently is a practical dis-
cipline that yields useful knowledge. They note that the historical roots of the
discipline of communication “were grounded in producing useful knowledge,
such as teaching people to become better speakers in their everyday interac-
tions and in the public sphere.”12

There are a number of ways in which your essay of criticism may function
as an instrument of change. Your findings, for example, may help explain and
demystify the rhetorical practices that sustain inequality and oppression. By
identifying and pointing to these rhetorical practices, you can help others see
how inequality is constructed and encourage individuals to create alternative
rhetorical practices that create different conditions. If you have analyzed pro-
test rhetoric of some kind, your essay might point to the practices that are
effective and ineffective in efforts to create change, and your findings may be
used to create more effective campaigns for social change or to elect certain
political candidates. If you are analyzing the rhetoric of groups who voices are
not often heard, you can help bring those “forgotten or silenced voices”13 into
the dialogue to provide a more comprehensive perspective on an issue and
more innovative and workable solutions to it. As Raymie E. McKerrow sug-
gests, you can use what you have learned to “identify the possibilities of future
action available.”14

If you choose to be an activist critic, you have a number of possibilities for
disseminating the results of a rhetorical analysis. You can begin by enacting
what you have learned from your critical analyses in your own life. If you have
learned about strategies for creating a more equitable and humane world from
your analysis of certain kinds of rhetoric, you can enact those strategies in
your own life. You also have the option of interacting with friends, family, and
colleagues about the results of your analyses, encouraging those around you to

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consider how the symbolic practices they encounter and their own use of sym-
bols affect their everyday lives. You can share your findings in more formal
ways with others—on a website or blog, for example, or by writing an op-ed
piece for a newspaper.15 If you are a teacher, you can make use of your find-
ings in educational settings, teaching best practices about the nature and func-
tion of rhetoric and the ways in which rhetoric creates worlds. You may choose
to work on a political campaign or on behalf of a movement for some kind of
social change. Your knowledge of rhetorical criticism can help you analyze the
messages from those who oppose your perspective, analyze those that the cam-
paign is producing, and design more effective messaging for the public audi-
ence. If your focus is on an analysis of silenced voices, you can share your
findings about the rhetoric of these individuals with policy makers and stake-
holders involved in an issue, and you also can share your findings with those
who are silenced, encouraging them to understand their own rhetorical
choices and to develop their own responses and interventions into discourse
that silences them. In various ways, then, as an activist rhetorical critic, you
“furnish inspiration and directions toward more promising ways of life.”16

Assessing the Essay
What makes one essay of criticism better than another? By what stan-

dards is an essay of criticism judged? Rhetorical criticism is a different kind of
research from quantitative research, so it is not judged by the standards that
are used for such research. In quantitative research, the basic standards of
evaluation are validity and reliability. Validity is concerned with whether
researchers are measuring what they claim they are measuring, and reliability
has to do with the replicability of results if the same set of objects is measured
repeatedly with the same or comparable measuring instruments. In contrast,
the standards of evaluation in rhetorical criticism are justification, reasonable
inference, and coherence.

The standards used in rhetorical criticism to judge analyses of artifacts are
rooted in two primary assumptions. One assumption is that objective reality
does not exist. As discussed in chapter 1, those of us who study rhetoric
believe that reality is constituted through the rhetoric we use to talk about it;
reality is a symbolic creation. Thus, the artifact you are analyzing does not
constitute a reality that can be known and proved. You cannot know what the
artifact “really” means or how it “really” works because there are as many
realities about the artifact as there are critics and vocabularies from which to
conduct inquiry about it.

A second assumption on which the standards of rhetorical criticism are
built is very much related to the first: A critic can know an artifact only
through a personal interpretation of it. You cannot be objective, impartial, and
removed from the data because you bring to the critical task particular values
and experiences that are reflected in how you see and write about that artifact.
As a result of these assumptions, your task as a critic is to offer one perspective
on an artifact—one possible way of viewing it. You are not concerned with
finding the true, correct, or right interpretation of an artifact. Consequently,

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two critics may analyze the same artifact, ask the same research question, and
come up with different conclusions. One might interpret an artifact as the
reframing of an issue, another as a visual metaphor of juxtaposition, and
another as the creation of a compelling rhetorical vision. As David Zarefsky
notes, “These interpretations are different but compatible. Each of them may
offer valuable insight on the case, enabling criticism to proceed additively
rather than only by substituting one explanation for another.”17 The essays of
criticism the two critics write, then, both can be excellent essays of criticism.

The primary standard used in judging an essay of criticism is justifica-

tion—the argument made by a critic.18 You must be able to justify what you
say or offer reasons in support of the claims you make in your report of your
findings. All of the ways in which we judge arguments, then, apply to judg-
ments about the quality of a critical essay. You must have a claim—the conclu-
sion of the argument you are seeking to justify. The claim is the answer to the
question, “Where are we going?” You must provide evidence to support the
claim you are making and have sufficient evidence from the artifact to back up
your claim. This evidence constitutes the grounds of your argument—the data
from the artifact on which the argument is based. Grounds provide the
answer to the question, “What do we have to go on?”

The easiest way for an audience to see that the artifact is as you claim it to
be is to use ample quotations from a discursive artifact and ample descrip-
tions of the dimensions of a visual or musical one. You also must quote the evi-
dence accurately, and the evidence you cite should be representative of the
artifact as a whole. This standard of adequate, accurate documentation
requires that what you say exists in an artifact is, in fact, there.

Reasonable Inference
A second standard by which essays of criticism are judged is reasonable

inference. What this means is that you must show how you moved from the
data of the artifact to the claims you are making. As you write your essay, you
must show the reader how the claims you make can reasonably be inferred
from your data. If, for example, you suggest that the straight lines on a build-
ing suggest rigidity, you would want to explain how you inferred rigidity from
straight lines—perhaps because of their “straight-and-narrow” nature or their
visual lack of variation and deviation.

What you are doing here is explicating the warrants of your claim in your
argument. The warrant authorizes movement from the grounds to the claim
and answers the question, “How do we justify the move from these grounds to
that claim?”19 Although your readers must be able to follow you from the data
to your claims, they do not have to agree with those claims—they do not have
to come up with the same claims that you did to judge your essay to be rigor-
ous or excellent. Each critic brings a unique framework and biases to the pro-
cess, so complete agreement on the interpretation of an artifact is not likely.
Your readers, however, should be able to see and appreciate how you arrived
at your claims.

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A third criterion by which essays of rhetorical criticism are judged is

coherence. You must order, arrange, and present your findings so that they
form a unified whole, created through clear and logical links among ideas and
structure. Coherence requires that a critic do sufficient analysis of the findings
to present them in an insightful and useful way. If you are doing a metaphoric
analysis, for example, you could report your findings as a list of the metaphors
used by the rhetor in the artifact. To satisfy the criterion of coherence, how-
ever, you would engage in an additional act of analysis. You would want to
organize the metaphors into categories and provide an interpretation of those
categories within a coherent framework. The act of presenting your findings
in a coherent way usually provides many more insights into your artifact than
simply listing the findings.

Parallel constructs and labels for your findings create coherence as well—
the labels should be parallel in terms of level of abstraction and language. If
your findings include three major strategies, those strategies should be equally
concrete or abstract, equally specific or general, and their wording should
match one another in length, tone, and type of vocabulary. For example, you
would not want as the names for the three rhetorical strategies you discovered
as a result of your analysis to be labeled asks for forgiveness, justification for
having committed the crime of murder the past year, and individuals making
themselves vulnerable. The strategy of justification is much longer and more
concrete than the other two strategies, and they all use different verb forms.
The third one names someone involved, while the others do not. More parallel
labels would be labels such as requesting forgiveness, justifying the crime, and
being vulnerable.

The criteria for evaluating an essay of criticism point to the essence of rhe-
torical criticism as an art, not a science. In rhetorical criticism, artifacts are
dealt with more as the artist deals with experience than as the scientist does.
As a rhetorical critic, you are required to bring a variety of creative abilities to
bear throughout the process of rhetorical criticism—helping the reader envi-
sion and experience an artifact as you do, conveying your interest in and per-
haps passion for an artifact, persuading readers to view the artifact’s
contribution to rhetorical theory as you do, offering a compelling invitation to
readers to experience some aspect of the world in a new way, and writing in a
way that is not dull.20

What Comes Next
The chapters that follow are designed to provide additional guidelines for

you to use as a rhetorical critic. They provide formal methods of rhetorical
criticism that will give you practice developing your skills in the art of rhetori-
cal criticism. To help you become comfortable with the critical process and to
learn to produce excellent criticism, the chapters include four components,
each offering a different opportunity for exploring the method and the kinds of
insights it can produce for an artifact.

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Each chapter begins with a theoretical overview of the critical method,
including a discussion of its origins, assumptions, and units of analysis. The
second part of the chapter details the procedures or steps for applying the
method to an artifact. This is followed by sample essays in which the method
has been used. Some of the sample essays were written by students who were
just learning about criticism, as you are, and some were written by seasoned
rhetorical critics. If you are a beginning critic with no experience in rhetorical
criticism, you will find that the essays by the students are shorter, simpler, and
more accessible, but all of the essays were selected because they model the
application of a method with particular clarity. You also will notice that all but
one of the chapters contain as a sample an essay that analyzes the same arti-
fact—the speech given by Jiang Zemin, the president of the People’s Republic
of China, at the ceremony at which the United Kingdom handed Hong Kong
over to China in 1997. All of these were written by Andrew Gilmore to show
how the various methods of criticism produce different kinds of insights into
the same artifact, revealing some aspects of the artifact and concealing others.
Each chapter includes a list of additional samples of essays in which the
method of the chapter has been used. This list can be found on the book’s web-
page at It will give you many places to go for inspiration
and models when you are writing your own essays of criticism.

Eight of the chapters are organized alphabetically: cluster, fantasy-theme,
feminist, generic, ideological, metaphoric, narrative, and pentadic criticism.
The steps in the process of rhetorical criticism discussed in this chapter are
repeated in each of these eight chapters to provide a basic framework for crit-
icism that remains constant regardless of your method, artifact, or research
question. The exceptions to this alphabetic organization are the chapters on
neo-Aristotelian criticism and generative criticism. Neo-Aristotelian criticism
is presented first because it was the first method of criticism developed in the
communication field and was assumed to be the only method of criticism pos-
sible for many years. It thus served, in a sense, as an exigency to which the
other formal methods responded. It differs from the others in that it dictates a
particular end for criticism, and it is rarely used by rhetorical critics today.
The chapter on generative criticism concludes the book because it involves a
different process for doing criticism than the process presented in the other
chapters. In the generative approach, a critic does not begin with particular
units of analysis and generates a method or an explanatory schema from the
data of the artifact itself. Generative criticism is an advanced approach to crit-
icism that you will be ready to try after you have gained practice in criticism
by using some of the formal methods of criticism.

You are about to embark on the exciting adventure that is rhetorical criti-
cism. If you are like most rhetorical critics, you will find yourself engaged,
intrigued, inspired, and sometimes frustrated and baffled as you work through
critical methods and analyze artifacts. The process of rhetorical criticism is
demanding and difficult, but it is also fun. It is a skill that makes you more
aware of the communication processes at work in the world, and it will enable
you to analyze the worlds others have created. More important, it enables you
to choose more deliberately the symbolic worlds that you yourself inhabit as
you become more conscious of how you want your own world to be.

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1 Much of this description of the process of conducting a literature review comes from: Sonja K.

Foss and William Waters, Destination Dissertation: A Traveler’s Guide to a Done Dissertation,
2nd ed. (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), ch. 5. It also provides a much more
detailed description of the process.

2 For a more detailed description of this process of coding your artifact, see Foss and Waters,
Destination Dissertation, ch. 7.

3 David Zarefsky, “Knowledge Claims in Rhetorical Criticism,” Journal of Communication 58
(2008): 635.

4 David Zarefsky, “The State of the Art in Public Address,” in Texts in Context: Critical Dialogues
on Significant Episodes in American Political Rhetoric, ed. Michael C. Leff and Fred J. Kauffeld
(Davis, CA: Hermagoras, 1989), 22–23.

5 William L. Nothstine, Carole Blair, and Gary A. Copeland, “Professionalization and the Eclipse
of Critical Invention,” in Critical Questions: Invention, Creativity, and the Criticism of Discourse
and Media, ed. William L. Nothstine, Carole Blair, and Gary A. Copeland (New York: St. Mar-
tin’s Press, 1994), 43.

6 Lawrence R. Frey and Kevin M. Carragee, “Introduction: Communication Activism as Engaged
Scholarship,” in Communication Activism: Volume 1: Communication for Social Change, ed.
Lawrence R. Frey and Kevin M. Carragee (Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2007), 6.

7 Lawrence R. Frey, W. Barnett Pearce, Mark A. Pollock, Lee Artz, and Bren A. O. Murphy, “Look-
ing for Justice in All the Wrong Places: On a Communication Approach to Social Justice,” Com-
munication Studies 47 (Spring-Summer 1996): 110.

8 Stephen John Hartnett, “Communication, Social Justice, and Joyful Commitment,” Western
Journal of Communication 74 (January-February 2010): 69–70.

9 Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, “‘Conventional Wisdom—Traditional Form’: A Rejoinder,” Quarterly
Journal of Speech 58 (December 1972): 454.

10 Frey, Pearce, Pollock, Artz, and Murphy, “Looking for Justice in All the Wrong Places,” 114.
11 Samuel L. Becker, “Response to Conquergood: Don Quixotes in the Academy—Are We Tilting at

Windmills?,” in Applied Communication in the 21st Century, ed. Kenneth N. Cissna (Mahwah,
NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1995), 102.

12 Frey and Carragee, “Introduction,” 2.
13 Hartnett, “Communication, Social Justice, and Joyful Commitment,” 77.
14 Raymie E. McKerrow, “Critical Rhetoric: Theory and Praxis,” Communication Monographs 56

(1989): 92.
15 These options are suggested by Barry Brummett in Techniques of Close Reading (Thousand

Oaks, CA: Sage, 2010), 21–25.
16 Kenneth J. Gergen, Ruthellen Josselson, and Mark Freeman, “The Promises of Qualitative

Inquiry,” American Psychologist 70 (January 2015): 5.
17 Zarefsky, “Knowledge Claims in Rhetorical Criticism,” 636.
18 A good discussion of the role of argument in rhetorical criticism is provided by Wayne Brock-

riede, “Rhetorical Criticism as Argument,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 60 (April 1974): 165–74.
Barbara A. Larson suggests that Stephen Toulmin’s model of argument can be used to connect
data and claims in rhetorical criticism in “Method in Rhetorical Criticism: A Pedagogical
Approach and Proposal,” Central States Speech Journal 27 (Winter 1976): 297–301.

19 Claims, grounds, and warrants are components of the layout of an argument suggested by Ste-
phen Toulmin. For more information about his model of argument, see: Stephen Toulmin, The
Uses of Argument (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1958); Stephen Toulmin, Rich-
ard Rieke, and Alan Janik, An Introduction to Reasoning (New York: Macmillan, 1984); and
Sonja K. Foss, Karen A. Foss, and Robert Trapp, Contemporary Perspectives on Rhetoric, 4th ed.
(30th anniversary edition) (Long Grove, IL: Waveland, 2014), ch. 5.

20 For more detailed discussions of standards for judging rhetorical criticism, see: Sonja K. Foss,
“Criteria for Adequacy in Rhetorical Criticism,” Southern Speech Communication Journal 48
(Spring 1983): 283–95; and Philip Wander and Steven Jenkins, “Rhetoric, Society, and the Crit-
ical Response,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 58 (December 1972): 441–50.

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Neo-Aristotelian Criticism
Genesis of Rhetorical Criticism

The first formal method of rhetorical criticism developed in the communica-
tion field is called the neo-classical, neo-Aristotelian, or traditional method of
criticism. In 1925, Herbert A. Wichelns detailed the central features of the
neo-Aristotelian method in “The Literary Criticism of Oratory.”1 Until
Wichelns’s essay, critics did not use specific guidelines for criticism, and there
was no clear understanding of what rhetorical criticism was. Because
Wichelns’s essay provided “substance and structure to a study which hereto-
fore had been formless and ephemeral . . . it literally created the modern disci-
pline of rhetorical criticism.”2 Donald C. Bryant explained the significant
impact Wichelns’s essay had on the practice of rhetorical criticism:

[It] set the pattern and determined the direction of rhetorical criticism for
more than a quarter of a century and has had a greater and more continu-
ous influence upon the development of the scholarship of rhetoric and pub-
lic address than any other single work published in this century.3

In his essay, Wichelns began by distinguishing literary criticism from rhe-
torical criticism, asserting that rhetorical criticism “is not concerned with per-
manence, nor yet with beauty,” as is literary criticism. Rather, it “is concerned
with effect. It regards a speech as a communication to a specific audience,
and holds its business to be the analysis and appreciation of the orator’s
method of imparting his ideas to his hearers.”4 Wichelns’s distinction reflects
the origins of the communication discipline in departments of English. Early
theorists in communication wanted to develop their field as a separate and
legitimate discipline.

Wichelns’s major contribution to the development of neo-Aristotelianism
was that he listed the topics that should be covered in the study of a speech. A
critic, he suggested, should deal with these elements: the speaker’s personal-
ity, the public character of the speaker or the public’s perception of the
speaker, the audience, the major ideas presented in the speech, the motives to


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which the speaker appealed, the nature of the speaker’s proofs, the speaker’s
judgment of human nature in the audience, the arrangement of the speech,
the speaker’s mode of expression, the speaker’s method of speech prepara-
tion, the manner of delivery, and the effect of the discourse on the immediate
audience and its long-term effects.5

Many of these topics were discussed by Aristotle in the Rhetoric and by
other classical rhetoricians such as Cicero and Quintilian. Because Wichelns
did not discuss how a critic should analyze these topics, critics turned to clas-
sical sources for elaboration of Wichelns’s guidelines. They began to use the
classical canons of rhetoric—invention, organization, style, memory, and
delivery—as units of analysis and named the approach neo-Aristotelianism.
The ancient rhetorical theorists provided the framework for criticism, the top-
ics covered, and the perspectives taken on them.

Numerous critical studies that followed solidified Wichelns’s suggested
approach to rhetorical criticism. The widespread use of neo-Aristotelianism
was particularly evident in the two-volume A History and Criticism of Ameri-
can Public Address, edited by William Norwood Brigance and published in
1943.6 In the studies included in this work, authors were guided in their criti-
cal efforts by the Aristotelian pattern alone or in combination with those of
other classical rhetoricians. Wichelns’s method became more firmly fixed in
1948 with the publication of Speech Criticism, in which Lester Thonssen and
A. Craig Baird presented an elaborate system for the practice of rhetorical
criticism based on the topics suggested by Wichelns and the writings of classi-
cal rhetoricians.7

As a consequence of the adoption of neo-Aristotelianism as virtually the
only method of rhetorical criticism in the early years of the communication
field, the practice of rhetorical criticism was limited in subject matter and
purpose. Rhetorical criticism became the study of speeches because the
approach required that a critic determine the effect of rhetoric on the immedi-
ate audience. Neo-Aristotelianism thus was not used to study written dis-
course or nondiscursive rhetoric. Neo-Aristotelianism also led to the study of
single speakers because the sheer number of topics to cover relating to the
rhetor and the speech made dealing with more than a single speaker virtually
impossible. Thus, various speeches by different rhetors related by form or
topic were not included in the scope of rhetorical criticism.8

The single speakers who were the focus of study were limited further in
that they tended to be individuals of the past—generally elite men—who had
made significant contributions in the realm of public affairs. A critic was
required to determine a number of details about the speaker’s life, public
character, and the audience for the speech at the time. Such data were only
available for famous people because their speeches were the ones that were
saved and archived.

Neo-Aristotelian criticism was virtually unchallenged as the method to use
in rhetorical criticism until the 1960s, when the orthodoxy that had developed
in rhetorical criticism began to be criticized on a number of grounds. One
criticism was that the work on which neo-Aristotelianism was based, Aristo-
tle’s Rhetoric, was not intended as a guide for criticism. The Rhetoric and
other classical works that were being used to guide the critic were designed to

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teach others how to speak well. Nothing in them suggested they were to be
used to appraise discourse.9

The concern with effects that derived, in part, from an emphasis on teach-
ing effective speech led to another problem with neo-Aristotelianism. Critics
of neo-Aristotelianism argued that an exclusive concern with effects does not
always produce significant criticism. “Did the speech evoke the intended
response from the immediate audience?” and “Did the rhetor use the available
means of persuasion to achieve the desired response?” are not always the
most appropriate questions to ask about a rhetorical artifact. These questions
also do not always produce significant insights into an artifact. As Otis M. Wal-
ter pointed out, a critic who is studying Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount using
the neo-Aristotelian approach asks whether Jesus used the means of persua-
sion available to him. But this question may not produce a significant answer.
More interesting might be questions such as, “Were Jesus’s means of persua-
sion consistent with his ethical doctrines?” or “What changes in Old Testa-
ment morality did Jesus present?”10 But neo-Aristotelian criticism does not
allow a critic to explore these questions. As Karlyn Kohrs Campbell explained,
neo-Aristotelianism excludes “all evaluations other than the speech’s potential
for evoking intended response from an immediate, specified audience.”11

Still others objected to neo-Aristotelianism on the grounds that the works
on which it was based—Aristotle’s Rhetoric and other classical writings—were
written at a time and in the context of cultures that were different in values,
orientation, and knowledge from ours. Yet, critics using the neo-Aristotelian
mode of criticism assumed that what were believed to be ideal rhetorical prin-
ciples in the ancient Greek and Roman cultures are the same today. In other
words, critics of neo-Aristotelianism suggested, rhetorical principles have
undergone change since their formulation in classical Greek and Roman
times, and later cultures have modified or extended those principles.12 To use
only classical tenets of rhetoric as units of analysis in criticism was to ignore a
large body of new scholarship about rhetorical principles.

Yet another criticism of neo-Aristotelianism concerned its rational bias. As
Campbell explained, a basic assumption of the approach was that our unique
attribute is the capacity to be rational, and humans are able to engage in per-
suasion and be subject to it only because they are rational beings. Thus, rheto-
ric was seen as the art of reasoned discourse or argumentation. Emotional
and psychological appeals exist and affect persuasion, neo-Aristotelianism
suggests, but they are secondary to judgments resulting from rational means
of persuasion. One consequence, explained Campbell, was that “‘true’ or ‘gen-
uine’ rhetoric” became “the art by which men are induced to act in obedience
to reason in contrast to ‘false’ or ‘sophistic’ rhetoric which uses any and all
means to produce acquiescence.”13 Critics and theorists operating out of this
approach either had to denigrate or ignore nonrational appeals and attempt,
generally fruitlessly, to distinguish between rational and nonrational appeals.

Another criticism of neo-Aristotelianism as the presiding method of criti-
cism was that it encouraged the mechanical application of categories to rheto-
ric, with the result that the work that critics produced was sometimes
unimaginative and self-fulfilling. Critics set out to find the particular rhetori-
cal techniques suggested by classical rhetoricians in the artifacts they were

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studying—techniques such as logical argument and emotional appeals—and,
indeed, did find them being used in the speeches they were analyzing. But
rather than helping a critic understand and illuminate the speeches using
these units of analysis, neo-Aristotelianism sometimes became “a mechanical
accounting or summing up of how well” a speech fit “an a priori mold.”14

Today, critics who use the neo-Aristotelian approach to analyze rhetoric
are few, and essays that feature the method rarely find their way into the jour-
nals and convention programs of the communication field. Criticisms of how
the neo-Aristotelian framework limited the potential of criticism led, in the
1960s, to pluralism in critical approaches. As evident in the remaining chap-
ters of this book, a wide variety of approaches now characterize rhetorical
criticism. Discussions and defenses of neo-Aristotelianism ended largely in the
early 1970s.15

As the first critical approach developed in the communication field, neo-
Aristotelianism served to differentiate the discipline from literature and liter-
ary criticism and helped to legitimize it by focusing on its classical roots.
While you may not choose to use this approach in critical essays, understand-
ing its basic components will facilitate your understanding of the approaches
discussed in the remainder of the book, for they were developed largely in
response to both the strengths and limitations of neo-Aristotelian criticism.

Using the neo-Aristotelian method of criticism, a critic analyzes an artifact

in a four-step process: (1) selecting an artifact; (2) analyzing the artifact; (3)
formulating a research question; and (4) writing the essay.

Selecting an Artifact
The neo-Aristotelian method of criticism was developed to analyze

speeches, so speeches are particularly good artifacts to select for this method
of criticism. If you are not interested in analyzing a speech, selecting a discur-
sive text rather than an entirely visual one will maximize the insights your
criticism produces because most of the units of analysis of neo-Aristotelianism
deal with linguistic dimensions of rhetoric. Because the method includes an
investigation of the rhetor, you also want to select an artifact produced by a
rhetor about which some biographical information is available.

Analyzing the Artifact
Neo-Aristotelian criticism involves three basic steps: (1) reconstructing

the context in which the artifact occurred; (2) application of the five canons to
the artifact; and (3) assessing the impact of the artifact on the audience.16

Reconstructing the Context
Connecting the rhetorical artifact with its context helps a critic discover

how various components of the context affected the rhetoric that was formu-
lated. A critic investigates three major components of the context—the rhetor,
the occasion, and the audience.

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A critic begins by discovering information about the rhetor. The aim of this
inquiry is not to develop a typical biography of the individual’s life. Rather, the
purpose is to study the individual as a rhetor and to discover links between the
rhetoric produced and the rhetor’s history, experience, and character. For
example, you may want to seek information about early environmental influ-
ences on the rhetor’s attitudes, motivation, and communication skills. Other
areas to investigate include whether the rhetor had formal training in the rhe-
torical medium selected for expression, the rhetor’s previous experience with
the subject and the medium, the rhetor’s rhetorical philosophy or principles,
and methods of rhetorical preparation. Finally, try to discover the motivating
forces of the rhetor—why the rhetor chose to produce this rhetoric on this
particular occasion and what the rhetor sought to accomplish.

After investigating the background of the rhetor to discover its effects on
the rhetorical artifact, a critic turns to an examination of the occasion on which
the rhetoric was presented. The rhetorical act is affected by factors in the occa-
sion, so your task here is to determine the elements in the occasion that influ-
enced the rhetor in choice of subject and approach or the peculiar demands of
the time and place when the rhetoric occurred. Pay attention to the historical
antecedents of the rhetoric, the specific events that gave rise to and followed it,
and the social and cultural attitudes toward the topic of the rhetoric.

A critic completes the examination of the context by looking at the audi-
ence for the rhetoric. The rhetor constructs rhetoric to accomplish a particu-
lar goal for a specific individual or group. Knowing about the audience, then,
helps you understand why the rhetor selected particular strategies. The same
forces that helped to shape the occasion for the rhetor also affect the audi-
ence, so you probably already know something about the audience through
investigating the occasion. Additional lines of inquiry to pursue are the com-
position of the audience, the rhetor’s reputation with this audience, and the
listeners’ knowledge about and attitudes toward the rhetor’s subject.

Applying the Canons
The second component of neo-Aristotelian criticism is the analysis of the

artifact itself using the five canons of classical rhetoric. In classical Greek and
Roman times, when the study of rhetoric began, rhetoric was divided into five
parts. These five parts, or canons, of rhetoric are the steps that go into the pro-
cess of public speaking.17 They are: (1) invention, the location and creation of
ideas and materials for the speech; (2) organization, the structure or arrange-
ment of the speech; (3) style, the language of the speech; (4) memory, mastery
of the subject matter, which may include the actual memorizing of the speech;
and (5) delivery, management of the body, gestures, and voice in the presenta-
tion of the speech.

Invention. A critic’s concern in applying the canon of invention is with the
speaker’s major ideas, lines of argument, or content. Invention is based on two
major forms of proof. External or inartistic proofs are those the rhetor uses from
other sources but does not create, including the testimony of witnesses and doc-
uments such as contracts and letters. Internal or artistic proofs, those that the
rhetor creates, fall into three categories: (1) logos or logical argument; (2) ethos
or the appeal of the rhetor’s character; and (3) pathos or emotional appeal.

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Logos deals with the logical or rational elements of the rhetoric and with
the effect of these elements on the audience. In discovering the rhetor’s use of
logical appeals, a critic identifies the argument or thesis the rhetor is present-
ing and determines how that thesis is developed and supported. The evidence
presented to enforce or support the point is evaluated in terms of the beliefs of
the audience and the context of the rhetoric. Whether the evidence is the quot-
ing of experts, statistical summaries, personal experience, or some other form,
a critic examines it to see whether it is relevant to the thesis being developed,
whether the evidence is consistent, and whether sufficient evidence has been
supplied to make the point.

A rhetor cannot simply present evidence to the audience; something must
be done with the evidence to encourage the audience to come to some conclu-
sion based on it. This is the process of reasoning, which assumes two major
forms—inductive and deductive. In inductive reasoning, a series of specific
examples is used to draw a general conclusion. Six cases in which individuals
who texted while driving were involved in serious accidents could be used by
a rhetor, for example, to make the point that people should not simultaneously
drive and text. Deductive reasoning, in contrast, begins with a generalization
that is acceptable to the audience, and the rhetor then applies the generaliza-
tion to a specific case. A rhetor who begins with the generalization that smok-
ing and lung cancer are linked may conclude, using deductive reasoning, that
those in the audience who smoke are in danger of developing the disease. A
critic, then, assesses both the evidence and the reasoning used by the rhetor to
develop the thesis.

The second form of artistic proof, ethos, is what we today call credibility. It
deals with the effect or appeal of the speaker’s character on the audience.
Your concern in analyzing ethos is with how the rhetor’s character, as known
to the audience prior to the speech and as presented to the audience during
the speech, facilitates the acceptance of belief on the part of the audience.
Credibility is demonstrated by a rhetor largely through the display of three
qualities in the rhetorical act: (1) moral character or integrity, achieved by
linking the message and rhetor with what the audience considers virtuous; (2)
intelligence, evident in a display of common sense, good taste, and familiarity
with current topics and interests; and (3) good will, the establishment of rap-
port with the audience through means such as identifying with the audience
members or praising them.

The third form of artistic proof, pathos, concerns appeals designed to gen-
erate emotions in the audience. Here, a critic identifies the emotions gener-
ated by the speech—perhaps fear, shame, or pity—and explains how those
emotions put the listeners in a particular frame of mind to react favorably to
the rhetor’s purpose.

Organization. The second major area of the rhetorical artifact a critic
analyzes using the neo-Aristotelian method is its arrangement or structure.
Your task here is to determine the general pattern of arrangement adopted for
the rhetoric—for example, a chronological order, where material is divided
into time units, or a problem-solution order, where a discussion of a problem
is followed by suggested solutions to it. Determine which aspects of the con-

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tent are given emphasis in the rhetoric through the structure and the various
functions the parts of the artifact perform. Emphasis can be determined by
discovering which parts of the rhetoric are given greater weight through their
placement at the beginning or end, the topic on which the rhetor spends the
most time, and the ideas the rhetor repeats. Your task is also to assess the
results of the arrangement of the discourse in its entirety to discover if the
organization of the speech is consistent with the subject and purpose of the
discourse and is appropriate for the audience.

Style. The canon of style deals with the language used by the rhetor. A
critic assesses how particular kinds of words or other symbols are used by the
rhetor to create varying effects and how the symbols are arranged to form larger
units such as sentences, figures of speech, images, and so on. Analysis of style
involves determining the general effect that results—common and ordinary,
forceful and robust, or stately and ornate, for example. In general, a critic’s con-
cern in examining style is with whether the language style contributes to the
accomplishment of the rhetor’s goal and helps to create the intended response.

Delivery. The canon of delivery is concerned with the speaker’s manner
of presentation. In the application of this canon, a critic investigates the influ-
ence of delivery on the success of the rhetorical artifact. In a public speech,
delivery involves the rhetor’s mode of presentation—whether the speech is
delivered impromptu, from memory, extemporaneously, or by reading from a
manuscript. The bodily action of the rhetor while delivering the rhetoric—pos-
ture, movement, gestures, and eye contact—and how the appearance and
physical characteristics of the rhetor affected the audience are also part of
your examination of delivery. Assessment of the vocal skill of the rhetor,
including how articulation, pronunciation, rate of speech, and pitch contrib-
uted to the audience’s acceptance of the message—if that information is avail-
able—completes your analysis of delivery.

Memory. Although memory is among the five classical canons of rhetoric,
it was not dealt with systematically by Aristotle. Partly for this reason and also
because many speeches are not memorized (and memory is irrelevant to most
nondiscursive forms of rhetoric), this canon often is not applied by the neo-
Aristotelian critic. When it is, it deals with the rhetor’s control of the materials
of the speech and the relation of memory to the mode of presentation selected.

The neo-Aristotelian method, with its application of the five canons to an
artifact, asks much of the critic. To cover all of the canons thoroughly for a
short artifact is often difficult, and the critic cannot do justice either to the
artifact or the analysis. Thus, you sometimes will see neo-Aristotelian critics
focus on only one or two of the canons in their analyses. Such a focus allows
them to dissect an artifact more deeply and to pay most attention to those fea-
tures of it that make the most difference in that artifact’s persuasiveness. You
may want to exercise this same option if you choose to use neo-Aristotelian
criticism as a critical method.

Assessing the Effects
At the conclusion of criticism using neo-Aristotelianism, a critic judges the

effects of the rhetoric. Because the rhetoric was designed to accomplish some

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goal—the rhetor sought a response of some kind—your task is to determine
whether or not this goal was met or what happened as a result of the rhetoric.
There is no single measure of effectiveness, and how you choose to assess the
effects depends on the characteristics of the rhetorical artifact itself, the
rhetor’s intention, the audience to which the rhetoric is addressed, and the
context in which the rhetoric is presented. The effectiveness of a speech fre-
quently is judged by the immediate and/or long-term response of the audi-
ence—either those changes immediately visible in the audience or those that
emerge at a later time.

Formulating a Research Question
The research question asked about artifacts in neo-Aristotelian criticism

is: “Did the rhetor use the available means of persuasion to evoke the intended
response from the audience?”

Writing the Essay
After completing the analysis, you are ready to write your essay, which

includes five major components: (1) an introduction, in which you discuss the
research question, its contribution to rhetorical theory, and its significance;
(2) a description of your artifact and its context; (3) a description of your
method of criticism—in this case, neo-Aristotelian criticism; (4) a report of the
findings of the analysis, in which you explicate the rhetor’s choices through
application of the five canons to your artifact; and (5) a discussion of the con-
tribution your analysis makes to rhetorical theory.

Sample Essays
The two essays that follow demonstrate the neo-Aristotelian approach to

criticism. Forbes Hill’s essay on a speech by Richard Nixon not only provides
an illustration of neo-Aristotelian criticism but also an assessment of the value
of this critical approach. Andrew Gilmore uses neo-Aristotelian criticism to
analyze the rhetoric of Jiang Zemin at the handover of Hong Kong to China in
1997. The research question guiding both analyses is: “Did the rhetor select
the best rhetorical options available to him to evoke the intended response
from the audience?”

1 Herbert A. Wichelns, “The Literary Criticism of Oratory,” in Studies in Rhetoric and Public

Speaking in Honor of James A. Winans, ed. A. M. Drummond (New York: Century, 1925), 181–
216. A more accessible source for the essay is Herbert A. Wichelns, “The Literary Criticism of
Oratory,” in Methods of Rhetorical Criticism: A Twentieth-Century Perspective, ed. Bernard L.
Brock and Robert L. Scott, 2nd ed. (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1980), 40–73.

2 Mark S. Klyn, “Toward a Pluralistic Rhetorical Criticism,” in Essays on Rhetorical Criticism,
ed. Thomas R. Nilsen (New York: Random House, 1968), 154.

3 Donald C. Bryant, ed., The Rhetorical Idiom: Essays in Rhetoric, Oratory, Language, and Drama
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1958), 5.

4 Wichelns, in Brock and Scott, 67.
5 Wichelns, in Brock and Scott, 69–70.

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6 William Norwood Brigance, ed., A History and Criticism of American Public Address, 2 vols.
(New York: McGraw-Hill, 1943). A third volume was published in 1955: Marie Kathryn Hoch-
muth, ed., A History and Criticism of American Public Address, III (New York: Longmans,
Green, 1955).

7 Lester Thonssen and A. Craig Baird, Speech Criticism (New York: Ronald, 1948). In the second
edition of the book, a third author was added: Lester Thonssen, A. Craig Baird, and Waldo W.
Braden, Speech Criticism, 2nd ed. (New York: Ronald, 1970).

8 G. P. Mohrmann and Michael C. Leff point out that neo-Aristotelianism itself does not preclude
the study of discourse larger than a single speech; in fact, Aristotle discusses oratorical
genres—deliberative or political speaking, forensic or legal speaking, and epideictic or ceremo-
nial speaking. The notion of genres was not incorporated into the neo-Aristotelian approach
because of Wichelns’s determination that the purpose of rhetorical criticism was to uncover
effects on the specific audience. See G. P. Mohrmann and Michael C. Leff, “Lincoln at Cooper
Union: A Rationale for Neo-Classical Criticism,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 60 (December
1974): 463.

9 Edwin Black, Rhetorical Criticism: A Study in Method (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press,
1978), 33; and Otis M. Walter, “On the Varieties of Rhetorical Criticism,” in Essays in Rhetorical
Criticism, ed. Thomas R. Nilsen (New York: Random, 1968), 162.

10 Walter, “On the Varieties of Rhetorical Criticism,” 162–65.
11 Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, “The Forum: ‘Conventional Wisdom—Traditional Form’: A Rejoinder,”

Quarterly Journal of Speech 58 (December 1972): 454.
12 Black, Rhetorical Criticism, 124.
13 Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, “The Ontological Foundations of Rhetorical Theory,” Philosophy and

Rhetoric 3 (Spring 1970): 98.
14 Douglas Ehninger, “Rhetoric and the Critic,” Western Speech 29 (Fall 1965): 230.
15 See, for example: J. A. Hendrix, “In Defense of Neo-Aristotelian Rhetorical Criticism,” Western

Speech 32 (Fall 1968): 216–52; Forbes I. Hill, “Conventional Wisdom—Traditional Form: The
President’s Message of November 3, 1969,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 58 (December 1972):
373–86; Campbell, “The Forum,” 451–54; Forbes I. Hill, “The Forum: Reply to Professor Camp-
bell,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 58 (December 1972): 454–60; and Mohrmann and Leff, “Lin-
coln at Cooper Union,”459–67.

16 The summary of these procedures is brief. Much more detail about them is available in Thons-
sen, Baird, and Braden, Speech Criticism.

17 Although these canons were formulated to apply to public speaking and neo-Aristotelian criti-
cism originally was applied to speeches, the canons can be applied to rhetorical acts and arti-
facts of various kinds. Admittedly, in such an application, the canons and neo-Aristotelian
criticism must be stretched. For an example of this kind of expansion of the canons, see Nancy
Harper, Human Communication Theory: The History of a Paradigm (Rochelle Park, NJ: Hayden,
1979), 181–261.

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The President’s Message of November 3, 1969
Forbes Hill

More than one critique of President Nixon’s address to the nation on November 3,
1969, has appeared,1 which is not remarkable, since it was the most obvious feature of the
public relations machine that appears to have dammed back the flood of sentiment for
quick withdrawal of American forces from Southeast Asia. To be sure, the dike built by this
machine hardly endured forever, but some time was gained—an important achievement. It
seems natural, then, that we should want to examine this obvious feature from more than
one angle.

Preceding critiques have looked at Nixon’s message from notably nontraditional per-
spectives. Stelzner magnified it in the lens of archetypal criticism, which reveals a non-liter-
ary version of the quest story archetype, but he concluded that the President’s is an
incomplete telling of the story that does not adequately interact with the listeners’ subjective
experiences. Newman condemned the message as “shoddy rhetoric” because its tough
stance and false dilemmas are directed to white, urban, uptight voters. Campbell condemned
it on the basis of intrinsic criticism because though its stated purposes are to tell the truth,
increase credibility, promote unity, and affirm moral responsibility, its rhetoric conceals truth,
decreases credibility, promotes division, and dodges moral responsibility. Then, stepping
outside the intrinsic framework, she makes her most significant criticism: the message per-
petuates myths about American values instead of scrutinizing the real values of America.

I propose to juxtapose these examinations with a strict neo-Aristotelian analysis. If it
differs slightly from analyses that follow Wichelns2 and Hochmuth-Nichols,3 that is because
it attempts a critique that reinterprets neo-Aristotelianism slightly—a critique guided by the
spirit and usually the letter of the Aristotelian text as I understand it. What the neo-Aristote-
lian method can and should do will be demonstrated, I hope, by this juxtaposition.

Neo-Aristotelian criticism compares the means of persuasion used by a speaker with a
comprehensive inventory given in Aristotle’s Rhetoric. Its end is to discover whether the
speaker makes the best choices from the inventory to get a favorable decision from a speci-
fied group of auditors in a specific situation. It does not, of course, aim to discover whether
or not the speaker actually gets his favorable decision; decisions in practice are often upset
by chance factors.4 First the neo-Aristotelian critic must outline the situation, then specify
the group of auditors and define the kind of decision they are to make. Finally he must
reveal the choice and disposition of three intertwined persuasive factors—logical, psycho-
logical, and characterological—and evaluate this choice and disposition against the stan-
dard of the Rhetoric.

The Situation
The state of affairs for the Nixon Administration in the fall of 1969 is well known. The

United States had been fighting a stalemated war for several years. The cost in lives and
money was immense. The goal of the war was not clear; presumably the United States

From Quarterly Journal of Speech 58 (December 1972): 373–86. Used by permission of the Speech Communication
Association [National Communication Association] and the author.

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wanted South Viet Nam as a stable non-Communist buffer state between Communist areas
and the rest of Southeast Asia. To the extent that this goal was understood, it seemed as far
from being realized in 1969 as it had been in 1964. In the meantime, a large and vocal move-
ment had grown up, particularly among the young, of people who held that there should
have been no intervention in Viet Nam in the first place and that it would never be possible
to realize any conceivable goal of intervention. The movement was especially dangerous to
the Administration because it numbered among its supporters many of the elements of the
population who were most interested in foreign policy and best informed about it. There
were variations of position within the peace movement, but on one point all its members
were agreed: the United States should commit itself immediately to withdraw its forces
from Viet Nam.

The policy of the Nixon Administration, like that of the Johnson Administration before
it, was limited war to gain a position of strength from which to negotiate. By fall 1969 the
Administration was willing to make any concessions that did not jeopardize a fifty-fifty
chance of achieving the goal, but it was not willing to make concessions that amounted to
sure abandonment of the goal. A premature withdrawal amounted to public abandonment
and was to be avoided at all costs. When the major organizations of the peace movement
announced the first Moratorium Day for October 15 and organized school and work stop-
pages, demonstrations, and a great “March on Washington” to dramatize the demand for
immediate withdrawal from Viet Nam, the Administration launched a counterattack. The
President announced that he would make a major address on Viet Nam November 3. This
announcement seems to have moderated the force of the October moratorium, but plans
were soon laid for a second moratorium on November 15. Nixon’s counterattack aimed at
rallying the mass of the people to disregard the vocal minority and oppose immediate
withdrawal; it aimed to get support for a modified version of the old strategy: limited war
followed by negotiated peace. The address was broadcast the evening of November 3 over
the national radio and television networks.

The Auditors and the Kind of Decision
An American President having a monopoly of the media at prime time potentially

reaches an audience of upwards of a hundred million adults of heterogeneous back-
grounds and opinions. Obviously it is impossible to design a message to move every seg-
ment of this audience, let alone the international audience. The speaker must choose his
targets. An examination of the texts shows us which groups were eliminated as targets,
which were made secondary targets, and which were primary. The speaker did not address
himself to certain fanatical opponents of the war: the ones who hoped that the Viet Cong
would gain a signal victory over the Americans and their South Vietnamese allies, or those
who denied that Communist advances were threats to non-Communist countries, or those
against any war for any reason. These were the groups the President sought to isolate and
stigmatize. On the other hand, there was a large group of Americans who would be willing
to give their all to fight any kind of Communist expansion anywhere at any time. These
people also were not a target group: their support could be counted on in any case.

The speaker did show himself aware that the Viet Cong and other Communist deci-
sion-makers were listening in. He represented himself to them as willing and anxious to
negotiate and warned them that escalation of the war would be followed by effective retal-
iation. The Communists constituted a secondary target audience, but the analysis that fol-
lows will make plain that the message was not primarily intended for them.

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The primary target was those Americans not driven by a clearly defined ideological
commitment to oppose or support the war at any cost. Resentment of the sacrifice in
money and lives, bewilderment at the stalemate, longing for some movement in a clearly
marked direction—these were the principal aspects of their state of mind assumed by
Nixon. He solicited them saying “tonight—to you, the great silent majority of my fellow
Americans—I ask for your support.”5

His address asks the target group of auditors to make a decision to support a policy to
be continued in the future. In traditional terms, then, it is primarily a deliberative speech.
Those who receive the message are decision-makers, and they are concerned with the past
only as it serves as analogy to future decisions. The subjects treated are usual ones for
deliberation: war and peace.6

Disposition and Synopsis
The address begins with an enthymeme that attacks the credibility gap.7 Those who

decide on war and peace must know the truth about these policies, and the conclusion is
implied that the President is going to tell the truth. The rest of the proem is taken up by a
series of questions constructing a formal partition of the subjects to be covered. The parti-
tion stops short of revealing the nature of the modification in policy that constitutes the
Nixon plan. The message fits almost perfectly into the Aristotelian pattern of proem, narra-
tive, proofs both constructive and refutative, and epilogue. Just as proem has served as a
general heading for a synoptic statement of what was done in the first few sentences, so the
other four parts will serve us as analytical headings for a synopsis of the rest.

The narrative commences with Nixon’s statement of the situation as he saw it on tak-
ing office. He could have ordered immediate withdrawal of American forces, but he
decided to fulfill “a greater obligation . . . to think of the effect” of his decision “on the next
generation, and on the future of peace and freedom in America, and in the world.” Appli-
cable here is the precept: the better the moral end that the speaker can in his narrative be
seen consciously choosing, the better the ethos he reveals.8 An end can hardly be better than
“the future of peace and freedom in America, and in the world.” The narrative goes on to
explain why and how the United States became involved in Viet Nam in the first place.
This explanation masquerades as a simple chronological statement—“Fifteen years
ago . . .” but thinly disguised in the chronology lie two propositions: first, that the leaders
of America were right in intervening on behalf of the government of South Viet Nam; sec-
ond, that the great mistake in their conduct of the war was over-reliance on American com-
bat forces. Some doubt has been cast on the wisdom of Nixon’s choice among the means of
persuasion here. The history, writes one critic, “is a surprising candidate for priority in any
discussion today. . . . The President’s chief foreign policy advisors, his allies on Capitol Hill,
and the memorandum he got from the Cabinet bureaucracy all urged him to skip discus-
sions of the causes and manner of our involvement. Yet history comes out with top bill-
ing.”9 This criticism fails to conceive the rhetorical function of the narrative: in the two
propositions the whole content of the proofs that follow is foreshadowed, and foreshad-
owed in the guise of a non-controversial statement about the historical facts. Among tradi-
tional orators this use of the narrative to foreshadow proofs is common, but it has seldom
been handled with more artistry than here.

Constructive proofs are not opened with an analytical partition but with a general
question: what is the best way to end the war? The answer is structured as a long argument
from logical division: there are four plans to end American involvement; three should be

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rejected so that the listener is left with no alternative within the structure but to accept the
fourth.10 The four plans are: immediate withdrawal, the consequences of which are shown
at some length to be bad; negotiated settlement, shown to be impossible in the near future
because the enemy will not negotiate in earnest; shifting the burden of the war to the Viet-
namese with American withdrawal on a fixed timetable, also argued to have bad conse-
quences; and shifting the burden of the war to the Vietnamese with American withdrawal
on a flexible schedule, said to have good consequences, since it will eventually bring “the
complete withdrawal of all United States combat ground forces,” whether earnest negotia-
tions become possible or not. Constructive proofs close with one last evil consequence of
immediate withdrawal: that it would lead eventually to Americans’ loss of confidence in
themselves and divisive recrimination that “would scar our spirit as a people.”

As refutative proof is introduced, opponents of the Administration are characterized
by a demonstrator carrying a sign, “Lose in Viet Nam”; they are an irrational minority who
want to decide policy in the streets, as opposed to the elected officials—Congress and the
President—who will decide policy by Constitutional and orderly means. This attack on his
presumed opponents leads to a passage which reassures the majority of young people that
the President really wants peace as much as they do. Reassuring ends with the statement of
Nixon’s personal belief that his plan will succeed; this statement may be taken as transi-
tional to the epilogue.

The epilogue reiterates the bad consequences of immediate withdrawal—loss of confi-
dence and loss of other nations to totalitarianism—it exhorts the silent majority to support
the plan, predicting its success; it evokes the memory of Woodrow Wilson; then it closes
with the President’s pledge to meet his responsibilities to lead the nation with strength and
wisdom. Recapitulation, building of ethos, and reinforcing the right climate of feeling—
these are what a traditional rhetorician would advise that the epilogue do,11 and these are
what Nixon’s epilogue does.

Indeed, this was our jumping-off place for the synopsis of the message: it falls into the
traditional paradigm; each frame of the paradigm contains the lines of argument conven-
tional for that frame. The two unconventional elements in the paradigm—the unusual
placement of the last evil consequence of immediate withdrawal and the use of the frame
by logical division for the constructive proofs—are there for good rhetorical reasons. That
last consequence, loss of confidence and divisive recrimination, serves to lead into the refu-
tation which opens with the demonstrator and his sign. It is as if the demonstrator were
being made an example in advance of just this evil consequence. The auditor is brought
into precisely the right set for a refutation section that does not so much argue with oppo-
nents as it pushes them into an isolated, unpopular position.

Because of the residues-like structure, the message creates the illusion of proving that
Vietnamization and flexible withdrawal constitute the best policy. By process of elimina-
tion it is the only policy available, and even a somewhat skeptical listener is less likely to
question the only policy available. Approaching the proposal with skepticism dulled, he
perhaps does not so much miss a development of the plan. In particular, he might not ask
the crucial question: does the plan actually provide for complete American withdrawal?
The answer to this question is contained in the single phrase, “complete withdrawal of all
United States combat ground forces.” It is fairly clear, in retrospect, that this phrase con-
cealed the intention to keep in Viet Nam for several years a large contingent of air and sup-
port forces. Nixon treats the difference between plan three, Vietnamization and withdrawal
on a fixed schedule, and plan four, Vietnamization and withdrawal on a flexible schedule,
as a matter of whether or not the schedule is announced in advance. But the crucial differ-

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ence is really that plan three was understood by its advocates as a plan for quick, complete
withdrawal; plan four was a plan for partial withdrawal. The strategic reason for not
announcing a fixed schedule was that the announcement would give away this fact. The
residues structure concealed the lack of development of the plan; the lack of development
of the plan suppressed the critical fact that Nixon did not propose complete withdrawal.
Although Nixon’s message shows traditionally conventional structure, these variations
from the traditional show a remarkable ability at designing the best adaptations to the spe-
cific rhetorical situation.

Logical and Psychological Persuasive Factors
Central to an Aristotelian assessment of the means of persuasion is an account of two

interdependent factors: (1) the choice of major premises on which enthymemes12 that form
“the body of the proof” are based, and (2) the means whereby auditors are brought into
states of feeling favorable to accepting these premises and the conclusions following from
them. Premises important here are of two kinds: predictions and values. Both kinds as they
relate to good and evil consequences of the four plans to end American involvement, will be
assessed. The first enthymeme involving prediction is that immediate withdrawal followed
by a Communist takeover would lead to murder and imprisonment of innocent civilians.
This conclusion follows from the general predictive rule: the future will resemble the past.13
Since the Communists murdered and imprisoned opponents on taking over North Viet Nam
in 1954 and murdered opponents in the city of Hue in 1968, they will do the same when they
take over South Viet Nam. Implied also is an enthymeme based on the value premise that
security of life and freedom from bondage are primary goods for men;14 a Communist take-
over would destroy life and freedom and therefore destroy primary goods for men.

Presumably no one would try to refute this complex of enthymemes by saying that life
and freedom are not primary goods, though he might argue from more and less;15 more life
is lost by continuing the war than would be lost by a Communist takeover, or American-
South Vietnamese political structures allow for even less political freedom than the Com-
munist alternatives. Nixon buries these questions far enough beneath the surface of the
message that probably auditors in the target group are not encouraged to raise them. One
could also attack the predictive premise: after all, the future is not always the past writ over
again. But this kind of refutation is merely irritating; we know that the premise is not uni-
versally true, yet everyone finds it necessary to operate in ordinary life as if it were. People
on the left of the target group, of course, reject the evidence—North Viet Nam and Hue.

A related prediction is that immediate withdrawal would result in a collapse of confi-
dence in American leadership. It rests on the premise that allies only have confidence in
those who both have power and will act in their support.16 If the United States shows it
lacks power and will in Viet Nam, there will be a collapse of confidence, which entails fur-
ther consequences: it would “promote recklessness” on the part of enemies everywhere
else the country has commitments, i.e., as a general premise, when one party to a power
struggle loses the confidence of its allies, its enemies grow bolder.17 The conclusion is bol-
stered by citations from former presidents Eisenhower, Johnson, and Kennedy: the state-
ment of the “liberal saint,” Kennedy, is featured.

It is difficult to attack the related premises of these tandem arguments. They rest on what
experience from the sandbox up shows to be probable. The target group consists of people
with the usual American upbringing and experience. Someone will question the premises
only if he questions the worldview out of which they develop. That view structures the

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world into Communist powers—actual or potential enemies—and non-Communist pow-
ers—allies. America is the leader of the allies, referred to elsewhere as the forces of “peace
and freedom” opposed by “the forces of totalitarianism.” Because of its association with free-
dom, American leadership is indisputably good, and whatever weakens confidence in it
helps the enemies. Only a few people on the far left would categorically reject this structure.

The foregoing premises and the worldview fundamental to them are even more likely
to be accepted if the auditors are in a state of fear. Fear may be defined as distress caused by
a vision of impending evil of the destructive or painful kind.18 This message promotes a
state of fear by the nature of the evil consequences developed—murder and imprisonment
of innocents, collapse of leadership in the free world, and reckless aggressiveness of impla-
cable enemies. America is the prototype of a nation that is fearful; her enemies are watching
their opportunities all over the globe, from Berlin to the Middle East, yes even in the West-
ern Hemisphere itself. The enemies are cruel and opposed to American ideals. They are
strong on the battlefield and intransigent in negotiations. Conditions are such that Amer-
ica’s allies may lose confidence in her and leave her to fight these enemies alone. But these
circumstances are not too much amplified: only enough to create a state of feeling favorable
to rejecting immediate withdrawal, not so much as to create the disposition for escalation.

Nixon claims to have tried hard to make a negotiated settlement, but he could not
make one because the Communists refused to compromise. The evidence that they would
not compromise is developed at length: public initiatives through the peace conference in
Paris are cited, terms for participation of the Communist forces in internationally super-
vised elections offered, and promises made to negotiate on any of these terms. Then there
were private initiatives through the Soviet Union and directly by letter to the leaders of
North Viet Nam, as well as private efforts by the United States ambassador to the Paris
talks. These efforts brought only demands for the equivalent of unconditional surrender.
The citation of evidence is impressive and destroys the credibility of the position that nego-
tiations can bring a quick end to the war.

Nixon does not explicitly predict that the plan for negotiated settlement will not work
ever; on the contrary, he says that he will keep trying. But if the auditor believes the evi-
dence, he finds it difficult to avoid making his own enthymeme with the conclusion that
negotiated settlement will never work; the major premise is the same old rule, the future
will be like the past. Nixon gives another reason, too: it will not work while the opposite
side “is convinced that all it has to do is to wait for our next concession, and our next con-
cession after that one, until it gets everything it wants.” The major premise—no power con-
vinced that victory is probable by forcing repeated concessions will ever compromise—
constitutes a commonplace of bargaining for virtually everyone.

Peace is seen in these arguments as almost an unqualified good. Although compro-
mise through bargaining is the fastest way to peace, the other side must make concessions
to assure compromise. Reasons for continuing the war, such as an ideological commitment,
are evil. There is no glory in war and prolonging it is not justified by political gains made
but only by a commitment to higher values like saving lives and preserving freedom. Pro-
longing the war is also justified as avoiding future wars by not losing Southeast Asia alto-
gether and not promoting the spirit of recklessness in the enemies. “I want,” states Nixon,
“to end it [the war] in a way which will increase the chance that their [the soldiers’]
younger brothers and their sons will not have to fight in some future Vietnam. . . .”

A listener is prone to reject the likelihood of a negotiated peace if he is angry with his
opponents. Anger is a painful desire for revenge and arises from an evident, unjustified
slight to a person or his friends.19 People visualizing revenge ordinarily refuse compromise

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except as a temporary tactic. Nixon presents the American people as having been slighted:
they value peace, and their leaders have with humility taken every peace initiative possi-
ble: public, private, and secret. The Communist powers wish to gain politically from the
war; they have rebuffed with spite all initiatives and frustrated our good intentions by
demanding the equivalent of unconditional surrender. Frustration is, of course, a necessary
condition of anger.20 Again, Nixon does not go too far—not far enough to create a psycho-
logical climate out of which a demand for escalation would grow.

Nixon announces that his plan for Vietnamization and American withdrawal on a flex-
ible timetable is in effect already. Its consequences: American men coming home, South
Vietnamese forces gaining in strength, enemy infiltration measurably reduced, and United
States’ casualties also reduced. He predicts: policies that have had such consequences in
the past will have them in the future, i.e., the future will be like the past. Again, the undis-
puted value that saving lives is good is assumed. But in this case the argument, while rest-
ing on an acceptable premise, was, at the time of this speech, somewhat more doubtful of
acceptance by the target group. The evidence constitutes the problem: obviously the sam-
ple of the past since the policy of Vietnamization commenced was so short that no one
could really judge the alleged consequences to be correlated with the change in policy, let
alone caused by it. There is, then, little reason why that audience should have believed the
minor premise—that the consequences of Vietnamization were good.

A temporizing and moderate policy is best presented to auditors who while temporar-
ily fearful are basically confident. Nothing saps the will to accept such a proposal as does
the opposite state, basically fearful and only temporarily confident. Confidence is the other
side of the coin from fear: it is pleasure because destructive and painful evils seem far away
and sources of aid near at hand.21 The sources of aid here are the forces of the Republic of
South Viet Nam. They have continued to gain in strength and as a result have been able to
take over combat responsibilities from American forces. In contrast, danger from the
enemy is receding—“enemy infiltration . . . over the last three months is less than 20 per
cent of what it was over the same period last year.” Nixon assures his auditors that he has
confidence the plan will succeed. America is the “strongest and richest nation in the
world”; it can afford the level of aid that needs to be continued in Viet Nam. It will show
the moral stamina to meet the challenge of free world leadership.

For some time rumors about gradual American withdrawal from Viet Nam had been
discounted by the peace movement. The only acceptable proof of American intentions
would be a timetable showing withdrawal to be accomplished soon. Thus the third plan:
withdrawal on a fixed timetable. Nixon predicts that announcing of a timetable would
remove the incentive to negotiate and reduce flexibility of response. The general premise
behind the first is a commonplace of bargaining: negotiations never take place without a
quid pro quo; a promise to remove American forces by a certain date gives away the quid pro
quo. For most Americans, who are used to getting things by bargaining, this premise is
unquestionable. Only those few who think that the country can gain no vestige of the
objective of the war are willing to throw away the incentive. The premises behind the
notion of flexibility—that any workable plan is adaptable to changes in the situation—is a
commonplace of legislation and not likely to be questioned by anyone. Nixon adds to this
generally acceptable premise a specific incentive. Since withdrawal will occur more rapidly
if enemy military activity decreases and the South Vietnamese forces become stronger,
there is a possibility that forces can be withdrawn even sooner than would be predicted by
a timetable. This specific incentive is illusory, since it is obvious that one can always with-
draw sooner than the timetable says, even if he has one; it is hard to see how a timetable

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actually reduces flexibility. Everyone makes timetables, of course, and having to re-make
them when conditions change is a familiar experience. But the average man who works
from nine to five probably thinks that the government should be different: when it
announces a timetable it must stick to it; otherwise nothing is secure. This argument may
seem weak to the critic, but it is probably well directed to the target group. The real reason
for not announcing a timetable has already been noted.22

One final prediction is founded on the preceding predictions—whenever a policy leads
to such evil consequences as movement of Southeast Asia into alliance with the enemy and a
new recklessness on the part of enemies everywhere, it will eventually result in remorse and
divisive recrimination which will, in turn, result in a loss of self-confidence. Guiltlessness and
internal unity, the opposites of remorse and recrimination, are here assumed as secondary
goods leading to self-confidence, a primary good. The enthymeme predicting loss of self-con-
fidence consequent on immediate withdrawal is summary in position: it seems to tie together
all previous arguments. It comes right after a particularly effective effort at ethos building—
the series of statements developed in parallel construction about not having chosen the easy
way (immediate withdrawal) but the right way. However, it rests on the assumption that the
long term mood of confidence in the country depends on the future of Southeast Asia and the
recklessness of our enemies. Since these two factors are only an aspect of a larger picture in
which many other events play their parts, it is surely not true that they alone will produce a
loss of confidence. The enthymeme based on this assumption, placed where it is, however,
does not invite questioning by the target group. Doubtful though it may look under search-
ing scrutiny, it has an important function for the structure of psychological proof in this mes-
sage. It reinforces the vague image of the danger of facing a stronger enemy in a weakened
condition: America itself would be less united, less confident, and less able to fight in the
future if this consequence of immediate withdrawal were realized.

Other things being equal, the more commonplace and universally accepted the prem-
ises of prediction in a deliberative speech, the more effective the speech. This is especially
true if they are set in a frame that prepares the auditor psychologically for their acceptance.
There is almost no doubt that given the policy of the Nixon Administration—Vietnamiza-
tion and partial withdrawal on a flexible schedule not announced in advance—the message
shows a potentially effective choice of premises. In some cases it is almost the only possible
choice. Likewise the value structure of the message is wisely chosen from materials famil-
iar to any observer of the American scene: it could be duplicated in hundreds of other mes-
sages from recent American history.

Several additional value assumptions are equally commonplace. Betraying allies and
letting down friends is assumed to be an evil, and its opposite, loyalty to friends and allies
the virtue of a great nation. This premise equates personal loyalty, like that a man feels for
his friend, with what the people of the whole nation should feel for an allied nation. Many
people think this way about international relations, and the good citizens of the target
group can be presumed to be among them.

Policies endorsed by the people they are supposed to help are said to be better policies
than those not endorsed by them. This statement undoubtedly makes a good political rule
if one expects participation in the execution of policy of those to be helped. Policies that
result from the operation of representative government are good, whereas those made on
the streets are bad. This value is, of course, an essential of republican government: only the
most radical, even of those outside the target group, would question it. Finally, Nixon
assumes that the right thing is usually the opposite of the easy thing, and, of course, he
chooses to do the right thing. Such a value premise does not occur in rhetorics by Aristotle

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or even George Campbell; it is probably a peculiar product of Protestant-American-on-the-
frontier thinking. Its drawing power for twentieth-century urban youngsters is negligible,
but the bulk of the target group probably is made up of suburbanites in the 30–50 category
who still have some affinity for this kind of thinking.

Some shift from the traditional values of American culture can be seen in the tone of
Nixon’s dealing with the war: the lack of indication that it is glorious, the muted appeal to
patriotism (only one brief reference to the first defeat in America’s history), the lack of com-
plete victory as a goal. But nowhere else does the culture of the post-atomic age show
through; by and large the speech would have been applauded if delivered in the nineteenth
century. That there has been a radical revolution of values among the young does not affect
the message, and one might predict that Nixon is right in deciding that the revolution in
values has not yet significantly infected the target group.

Characterological and Stylistic Factors
Nixon’s choice of value premises is, of course, closely related to his ethos as conveyed

by the speech. He promises to tell the truth before he asks the American people to support
a policy which involves the overriding issues of war and peace—phraseology that echoes
previous Nixonian messages. He refrains from harsh criticism of the previous administra-
tion; he is more interested in the future America than in political gains; such an avowal of
disinterestedness is the commonest topic for self-character building.

Nixon is against political murders and imprisonments and active pushing initiatives
for peace. He is flexible and compromising, unlike the negotiators for the enemy. He
chooses the right way and not the easy way. He is the champion of policy made by consti-
tutional processes; his opponents conduct unruly demonstrations in the streets. But he has
healthy respect for the idealism and commitment of the young; he pledges himself in the
tradition of Woodrow Wilson to win a peace that will avoid future wars. He has the cour-
age to make a tasteful appeal to patriotism even when it’s unpopular. Such is the character
portrait drawn for us by Richard Nixon: restrained not hawkish, hard-working and active,
flexible, yet firm where he needs to be. He seems an American style democrat, a moral but
also a practical and sensitive man. The message is crowded with these overt clues from
which we infer the good ethos of political figures in situations like this. Any more intensive
development of the means of persuasion derived from the character of the speaker would
surely have been counter-productive.

The language of Nixon’s message helps to reinforce his ethos. His tone is unbrokenly
serious. The first two-thirds of the message is in a self-consciously plain style—the effort is
clearly made to give the impression of bluntness and forthrightness. This bluntness of tone
correlates with the style of deliberative argumentation:23 few epideictic elements are pres-
ent in the first part of the speech. Everything seems to be adjusted to making the structure
of residues exceedingly clear.

About two-thirds of the way through, the message shifts to a more impassioned tone.
The alternative plans are collapsed into two, thus polarizing the situation: either immedi-
ate withdrawal or Nixon’s plan for Vietnamization and unscheduled withdrawal. From
here on parallel repetitions are persistent, and they serve no obvious logical function, but
rather function to deepen the serious tone. There is, in short, an attempt to rise to a perora-
tion of real eloquence. The qualities aimed at in the last third of the message seem to be
gravity and impressiveness more than clarity and forthrightness. The effort seems to tax
the speechwriter’s literary skill to the limit, and the only new phrases he comes up with are

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the “silent majority” and the description of the energies of the young as “too often directed
to bitter hatred against those they think are responsible for the war.” All else is a moder-
ately skillful pastiche of familiar phrases.

General Assessment
A summary answer can now be given to the question, how well did Nixon and his

advisors choose among the available means of persuasion for this situation? The message
was designed for those not ideologically overcommitted either to victory over Commu-
nism or to peace in any case while frustrated by the prolonged war. It operates from the
most universally accepted premises of value and prediction; it buries deep in its texture
most premises not likely to be immediately accepted. Enough of the means for bringing
auditors into states of fear, anger, and confidence are used to create a psychological climate
unfavorable to immediate withdrawal and favorable to Vietnamization. The goals—life,
political freedom, peace, and self-confidence—are those shared by nearly all Americans,
and connections of policies to them are tactfully handled for the target group. The structure
is largely according to tradition: it can best be seen as falling into the four parts, and the
right elements are contained in each of the parts. Two minor variations from the traditional
are artfully designed to realize evident psychological ends. Conventional wisdom and con-
ventional value judgments come dressed in conventional structure. The style of the narra-
tive and proofs reflects adequately Nixon’s reliance on clearly developed arguments from
accepted premises; the style of the latter part of the message shows a moderately successful
attempt at grandeur. In choice and arrangement of the means of persuasion for this situa-
tion this message is by and large a considerable success.

Neo-Aristotelian criticism tells a great deal about Nixon’s message. It reveals the
speechwriter as a superior technician. It permits us to predict that given this target group
the message should be successful in leading to a decision to support the Administration’s
policies. It brings into sharp focus the speechwriter’s greatest technical successes: the
choice of the right premises to make a version of the domino theory plausible for these
auditors and the creation of a controlled atmosphere of fear in which the theory is more
likely to be accepted. Likewise, the choice of the right means of making success for peace
negotiations seems impossible and the building of a controlled state of anger in which a
pessimistic estimate of the chances for success seems plausible. Also the finely crafted
structure that conceals exactly what needs to be concealed while revealing the favored plan
in a context most favorable to its being chosen.

What neo-Aristotelianism does not attempt to account for are some basic and long-run
questions. For instance, it does not assess the wisdom of the speaker’s choice of target audi-
ence as does Newman, who wanted the President to alleviate the fears of the doves. All crit-
ics observe that Nixon excludes the radical opponent of the war from his audience. Not only
is this opponent excluded by his choice of policy but even by the choice of premises from
which he argues: premises such as that the Government of South Viet Nam is freer than that
of North Viet Nam, or that the right course is the opposite of the easy one. Radical opponents
of the war were mostly young—often college students. The obvious cliché, “they are the
political leadership of tomorrow,” should have applied. Was it in the long run a wise choice
to exclude them from the target? An important question, but a neo-Aristotelian approach
does not warrant us to ask it. There is a gain, though, from this limitation. If the critic ques-
tions the President’s choice of policy and premises, he is forced to examine systematically all
the political factors involved in this choice. Neither Newman nor Campbell do this in the

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objective and systematic fashion required by the magnitude of the subject. Indeed, would
they not be better off with a kind of criticism that does not require them to do it?

Nor does the neo-Aristotelian approach predict whether a policy will remain rhetori-
cally viable. If the critic assumes as given the Nixon Administration’s choice of policy from
among the options available, he will no doubt judge this choice of value and predictive
premises likely to effect the decision wanted. To put it another way, Nixon’s policy was then
most defensible by arguing from the kinds of premises Nixon used. It seems less defensible
at this writing, and in time may come to seem indefensible even to people like those in the
target group. Why the same arguments for the same policy should be predictably less effec-
tive to people so little removed in time is a special case of the question, why do some poli-
cies remain rhetorically viable for decades while others do not. This question might in part
be answered by pointing, as was done before, to the maturing of the students into political
leadership. But however the question might be answered, neo-Aristotelianism does not
encourage us to ask it. As Black truly said, the neo-Aristotelian comprehends “the rhetorical
discourse as tactically designed to achieve certain results with a specific audience on a spe-
cific occasion,”24 in this case that audience Nixon aimed at on the night of November 3, 1969.

Finally, neo-Aristotelian criticism does not warrant us to estimate the truth of Nixon’s
statements or the reality of the values he assumes as aspects of American life. When Nixon
finds the origin of the war in a North Vietnamese “campaign to impose a Communist gov-
ernment on South Vietnam by instigating and supporting a revolution,” Campbell takes
him to task for not telling the truth. This criticism raises a serious question: are we sure that
Nixon is not telling the truth? We know, of course, that Nixon oversimplifies a complex
series of events—any speaker in his situation necessarily does that. But will the scholar of
tomorrow with the perspective of history judge his account totally false? Campbell
endorses the view that basically this is a civil war resulting from the failure of the Diem
government backed by the United States to hold elections under the Geneva Agreements of
1954. But her view and Nixon’s are not mutually exclusive: it seems evident to me that both
the United States and the Communist powers involved themselves from the first to the
extent they thought necessary to force an outcome in their favor in Viet Nam. If a scientific
historian of the future had to pick one view of the conflict or the other, he would probably
pick Nixon’s because it more clearly recognizes the power politics behind the struggle. But
I am not really intending to press the point that Campbell commits herself to a wrong view,
or even a superficially partial one. The point is that she espouses here a theory of criticism
that requires her to commit herself at all. If anyone writing in a scholarly journal seeks to
assess the truth of Nixon’s statements, he must be willing to assume the burden of proving
them evidently false. This cannot be done by appealing to the wisdom of the liberal intel-
lectuals of today.25 If the essential task were accomplished, would the result be called a rhe-
torical critique? By Aristotle’s standards it would not, and for my part I think we will write
more significant criticism if we follow Aristotle in this case. To generalize, I submit that the
limitations of neo-Aristotelian criticism are like the metrical conventions of the poet—limi-
tations that make true significance possible.

1 Robert P. Newman, “Under the Veneer: Nixon’s Vietnam Speech of November 3, 1969,” Quarterly Journal of

Speech, 56 (Apr. 1970), 168–178; Hermann G. Stelzner, “The Quest Story and Nixon’s November 3, 1969
Address,” Quarterly Journal of Speech, 57 (Apr. 1971), 163–172; Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, “An Exercise in the Rhet-
oric of Mythical America,” in Critiques of Contemporary Rhetoric (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1972), pp. 50–58.

2 Herbert A. Wichelns, “The Literary Criticism of Oratory,” in Donald C. Bryant, ed., The Rhetorical Idiom: Essays
in Rhetoric, Oratory, Language, and Drama (1925; rpt. Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1958), pp. 5–42.

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3 Marie Hochmuth [Nichols], “The Criticism of Rhetoric,” in A History and Criticism of American Public Address
(New York: Longmans, Green, 1955) III, 1–23.

4 Aristotle, Rhetoric I. 1. 1355b 10–14. “To persuade is not the function of rhetoric but to investigate the persuasive
factors inherent in the particular case. It is just the same as in all other arts; for example, it is not the function of
medicine to bring health, rather to bring the patient as near to health as is possible in his case. Indeed, there are
some patients who cannot be changed to healthfulness; nevertheless, they can be given the right therapy.”
(Translation mine.) I understand the medical analogy to mean that even if auditors chance to be proof against
any of the means of persuasion, the persuader has functioned adequately as a rhetorician if he has investigated
these means so that he has in effect “given the right therapy.”

5 Text as printed in Vital Speeches, 36 (15 Nov. 1969), 69.
6 Aristotle Rhetoric I. 4. 1359b 33–1360a 5.
7 Aristotle Rhetoric III. 14. 1415a 29–33. Here Nixon functions like a defendant in a forensic speech. “When

defending he will first deal with any prejudicial insinuation against him . . . it is necessary that the defendant
when he steps forward first reduce the obstacles, so he must immediately dissolve prejudice.”

8 See Aristotle Rhetoric III. 16. 1417a 16–36.
9 Newman, p. 173.

10 See Aristotle Rhetoric II. 23. 1398a 30–31. This basic structure is called method of residues in most modern argu-
mentation textbooks.

11 Aristotle Rhetoric III. 19. 1419b 10–1420a 8.
12 For the purpose of this paper the term enthymeme is taken to mean any deductive argument. Aristotle gives a

more technical definition of enthymeme that fits into the total design of his organon; in my opinion it is not
useful for neo-Aristotelian criticism.

13 Remarkably enough Aristotle does not state this general rule, though it clearly underlies his treatment of the
historical example, Rhetoric II. 20.

14 See Aristotle Rhetoric I. 6. 1362b 26–27 for life as a good; I. 8. 1366a for freedom as the object of choice for the cit-
izens of a democracy.

15 The subject of Rhetoric I. 7. Chaim Perelman and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca, commenting on this chapter, indicate that
there is usually a consensus on such statements as ‘life is good’; the dispute is over whether life is a greater
good than honor in this particular situation. See The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation, trans. John
Wilkinson and Purcell Weaver (Notre Dame: Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1969), pp. 81–82.

16 See Aristotle Rhetoric II. 19. 1393a 1–3.
17 This principle follows from Rhetoric II. 5. 1383a 24–25.
18 Aristotle Rhetoric II. 5. 1382a 21–22. Aristotle treated the pathe as states of feeling that a man enters into because

he draws certain inferences from the situation around him: he sees, for example, that he is the type of man who
experiences pity when faced with this type of victim in these circumstances. The means of getting a man to
draw inferences are themselves logical proofs; hence pathos does not work apart from the logical proofs in a
message but through them. See Aristotle Rhetoric II. 1. 1378a 19–28 and my explication in James J. Murphy, ed.
A Synoptic History of Classical Rhetoric (New York: Random House, 1972).

19 Aristotle Rhetoric II. 2. 1378a 30–32.
20 Aristotle Rhetoric II. 2. 1379a 10–18.
21 Aristotle Rhetoric II. 5. 1383a 16–19.
22 Since he gave this speech Nixon has made a general timetable for American withdrawal, thus, presumably,

showing that he was not utterly convinced by his own argument. But he has never quite fixed a date for com-
plete withdrawal of all American support forces from Viet Nam; he has been consistent in maintaining that
withdrawal as a bargaining point for negotiation with the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese.

23 See Aristotle Rhetoric III. 12. 1414a 8–19.
24 Edwin B. Black, Rhetorical Criticism: A Study in Method (New York: Macmillan, 1965), p. 33.
25 Richard H. Kendall, writing a reply to Newman, “The Forum,” Quarterly Journal of Speech, 56 (Dec. 1970), 432,

makes this same point, particularly in connection with Newman’s implication that ex-President Johnson was a
fraud. “If so, let us have some evidence of his fraudulent actions. If there is no evidence, or if there is evidence, but
an essay on the rhetoric of President Nixon does not provide proper scope for a presentation of such evidence,
then it seems to me inclusion of such a charge (or judgment) may fall into the category of gratuitous.” Newman in
rejoinder asks, “Should such summary judgments be left out of an article in a scholarly journal because space pro-
hibits extensively supporting them? Omission might contribute to a sterile academic purity, but it would improve
neither cogency nor understanding.” I would certainly answer Newman’s rhetorical question, yes, and I would
go on to judge that view of criticism which encourages such summary judgments not to be a useful one.

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A Neo-Aristotelian Analysis of Jiang Zemin’s

Address at the Handover of Hong Kong
Andrew Gilmore

Triggered by an announcement by the Beijing government that Hong Kongers would
not be allowed to choose candidates for the 2017 Hong Kong election, the late summer of
2014 saw hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers take to the streets of their city to vent
their frustration at the Chinese government. The Umbrella Revolution—named for the
umbrellas Hong Kong protesters used as symbols to represent their calls for democracy
and genuine universal suffrage—was one of the largest and most prolonged on-street occu-
pations ever witnessed.

The seeds of Hong Kong’s current discontent were sown two decades earlier on July 1,
1997, when responsibility for the city of Hong Kong was officially handed back to the Peo-
ple’s Republic of China (PRC) after 156 years of British rule. Negotiated by the govern-
ments of the United Kingdom (UK) and the PRC, the Sino-British Joint Declaration was
signed on December 19, 1984. The Declaration laid the foundation for how Hong Kong
would be governed after the 1997 handover and throughout the following 50 years. In
addition to the implementation of basic policies regarding education, law, the judicial sys-
tem, and the financial system, there were two crucial policies of the Joint Declaration. The
first was the implementation of the “one country, two systems” policy, which sanctioned
Hong Kong’s independence from mainland China. The important move to grant Hong
Kong the title of Special Administrative Region enabled the city to “enjoy a high degree of
autonomy” (Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau, 2007), although the actual level
of autonomy that Hong Kong would be allowed was extremely vague. The second crucial
policy dealt with the length of time the agreement would last—the Declaration stated that
life in Hong Kong would remain unchanged for 50 years.

The handover of Hong Kong was a global event, and the terms of the Joint Declaration
were groundbreaking and unique. In Hong Kong, however, the handover galvanized pub-
lic opinion and, while most citizens agreed that the city should gain independence from the
UK, citizens began to worry about what would become of Hong Kong after it was returned
to China. Many Hong Kong citizens were concerned that the Chinese government would
disregard the stipulations of the Joint Declaration and force Hong Kong to implement rules
and laws against their will. The scenes from the city’s 79-day Umbrella Revolution in late
2014, depicting huge crowds of Hong Kongers camping out in the city’s streets to protest
China’s refusal to allow them to choose candidates to represent the city in the 2017 elec-
tions, provide evidence that many of the fears and issues that Hong Kongers foresaw in
1997 have been realized. Indeed, in late 2015, the mysterious disappearance of five Hong
Kong publishers and bookstore staff shocked the city. The disappearance of the five men,
who were reported to be detained on the mainland, provides further evidence of the ero-
sion of the “one country, two systems” policy as China expands its reach “to intimidate and
detain dissidents beyond mainland Chinese borders” (Van Sant, 2016).

Andrew Gilmore began writing a series of essays on Jiang Zemin’s speech at the handover of Hong Kong when he
was a student in Sonja K. Foss’s rhetorical criticism class at the University of Colorado Denver in 2014; he com-
pleted the series in 2016. Used by permission of the author. Jiang Zemin’s full speech can be found on pp. 215–216
in chapter 7.

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Although the PRC agreed to the stipulations of the Joint Declaration, the signing of the
agreement meant that the PRC did not have complete control over Hong Kong. An exi-
gency for the PRC, then, was to legitimize the handover of Hong Kong by using rhetoric
that could create a reality in which the PRC exercised power and control over Hong Kong,
despite being constrained by the terms of the Declaration. The artifact I will analyze in this
essay is an address given by the president of the PRC, Jiang Zemin. His goal was to use his
address at Hong Kong’s handover ceremony to lay the foundation for how he and the PRC
would ignore the terms of the Declaration and take full control of Hong Kong. I analyze
Jiang’s speech to discover whether he used the means of persuasion available to him to
achieve his objective. In addition to providing clues as to how the PRC planned to circum-
navigate the terms of the Joint Declaration, this analysis also suggests that Jiang’s future
plans for Hong Kong had been constructed and were presented in his address at the han-
dover—plans focused on establishing and maintaining the PRC’s power and control over
Hong Kong.

I analyze Jiang’s address using the method of neo-Aristotelian criticism. This method

of criticism—also referred to as neo-classical or traditional criticism—was the first formal
method of rhetorical criticism in the communication field and was developed by Herbert
A. Wichelns. To carry out a neo-Aristotelian analysis, a critic first reconstructs the context
of the chosen speech, which involves investigating the rhetor, the occasion on which the
speech was presented, and the audience to whom the speech was addressed. Next, a critic
analyzes the speech using the five canons of classical rhetoric—invention, organization,
style, memory, and delivery. The final step of a neo-Aristotelian analysis is to assess the
effects of the rhetoric to determine whether it achieved the rhetor’s intended goal. A neo-
Aristotelian analysis enables me to discover if Jiang successfully used the available means
of persuasion in order to achieve his goal: laying the foundation for future violations of the
terms of the formal agreement between the PRC and the UK to exert power and control
over Hong Kong.

Context for Jiang’s Rhetoric

The Rhetor: Jiang Zemin
Jiang was mayor of Shanghai before rising to the position of general secretary of the

Communist Party of China (CCP) in 1989. Jiang’s rise to the top of the Chinese political lad-
der was complete when, in 1993, he became president of the PRC, a position he held until
2002. Two important points regarding the timeline of Jiang’s positions within the Chinese
government should be considered when analyzing Jiang’s exigency and his rhetoric. His
initial appointment as general secretary came immediately after the Tiananmen Square
protests of 1989. Jiang’s predecessor, Zhao Ziyang, was ousted as a result of his apparent
support for the 1989 student movement in Tiananmen Square and across China. Because of
Jiang’s appointment by the CCP, an assumption can be made that he was not sympathetic
toward the student movement, and, likewise, was not sympathetic to Hong Kongers who
opposed and protested the handover. Unlike his predecessor, Jiang did not tolerate unrest
across the nation. As a long-time supporter of the CCP—Jiang states that he joined the
party when he was in college (Barrington, 2010)—Jiang was well known for his embrace of
the Chinese political ethos of “upholding stability,” a term that was popular within the

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Party during and after the events in Tiananmen Square and references the extremes of
China’s Cultural Revolution.

A second note of interest is the fact that, despite being in charge of the PRC during
Hong Kong’s return to China, Jiang was not president—indeed, was not involved in
national politics at any level—when the Joint Declaration was signed in 1984; it had been
signed by Jiang’s predecessor, Zhao. Despite overseeing the handover, then, Jiang was not
responsible for negotiating or agreeing to the terms of Hong Kong’s handover.

Although Jiang’s address at the handover was delivered in Mandarin, Jiang has a
“passable command” of several other languages, including English, and he often looks for
opportunities to practice his other languages. Indeed, he enjoys “engaging foreign visitors
in small talk on arts and literature in their native language” as well as singing foreign songs
in their original languages (China President, 2015, p. 64).

The Occasion: Ceremony to Mark Hong Kong’s Return to China
The official ceremony to mark Hong Kong’s return to China was held at the Hong

Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, Hong Kong, on July 1, 1997. All-
night celebrations were also held in Beijing to mark the event. As I previously noted, opin-
ion was divided regarding Hong Kong’s return to China. On the afternoon of the handover,
a number of pro-democracy advocates protested outside of Hong Kong’s Legislative Coun-
cil. As a result of the divided opinion, Jiang was forced to choose his rhetoric extremely
carefully while still emphasizing that China was in control of Hong Kong

The ceremony included two speeches. The first speech was made by the UK’s repre-
sentative, Charles, Prince of Wales, on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II. Jiang was next to give
his address, which was timed to be presented after midnight. Once midnight had passed,
under the terms of the Joint Declaration, Hong Kong was officially back under Chinese
rule. By delivering his speech once the handover was complete, Jiang was displaying his
and the PRC’s newly gained control over Hong Kong. In his article commenting on the
handover ceremony, journalist Stephen Vines (1997) reported that the ceremony was “too
hurried and rigid.” At the end of the ceremony, the British dignitaries “hurried from the
hall, their presence now as redundant as the last emblems of British rule.” Jiang had deliv-
ered his address, the British delegates had left Hong Kong, and the city was officially under
Chinese rule.

The Audience: Hong Kong Citizens
Jiang’s address took place in front of an immediate audience comprised of senior and

high-ranking Chinese political figures as well as leading political figures from the UK. The
handover ceremony, however, also took place in front of a global television and radio audi-
ence. As a result, Jiang’s rhetoric was aimed at a number of different audiences. However,
given the exigency that I have highlighted in this essay—to assert power and circumnavi-
gate the terms of the Joint Declaration—I propose that Hong Kongers were Jiang’s primary
intended audience.

Analysis of Jiang’s Rhetoric
I analyze Jiang’s rhetoric at the handover ceremony by applying the five canons of

rhetoric to his address. I will examine how Jiang used invention, organization, style, mem-
ory, and delivery to distort the terms of the Joint Declaration and to portray the PRC as
having more power than it legitimately could claim.

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Jiang used the two major forms of proof—inartistic proofs and artistic proofs–in his

address. Inartistic proofs are sources that are not created by the rhetor such as documents,
contracts, letters, and historical artifacts. Artistic proofs are those that rhetors create them-
selves and fall into three categories: logos (logical argument), ethos (appeal of the rhetor’s
character), and pathos (emotional appeal).

Inartistic proofs
Jiang’s source of inartistic proof is his use of the terms of the Joint Declaration.

Throughout this address, Jiang lists a number of the concessions that will be granted to
Hong Kong as a result of the handover. These concessions include the fact that Hong Kong
will “retain its status of a free port, continue to function as an international financial, trade
and shipping center and maintain and develop its economic and cultural ties with other
countries, regions, and relevant international organizations.” Although the terms of the
Joint Declaration were designed explicitly to limit the PRC’s power over Hong Kong, by
drawing attention to the concessions that Hong Kong will be given, Jiang is drawing atten-
tion to the level of power that the PRC has over Hong Kong. Although Hong Kong will be
granted the conditions of the Joint Declaration, these are the only concessions that will be
offered to Hong Kong. Everything else will be decided by the PRC. In addition, by stating
these concessions, Jiang is presenting them as conditions that have been bestowed upon
Hong Kong by the powerful PRC. Jiang uses the terms of the agreement between the UK
and the PRC to create an illusion of power that does not actually exist.

Jiang’s speech provides evidence of a particular type of utilization of the terms of the
Declaration. Although the official Joint Declaration document could be used as evidence as
to how Hong Kong’s future under the PRC will develop, Jiang is nonspecific when he
draws attention to certain terms of the Joint Declaration in his address. Jiang avoids quot-
ing lines from the Joint Declaration verbatim for two reasons. Many members of his audi-
ence—the Hong Kong public—may not have been able to understand any bureaucratic
jargon that usually would be contained in such an official document. More important,
Jiang’s reluctance to state specific terms of the Joint Declaration may have been because
doing so would have ensured that the PRC would have had difficulty deviating from these
terms and would have been forced to abide by the stated terms throughout the following
50 years. Moreover, if the PRC did manage to violate the terms of the agreement, the viola-
tions would have been more visible to the public.

Artistic proofs
In his address, Jiang uses logos, ethos, and pathos to bypass the terms of the joint agree-

ment and to establish an illusion of power for the PRC. I now turn to an explication of the
choices Jiang made as he developed each form of proof.

Logos. Of the two basic forms of logical argument—induction and deduction—Jiang
utilizes deductive reasoning. To successfully implement this strategy, Jiang begins by pro-
viding a general reason for why Hong Kong should return to Chinese rule. Jiang does this
by claiming that Hong Kong has a problem (“a question”) and needs saving. Jiang, how-
ever, neglects to go into any further detail about the problem that Hong Kong is facing.
Jiang informs the audience that, after the handover, the city of Hong Kong will be
improved—Hong Kong’s problem will be solved, and the city will have a “splendid future.”

Ethos. In China, the character, reputation, and credibility of a senior politician or
military figure carry much weight, and the intelligence, moral character, and goodwill of

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Chinese politicians often go unquestioned in a society that does not favor democracy. As
the highest ranking Chinese politician, Jiang’s ethos should automatically be present
throughout his address for a mainland Chinese audience. In Hong Kong, however, views
of mainland China are mixed, and the members of Hong Kong society to whom Jiang is
attempting to appeal the most—Hong Kongers who have a negative view of the main-
land—may not feel that Jiang is a credible individual of sound character and reputation. As
a result, Jiang’s ethos may have been the one form of artistic proof that had the potential to
divide his intended audience. A neo-Aristotelian analysis, however, is not concerned with
any pre-existing notions or feelings that may be harbored toward a rhetor. Instead, evi-
dence needs to be found within an artifact as to how a rhetor demonstrates ethos.

Jiang displays intelligence by highlighting how Hong Kong is being offered a bright
future as a result of the “creative concept” of the “one country, two systems policy.”
Although Jiang was not in power when the concept was devised, he is now the leader of
the PRC. Therefore, the intelligence the position bestows is passed onto him. As the leader
of China, Jiang would be expected to be well read and educated. Indeed, with a bachelor’s
degree in mechanical engineering and practical training in Moscow, Russia—coupled with
his previously mentioned ability for being skilled in several foreign languages—Jiang does
appear to be well educated for an individual born in China in 1926.

Moral character is also evident throughout Jiang’s address. He states that the PRC has
“successfully resolved the Hong Kong question through diplomatic negotiations” and
promises to “unswervingly implement” the “one country, two systems policy.” As a result,
Jiang’s rhetoric presents him as a fair and rule-abiding leader. Jiang has not made enemies
or engaged in an ugly battle for Hong Kong.

Goodwill is vital for any rhetor—especially a member of government—as it can estab-
lish a positive rapport, connection, and sense of cooperation between rhetor and audience.
Jiang’s promise to “unswervingly implement” the terms of the Joint Declaration—although
some of the strategies in the analysis suggest otherwise—demonstrates his apparent good-
will. Jiang’s promise of offering Hong Kong “a bright future” portrays him as having Hong
Kong’s best interests at heart. In a further attempt to establish goodwill with the audience,
Jiang takes time to lavish praise on Hong Kongers by stating that the city’s prosperity and
success have been “built by Hong Kong compatriots” and that Hong Kongers “have
become true masters of this Chinese land,” suggesting his appreciation for them and what
they have accomplished.

Pathos. Evidence of pathos—appeals designed to generate emotions in an audi-
ence—exists throughout Jiang’s address. At regular points in his speech, Jiang reminds
Hong Kongers of their links to the motherland and their Chinese roots. By highlighting
Hong Kongers’ strong historical “inseparable” attachment to mainland China, Jiang is
attempting to appeal to the emotions of the safety and comfort of family and historical ties
as well as the emotions of patriotism and pride within his audience.

As highlighted in Jiang’s use of logos to legitimize the handover and provide his audi-

ence with a rational explanation for the return of Hong Kong, Jiang organizes his address in
a way that presents the handover as an event that is needed to improve Hong Kong using a
problem-solution structure. Jiang begins his address by suggesting that Hong Kong is facing
a problem, which he labels “the Hong Kong question.” Jiang continues by stating that Hong
Kong has been through “more than one century of vicissitudes.” By drawing attention to

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Hong Kong’s checkered history and the fact that, for a long time, the sovereignty of Hong
Kong had been questioned, Jiang is presenting Hong Kong as a city that is weak and has an
unclear future. Jiang, however, presents a solution to Hong Kong’s unclear past and future:
the city’s return to Chinese rule. After introducing Hong Kong’s problematic past and the
“Hong Kong question” in the earlier stages of the address, the main body of Jiang’s speech
is dedicated to listing the terms of the handover that will ensure Hong Kong’s bright future.
Hong Kong’s problem will be resolved with the help of the powerful nation of China.

Jiang’s decision to deliver his address in Mandarin, as opposed to Cantonese—the lan-

guage predominantly used across Hong Kong—suggests the PRC’s dominance and power
over Hong Kong, especially considering my assessment that Hong Kongers were Jiang’s
primary intended audience. Although a vast majority of Hong Kong citizens may be able
to understand Mandarin, the same cannot be assumed for the younger demographic of
Hong Kongers. The terms of the Joint Declaration list a number of concessions that will be
offered to Hong Kong, but Jiang’s decision to deliver the speech in Mandarin—despite his
fondness for conversing in foreign languages—could be viewed as an attempt by Jiang to
manipulate or violate the terms of the agreement. It also constitutes a display of a lack of
respect for Hong Kongers. Jiang will not communicate with his primary audience in its
predominant language and, by delivering his address in Mandarin, Jiang’s intention to
ignore the desires of Hong Kongers is suggested.

A speech of the importance and magnitude of Jiang’s is not likely to be delivered in an

impromptu fashion. I suggest that Jiang’s handover address was prepared and carefully
crafted prior to the event in manuscript form. But, as Jiang approaches the podium, he
clearly is not carrying any form of notes. As soon as he settles behind the podium, how-
ever, Jiang can be seen opening a folder that had already been placed on the podium, and
at one point in his address, Jiang appears to be turning the pages of his script. Jiang’s eye
contact is a second indication that he is using a manuscript mode of delivery. Jiang is con-
stantly looking down at his notes throughout his address and only appears to look up
toward the ends of some sentences.

The delivery of Jiang’s address appears calm, calculated, and methodical, suggesting

that he rehearsed the speech a number of times. Despite this, however, as highlighted in the
canon of memory, Jiang relies heavily on his manuscript. As a result, Jiang’s eye contact
with the audience is poor. This could have been the result of a Chinese cultural norm, but
for his Western audience, adhering to this norm did not allow him to connect with the
audience through eye contact as is expected by Western audiences. He makes few gestures;
his hands appear to stay close to his notes on the podium. The only time that Jiang raises
his hands is when he joins the audience in applauding on three separate occasions through-
out his address. By applauding himself, however, Jiang appears to be reassuring himself
that his address is going well, an act at odds with a rhetor who is attempting to exude an
air of power, control, and confidence. Because of a lack of hand gestures, any emphasis or
passion in Jiang’s delivery is difficult to decipher. The tone of Jiang’s delivery is steady, but,
at a number of points in his address, Jiang’s tone rises and becomes more animated, sug-

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gesting that he is passionate about what he is saying. This is especially noticeable at the
end of the address when Jiang states that, under Chinese rule, Hong Kong will have “a
splendid future.”

Despite Jiang’s role as president of the PRC, visual evidence suggests that Jiang is ner-
vous throughout his address. One indication of this nervousness is Jiang’s heavy reliance
on a manuscript and his lack of eye contact with his audience. Another piece of evidence is
his reluctance and apparent discomfort at staying at the podium to receive the audience’s
applause. After delivering his address, he immediately makes his way back to his seat on
the stage while softly applauding himself and providing an uncomfortable wave. This act
of self-applause again points to Jiang’s discomfort and nervousness. He appears to be
relieved that he has completed his address and is reassuring himself that it was a success.
Jiang’s sense of nervousness and trepidation may be attributed to the fact that his address
was being beamed around the globe. Very rarely would the outside world hear—let alone
see—an address made in China by a Chinese politician. This nervousness, however, had
the potential to portray Jiang in a less powerful light than he probably desired or intended
because powerful leaders are often renowned for their public speaking skills. Alternatively,
however, Jiang’s demeanor as an unconfident orator could be interpreted as a deliberate
construction of a lack of dominance. If Jiang does not appear to be dominant and threaten-
ing, Hong Kongers may not question his future intentions for the city. By portraying him-
self in this light, Jiang could be nonverbally downplaying the PRC’s future plans for Hong
Kong in order to make him appear to be less calculating.

A neo-Aristotelian analysis of Jiang’s address at the Hong Kong handover ceremony

reveals a number of ways in which rhetors can lay foundations to enable them to violate
the terms of an official agreement and portray an air of power and control over an audience
that is not warranted. The neo-Aristotelian method of criticism provides five canons of
classical rhetoric that serve as the options for persuasion for a rhetor. Analysis of the five
canons reveals that three of the canons (invention, organization, and style) are used suc-
cessfully by Jiang, but his use of the remaining two canons (memory and delivery) is ques-
tionable. Although initial analysis of these two canons portrays weakness in Jiang’s
rhetoric, this could be an intentional strategy by Jiang to encourage Hong Kongers to
assume that he is not a threat. In turn, this would mean that Jiang is likely to achieve his
goal without worrying Hong Kongers.

Jiang’s use of the canon of invention is successful in that he himself and the PRC are
placed in positions of power and authority. Jiang presents a vague and nonspecific version
of a number of terms of the Joint Declaration. By doing so, Jiang and the PRC have the
option to breach the terms much more easily in the future. Jiang uses deductive reasoning
and the canon of organization to portray the PRC as the rightful, logical, and only place for
Hong Kong, and he successfully uses pathos to link Hong Kongers to the “motherland.” By
positioning the PRC as the only place that can improve Hong Kong, Jiang is more likely to
be supported in efforts to manipulate the terms of the Joint Declaration in the future. Jiang
compounds this air of power by using ethos to present his intelligence at devising such a
plan for Hong Kong. Jiang’s refusal to address Hong Kongers in Cantonese provides evi-
dence of his use of the canon of style as a further display of power over Hong Kong.

Despite Jiang’s successful implementation of some of the canons of classical rhetoric,
his use of the canons of memory and delivery is not necessarily effective in enabling Jiang

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to achieve his goal. Although Chinese cultural norms may explain Jiang’s presentation of
himself, the canons also can be seen as portraying Jiang as a nervous and unconfident
leader. As a result, Jiang does not appear as powerful as he was perhaps intending. In Chi-
nese culture, respect or “face” is a sign of power, but Jiang’s failure as a public speaker sep-
arates him from the many world leaders who are often renowned for being skillful orators.
If Jiang lacks power and respect, any attempts to defy the terms of the Joint Declaration
and impose power over Hong Kong may be questioned and opposed by Hong Kongers.
This apparent failure in Jiang’s rhetoric, however, may be a means of persuasion designed
to deflect concerns Hong Kongers might have about his stance toward them. Moreover, by
presenting himself in a vulnerable way, Hong Kongers may be lulled into thinking that
Jiang is not going to violate the terms of the Joint Declaration.

Immediately following the handover, life in Hong Kong did not appear to alter drasti-
cally. However Jiang’s delivery of his speech is judged, he certainly laid the foundation for
future leaders of the PRC to exert increasing levels of power over Hong Kong throughout
the following 50-year term established in the Joint Declaration. Jiang’s handover address
thus might have been a long-term strategy for the PRC. Since Jiang’s retirement, evidence
suggests that the citizens of Hong Kong have increasingly felt the effects of the “mainland-
ization” (Eades, 2014) of their city. In 2012, Hong Kongers took exception to the introduc-
tion of a national education policy throughout the city’s school system—an attempt by the
Party to “brainwash the city’s children” (Liu, 2012). Further evidence from Guangzhou—a
city less than 50 miles from Hong Kong—points to the PRC’s firm stance against any ele-
ments that pose a threat to the Party’s power. Although Guangzhou is officially part of
mainland China, Cantonese is the only language used by many of the city’s elderly resi-
dents, and it is the language primarily used in Hong Kong. In 2014, reports drew attention
to the CCP’s plans to demand that Guangzhou’s television networks drop Cantonese in
favor of Mandarin (Sonmez, 2014). The Party views Cantonese as “a means of weakening
regional loyalties and forging a sense of common identity” (Sonmez, 2014) among areas
that are resistant to Beijing’s rule.

More recently, the PRC’s refusal to surrender to the demands of Hong Kong’s Umbrella
Revolution and the reported disappearance from Hong Kong of individuals who are sus-
pected of undermining the Party suggest that the PRC is now becoming much more firm
regarding the privileges and concessions that are afforded to Hong Kong. Although Jiang
may no longer preside over the PRC, his goal of asserting Chinese power over Hong Kong is
now coming to fruition. Indeed, in February, 2016, the UK government publicly accused Bei-
jing of seriously breaching the Joint Declaration and undermining the principle of “one coun-
try, two systems” with regards to Hong Kong’s missing booksellers (Buckley, 2016). Evidence
suggests that Jiang’s strategy may have been to lay the foundation for future leaders’ actions
concerning Hong Kong, an objective largely met in his speech at the handover ceremony.

Barrington, L. (2010). Comparative politics: Structures and choices. Boston, MA: Wadsworth.
Buckley, C. (2016, February 13). Britain accuses China of violating Hong Kong treaty. The New York

Times. Retrieved from

China president Jiang Zemin handbook: Strategic information and materials (2015). Washington, DC: Inter-
national Business Publications.

Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau. (2007, July 1). The Joint Declaration and its implementation.
[Government website]. Retrieved from

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Eades, M. (2014, February 20). Beijing’s fight against democracy activism in Hong Kong. The James-
town Foundation. Retrieved from

Liu, J. (2012, September 1). Hong Kong debates “national education” classes. BBC. Retrieved from

Sonmez, F. (2014, August 25). China is forcing its biggest Cantonese-speaking region to speak Manda-
rin. Business Insider. Retrieved from

Van Sant, S. (2016, January 20). Hong Kong booksellers’ disappearance raises concerns about China’s
reach. Voice of America. Retrieved from

Vines, S. (1997, June 30). Hong Kong handover: Patten wipes a tear as Last Post sounds. The Indepen-
dent. Retrieved from

Critical Approaches

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Cluster Criticism

The rhetorical theorist and critic who probably has had the greatest impact
on rhetorical criticism as it is practiced today is Kenneth Burke, a “specialist
in symbol-systems and symbolic action.”1 Burke’s interdisciplinary work
crosses the disciplines of philosophy, literature, linguistics, rhetoric, sociology,
and economics. Burke spent his life exploring language and its nature, func-
tions, and consequences in books such as Permanence and Change, Counter-
Statement, Attitudes Toward History, The Philosophy of Literary Form, A Gram-
mar of Motives, and A Rhetoric of Motives.2

Burke defines rhetoric as “the use of words by human agents to form atti-
tudes or to induce actions in other human agents.”3 The inducement that char-
acterizes rhetoric takes place, Burke suggests, through the process of
identification. Individuals form selves or identities through various properties
or substances, which include such things as physical objects, occupations,
friends, activities, beliefs, and values. As they ally themselves with various
properties or substances, they share substance with whatever or whomever
they associate and simultaneously separate themselves from others with
whom they choose not to identify. Burke uses the term consubstantial to
describe this association. As two entities are united in substance through com-
mon ideas, attitudes, material possessions, or other properties, they are con-
substantial.4 Two artists are consubstantial, for example, in that they share an
interest in and practice art. Roommates are consubstantial in that they share
living space and a lease agreement.

Burke uses the term identification as synonymous with the term consub-
stantiality. Shared substance constitutes an identification between an individ-
ual and some property or person: “To identify A with B is to make A
‘consubstantial’ with B.”5 Burke also equates persuasion with consubstantial-
ity, seeing persuasion as the result of identification: You persuade individuals
“only insofar as you can talk” their “language by speech, gesture, tonality,
order, image, attitude, idea, identifying your ways” with theirs.6

Rhetoric performs many functions for individuals, but one that Burke sees
as particularly significant is how rhetoric functions to name or define situa-


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tions. When individuals use rhetoric, they size up situations and name their
structure and outstanding ingredients, so a speech or a poem or any other
form of rhetoric is “a strategy for encompassing a situation.”7 The Constitution
of the United States, for example, names a situation concerned with political
governance. Calling a person a friend or naming the admission standards to a
school rigorous tells the qualities of the situation that the rhetor deems impor-
tant. Such acts encourage audiences and rhetors themselves to view the per-
son and the admission standards in certain ways.

Rhetoric does not simply provide a name for a situation, however. It also
represents a creative strategy for dealing with that situation or for solving the
problems inherent in it. Rhetoric offers commands or instructions of some
kind, helping individuals maneuver through life and helping them feel more at
home in the world. Because rhetoric is a rhetor’s solution to perceived prob-
lems, it constitutes “equipment for living”8—a chart, formula, manual, or map
that an audience may consult in trying to decide on various courses of action.

A rhetorical act or artifact provides assistance to its audience in a number
of ways. It may provide a vocabulary of thoughts, actions, emotions, and atti-
tudes for codifying and thus interpreting a situation. It may encourage the
acceptance of a situation that cannot be changed, or it may serve as a guide
for how to correct a situation. In other instances, it may help rhetors justify
their conduct, turning actions that seem to be unethical or absurd into ones
considered virtuous or accurate. Rhetoric, then, provides an orientation in
some way to a situation and provides assistance in adjusting to it.9

At the same time that artifacts are functioning to provide equipment for liv-
ing for audiences, they are revealing the worldviews or what Burke calls the
terministic screens of the rhetors who created them. The terms we select to
describe the world constitute a kind of screen that directs attention to particu-
lar aspects of reality rather than others. Our particular vocabularies constitute
a reflection, selection, and deflection of reality.10 Many of our observations,
then, “are but implications of the particular terminology in terms of which the
observations are made. In brief, much that we take as observations about ‘real-
ity’ may be but the spinning out of possibilities implicit in our particular choice
of terms.”11 There are as many different terministic screens as there are people.
As Burke suggests, “We can safely take it for granted that no one’s ‘personal
equations’ are quite identical with anyone else’s” because they are the product
of the “peculiar combination of insights associated” with their idiosyncratic
combinations of experiences.12 From the infinite terms available to rhetors,
they put together components of rhetoric in a way that reflects who they are,
the subjects of concern to them, and the meanings they have for those subjects.

Rhetorical critics can gain insights into the worldviews of rhetors by ana-
lyzing the terministic screens evident in their rhetoric. Critics can “track down
the kinds of observation implicit in the terminology” a rhetor has chosen,
whether the “choice of terms was deliberate or spontaneous.”13 Burke explains
the basic approach:

If a writer speaks of life on a mountain, for instance, we start with the
impertinent question, “What is he talking about?” We automatically assume
that he is not talking about life on a mountain (not talking only about that).
Or if he gives us a long chapter on the sewers of Paris, we ask: “Why

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that?”—and no matter how realistic his account of the locale may be, we
must devote our time to a non-realistic interpretation of his chapter.14

Cues to rhetors’ worldviews and meanings are available by charting the impor-
tant ingredients of their terministic screens and “noting what follows what.”15

Burke offers many critical approaches to help a critic discover rhetors’
worldviews through an investigation of the rhetoric that constitutes their ter-
ministic screens. His notions of identification,16 representative anecdote,17

perspective by incongruity,18 motivational orders,19 form,20 and redemption21

have been used as critical methods for this purpose. Two samples of Burkean
methods, cluster criticism and pentadic criticism, are included in this book to
illustrate the kinds of insights Burkean criticism produces. Cluster criticism is
the focus of this chapter, and pentadic criticism is the subject of chapter 11.

In cluster criticism, the meanings that key symbols have for a rhetor are
discovered by charting the symbols that cluster around those key symbols in
an artifact. Burke explains the central idea of cluster analysis: “Now, the work
of every writer [rhetor] contains a set of implicit equations. He uses ‘associa-
tional clusters.’ And you may, by examining his work, find ‘what goes with
what’ in these clusters—what kinds of acts and images and personalities and
situations go with his notions of heroism, villainy, consolation, despair, etc.”22

In other words, the task of a critic using this method is to note “what subjects
cluster about other subjects (what images b, c, d the poet [rhetor] introduces
whenever he talks with engrossment of subject a).”23 Burke provides a simple
example of how the terms that cluster around key terms can illuminate the
meanings the rhetor has for those key terms. Speaking about a man with a tic
who spasmodically blinks his eyes when certain subjects are mentioned,
Burke suggests that if “you kept a list of these subjects, noting what was said
each time he spasmodically blinked his eyes, you would find what the tic was
‘symbolic’ of.”24

The equations or clusters that a critic discovers in a rhetor’s artifact gen-
erally are not conscious to the rhetor. As Burke explains, although a rhetor is
“perfectly conscious of the act of writing, conscious of selecting a certain kind
of imagery to reinforce a certain kind of mood, etc., he cannot possibly be con-
scious of the interrelationships among all these equations.”25 As a result, the
clusters manifest in someone’s rhetoric can “reveal, beneath an author’s ‘offi-
cial front,’ the level at which a lie is impossible. If a man’s virtuous characters
are dull, and his wicked characters are done vigorously, his art has voted for
the wicked ones, regardless of his ‘official front.’ If a man talks dully of glory,
but brilliantly employs the imagery of desolation, his true subject is desola-
tion.”26 A cluster analysis, then, provides “a survey of the hills and valleys” of
the rhetor’s mind,27 resulting in insights into the meanings of key terms and
thus a worldview that may not be known to the rhetor.

Using the cluster method of criticism, a critic analyzes an artifact in a

four-step process: (1) selecting an artifact; (2) analyzing the artifact; (3) for-
mulating a research question; and (4) writing the essay.

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Selecting an Artifact
Both discursive and nondiscursive artifacts are appropriate for application

of the cluster method of criticism. Because the method requires you to identify
key terms and the terms that cluster around them, select an artifact that is long
enough and complex enough to contain several terms that cluster around the
key terms in the artifact. An advertisement with only a few lines of text or a
short poem, for example, may not provide enough data for a cluster analysis.

Analyzing the Artifact
Cluster analysis involves three basic steps: (1) identifying key terms in the

artifact; (2) charting the terms that cluster around the key terms; and (3) dis-
covering an explanation for the artifact.

Identifying Key Terms
The first step in cluster criticism is to select the key terms in the artifact.

Your key terms should be nouns—substance words that reference people,
places, objects, or ideas. You do not want to select verbs, adjectives, or
adverbs (words like climbs, lovely, or slowly) as key terms because they are
modifying something or describing the actions someone or something is tak-
ing. You want that someone or something to be your focus in selecting key
terms. Generally, try to identify no more than five or six terms that appear to
be the most significant for the rhetor. The task of analysis becomes more com-
plex with each key term you add.

Significance of terms is determined on the basis of frequency or intensity.
A term that a rhetor uses over and over again is likely to be a key term in that
person’s thought and rhetoric, so if one term frequently appears in the artifact,
that term probably should be selected as one of the rhetor’s key terms. In Mar-
tin Luther King, Jr.’s speech, “I Have a Dream,” for example, dream is such a
term. A second criterion to use in selecting the rhetor’s key terms is intensity.
A term may not appear very often in a rhetor’s work, but it may be critical
because it is central to the argument being made, represents an ultimate com-
mitment, or conveys great depth of feeling. It is a term whose removal would
change the nature of the text significantly. In many of George W. Bush’s
speeches dealing with the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11,
evil was a key term because it was used as the starting point for many of his
arguments and was the focus of the conclusion of many of his speeches. Its
intensity suggests that evil was a key term in those speeches.

Let’s look at an excerpt from a text to identify what the key terms are in it.
This excerpt is from a speech given by Donald Trump shortly before he
entered the race for president of the United States in 2015:

With that said, our country is really headed in the wrong direction with a
president who is doing an absolutely terrible job. The world is collapsing
around us, and many of the problems we’ve caused. Our president is either
grossly incompetent, a word that more and more people are using, and I
think I was the first to use it, or he has a completely different agenda than
you want to know about, which could be possible. In any event, Washington
is broken, and our country is in serious trouble and total disarray. Very sim-

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ple. Politicians are all talk, no action. They are all talk and no action. And
it’s constant; it never ends.

In this excerpt, there seem to be three key terms—country (and the synonyms
of Washington and we, which are included as part of that term), president, and
politicians. Whether these three terms continue to function as key terms in the
rest of the speech, we don’t know, but they represent the major things Trump
is talking about in this paragraph.

Often, the terms that are key for rhetors function as god and devil terms.
God terms are ultimate terms that represent the ideal for a rhetor, while devil
terms represent the ultimate negative or evil for a rhetor.28 In the speeches of
many politicians, for example, terrorism and security are key terms, with ter-
rorism a devil term and security a god term.

If the artifact you are analyzing is nondiscursive, such as a work of art, the
key terms are not words but visual elements such as colors, shapes, and
images. The key terms of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC,
for example, are its black color, V shape, and the listing of the names of those
who died in Vietnam by date of death. In an advertisement that encourages
readers to prevent forest fires, the key visual terms might be Smoky Bear, a
raging fire, and a deer fleeing the fire.

Charting the Clustering Terms
After you have identified the key terms in the artifact, chart the terms that

cluster around those key terms. This process involves identifying each occur-
rence of each key term and charting the terms that cluster around each key
term. In contrast to the key terms, clustering terms do not have to be nouns;
they may be any types of words—nouns, verbs, adjectives, or adverbs. You do
not want to count the articles a and the as clustering terms, though, because
they do not contribute any particular kinds of meaning to the key terms. Terms
may cluster around the key terms in various ways. They simply may appear in
close proximity to the term, or a conjunction such as and may connect a clus-
tering term to a key term. A rhetor also may develop a cause-and-effect rela-
tionship between the key term and another term, suggesting that one depends
on the other or that one is the cause of the other.

The text from Donald Trump’s speech illustrates the process of identifying
the terms that cluster around a key term—in this case, the terms of country,
president, and politicians. The terms that cluster around country (including
Washington and we) are: wrong direction, problems, broken, serious trouble,
and total disarray. Terms that cluster around the key term of president in this
excerpt are: terrible job, grossly incompetent, and different agenda. Clustering
terms around the key term of politicians are: all talk, no action, and constant.

In an ad cautioning people to be careful about forest fires, the clustering
terms would be visual—either representational images or visual aspects of the
key terms. For the key term of a raging fire, for example, the clustering terms
might be black smoke, red flames, gold color, and burned trees. The key term
of the deer might be associated with the clustering terms of frightened eyes,
being comforted by a bear, and the colors of brown and gold. Smokey Bear
might have as clustering terms his male gender, a shovel, a forest ranger’s hat,
jeans held up by a belt, his pointing finger, and a stern facial expression.

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Discovering an Explanation for the Artifact
At this step of the process, you want to find patterns in the associations or

linkages that you discovered in the charting of the clustering terms to make
visible the worldview constructed by the rhetor. If a rhetor often or always
associates a particular word or image with a key term, that linkage suggests
that the key term’s meaning for the rhetor is modified or influenced by that
associated term. If the terms surveillance and violation of privacy, for example,
usually appear with freedom in a rhetor’s speeches, you may speculate that the
rhetor’s view of freedom is constrained by these terms associated with security.
Security is necessary to ensure freedom, this rhetor appears to believe, and, as
a result, freedom is not a feeling of being unbound and unrestrained. Already
in the excerpt from Trump’s speech, we see a pattern in how he is describing
the concepts his key terms reference: The United States is broken, the presi-
dent is incompetent and up to no good, and politicians never do anything.

At this point, an agon analysis may help you discover patterns in the clus-
ters you have identified. Agon analysis is the examination of opposing terms
and involves looking for terms that oppose or contradict other terms in the
rhetoric. Note whether key terms emerge in opposition to other key terms.
Such a pattern may suggest a conflict or tension in the rhetor’s worldview or
may make explicit the allies and enemies or the god and devil terms in the
rhetor’s world. In the contexts surrounding the key terms, look for opposing
terms that cluster around a key term—perhaps suggesting some confusion or
ambiguity on the part of the rhetor about that term. If freedom and surveil-
lance are both terms that cluster around patriotism, for example, you might
surmise that, for this rhetor, a conflict exists between freedom and restriction
in the meaning of patriotism.

As a result of your charting of the terms that cluster around the key terms,
you have a kind of dictionary for the rhetor’s key terms. This dictionary sug-
gests the meanings of the key terms for the rhetor and lays out any relation-
ships that emerged among key terms or clustering terms. Your task now is to
identify which of the clusters are most important and significant and have the
most explanatory value for your artifact. You probably chose to analyze your
artifact because there is some aspect of the artifact that doesn’t fit or that you
can’t explain. Perhaps you like the artifact and cannot explain its appeal for
you. Perhaps it disturbs you, but you don’t know why. Perhaps it seems
unusual in some way. The clusters you have identified around key terms can
provide an explanation for your initial reactions.

Once again, use the principles of frequency and intensity to discover what is
significant about the artifact and to provide an explanation for it. If you discover
that many similar terms cluster around all or most of the rhetor’s key terms, fre-
quency—a pattern you observe in which the same feature recurs—suggests an
important insight into the rhetor’s worldview. A major revelation also might
emerge from just one of the key terms and its clusters—an insight based on
intensity—and you might choose this as your focus in explaining the artifact.

A cluster analysis of a pamphlet about the drug LSD produced by the Do It
Now Foundation provides an example of the kind of pattern that might
emerge from your charting of the key terms and their clustering terms. In this
pamphlet, there are two key terms: LSD and user (the person who takes LSD).

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The terms that cluster around the key term of LSD in the pamphlet are numer-
ous and include strange, widely used, ticket to ride, visions, history, fascinate,
test subjects, journey, awe, awful, traces, reshaped, understanding, and white-
light zone. The terms that cluster around the key term of the user include suf-
fer, consciousness, less sensitive, effects, attracts, paradigm-busting, conform-
ing, consumerism, need to get away, feel, self-examination, navigator, pilot, and
aware. Once you have your list of clustering terms, see how they might group
into different categories, with each category suggesting something about the
meaning of the key term. For example, the terms that cluster around LSD
could be grouped into the following categories (following the title of each cat-
egory are a few of the clustering terms that make up that category):

Surprising discovery: strange, fascinates, attracts, awe, momentous discov-
ery, discovered

Interesting places: ticket to ride, Grand Tour, journey, places that aren’t on
maps, mental maps, white-light zone, place

Understanding or insight: seers, visions, shamans, philosophies, cosmolo-
gies, social consciousness, reshaped, understanding

Science and experimentation: test subjects, traces, soaked, morphing,
chemical bullet, experimented

Common: widely used, eons, history, high school seniors, Americans

The patterns that emerge from a grouping of the terms that cluster around
user are these:

Undesirable state prior to taking LSD: bleached white, conformism, con-
sumerism, other isms, (no) self-determination, (no) love

Traveler: journey, need to get away, places not on maps, navigator, pilot,
rules of road, ride

Negative effects: Crash period, suffer, lurk, (not) good

Positive effects: consciousness, less sensitive, tolerance, today, place we
belong, feel, self-examination, accountable, aware, comfortable

Although the mission of the Do It Now Foundation is to create and dissem-
inate accurate, creative, and realistic information about drugs, alcohol, and
other behavioral health topics, a quick glance at the categories of terms clus-
tering around the key terms of LSD and user suggest that the foundation is
asserting that taking LSD is largely a positive experience and that the benefits
far outweigh the risks. According to the categories of clustering terms, LSD is
a positive discovery that launches individuals on journeys that produce signif-
icant understanding or insight. Any negative effects are downplayed when
LSD is positioned within the context of science and common usage. The user
begins in a state that includes many unwanted elements, becomes a traveler in
an effort to address them, experiences a few negative effects, but largely expe-
riences many positive effects that create a state of greater comfort and aware-
ness. In an essay of cluster criticism on this pamphlet, you would want to
support your claim using the clustering terms and the categories into which
you have grouped them to discuss how those categories affect or mitigate the
meanings of the key terms for the creators of the pamphlet.

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Formulating a Research Question
Knowing the meanings of key terms for a rhetor can be the basis for

understanding many different rhetorical processes, so the research questions
asked by critics using the cluster method of criticism vary widely. The explana-
tions you develop for your artifact from charting its clustering terms can sug-
gest questions about, for example, the strategies that are used to accomplish
particular objectives, the kinds of meaning that are being communicated, or
the implications of particular constructions of meaning for rhetorical pro-
cesses or public controversies. In the case of the pamphlet about LSD, you
might have a research question that deals with how rhetoric can be used to
subvert conventional perspectives on controversial topics.

Writing the Essay
After completing the analysis, you are ready to write your essay, which

includes five major components: (1) an introduction, in which you discuss the
research question, its contribution to rhetorical theory, and its significance;
(2) a description of your artifact and its context; (3) a description of your
method of criticism—in this case, cluster criticism; (4) a report of the findings
of the analysis, in which you explain the key terms, the terms that cluster
around them, and the meanings for the key terms suggested by the clustering
terms; and (5) a discussion of the contribution your analysis makes to rhetori-
cal theory.

Sample Essays
In the sample essays that follow, the cluster method of criticism is used to

answer various research questions. Robert S. Littlefield and Andrea M. Quen-
ette analyze the portrayal of authority by the media in Hurricane Katrina to
answer the research question: “How do the media rhetorically construct
authority figures during the initial phase of a crisis?” In her analysis of Jimmy
Carter’s speech at Brandeis University on the Israeli–Palestine conflict, Mary
E. Domenico uses cluster analysis to answer the question, “How can public
figures reopen genuine debate about polarizing issues?” Andrew Gilmore ana-
lyzes the speech of Jiang Zemin at the handover of Hong Kong to China in
1997 with a research question of “What rhetorical strategies can leaders use
to discourage unrest in a time of transition?”

1 William H. Rueckert, Kenneth Burke and the Drama of Human Relations, 2nd ed. (Berkeley:

University of California Press, 1982), 227.
2 For an overview of Burke’s rhetorical theory, see Sonja K. Foss, Karen A. Foss, and Robert

Trapp, Contemporary Perspectives on Rhetoric, 4th ed. (30th anniversary edition) (Long Grove,
IL: Waveland, 2014), 185–231.

3 Kenneth Burke, A Rhetoric of Motives (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), 41.
4 Substance is discussed in: Burke, A Rhetoric of Motives, 20–24; and Kenneth Burke, A Gram-

mar of Motives (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), 21–23, 57.
5 Burke, A Rhetoric of Motives, 21.
6 Burke, A Rhetoric of Motives, 55.

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7 Kenneth Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action (Berkeley: Univer-
sity of California Press, 1973), 109.

8 Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form, 293–304.
9 Burke discusses the ways in which rhetoric functions to provide assistance in orientation and

adjustment in Kenneth Burke, Counter-Statement (Berkeley: University of California Press,
1968), 154–56; and Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form, 64, 294, 298–99.

10 Kenneth Burke, Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1966), 45.

11 Burke, Language as Symbolic Action, 46.
12 Burke, Language as Symbolic Action, 52.
13 Burke, Language as Symbolic Action, 47.
14 Kenneth Burke, Attitudes Toward History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 191.
15 Burke, Attitudes Toward History, 191.
14 See, for example, Chester Gibson, “Eugene Talmadge’s Use of Identification During the 1934

Gubernatorial Campaign in Georgia,” Southern Speech Journal 35 (Summer 1970): 342–49.
15 Barry Brummett explores this notion as a critical tool in “Burke’s Representative Anecdote as a

Method in Media Criticism,” Critical Studies in Mass Communication 1 (June 1984): 161–76.
16 An example is James L. Hoban, Jr., “Solzhenitsyn on Detente: A Study of Perspective by Incon-

gruity,” Southern Speech Communication Journal 42 (Winter 1977): 163–77.
17 See, for example, Karen A. Foss, “Singing the Rhythm Blues: An Argumentative Analysis of the

Birth-Control Debate in the Catholic Church,” Western Journal of Speech Communication 47
(Winter 1983): 29–44.

18 An example is Jane Blankenship and Barbara Sweeney, “The ‘Energy’ of Form,” Central States
Speech Journal 31 (Fall 1980): 172–83.

19 For an example, see Barry Brummett, “Burkean Scapegoating, Mortification, and Transcen-
dence in Presidential Campaign Rhetoric,” Central States Speech Journal 32 (Winter 1981):

20 Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form, 20.
21 Burke, Attitudes Toward History, 232.
22 Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form, 20.
23 Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form, 20.
24 Burke, Attitudes Toward History, 233.
25 Burke, Attitudes Toward History, 232–33.
26 Burke, Attitudes Toward History, 233.
27 Burke, Attitudes Toward History, 232–33.
28 Burke, A Grammar of Motives, 74; Burke, A Rhetoric of Motives, 298–301; and Richard M.

Weaver, The Ethics of Rhetoric (South Bend, IN: Regnery/Gateway, 1953), 211–32.

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The Portrayal of Authority

by the Media in Natural Disasters
Robert S. Littlefield and Andrea M. Quenette

Each day, the public is exposed to a large volume of messages via the media. Carefully
crafted, these messages provide information that is both needed and desired, and work on
some level to affect the public’s perceptions of world events. Although some argue about
the impact of these messages on their decisions, thoughts, and actions, it is clear that media
messages have both covert and subtle effects on individuals (Cook et al., 1983; Funkhouser,
1973; Kim, Scheufele, & Shanahan, 2002; McCombs, Llamas, Lopez-Escobar, & Rey, 1997;
McCombs & Shaw, 1972).

To satisfy the public’s demand for information about an event, the media are required
to make choices about what they will share and emphasize. Seeger, Sellnow, and Ulmer
(2003) suggest that “media attention . . . functions to publicize initial interpretations of the
event, repeating and enhancing the impact of these interpretations” (p. 112). Despite the
media’s role as the most frequent source of information for the public to learn about events,
the public’s knowledge is limited by the messages the media make available (Cook et al.,
1983; Funkhouser, 1973; Kim et al., 2002; McCombs & Shaw, 1972).

When a significant news event occurs, the public relies on media to acquire informa-
tion (Wenger, Dykes, Sebok, & Neff, 1975). In the case of a disaster or crisis, it uses the
media in a variety of ways. Seeger et al. (2003) explain: “The public seeks information to
determine whether the crisis will affect them, how they should think, and what they
should do” (p. 71). For example, those in the path of a hurricane use the media to obtain
information about evacuation orders and preparations needed to remain safe during the
storm. Those outside the strike zone—knowing individuals who will be affected or who
have other interests in the hurricane’s projected path want information to track when and
where the storm will travel. Post crisis, the public seek media coverage of the disaster area:
images and descriptions of damage, testimonials from survivors, and other accounts of
recovery and relief.

When Hurricane Katrina, the sixth major hurricane to affect the United States in 2005,
struck the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Mississippi, the demand for information by the
public dramatically increased. Before the storm struck the area, the media provided infor-
mation concerning preparations undertaken by those living in the hurricane’s projected
path, as well as possible evacuations (Treaster, Goodnough, Escobedo, Georgiev, & Lueck,
2005). As the hurricane passed over southern Louisiana and Mississippi, the media
reported the federal government’s disaster relief efforts, as well as the efforts of other
groups with the legitimate authority to act. However, not long after this initial coverage,
the media began to include conflicting reports about the effectiveness of the relief efforts
and blame for the human suffering following the disaster (Stanley, 2005).

Most previous research involving natural disasters and media coverage has focused
on the sources, the accuracy of stories, and other similar features during such events
(Fischer, 1996; Kreps, 1980; Wenger, 1985; Wenger & Quarantelli, 1989). No previous studies
have investigated the terminology used by the media to portray those with legitimate

From Journal of Applied Communication Research 35, no. 1 (2007): 26–47. Used by permission of Taylor and Francis
and the authors.

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authority in the early stages of an extensive disaster relief effort. The absence of investiga-
tion in this arena has limited the ability of scholars to describe how the terms used to define
and interpret a crisis situation can shape the public’s perceptions of reality, as well as how
the characterization of crisis responses may shape or reshape the public’s orientation
toward those with legitimate authority to act in such crisis situations.

This study explored the role of the media and the nature of crisis leadership depicted
by the media. The media served as a vehicle providing the public with information to clar-
ify the chaos surrounding the start of the crisis resulting from Hurricane Katrina. Later, the
media stepped outside their role of objective observer to assume a privileged position of
pointing blame toward legitimate authorities. From these findings emerge practical appli-
cations for those who report events such as Katrina and those who work to rebuild the
community following a crisis.

Conceptual Framework
The conceptual framework for the study spotlights the role of language in shaping per-

ceptions of reality, the role of media in society, and the nature of crisis leadership in estab-
lishing how legitimate authority is characterized. What becomes evident is the tendency for
the media to provide the public with information needed to clarify a chaotic situation.
However, along with this clarification, the media can forego the role of objective observer
and assume a privileged position to assign blame to those with legitimate authority.

Language Shapes Perception of Reality
Kenneth Burke’s discussion of the nature, functions, and consequences of language as

symbolic action is particularly well-suited for explaining how a crisis is perceived, under-
stood, and characterized by the media. Burke (1950) characterizes the nature of language as
a symbolic means of inducing a common viewpoint among various people involved in a
situation. People choose words to identify symbolically their perspectives as they attempt
to define situations, create orientations or attitudes, and shape an individual’s view of real-
ity. Burke writes: “We might well keep it in mind that a speaker persuades an audience by
the use of stylistic identifications; his act of persuasion may be for the purpose of causing
the audience to identify itself with the speaker’s interests . . .” (p. 46).

In the case of a crisis, if the government’s response is defined as effective by the Presi-
dent when visiting a disaster site and lacking by the local agencies coping with victims and
their needs, the public’s interpretation of the government’s response will rely on the termi-
nology best describing the public’s identification with reality in the situation. The rhetori-
cal features of language may play a particularly critical role in creating early definitions of
effective crisis leadership and responses and forming meaning from the terminology asso-
ciated with authority figures.

Furthermore, crisis is an inherently equivocal situation that often is viewed differently
by those involved. For example, in a natural disaster, the perspective of crisis managers or
authority figures may differ from that of the victims. As participants in a crisis struggle to
understand and evaluate the situation, Burke (1989a) posits that their reliance on terminis-
tic screens directs their attention to those aspects of the crisis most consistent with their
conception of reality: “We must use terministic screens, since we can’t say anything without
the use of terms; whatever terms we use, they necessarily constitute a corresponding kind
of screen; and any such screen necessarily directs the attention to one field rather than
another” (p. 121). Through these screens, they attempt to make sense of what they are expe-

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riencing or the messages they receive. In response to this, Burke (1950) viewed rhetoric as a
means for gaining compliance or consubstantiation with a unified viewpoint. Consubstan-
tiation is accomplished by using contrasting terms to establish a perspective through which
the situation can be viewed. Burke (1966) observed: “Any given situation derives its char-
acter from the entire framework of interpretations by which we judge it” (p. 35).

The Role of the Media
According to the Missouri Group (2004), the media serve five functions: report the

news; monitor power; uncover justice; tell stories that interest the public; and sustain com-
munities by working as the nervous system of the community. Awarded through the Con-
stitution, the media’s role in society is based on a contract of trust between the public and
the media. The public relies on the media to provide information, which gives the media
considerable power. With this power, the media connect groups of people, and affect and
shape communities (Stovall, 2002).

As the media fulfill this role, much of their information either focuses on or originates
from authority figures in society, with most news stories deriving from information gath-
ered from a variety of sources, such as witnesses, experts, victims, spokespeople, and offi-
cials. In a study investigating news coverage of both Hurricane Hugo and the Loma Prieta
earthquake, for instance, Walters and Hornig (1993) determined that coverage diverted
attention from the individual efforts of citizens and instead focused primarily on the
actions of governmental agencies and personnel. In addition, governmental officials com-
prised more than 16% of the sources interviewed for news stories written about these two
disasters. The tension between relying on authority figures as sources of information, and
judging their actions and assigning blame to those perceived to be acting inappropriately,
puts the media in a position of potentially great influence.

Either way, the portrayal of authority by the media affects public opinion. Not only do
the media work under the protection of societal authority, but they also use this role to
determine and assign blame when a situation requires it. In critical or highly tense situa-
tions, such as a natural disaster, the impulse to blame individuals or groups in authority
remains high since the public is quick to demand a scapegoat or responsible party when
problems or difficulties arise (Halpern & Tramontin, 2007).

Crisis and Crisis Leadership
Seeger et al. (2003) define crisis as an event in time with “high levels of uncertainty,

confusion, disorientation, surprise, shock, and stress” (p. 125). A natural disaster illustrates
such a time when the public is uncertain about what will happen, confused about what to
do, and disoriented by the accompanying chaos. The timing and severity of natural disas-
ters can surprise, shock, and stress everyone touched by them. As the crisis unfolds, those
affected seek insight, including “basic information about what happened, the scope of the
harm, how the crisis developed, who was affected, and what responses are being initiated”
(p. 196). Those in authority are especially involved in the process of sorting out what trans-
pired in order to respond better with necessary relief efforts. The role of the media typically
mirrors this search for information, not only to make sense of the situation, but also to
identify “the scope of harm, cause, blame, responsibility, and remedial efforts” (p. 8).

As an event moves through the pre-crisis, crisis, and post-crisis stages (Sellnow & Lit-
tlefield, 2005), those in authority must display crisis leadership to reestablish order and
confidence. Illustrations of crisis leadership include: initiating a crisis response; mitigating

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the harm; serving as a spokesperson; expressing sympathy to victims; framing meaning;
remaining accessible and open; facilitating the flow of information; acting decisively; coor-
dinating actions among the various response groups and agencies; reconnecting with
stakeholders; maintaining decision vigilance; prioritizing activities and resources; commu-
nicating core values; paying symbolic attention to the crisis; maintaining appropriate flexi-
bility; and facilitating renewal via public commitments (Seeger et al., 2003, p. 250).

Hurricane Katrina was a significant event whose media coverage shaped public opin-
ion in substantial ways. Illuminating the rhetorical role of the media in portraying those
with legitimate authority who were responsible for protecting the citizens of the Gulf Coast
and coordinating the relief efforts of those who needed assistance involved the following
research questions: How do the media rhetorically construct authority figures during the
initial phase of a crisis, and what are the cultural implications of the media’s discourse
related to the placement of blame on legitimate authority figures or agencies?

Case Study: Hurricane Katrina
On Tuesday, August 23, Tropical Depression Twelve came to the attention of the

National Hurricane Center as its path was projected to strike coastal areas in the Southern
United States. The storm tracked northward toward Florida and Miami, was upgraded to a
tropical storm, and received its name, Katrina. The storm continued to grow in strength,
and as it brushed across the southern tip of Florida, it was upgraded to a hurricane with
maximum sustained winds of 75 miles per hour. After leaving Florida, the hurricane
moved into the Gulf of Mexico where it continued to gain strength (MSNBC, n.d.).

At 10 p.m. on Saturday, August 27, when Katrina was still classified as a Category 3
hurricane, the National Hurricane Center issued the first warning that included the city of
New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain in addition to other areas along the Gulf Coast
(National Weather Service, n.d.-a). The warning alerted those living in the area that hurri-
cane conditions were expected in the next 24 hours and that “preparations to protect life
and property should be rushed to completion” (National Weather Service, n.d.-a). On Sun-
day, August 28, Hurricane Katrina was poised to strike the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and
Mississippi as a monstrous Category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale
(National Weather Service, n.d.-b).

On the morning of Monday, August 29, the National Hurricane Center reported that
the center of Hurricane Katrina had come ashore near the Louisiana and Mississippi bor-
der. The storm continued to move ashore and decrease in strength on a north-bound track
(MSNBC, n.d.). Although the immediate danger from the storm itself had passed, the levee
that protected New Orleans from Lake Pontchartrain was breached and released the lake’s
waters into the city, quickly flooding such areas as the Lower Ninth Ward and the St. Ber-
nard Parish. By 9 a.m. on Monday morning, an estimated six to eight feet of water covered
these areas. Later that morning, other levees failed elsewhere in the city (Marshall, 2005).

While the National Hurricane Center was tracking the approaching storm, govern-
ment officials in the hurricane’s path prepared for the disaster. On Saturday, August 27,
President Bush declared an official state of emergency for Louisiana, and on Sunday,
August 28, he extended this declaration to include both Mississippi and Alabama, as the
coastal areas of these states were expected to be hit by the storm as well. In addition to the
President’s actions, the Mayor of New Orleans issued a voluntary evacuation order on the
evening of Saturday, August 27, and a mandatory order on Sunday morning, just hours
before the hurricane was to strike the area (Marshall, 2005).

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Although at first glance it appeared the government had prepared for this natural
disaster in similar fashion to other hurricanes, it became apparent shortly after the storm
had passed that disaster relief supplies and infrastructure were not in place to help those
who failed to leave New Orleans. Thousands of the city’s residents took shelter in the
Superdome and the convention center. However, as time passed, media reports revealed
disturbing events at both locations, including murders, rapes, and thefts, which alarmed
the general public. Eyewitness reports from those displaced by the storm resonated on one
theme: there was no federal aid available to us (Bumiller, 2005a).

These reports and others drew media attention and focused an excruciating amount of
media coverage of the hurricane, New Orleans, and the relief efforts of the local and federal
governments. As events unfolded, the public and the media demanded accountability
from both the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which many believed had
been weakened in its ability to respond due to its reorganization under the Department of
Homeland Security, as well as President Bush and other cabinet level officials (Stanley,
2005). Although already low, the President’s approval rating plummeted as he struggled to
meet the demands of an angry public and improve his standing (Barnes, 2005). In part due
to the intense public criticism and media coverage, FEMA Director Michael Brown
resigned from his position on Monday, September 12, as Homeland Security Secretary
Michael Chertoff assumed the responsibilities of the position and became responsible for
coordinating the relief efforts (Marshall, 2005).

In addition to scrutinizing the government, the media also criticized the Army Corps
of Engineers, the arm of the government responsible for developing and completing proj-
ects related to waterways. It was apparent after the New Orleans levees broke that actions
should and could have been taken to protect the city from a hurricane experts had pre-
dicted would eventually strike the city. Even months after the hurricane had passed, dis-
cussion and debate continued concerning how to rebuild the failed levees in the city and
whether rebuilt ones would be adequate to prevent a disaster similar to the one the city
had just endured (Grissett, 2005; Marshall, 2005).

In determining how the media rhetorically construed authority figures associated with

the Hurricane Katrina natural disaster, we conducted a close reading of the data revealing
those whom the media believed were legitimate authority figures.1 Following that, we con-
ducted a cluster criticism to ascertain how the media characterized the crisis leadership
demonstrated by those in authority. Developed by Kenneth Burke, cluster criticism allows
researchers to examine artifacts and texts so as to produce a better understanding of the
underlying motives of the rhetor. Burke (1984) contends that by examining the words a
rhetor chooses, critics can develop unique insight into the nature and intentions of the
rhetor. The foundation of Burke’s (1966) contention is his belief that all language and its
usage is symbolic and reflects the user’s view of reality. Cluster criticism derives from the
idea that the words any author or speaker chooses reveal the person’s true nature, charac-
ter, and motivations. Burke (1984) calls this “the level at which a lie is impossible” (p. 233).
Investigating these terms and the way they fit together in an artifact allows the critic to
develop a better understanding of motivations.

Using this method to investigate artifacts not only allows for an understanding
beyond the actual words appearing in a document, but for connections among these words
and how they work together to contribute to a unified understanding about the goals of the

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author when creating the text. This knowledge provides the most basic and fundamental
insight into the artifact under investigation and provides the necessary data to answer the
research questions.

When covering events, especially tense, life-threatening ones, the media make deci-
sions not only about what topics are of interest, but also concerning how to frame these
topics and issues. In this way, the media use particular terms that convey a specific mes-
sage to the public. In Burke’s understanding of language, identifying the specific terms
used by the media and revealing the implications of these terms would permit a critic to
determine the media’s motivation in constructing a particular rhetorical image.

Data and Selection Procedure
Data used in this study were drawn from 52 articles published during the week of

August 29 through September 3, 2005, in the New York Times and the Times-Picayune of New
Orleans. Both newspapers are the principal publications for their home locations and print
at least one daily edition. Articles were selected according to their relevance to Hurricane
Katrina. The first week of the crisis was selected to gain the initial reactions of the media.

Newspaper articles were chosen in lieu of other types of media messages for several
key reasons. First, as the New York Times is a major national newspaper, it has higher expo-
sure to the public than might a television broadcast at any given time. This newspaper is,
moreover, considered the newspaper of record for the nation and a leader in journalism
(Merrill, 1983). Also important, the Times-Picayune is the major newspaper of New Orleans,
which gives it an exclusive perspective and position in providing disaster coverage for the
area; furthermore, it was the only local newspaper that continued to publish throughout
the crisis period under analysis.

Another benefit of studying newspaper coverage stems from the nature of print,
which provides a more holistic picture of the events that transpired (Missouri Group,
2004). Additionally, most newspapers work as a complement to other news broadcasts the
public may be watching. For instance, in several situations, articles that appeared in the
New York Times referred to CNN stories and broadcasts or referred to certain governmental
officials appearing for television interviews on a variety of programs (Cooper, 2005; Shane,
Lipton, Drew, & Alford, 2005). Newspapers reflected a portion of the material and ideas the
television broadcasts were featuring but also provided more in-depth and varied reports
concerning the different aspects of the hurricane. According to Graber (2002), when cover-
ing disasters the print media tend to convey more factual details and knowledge than other
types of electronic media. Additionally, newspapers show a greater balance between
expressive and informative elements of news than broadcasting, which primarily focuses
on hard news stories (Wenger & Quarantelli, 1989).

Identification of Authority Figures
The first phase of analysis involved the identification of authority figures. Articles

were approached inductively and carefully reviewed for their relevance to or mention of
local, state, and federal government officials or agencies involved in the disaster relief
effort in response to Hurricane Katrina. It was apparent from reading articles that federal
and local agencies were portrayed in different ways and that the simple distinction
between federal and local authorities needed further delineation. As such, five levels of
authority emerged: the military, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), President
Bush, the federal government, and local government.

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The Pentagon and the National Guard references were collapsed into one category—
the military—since both of these entities influenced disaster relief though personnel and
the equipment they used. It was easy to group these agencies, as they were addressing the
needs in the hurricane area with similar resources and intentions. The Federal Emergency
Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were
joined for a number of reasons. First, FEMA is a segment of the larger DHS office, which
makes it a logical choice for combination. Second, when FEMA director Michael Brown
resigned, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff assumed his position temporarily. Finally, these
agencies often share responsibilities when developing disaster plans and are similar in
respect of their use of available resources and techniques to assist in disaster relief. In view
of the sheer volume of references to President Bush, he was separated from other federal
agencies and more general references. Additionally, as the President is the head of the fed-
eral government, he is the one individual to whom people turn for leadership and direction
in all situations, especially a crisis or natural disaster. All other federal agencies, officials,
and employees were grouped into one general category, the federal government. All state
and local agencies and officials were grouped into the local government category.

Identification of Clusters
After identifying the passages that addressed or mentioned authority figures, we

reviewed the articles deductively to identify terms clustered around these references. In the
case of both newspapers, for each of the authority figures or agencies, terms clustering
around them were examined for references to crisis leadership that portrayed the actor in
either a positive or negative light. Terms derived from the articles in the New York Times
were kept separate from those in the Times-Picayune.

Examining these clustered terms created a picture of how the media portrayed and
viewed government officials involved in the disaster relief. Both federal and local officials
were described in the selected articles by their performance. These various agencies and
leaders were portrayed according to the actions they were taking. Although sometimes
these groups responded in ways that were positive for hurricane relief and assistance, they
also were perceived as acting in ways that failed to assist those affected or even in ways
that seemed cold and uncaring. Regardless of the level of agency or individuality, the
media engaged in praise and criticism of nearly all the major authority figures or groups
involved in hurricane disaster relief. The way the media referenced these groups could be
gleaned by isolating the terms clustered around the federal and local authorities.

Positive Depiction of Effective Crisis Leadership
Positive clusters reveal authorities responding effectively to the crisis. Presenting the

positive attributes of crisis leadership associated with each authority, the media con-
structed a reality that reflected favorably on how that authority responded to the crisis.
Burke (1973) explained that participants define a situation for themselves and believe they
have correctly “sized up” the situation (p. 1). In doing so, they can represent their response
to a crisis as effective. Both the New York Times and Times-Picayune identified authority fig-
ures with legitimate responses to manage the crisis.

The Military
The positive terms in the New York Times describing the actions of the military

included: “bolstered,” “delivered,” “mobilized,” “extended,” “coordinate,” “deploy,” and

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“dispatching.” Each of these actions implies constructive behavior, engaging in assisting
those affected by the hurricane. An example of the military effort reflects the generally pos-
itive tone assigned to the military:

The Pentagon is also dispatching at least 60 helicopters to assist in search and rescue
missions and haul heavy cargo. Hundreds of military engineers will clear debris-
choked roads to allow residents to leave and relief supplies to flow in. Hundred of high-
wheeled, five-ton trucks that can traverse floodwaters are on the way. . . . Troops will
help evacuate residents and provide food and shelter. (Stevenson, 2005, p. A21)

Table 1 Examples of Positive Terms Clustered around Authority Figures

Authority New York Times Times-Picayune

Military Bolstered Arrived
Delivered Assisting recovery
Mobilized Dispersed
Extended Eager to help
Coordinate Prepared

Homeland security Mobilized Begin process of recovery
Began moving Identifying
Racing the clock Respect
Positioned Properly secured
Speeding delivery of relief Priority
Deployed Coordinate
Coordinated Deploy
Not going away

President Bush Declared Asked
Cleared Plans to help
Urged Believe very serious
Stressed Decision to declare

Federal government Rushed back Deployed
Prepared to pass Ward off
Promised quick Raced back early
Nothing short of heroic Lightning pace

Get done

Local government Called Warned
Estimated Prepare
Issued the order Estimate
Urged to evacuate Predicted
Calming effect Evacuate


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In the Times-Picayune, positive terms describing the actions of the military included:
“arrived,” “assisting recovery,” “dispersed,” “eager to help,” and “prepared.” Characteris-
tic of these positive terms was the scene Horne (2005) described: “[O]ne of the early signs
of the beefed-up military presence was a Blackhawk helicopter touching down near the
Riverwalk to deliver water to some 1,000 refugees still sheltered in the Ernest N. Morial
Convention Center” (p. A1). Given the primarily positive reference to the Pentagon and the
National Guard, the rhetorical image of these groups depicted them as doing the best they
could to aid disaster relief.

Department of Homeland Security
Positive terms in the New York Times describing the efforts of the DHS and FEMA were:

“mobilized,” “begun moving,” “racing the clock,” “positioned,” “speeding delivery of
relief,” “deployed,” “coordinated,” and “not going away.” Treaster and Zernike (2005) pro-
vide an example of the positive characterization associated with these agencies:

Even before the hurricane hit the New Orleans area, FEMA had positioned 23 of its
disaster medical assistance teams and 7 search and rescue teams around the region. It
also delivered generators, and stockpiles of water, ice and ready-to-eat meals. It even
sent in two teams of veterinarians to provide care to any injured pets or other animals.
(p. A1)

The positive terms in the Times-Picayune depicting the actions of the DHS and FEMA,
such as “begin process of recovery,” “identifying,” “respect,” “properly secured,” and “pri-
ority,” suggest that efforts were underway and that assistance would be forthcoming.
Anderson (2005) provides an example of the positive terms associated with FEMA:

FEMA Director Mike Brown said that six teams will be using St. Gabriel as a staging
area and will fan out from there to the metropolitan New Orleans area to begin the
tedious process of recovering bodies and identifying them. . . . You have to deal with
these bodies with respect and get them properly secured, identified and notify surviv-
ing relatives. (p. A4)

“Coordinate” and “deploy” were two of the most positive terms associated with the
actions of these agencies.

President Bush
The President had numerous positive terms clustering around him in the New York

Times’s depiction of the relief efforts. Positive terms, such as “declared,” “cleared,”
“urged,” “stressed,” “promised,” “deploying,” “dispatching,” “pledged,” “visits,” and
even “before,” were frequently used to indicate the proactive, concerned posture of the
President. In the following description, Stevenson (2005) characterizes the positive actions
of the President:

The Bush administration stepped up the federal response on Wednesday to the devasta-
tion from Hurricane Katrina, deploying thousands more National Guard and active-
duty troops to the Gulf Coast to help with rescue and relief missions, authorizing the
release of oil from the nation’s strategic reserve to blunt the economic effects of the
storm and dispatching food, water and medical supplies to the region. (p. A21)

The positive terms about the President in the Times-Picayune, including “asked,” “plans
to help,” “declared,” and “believe very serious,” invoked the image of a strong and deci-
sive leader responsive to the needs of those affected by the hurricane. As Moller (2005)

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wrote, “President Bush’s decision to declare a state of emergency before the storm has
made landfall . . . is an indication of the seriousness of the threat. ‘At the highest levels of
our nation, they believe this is a very serious storm.’ ” (p. 1)

Federal Government
The positive terms in the New York Times associated with the actions of the Congress

were: “rushed back,” “prepared to pass,” “promised quick,” and “nothing short of heroic.”
As Stevenson (2005) described, congressional leaders promised quick action to pay for the
relief efforts and the cleanup and rebuilding. The Senate majority leader, Bill Frist of Ten-
nessee, and the House speaker, J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, said in a joint statement that
they would “make an aid, relief and support package for the victims of Hurricane Katrina
our highest priority” (p. A21).

Positive terms in the Times-Picayune relating to the actions of Congress, such as
“deployed,” “ward off,” “raced back early,” “lightning pace,” and “get done,” portrayed
the federal government as acting proactively to maintain its image, requesting supplies
and working to fill in the gaps in information. In conjunction with this primarily positive
image of the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, there were also five ref-
erences to “fast” responses or actions. Walsh (2005) describes the actions taken by the fed-
eral government positively: “Members of the House and Senate raced back early from their
summer vacations to consider the bill, which leaders in both parties said would be
approved” (p. A2).

Local Government
Most of the positive terms in the New York Times portrayed local officials as doing what

they could to help victims in the area, such as: “called,” “estimated,” “issued the order,”
“urged to evacuate,” and “calming effect.” Shane and Lipton (2005) characterized the local
efforts positively as follows:

City officials said they provided free transportation from pick-up points publicized on
television, radio and by people shouting through megaphones on the streets. In addi-
tion to the Superdome, officials opened schools and the convention center as shelters.
Mr. Braxton said he believed the city was “aggressive enough” in conducting the evalu-
ation. “We had everything we thought we needed in place.” (p. A1)

Such positive terms as “warned,” “prepare,” “estimate,” “predicted,” “evacuate,” and
“requested” appeared frequently in the Times-Picayune to describe the actions of these
authority figures and provided a generally positive picture of those in the disaster area
working to protect the citizens in New Orleans. These terms also indicated that the author-
ity figures attempted to prepare citizens for difficult situations and times and worked to
prevent much of the disaster that occurred. Brown and Krupa (2005) provide a glimpse of
how the local authorities were positively portrayed:

Meanwhile, parish leaders . . . [declared] that the patchwork force of police from
Gretna, Harahan, Kenner, Westwego and the Sheriff’s Office, along with sheriff’s depu-
ties from Georgia, had staved off the terrifying street violence that had taken hold of
New Orleans. “We’ve split this parish up and locked this parish down,” Capella said.
“We’re doing everything we can to protect the homes of the people who have evacu-
ated. Your home will not be looted.” (p. A11)

To summarize, the military, the Department of Homeland Security, the President, the
federal government, and local government authorities were depicted positively by the New

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York Times and the Times-Picayune. These portrayals reflected the perspective of the author-
ity seeking to define the situation and persuade the public that it has demonstrated effec-
tive leadership during a crisis.

Contrasting Perspectives Regarding Effective Crisis Leadership
Although positive terms clustered with authority figures in the New York Times and

the Times-Picayune, the media provided conflicting perspectives when alternative view-
points concerning the crisis responses of authority figures revealed inadequacy. In this
way, the media assumed a privileged position in identifying what needed to be done to
manage the crisis more effectively. In combination, the positive and negative clusters
enabled members of the public to make their own assessment of the crisis responses made
by these authorities.

The Military
Coverage in the New York Times portrayed the military in a negative light. For example,

the terms “scrambling,” “fruitless efforts,” “could not move quickly,” “overwhelmed,”
“unorganized,” and “limited” suggest that not all its efforts were perceived as effective in
meeting the needs of those affected by Hurricane Katrina. Shane and Lipton (2005)
observed: “Large numbers of National Guard troops should have been deployed on
flooded streets early in the disaster to keep order, the critics said” (p. A1). The implication
of most of the negative terms was that the military was late in arriving and that its efforts
often were constrained by other factors.

The negative terms in the Times-Picayune concerning the actions of the military made
reference to “speed,” “lateness” of action, and “chaos” and also suggested that needed
assistance was lacking. As Horne (2005) reported, “As troop transport vehicles rumbled
through downtown streets, some soldiers appeared visibly unnerved by the chaos they
witnessed around them” (p. A1). The alternative perspective constructed by the Times-Pica-
yune depicting a lack of immediate assistance amid the chaos of the situation suggests that
a more timely and coordinated campaign could have been undertaken to help the people of
New Orleans.

Table 2 Examples of Negative Terms Clustered around Authority Figures

Authority New York Times Times-Picayune

Military Scrambling Speed
Fruitless efforts Lateness of action
Could not move quickly Chaos

Homeland security Waiting (None)
Not offering enough
Had not entered
National disgrace
Whether DHS can cope

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Department of Homeland Security
The term “waiting” appeared frequently in the New York Times in reference to the DHS

and FEMA and implied that instead of acting aggressively or proactively, authorities
waited for a number of events to take place. Other terms with a negative cast used to
describe the efforts of these agencies included: “not offering enough,” “had not entered,”
“national disgrace,” “whether DHS can cope,” and “inadequate.” The negative character-
ization of FEMA and the DHS was exemplified by Shane and Lipton (2005):

Disaster officials . . . had long known that the low-lying city was especially vulnerable.
But despite all the warnings, Hurricane Katrina overwhelmed the very government
agencies that had rehearsed for such a calamity. On Thursday, as the flooded city
descended into near-anarchy, frantic local officials blasted the federal and state emer-
gency response as woefully sluggish and confused. (p. A1)

In contrast to this negative depiction in the New York Times, the Times-Picayune
refrained from characterizing the efforts of the Department of Homeland Security as inef-
fective or inadequate. This may have been due in part to the nature of the work that these
agencies were undertaking at this point in the crisis and/or the dependence of New
Orleans on the continuation of these efforts.

President Bush
A variety of terms with negative connotations surfaced frequently in the coverage of

the New York Times. These included “did not,” “pry Bush out of vacation,” “took no action,”
“resisted federalizing,” and what the President “did not do” reflected negatively on him.
Bumiller (2005b) portrayed President Bush as follows:

Authority New York Times Times-Picayune

President Bush Did not Had yet to be accorded
Pry Bush out of vacation Dipped below the clouds
Took no action Budget for less
Resisted federalizing “Goddamn press conferences”

Federal government Turned a deaf ear Slowness
Had other priorities Very frustrated
Ignored inevitable problem Lack of political will
So much not being done Competing priorities
Who’s in charge Struggled
Slow response
Failing grade
Totally unprepared
“Slo-mo” bumblings

Local government Overwhelmed Disorganized
Struggled to assess Offered little
Nobody in charge Miscommunication
Offered little help Overwhelmed
Calming effect Hesitant

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Other Democrats cast Mr. Bush’s first survey of the damage, from his window on Air
Force One two days after the hurricane hit, as an imperial act removed from the suffer-
ing of the people below. “It was not enough for the president to bank his plane and look
at the window and say, ‘Oh, what a devastating site,’ ” Senator Frank R. Lautenberg,
Democrat of New Jersey, said in a statement of Thursday. “Instead of looking out the
window of the airplane, he should have been on the ground giving the people devas-
tated by this hurricane hope.” (p. A16)

The negative terms are directly related to what was not accomplished in a timely manner
by the President through his actions.

The Times-Picayune made few specific references to the President or his actions to assist
the Gulf Coast. The negative terms associated with President Bush reflected on his actions
or inaction: “had yet to be accorded,” “dipped below the clouds,” and “budget for less.” As
Horne (2005) writes, the local authorities were experiencing frustration with President
Bush: “New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was equally blunt. Federal and state officials need
to stop having ‘goddamn press conferences’ and get the relief effort rolling . . .” (p. A1).

Federal Government
In the New York Times, frequent negative terms describing the actions of the federal

government included: “turned a deaf ear,” “had other priorities,” “ignored inevitable
problem,” “so much not being done,” “who’s in charge,” “unacceptable,” “slow
response,” “shame,” “failing grade,” “totally unprepared,” and “slo-mo bumblings of
government.” Purdum (2005) characterized the negative portrayal of the federal govern-
ment in this way:

There was anger: David Vitter, Louisiana’s freshman Republican senator, gave the fed-
eral government an F on Friday for its handling of the whirlwind after the storm. And
Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland and the former chairman of
the Congressional Black Caucus, declared, “We cannot allow it to be said that the differ-
ence between those who lived and those who died” amounted to “nothing more than
poverty, age or skin color.” (p. A1)

In addition to this primarily negative image, the media also used references that indi-
cated the federal government was “slow,” and that its response was “poor” and “ineffi-
cient.” The lasting image of the federal government created by the negative terms was that
of a source of authority not successful at managing or assisting in disaster relief.

The negative terms in the Times-Picayune associated with federal government
included: “slowness,” “very frustrated,” “lack of political will,” “competing priorities,”
and “struggled.” In a 2005 article entitled, “Not Acceptable,” frustrations with the federal
government were in evidence: “President Bush stood on the lawn of the White House and
ceded the point: The federal government did not move quickly enough or forcefully
enough to help those people hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina. ‘The results are not accept-
able” (p. A15). Generally, the local authorities believed the federal government had a slow
start to relief but the commitment to providing support was evident.

Local Government
“Overwhelmed, “struggled to assess,” “nobody in charge,” and “offered little help”

were negative terms appearing frequently in the New York Times to describe local officials
and suggested that these authorities lacked control of the situation. Treaster and Sontag
(2005) describe the effect of this negative aspect of the local efforts in the following way:

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Chaos and gunfire hampered efforts to evacuate the Superdome, and Superintendent P.
Edward Compass III of New Orleans Police Department said armed thugs have taken
control of the secondary makeshift shelter at the convention center. . . . [He] said that
the thugs repelled eight squads of 11 officers each he had sent to secure the place and
that rapes and assaults were occurring unimpeded in the neighboring streets as crimi-
nals “preyed upon” passers-by, including stranded tourists. (p. A1)

Negative terms in the Times-Picayune associated with the local authorities included:
“disorganized,” “offered little,” “miscommunication,” “overwhelmed,” and “hesitant.”
Thevenot (2005) characterized the deficiencies of local efforts as follows: “Still consumed
with rescue efforts and quelling looting and violence, disorganized police, fire and rescue
teams from all over the state offered little food or water and no plan for evacuating the
flood victims” (p. A7).

In summary, the negative clusters of terms associated with the military, the DHS, the
President, the federal government, and the local authorities during the Hurricane Katrina
crisis provided a point of comparison to the positive clusters. Burke (1950) noted that “pos-
itive” and “dialectical terms” provide a means for contrasting two “realm[s] of ideas or
principles” (pp. 186-187). He continues:

[Contrasting terms] may produce a situation wherein there is no one clear choice. Each
of the spokesmen, whose ideas are an extension of special interests, must remain some-
what unconvinced by any solution which does not mean the complete triumph of his
partisan interests. (p. 187)

When positive and negative clusters are taken together, the media’s privileged position
revealed conflicting realities that enabled the public to assess the crisis response and deter-
mine if, and if so where, blame should be placed.

Burke (1966) argues that rhetoric functions to name or define situations. In the case of

Hurricane Katrina, the positive and negative terms that clustered around figures of author-
ity at the federal and local levels provide support for his claim. First, the media identified
authority figures with legitimate responsibility to manage the crisis. The media subse-
quently served as a tool for the public to take action in identifying what needed to be done
to manage the crisis more effectively.

Once the media fulfilled their functional role in clarifying the chaos surrounding the
situation, they began to include information about the performance of those with legiti-
mate authority. During the first two days of the crisis, the terms clustering around author-
ity figures were mostly positive, as the local and federal authorities braced themselves for
what was expected to be a Level 5 hurricane. However, as the events unfolded and the cri-
sis leadership of the legitimate authorities proved to be highly inadequate in response to
the destruction and loss of life, the media served as a vehicle for identifying such problems.
As the magnitude of the problems grew, those with legitimate authority—through their
comments and actions—began to alleviate themselves of their guilt for what was perceived
as inadequate crisis leadership by the media and public. Through the process of victimage
(Burke, 1989b), these authorities sought to transfer the blame to another legitimate author-
ity, or even to members of the public who had not taken appropriate action to protect them-
selves from the hurricane.

In an effort to sort out the responses, the media included information for the public
that allowed for blame to be cast and authority figures and agencies to defend themselves

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from the criticism. As the clusters were analyzed, when those in positions of authority
described their actions, the clustered terms were positive. When the actions of the authority
figures were described by other authorities, the public, or the media, the terms were more
frequently negative. This suggests that the point of view of any given authority figure often
was not consistent with the perceptions of other authorities or the public. With the excep-
tion of President Bush, who acknowledged the initial stumbling of the federal government
in responding to the crisis, the authority figures did not use mortification (Burke, 1989b) as
a strategy. Mortification is “the exercising of oneself in ‘virtue’; it is a systematic way of
saying no to disorder, or obediently saying yes to order” (p. 289).

The resignation of FEMA Director Michael Brown was symptomatic of another strat-
egy used by the federal authority figures. To purge the system of its highly unflattering
image, the DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff took over as the coordinator of relief efforts on
September 12 following Brown’s resignation. As the negative clusters emerged regarding
the efforts of FEMA and the federal government, then-FEMA Director Brown was depicted
at the center of the communication gap between local efforts and the federal relief provided
through FEMA to New Orleans and the region. The identification of blame and the consub-
stantiality of opinion among the federal authorities provided the basis for their efforts to
explain what went wrong as the crisis worsened.

Overall, the New York Times, through its use of terms, directed most of the blame
toward the federal government’s inadequate response to the crisis caused by Hurricane
Katrina. Since the resources from the federal level carry the power of the entire nation,
blaming the federal government carried less risk of retaliation than might have been expe-
rienced had the local authorities blamed those with greater resources and then been left to
manage the crisis on their own. The accounts in the Times-Picayune did not assign blame to
the federal government as much as they suggested that the local authorities could have
performed more effectively had the federal assistance been more rapidly forthcoming and
substantial. In this way, the rhetoric of the local newspaper reflected mortification and
enabled the federal government to save face as it increased its level of leadership later in
the crisis.

Practical Applications

The Power of the Media
The findings suggest that in crisis situations, media play multiple roles: specifically,

objective informer describing various aspects of the crisis, and privileged reporter evaluat-
ing the effectiveness of authorities attempting to manage the crisis. Because the media pro-
vide different kinds of information, they have the potential to lead the public to evaluate
the crisis responses of legitimate authorities from various perspectives. In the case of Hur-
ricane Katrina, through the association of the federal government and the Department of
Homeland Security with negative terms, they served as an instrument providing for uncer-
tainty reduction surrounding the way the crisis was being managed for those who ulti-
mately were willing to assign blame. Seeger et al. (2003) confirm this role for the media in
observing that “uncertainty reduction is accomplished by monitoring and evaluating the
situation” (p. 71). As such, the media must realize that if they begin to present conflicting
perspectives too early in the crisis, the association of negative terms with those in authority
may result in the premature placement of blame by the public and the effectiveness of
those in authority may be compromised.

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Another practical implication of the findings is that the media implicitly have the abil-
ity to create a view of reality reflecting their perspective. When reporters and media outlets
print stories about events, the words they use embody evaluative messages. As Burke
(1984) explains, “[D]ifferent frameworks of interpretation will lead to different conclusions
as to what reality is” (p. 35). From our analysis of the terms associated with those in author-
ity by the New York Times and the Times-Picayune of New Orleans, it is clear that the media
aided the identification of blame and responsibility for the events that transpired in the
Gulf Coast area as a result of Hurricane Katrina. The combination of positive and negative
clusters directed the public to arrive at a conclusion concerning who was to blame for the
ineffective crisis response. The New York Times was direct, as it reported from the vantage
point of various authorities the linkage of negative terms with the federal government and
Department of Homeland Security. Negative terms in the Times-Picayune were more implic-
itly associated with the federal government, but nonetheless direct, as it reported views
concerning the inability of local authorities to respond effectively to the crisis. As such, the
media should acknowledge that they have considerable power once they begin to offer dif-
ferences in how an event is perceived, recorded, or interpreted (Burke, 1989a). The implica-
tion for the media is that caution should prevail when they use terminology that directs the
public to place blame during times of crisis in particular ways.

The Responsibility of Authority
The power of the media also has practical implications for those in positions of author-

ity during a crisis. The application of crisis leadership theory illuminates how the catego-
rizing of positive and negative judgments regarding the efficacy of efforts taken by
legitimate authorities during a crisis can affect the public’s perception about how a crisis is
being managed. This finding is useful for a number of reasons. First, understanding how
the media function as a tool for the construction of blame should be important to political
and authority figures when they are responding to a crisis. In the present study, when
examined from a particularistic point of view, each authority appeared to be demonstrating
effective crisis leadership, as evidenced by the positive clusters initially associated with
their actions. However, when contrasted with the discontinuous perspectives of other
agencies or authorities, they lost their ability to maintain control of how their actions were
being depicted in the media. It would be wise for authorities to acknowledge deficiencies in
their crisis responses to avoid conflicting perspectives (mortification) that will emerge later.

Authorities in crisis situations also need to acknowledge the privileged position of
media and monitor closely the terms they use to characterize responses to a crisis. This
finding is relevant in light of the ability of the media to use positive and negative terms
selectively in their reporting of crisis leadership, which, in turn, can shape public opinion
and create concerns about the power the media have in society. Because language influ-
ences perception, when the media exercise power in making choices relating to how
authority figures are characterized, the ability of the public to assess the effectiveness of cri-
sis responses independently is minimized. Understanding the ways the media create
images and depictions is important for inducing change in the way the media discuss
issues and portray governmental and other authority figures, and also so that the public is
better prepared and equipped to develop a more complete picture before forming opinions.

The Role of Time
The timing of the media’s release of conflicting perspectives revealing the effectiveness of

the relief efforts provides another reflection of how the coverage evolved. The positive clusters

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associated with those in authority created an early portrayal of effectiveness. However, as the
crisis continued, the impulse to assign blame and the public demand for answers pressured
the media to present the conflicting negative characterizations challenging the perspective of
effectiveness. Just as Seeger et al. (2003) predicted, as the media began to repeat and enhance
the conflicting interpretations, the ability of the authorities to respond was compromised.

Clearly, authorities need time to evaluate their own crisis responses before they begin
reacting to media reports. Although this on-going assessment of crisis responses by the
authorities conflicts with the demand from the public for information about a crisis, the
media should not rush to judgment before assuming the privileged position. If they do,
they will limit the potential of the authorities to respond effectively to a crisis. Similarly, the
public needs time to form an opinion before the media or competing sources of authority
use particular terminology to cast blame upon the actors. By remaining longer in the infor-
mation mode, the media can provide the needed information without jeopardizing the
effectiveness of the authorities with terms that prematurely construct a negative picture in
the minds of the public.

Although the media may not have started their reporting about Hurricane Katrina
with the intent of placing blame on particular legitimate authorities, as the crisis developed
through clusters of positive and negative terms, the privileged position of the media
became apparent. Given the broad influence of the media in such circumstances, those in
authority would be wise to use them to identify how their words and actions are perceived
by the public. Future studies should explore the responses of authorities during different
stages of a crisis. The response of authorities during the pre-crisis and post-crisis stages
may provide insight into how messages change as more information about a crisis becomes
available. The rhetorical study of crisis provides insight into how language is used to con-
struct realities during chaotic situations. Additional investigation of crisis through the rhe-
torical lens may yield a more sophisticated level of understanding when explaining the
language used by the media when reporting on a crisis.

[1] A legitimate authority may be an individual or agency that is elected or appointed, and has the

budgetary power and resources necessary to take action in a crisis situation.

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Jimmy Carter’s Speech at Brandeis University

Mary E. Domenico

The usual notion of society—a large group of people sharing a common habitat who are
dependent upon one another for well-being—does not immediately convey the reality that
those people also possess widely varying concerns, goals, and values. At the heart of a civil
society is an active concern with relationships among diverse groups and interests and a
network of social interactions that balance conflict and consensus, a balance that depends on
dialogue and, when necessary, on meaningful debate. Sometimes, however, communal
reflections become polarized, and conversation becomes difficult. When this happens, pro-
found differences—those with the greatest potential to significantly divide a community—
are expressed only by the most extreme voices. In his work on self-censorship and the spiral
of silence, Hayes (2007) warns that when extreme voices overwhelm public discourse, even
opinions that are relatively common in the general population disappear altogether from the
conversation, making the mediation of difference and the solution of problems impossible.

While communal silence about an issue functions to protect large segments of the pop-
ulation from exposure, awkwardness, and hostility, such silence is not achieved without
serious consequences on both personal and collective levels. For those who are silent, there
is a restriction of one’s being. Israeli writer Grossman (2009) speaks to both of these condi-
tions. When dilemmas go unresolved, he asserts, suffering becomes a static state without
hope of change. Grossman (2009) also bemoans how prolonged, unresolved conflict robs
language of its “natural richness” and capability to touch on the nuances, complexities, and
subtleties that make real dialogue possible: “The more hopeless the situation seems and the
shallower the language becomes, the more public discourse dwindles, until all that
remains . . . are the clichés we use to describe the enemy and ourselves—the prejudices,
mythological anxieties, and crude generalizations” (p. 26). Of the effect on the individual
who forsakes the responsibility to form and voice opinions, Grossman (2009) says: “Part of
this price is a shrinking of our soul’s surface . . . and a diminished ability and willingness to
empathize at all with other people in pain. We also pay the price by suspending our moral
judgments and we give up on understanding what we ourselves think” (p. 23).

That the ramifications of public silence are serious makes important the consideration
of forces capable of reopening or reintroducing productive conversation when public dis-
course becomes polarized and stagnant. In this essay, I explore how a public figure can
model an ability and willingness to reopen genuine debate about a highly charged, divisive
public issue.

Background of the Brandeis Speech
Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States, was a vocal advocate for human

rights for many years. His administration from 1977 to 1981 accomplished significant for-
eign policy advances, including the Panama Canal Treaty, the Camp David Accords, and
the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. After leaving office, Carter continued to work
for human rights through the Carter Center, a nonpartisan think tank that addresses
national and international policy matters. The primary foci of the Center’s work are the

This essay was written while Mary E. Domenico was a student in Sonja K. Foss’s rhetorical criticism class at the
University of Colorado Denver in 2010. Used by permission of the author.

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resolution of conflict, the promotion of democracy, and the protection of civil rights. In
2002, Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his global peace efforts.

In November, 2006, Carter’s book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Palestine: Peace Not
Apartheid, was published by Simon and Schuster. By the end of the year, the book had sold
68,000 copies and was number seven on The New York Times best seller list (Bosman, 2006).
In the book, Carter expresses his belief that there are forces in the United States, including
most prominently the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying
group, that have made open and balanced public dialogue difficult because the Palestinian
view is suppressed through pressure on U.S. citizens to express unambiguous support for
Israel and Israeli policies. In response to what Carter sees as the resulting unequal presen-
tation of two sides of the conflict, he uses Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid to trace the history
of the Israel-Palestinian conflict with a particular emphasis on what he considers the
untold story—the plight of Palestinians in the occupied territories. Carter’s call for Ameri-
cans to resume active debate includes the statement: “Strong support for peace talks must
come from the United States . . . . In order to resume this vital role, the United States must
be a trusted participant, even-handed, consistently unwavering and enthusiastic—a part-
ner of both sides and not a judge of either” (p. 16).

Publication of Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid sparked a variety of immediate reactions in
the public sphere. One notable response was silence. Two weeks after the book came out
amid public furor, it had not been mentioned once in the news pages of The New York Times,
the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Boston Globe, or the Los Angeles
Times (Goodman, 2006). At the same time, Anti-Defamation League leaders Foxman and
Lewy (2006) ran full-page advertisements in several major newspapers accusing Carter of
anti-Semitism. The New York Times editor Bronner (2006) authored a book review accusing
Carter of flagrant factual misrepresentation. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee
issued statements accusing Carter of circulating nefarious myths about Jews, including that
they control American media. Even Democrats distanced themselves. Nancy Pelosi (2003,
October 23), incoming Speaker of the House of Representatives, said it was “wrong to sug-
gest that the Jewish people would support a government in Israel or anywhere else that
institutionalized ethnically based oppression.” John Conyers, incoming chair of the House
Judiciary Committee, called for Carter to change the title of the book, calling it “offensive
and wrong” (Goodman, 2006). Several members of the board of directors of the Carter Cen-
ter resigned in protest of the supposedly anti-Israeli content of the text and the book’s
title—specifically in protest of the word apartheid (Bosman, 2006).

Carter’s response to this barrage of attacks was to continue his book tour, during
which he spoke directly to U.S. citizens throughout the country. As part of the tour, he
spoke on January 23, 2007, at Brandeis University, a Jewish-sponsored, secular university
in Waltham, Massachusetts. The 15-minute speech was delivered to about 100 students and
faculty who were invited to ask questions afterward.

Following Carter’s Brandeis speech, a number of major financial contributors to the
University discontinued their support in protest. The American Israeli Public Affairs Com-
mittee and the Anti-Defamation League continued their public criticism. In response,
Carter scheduled talks at George Washington University; the University of Iowa; and the
University of California, Irvine. He continued to speak without judgment and with com-
passion for all concerned parties. In the face of a seemingly unresolvable problem, Carter
consistently maintained his belief that peace talks could be conducted with fair and bal-
anced regard for everyone. By doing so, he provided a rhetorical model for how a public
figure can encourage the reopening of genuine debate in a stagnant conflict situation.

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To analyze Carter’s speech, I will use Burke’s method of cluster criticism. Burke pro-
posed cluster criticism as a means for gaining insight into a rhetor’s worldview. Burke’s
theory includes the assumption that rhetors, consciously and unconsciously, employ key
terms around which other words and concepts cluster. Examination of these clusters
reveals both the way rhetors see the world and the meanings they attach to those visions of
the world. In the following analysis of Carter’s Brandeis speech, I use the criteria of fre-
quency and intensity to identify key terms. I then evaluate these key terms and their associ-
ated clusters for their contents and meanings.

Interpretation of Key Terms and Associated Clusters
Close reading of the text of Carter’s Brandeis speech yields five key terms: President/I,

United States/America, Israel/Israeli, Palestine/Palestinian, and peace. Other key terms that
might be anticipated are either missing or unremarkable in appearance. This speech is a
direct response to criticism Carter received to charges that his book was anti-Semitic and
that his use of the word apartheid was outrageous and false, yet anti-Semitism does not
appear at all in the text, and apartheid appears only twice.

Of the many responses to criticism of his book available to Carter—silence, defensive-
ness, attack, apology, crafting an ameliorative presentation for an audience at a Jewish-
sponsored university, or repetition of his former remarks—he chose to repeat the content of
his book. The particular way Carter did so was to interweave narratives of the primary
players in the conflict—himself, the United States, Israel, Palestine, and peace. These key
terms become protagonists in five mini-narratives that describe the conflict situation from
the point of view of each entity. The stories are personal and particular to the various
groups but nonetheless overlap, echo, and interact in significant ways.

Key Term: President/I
In frequent references to himself as I or president, the clustering or associated terms

group into three primary categories: terms of agency, milieu terms, and value terms. Among
other activities, Carter describes himself as cautioning, deciding, communicating, negotiating,
encouraging, studying, and understanding; he also uses the verb led. This cluster portrays Carter
as an involved leader, active historically in the issues he addresses. Carter creates a setting for
himself physically and historically through terms that describe the milieu in which he has
performed, such as the names of involved countries and entities—Egypt, America, Middle East,
Oslo, Palestine, Camp David, Supreme Court, PLO, AIPAC, Palestinian National Authority, and
Israel. The specific mention of notable people—Nelson Mandela, Bishop Tutu, Justice Brandeis,
and Elie Wiezel—also contributes to the development of this milieu. These milieu terms
embellish Carter’s narrative of self by positioning him as intimately connected to the multi-
national interests in the current situation and as an associate of well-known human rights
advocates. The value terms Carter employs with regard to himself—moral, Hebrew scriptures,
justice, righteousness, peaceful, sacred texts, and God’s chosen people—elevate Carter’s interest as
being beyond the political and as something he considers part of a holy task.

Taken together, the associated clusters of terms relating to agency, milieu, and values
establish Carter’s credibility as a critic of the Israeli-Palestinian situation. The associations
also underscore his moral standing and historically prove his credential as a capable leader.
Carter is the protagonist in the story of a faithful, moral man concerned with alleviating
human suffering who, as a president and a concerned world citizen, has devoted himself to
working for peace in the Middle East.

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Key Term: United States/America
When referring to the United States or America, Carter uses clustering terms that

group into two categories: organizational entities and processes and references to Jewish
culture and history. Through the use of these terms, a particular narrative is created for the
United States. One strand of this narrative is concerned with governmental and business
entities and processes—Congress, Capitol, resolutions, government, ally, policy, United Nations,
boycott, penalty, and embargo. The United States is portrayed as a strong, stable governmen-
tal and economic unit that has the power to influence world policy and to back up such
policy with penalties. A second narrative strand involves specific references to Jewish cul-
ture and history—emigration, Holocaust, Jews, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and
Israel. By linking civic and economic dimensions of the United States with references to
Israel, Carter acknowledges the close relations and shared interests of the two countries.

Taken together, the associated clusters of organizing entities and Jewish culture por-
tray the United States as a world leader committed to a historical and continuing alliance
with Israel. As the protagonist of this mini-narrative, the United States emerges as an entity
with the authority to lead Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and, most important, the power to
enforce policies that will ensure lasting peace.

Key Term: Israel/Israeli
The key term Israel or Israeli appears more frequently than any other term in the

Brandeis speech, underscoring the central position Carter sees for Israel in the situation he
is addressing. The associated terms group into four main categories: organizational entities
and processes, values, milieu, and strife. As in his narrative for the United States, Carter
uses organizational and process terms—corporation, nation, business, court, Knesset, and gov-
ernment—to portray Israel as a stable and recognized political-economic entity. Value terms
such as dream, peace, justice, righteousness, human rights, and fair serve to link Israel with pos-
itive fundamental values. That these same terms are associated with the United States
highlights the similarities between the two countries.

Having established a natural alliance between the two nations, Carter then uses two
other clusters to highlight Israel’s uniqueness. Cultural and historic milieu terms appear,
including Menachem Begin, Holocaust, Zionism, scholars, rabbis, and editors. Names of leaders,
attitudes toward civic life, and the naming of persons in the Israeli population serve to
paint a portrait of Israel as unique but also familiar. Carter deepens the story of Israel by
using terms of strife such as military, threat, fear, domination, harm, colonized, persecution, bor-
ders, violence, and soldiers.

In the mini-narrative of Israel, the nation emerges as the protagonist in a story of an
established and strong country whose citizens value peace and human rights. Balanced
against this portrayal of Israel as a justice-loving nation is a long history of conflict that has
culminated in the current situation where Israeli citizens colonize and persecute Palestin-
ians in order to feel safe and in control.

Key Term: Palestine/Palestinian
Terms associated with Palestine in Carter’s Brandeis speech group into four categories:

terms related to organizational entities and processes, values, milieu, and victimhood. In
parallel fashion to the narratives of the United States and Israel, Carter uses terms such as
elections, public officials, candidates, and government as attributes of Palestine. Carter’s paral-
lel use of these terms with regard to all three nations—the United States, Israel, and Pales-

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tine—serves to give credibility to Palestine and to elevate its status as equal to the other two
nations. In a similar way, the value terms associated with Palestine—justice, righteousness,
peace, equitable, and fair—are the same words Carter associates with the values of the United
States and Israel; all three countries, then, share core values. Carter also creates an environ-
ment for Palestine’s story in the same way he did for the other two countries by linking it to
a wider community that includes Israel, United States, Arabs, and the Middle East.

As in his narrative about Israel, Carter does not restrict Palestine’s narrative to those
factors that bind the three nations together or stress shared interests. Unique to the Palestin-
ian story are terms of victimhood such as territories, checkpoints, wall, fence, harm, prisoners,
separation, and colonized. Certain words in this category are among the most intense words
in the speech: intolerable, plight, cruel oppression, and the provocative apartheid. Carter thus
portrays Palestine as a nation whose people value peace and justice but who are entrapped
in a situation of confiscated lands, restricted movements, and intolerable oppression.

Key Term: Peace
The terms associated with the term peace group into three categories: terms of agency,

milieu, and values. The final story in Carter ’s Brandeis speech is that of peace itself. All of
the concerns and attributes of peace echo and interact with the same types of terms that are
found in the other four narratives. Again, Carter positions America-Israel-Palestine in an
inescapable intimate interrelationship. There is a call for recognition of the universal values
of justice, righteousness, and human rights. Peace requires action—effort, call, exchange, treaty,
prospects, talks, and resolutions. The story of peace as the container for the other narratives is
this, Carter says: The longed-for condition—peace—depends on the cooperative agency
and shared values of all involved parties.

Carter’s worldview as expressed in his Brandeis speech is of an expanded notion of
society that includes not only country-mates but all people who have relationships, includ-
ing those with conflicting and troubled relationships. Carter’s reliance on uniquely con-
structed narratives enables him to reintroduce the need for peace talks in terms that speak
to the subjective reality of each entity instead of repeating the “prejudices, mythological
anxieties, and crude generalizations” (Grossman, 2009) that have come to dominate the
public discussion about Palestine. Individual concerns, goals, and values can manifest only
in a world where social interactions allow a balance between conflicting and consensual
needs and desires. That Carter can calmly and straightforwardly hold a multiplicity of nar-
ratives—those of Israel, Palestine, and the United States—in a coherent framework of pos-
sible peace implies that such a condition is ultimately possible.

Through a narrative-based speech that focuses on the key players and their individual

stories, Carter uses a number of strategies that can be reproduced by rhetors who want to
reinvigorate productive conversations about controversial issues. These strategies include:
(1) establishing one’s credentials to assess and comment on the situation; (2) equally
acknowledging all involved parties and their self-perceived realities regarding the difficult
situation; (3) focusing attention on shared values and goals through repetition; (4) not
focusing attention on highly charged, divisive words; and (5) refusing engagement with
extreme, unlikely-to-change positions.

In situations of conflict that divide the general population, a public figure who contin-
ues to speak about the situation can face personal attacks, public censure, perceived oppo-

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sition to majority opinion, fear of social isolation, and social pressure (Hayes, 2007). These
dynamics often function to cause public figures to retreat from voicing needed views and
opinions. By refusing to be silenced and pursuing a rhetorical approach that stimulates
and maintains open discourse about polarized issues, a public figure can model an ability
and a willingness to participate in debate about divisive issues. By demonstrating a belief
that such discourse can be conducted with fair and balanced regard for everyone con-
cerned, the public figure can also model faith in the human effort to bring about a better,
more just future.

Bosman, J. (2006). Carter book stirs furor with its view of Israel’s apartheid. The New York Times,

December 14, 2006. Retrieved August 25, 2009, from
Bronner, E. (2007). Jews, Arabs, and Jimmy Carter. The New York Times, January 7, 2007. Retrieved

August 25, 2009, from
Carter, J. (2006). Palestine: Peace not apartheid. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Foxman, A. H., & Lewy, G. S. (2006). An open letter to Jimmy Carter from the Anti-Defamation

League. Retrieved August 25, 2009, from
Goodman, A. (2006). Palestine: Peace not apartheid: Jimmy Carter in his own words. Democracy now!

The war and peace report. Retrieved August 25, 2009, from
Grossman, D. (2009). Writing in the dark. In T. Morrison, Burn this book (pp. 22–32). New York: Harp-

Hayes, A. F. (2007). Exploring the forms of self-censorship: On the spiral of silence and the use of

opinion expression avoidance strategies. Journal of Communication, 57, 785–802.
Pelosi, Nancy. Statement on Jimmy Carter’s book, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid. Forward. Retrieved

August 25, 2009, from

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Jimmy Carter

Waltham, Massachusetts
January 23, 2007

It is a great pleasure for me to be here with you this afternoon. I might say in the
beginning that, except for an invitation from the U.S. Congress to deliver my inaugural
address from the U.S. Capitol almost exactly 30 years ago, this is the most exciting invi-
tation I’ve ever received, and it’s gotten almost as much publicity.

I’ve been cautioned by students and others who invited me to leave plenty of time
for questions at the end, so I’ll do that. As a matter of fact, I don’t often write my
speeches, but I decided to this morning. I read over it before I left home in Plains, Geor-
gia. It took 15 minutes without any pauses for applause. So I can predict for you that I’ll
be ready to answer questions in about 15 minutes.

First of all, let me say that it is an honor to return to a university that is named for a
great jurist whose opinions helped shape the moral values of the nation that I served as
president. His strong support for freedom of speech is exemplified by the students and
faculty giving me an opportunity to come here today, and Justice Brandeis’s leadership
in the establishment of the nation of Israel and also his courageous championship of
individual rights affects the subject to be discussed by me.

It may be difficult for young students and even professors to realize what I faced as
a new president concerning the nation of Israel. There was an oil embargo by Arab OPEC
nations with a secondary boycott of any American corporation doing business with
Israel. There had been four major wars in 25 years against Israel, led by Egypt, the only
Arab country that then had Soviet military support and that had the status of a formida-
ble challenger. There had been a lack of concerted efforts to bring peace to America’s
closet ally, Israel, in the Middle East, and there were no demands on me at all as a suc-
cessful candidate to initiate any kind of negotiations. There had never been a national
site in America as a reminder of the despicable facets of the Nazi Holocaust. Also, the
Soviet Union at that time permitted only a handful of Jews to leave Russia each year.

After becoming president, I began to communicate publicly with noted human
rights heroes like Andrei Sakarov and to confront Soviet leaders at every possible
opportunity I had with them on behalf of Natan Sharansky and others. This increased
tension between me and President Brezhnev, president of the Soviet Union then, but
within two years, annual Jewish emigration to America from Russia increased to more
than 50,000. I was grateful when Sharansky was released, and he gave me credit for
having saved his life.

We also supported a very controversial law sponsored by Congressman Ben Rosen-
thal that prohibited secondary boycotts against Israel with severe penalties against any
U.S. corporation that violated the new law.

And in 1978, on Israel’s 30th birthday, on the south lawn of the White House, with
Prime Minister Menachem Begin there and hundreds of rabbis from around the coun-
try, I announced a commission of about 50 members to establish a Holocaust Museum
with Elie Wiesel as its chairman. The Holocaust Museum in Washington is a tribute to
their good work.

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As one of my highest priorities, I negotiated the Camp David Accords between
Israel and Egypt in 1978, in which, in exchange for peace, Israel agreed to grant full
autonomy for the Palestinians (I wrote autonomy, and Prime Minister Begin said, “Why
don’t you make it full autonomy?”) and the withdrawal of Israeli military and political
forces in the Camp David Accords from the Egyptian Sinai and the lands of the Palestin-
ians. This agreement was ratified by an 85-percent majority in the Israel Knesset. Six
months later, we concluded a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, not a word of
which has been violated now for almost 27 years. This removed from Israel its major
Arab military threat.

I left office believing that Israel would soon realize its dream of peace with its other
neighbors—a small nation no longer beleaguered that exemplified the finest ideals
based on the Hebrew scriptures that I have taught on Sundays—I still teach—since I
was 18 years old, where, in the English-language version of Hebrew scriptures, the word
justice is mentioned 28 times and the word righteousness 196 times.

Since leaving the White House, I have traveled throughout the Middle East at
every opportunity to encourage peaceful relations between Israel and its Arab neigh-
bors, and I’ve traveled extensively in the West Bank and Gaza. I would say, without fear
of being contradicted, that few people on earth have had a greater opportunity to
understand the complex interrelationships in the Middle East peace prospects from
personal observations.

More recently, I have led the Carter Center in monitoring the Palestinian elections
of 1996, 2005, and 2006, which required from me and my associates at the Carter Cen-
ter a thorough and intimate involvement with the candidates who ran; public officials;
and Palestinian citizens throughout East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza and also
working closely with Prime Ministers Shimon Peres in 1996, Ariel Sharon in 2005, and
Ehud Olmert in 2006, who gave their full political support to these adventures.

I am familiar with the harsh rhetoric and extreme acts of violence in the Middle
East that have been perpetuated against innocent civilians, and I understand com-
pletely the fear among many Israelis that threats still exist against their safety and even
their existence as a nation. During all these years—33 years—I have reiterated my
strong condemnation of any acts of terrorism, which are not justified at any time or for
any goal.

In summary, I have spent a great deal of my adult life trying to bring peace to Israel
and its neighbors based on justice and righteousness for the Palestinians. These are the
underlying purposes of my new book.

Let me refer now to my use of the word apartheid. I realize that this has caused
great concern in the Jewish community. The title makes it clear that the book is about
conditions and events in the Palestinian territories and not in Israel. The text makes
clear on numerous occasions that the forced separation and the domination of Arabs
by Israelis is not based on race and should give no aid or comfort to any of those who
have attempted to equate racism with Zionism. The driving force for the resulting
oppression and persecution comes from a minority of Israelis and their desire for Pales-
tinian land.

Let me refer now to the controversial word again. Prominent Israelis, including a
former attorney general, Ben Yair, who served under three prime ministers of both the
Likud and Labor parties; scholars and legislators, including Mrs. Shulamit Aloni; editors
of major newspapers, including Haaretz; human rights organizations, including

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B’Tselem; and a group of litigants who have recently in the last week appealed to the
Israeli Supreme Court in Jerusalem have all used and explained the word apartheid in
much harsher terms than I, pointing out that this cruel oppression is contrary to the
tenets of the Jewish religious faith and contrary to the basic principles of the nation of
Israel. Both Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu have visited the territories and used the
same description.

Originally, as you may know, the West Bank only comprised 22 percent of the land
between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea—just 22 percent; Israel, 77 per-
cent; and Gaza, 1 percent. But their choice hilltops, vital water resources, and produc-
tive land have been occupied, confiscated, and then colonized by Israeli settlers. Like a
spider web, the connecting roads that join more than 200 settlements in the West Bank
are often for the exclusive use of Israelis; Palestinians are not permitted to get on those
roads or even to cross some of them. This divides this area into small bantustans, iso-
lated cantonments. In addition, there are more than 500 checkpoints in the tiny West
Bank and a huge dividing wall, sometimes as high as these rafters—40 feet high—and
a fence in other places that goes deep within the West Bank. All of this makes the lives
of Palestinians almost intolerable. This harms Israel as well by angering the entire Arab
world and makes peaceful relationships more difficult.

What could students here do about it? It would be an intriguing experience for a
group of Brandeis professors and students to visit the occupied territories for a few
days, to meet with leaders and private citizens, and to determine whether I have exag-
gerated or incorrectly described the plight of the Palestinians. While there, you could
also assess a subject that I have not mentioned: whether treatment of Arabs inside
Israel is fair and equitable.

I have never claimed (nor believed) that American Jews control the news media;
that’s ridiculous to claim. But I have reiterated that our nation’s overwhelming support
for Israel comes from among Christians like me who have been taught since I was three
years old to honor and protect God’s chosen people from among whom came our own
Christian savior, Jesus Christ.

An additional factor, especially in the political arena, is the powerful influence of the
American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which is exercising its legitimate goal
of explaining the current policies of Israel’s government and arousing maximum support
in America for those policies. There have been few significant countervailing voices in
the public arena, and any debate is still practically nonexistent within the U.S. Congress.

I am convinced that the withdrawal of Israeli occupying forces from Arab territories
will dramatically reduce any threats to Israel. An immediate step must be the resump-
tion of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, now absent for six years. There
has not been a day of peace talks for six years. President Mahmoud Abbas is the official
spokesman for the Palestinians because he is the head of both the Palestinian National
Authority, which is not recognized officially by Israel, and the PLO and has repeatedly
called for peace talks.

But in the last few weeks, President George W. Bush has announced that peace in
the Holy Land will be a high priority for his administration during the next two years,
and on her current trip to the region, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called for
an early U.S.-Israeli-Palestinian meeting to discuss the peace process. She has recom-
mended the 2002 offer of all 23 Arab nations as a foundation for peace. The offer was
this: full recognition of Israel based on a return to its internationally recognized bor-

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ders. This offer is compatible with official U.S. policy; key U. N. resolutions supported by
the United States and Israel; previous agreements approved by Israeli governments in
1978 at Camp David and in 1993; the Oslo Agreements; and the “road map” for peace
developed by the “quartet” of the United States, Russia, the United Nations, and the
European Union.

Israel will never find peace until it is willing to withdraw from its neighbors’ land
and to permit the Palestinians to exercise their basic human and political rights. As indi-
cated in the Geneva Accords, announced in November, 2003, in Geneva, Switzerland—I
was there and made the keynote speech—this green line or eastern border of Israel can
be modified with negotiated land swaps to let approximately half of the Israeli settlers
remain in their highly subsidized homes east of the internationally recognized border.
These homes remaining would be very close to the so-called green line. The premise of
getting peace in exchange for Palestinian territory that is adequate for a viable and
contiguous state has been acceptable for several decades to a substantial majority of
Israelis—I’ve observed and studied those public opinion polls very closely. They always
have 60 percent or so—but not to a minority of the more conservative leaders, who are
unfortunately supported by most of the vocal American Jewish community through
AIPAC’s influence, and I don’t criticize it.

The current policies are leading toward an immoral outcome that is undermining
Israel’s standing in the world and is not bringing security to the people of Israel.

These same premises of recognizing Israel, acceptance of all past agreements, and
the rejection of violence will have to be accepted by Hamas and any government that
represents the Palestinians. The long-term prospects are not discouraging. In fact, a poll
last month—in December—by the Harry S. Truman Institute at the Hebrew University
of Jerusalem found that 81 percent of citizens in the occupied territories approved and
63 percent approved among Israelis. So you see, an overwhelming majority of Palestin-
ians and Israelis support peace for Israel based on the acceptance of Israel of its interna-
tional borders, with some modifications, with justice and peace for the Palestinians. An
early exchange of the three Israeli soldiers for some of the 10,000 Palestinian prisoners
will expedite the peace process.

What I have covered in these few minutes is a brief summary of the contents of my
recent book. They provide an avenue that can lead to what all of us want: a secure Israel
living in peace with its neighbors while exemplifying the principles of ancient sacred
texts and the philosophy of Justice Louis Brandeis: justice and righteousness.

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A Cluster Analysis of Jiang Zemin’s

Address at the Handover of Hong Kong
Andrew Gilmore

During times of transition, rhetors often try to control how their audiences handle and
adapt to a new situation or way of life. The rhetoric used can aid in acceptance of a situa-
tion, instill a sense of calm, help to reassure audience members that everything will be all
right, and possibly avoid unrest. When undergoing a period of transition, individuals can
experience a range of emotions, including excitement, fear, frustration, anger, resentment,
jealousy, and uncertainty. If, for example, a relationship between two people comes to an
end, an individual becomes sick, or a person is made redundant in business, the rhetor (ex-
partner, doctor, friend, or employer) can have a significant impact on how the individual
will deal with this transition. In times of uncertainty, a natural exigency for human beings
is to seek reassurance. In this essay, I will explore strategies available to a rhetor to reassure
an audience and diffuse a potentially volatile and problematic situation, ensuring a smooth
period of change without unrest.

If an entire population of a city undergoes transition, the words used by respected or
official rhetors are vital to maintain peace, acceptance, understanding, and the happiness of
its residents. Failure to control these elements has the potential to lead to a number of
undesirable outcomes, including unrest; protests; and, in the worst case, violence. The 6.4
million residents of the city of Hong Kong experienced transition on a grand scale when,
after 156 years of British rule, the city was handed back to the People’s Republic of China
(PRC) in 1997.

In full disclosure and as an exercise in self-reflexivity, I should note that I have a spe-
cial place in my heart for Hong Kong after living in the city for three years. Throughout my
time in the city, the growing sense of unrest and tension directed toward the mainland
from Hong Kong was evident, despite the reintegration with China still being a number of
years away. Hong Kongers attribute the city’s plethora of problems, such as an ever-
increasing wealth gap, soaring housing prices, lack of hospital beds and school places, and
pollution issues, to mainland China (Abdoolcarim, 2014). These “social, identity, and cul-
tural tensions” between Hong Kong citizens and residents from the mainland have contrib-
uted to an unhealthy us-vs.-them mentality in Hong Kong (Garrett, 2013, p. 58). Hong
Kong citizens commonly believe that their city is already beginning to lose its identity and
its uniqueness; there is a widespread concern over the so-called “mainlandization” (Eades,
2014) or “China-fication” of Hong Kong and the “erosion of the city’s freedoms following
the 1997 handover” (Lai, 2012). The unrest and anxiety were evident prior to the 1997 han-
dover, and the scenes witnessed from Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution in the late sum-
mer of 2014 suggest that unrest continues to bubble up and even erupt.

Andrew Gilmore began writing a series of essays on Jiang Zemin’s speech at the handover of Hong Kong when he
was a student in Sonja K. Foss’s rhetorical criticism class at the University of Colorado Denver in 2014; he com-
pleted the series in 2016. Used by permission of the author. Jiang Zemin’s full speech can be found on pp. 215–216
in chapter 7.

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Negotiated by the governments of the United Kingdom (UK) and the PRC, the Sino-

British Joint Declaration was signed on December 19, 1984. The declaration laid the foun-
dation for how Hong Kong would be governed after the 1997 handover and throughout
the following 50 years. In addition to detailing the implementation of basic policies
regarding education, law, the judicial system, and the financial system, the Sino-British
Joint Declaration laid out two crucial policies. The first was the implementation of the
“one country, two systems” policy, which sanctioned Hong Kong’s independence from
mainland China by bestowing on Hong Kong the title of Special Administrative Region. This
designation enabled the city to “enjoy a high degree of autonomy” (Constitutional and
Mainland Affairs Bureau, 2007), although the actual level of autonomy that Hong Kong
would be allowed was extremely vague.

The second crucial policy dealt with the length of time the agreement would last. The
Declaration stated that life in Hong Kong would remain unchanged for 50 years and,
after that time, the PRC would assume sovereignty over Hong Kong. In accordance with
the Declaration, at the stroke of midnight on July 1, 1997, the UK officially handed the city
of Hong Kong back to the PRC. The handover galvanized public opinion in Hong Kong
and, while most citizens agreed that the city should gain independence from the United
Kingdom, nervousness set in, and citizens’ focus shifted to what would become of Hong
Kong when the agreement came to an end and the city returned to Chinese jurisdiction
after 50 years.

The official handover ceremony of Hong Kong to China in Wan Chai, Hong Kong, in
1997 included two speeches, one made by the UK’s representative, Charles, Prince of
Wales, on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II, and one made by the president of the PRC, Jiang
Zemin. The artifact that I will analyze for strategies for how rhetoric can be used to reas-
sure people in a time of transition and ensure that unrest does not occur is the address
made by Jiang Zemin. I will analyze the words he used to reassure Hong Kong citizens and
ensure that a state of unrest did not occur ahead of the city’s impending return to China.

I will analyze Jiang’s address using cluster analysis. Developed by Kenneth Burke,

cluster analysis is a method of rhetorical criticism that is used to identify key terms within
an artifact and the terms that cluster around these key elements. After identifying the key
terms within an artifact through the frequency or intensity with which they appear and
charting the terms that cluster around the key terms, the final step for a critic is to find pat-
terns in the clustering terms. The patterns discovered enable the critic to develop insights
into the meanings of the rhetor’s key terms. Burke (1984) believes that the worldview of the
rhetor is visible to the critic through the charting of the cluster terms. Burke suggests, how-
ever, that this worldview is often not conscious to the rhetor, and the rhetor often is
unaware of the interrelationships among the clusters.

As a result of coding Jiang’s speech, two key terms emerged: Hong Kong and China. My

analysis of the speech revealed four categories of clustering terms around these two terms.
The categories associated with the key term of Hong Kong are stability and bureaucratic
power, while the cluster categories around the key term of China are soft power and tradi-

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tional power. I will discuss each of the key terms and the clustering terms that are evident
around each to suggest the nature of the worldview of the rhetor.

Key Term: Hong Kong

Throughout the address, Hong Kong is the most common term used. One set of terms

that clusters around Hong Kong deals with stability. The terms prosperity, achieved, built, and
masters remind Hong Kongers of their past achievements. The terms maintain, unchanged,
reality, retain, stability, and enjoy act to reassure Hong Kongers that the handover will offer
only continuity, not change, and, after the handover, Hong Kong will continue to be suc-
cessful. Jiang reinforces this notion by stating that Hong Kong will have a splendid future
and will continue to gradually develop, suggesting that the city will become even more suc-
cessful after the handover. Jiang’s rhetoric is acting to reassure Hong Kong citizens that life
after the handover should not be feared. He is informing Hong Kongers that the PRC will
ensure that the traditions, stability, and prosperity of the city will remain intact after the
handover and will even improve after the city’s return to China. Jiang also is portraying the
Chinese government as fair and rule abiding by stating that the world are casting their eyes on
Hong Kong. He is allaying the fear and trepidation of Hong Kongers because, if the world is
watching and has not opposed the handover, there is nothing for Hong Kong to fear. If
Hong Kongers are relaxed about the handover, a state of calm should ensure that unrest
and opposition to the handover do not occur.

Bureaucratic Power
The term China (or other words referring to China, such as motherland, People’s Republic

of China, Mr. Deng Xiaoping, and Central People’s Government) frequently cluster around the
term Hong Kong. This connection between China and Hong Kong, however, is executed in a
strategic way. Jiang is portraying the PRC as a cooperative and compliant government that,
like all governments, deals with everyday bureaucracy. Key terms such as resolved, estab-
lished, supported, manage, protected by law, defense, diplomatic negotiations, return, and success-
fully resolved the Hong Kong question all highlight common bureaucratic issues with which
governments deal.

Key Term: China

Soft Power
The main terms clustering around the key term of China show evidence of two strate-

gies of Chinese power: soft power and traditional power. Clustering terms such as success-
fully resolved, contributed, embrace, development, return, resumption, official establishment, and
festival are included to direct attention away from the perception of the PRC as a hard-line
and aggressive government. The clustering terms suggest that the PRC is able to resolve
issues successfully in a diplomatic and caring manner. These clustering terms, however, do
more than simply portray Chinese power in a softer light. Clustering terms such as creative
concept and great concept portray the PRC as a creative and innovative government that is
able to successfully resolve issues by devising original and innovative concepts. Jiang is
displaying a form of market power in relation to the PRC, portraying the PRC as a govern-
ment that is able to produce creative products and concepts that increase profitability and
lead to increased success, all of which are valued in the modern world. Jiang is attempting
to shed the PRC’s image as a non-compromising government; instead, the PRC is projected

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on the world stage as a cooperative and agreeable world power. In Jiang’s worldview, the
PRC is a modern government in modern times. The two aspects of Chinese power of
bureaucratic power and soft power display the PRC in a positive light that contrasts with the
historic perceptions of China. Jiang’s worldview displays a third type of Chinese power,
however, that is much more in keeping with the traditional perceptions of other countries
of the Chinese government.

Traditional Power
A number of terms that cluster around the key term of China suggest a reliance on the

military rhetoric with which the nation often is associated. Clustering terms such as univer-
sal cause of peace and justice, victory, history will remember, national flag, solemnly risen, strong
backing, support, unswervingly implement, and responsible for Hong Kong’s foreign affairs and
defense project an image that is more commonly associated with an old-fashioned and
underdeveloped China. This use of traditional, aggressive rhetoric displays a third type of
Chinese power—one that is not as approachable or as accepting at the previous two dem-
onstrations of power highlighted in this analysis.

The purpose of this essay was to explore the rhetorical strategies that can be used to

ensure that unrest does not occur in a time of transition. Cluster analysis of the address
given by Jiang Zemin at the 1997 handover of Hong Kong reveals a number of rhetorical
strategies that he used to fulfill this exigency. Jiang’s first strategy to avoid unrest is to offer
Hong Kongers a sense of reassurance. This is evident through clustering terms that are
designed to diffuse panic or alarm. Jiang reassures Hong Kongers that the handover of the
city will offer continuity and stability; Hong Kong and its traditions will remain
unchanged. By informing Hong Kongers that the rest of the world is supporting the hando-
ver, he asks them to believe that they have nothing to fear from the handover.

The second strategy implemented by Jiang is to portray the PRC as a multi-dimen-
sional, modern government that is able to adapt to different situations and contain any
possible opposition to the handover by Hong Kongers. By highlighting three different
types of power, Jiang sends a clear message to the people of Hong Kong: Whatever form of
resistance Hong Kongers may try to use is futile because the PRC has a response to the var-
ious forms of possible resistance. The PRC can be creative, bureaucratic, or hard line and
militaristic. This strategy discourages resistance by Hong Kongers because such resistance
seems difficult to execute. As a result, Hong Kongers are less likely to attempt to oppose
the handover.

The main exigency for the PRC was to ensure that Hong Kong remained peaceful after
the handover and to ensure that protest did not occur. To this end, Jiang’s worldview is
constructed to keep violence to a minimum. The strategies uncovered in my analysis were
initially successful in that there was little sign of unrest immediately after the handover.
Hong Kong’s 2014 Umbrella Revolution, however, appears to suggest that new rhetorical
strategies are required by the PRC to ensure that Hong Kong returns to the peaceful state
that the PRC desires.

During times of transition, a number of rhetorical strategies are available to rhetors to
diffuse a potentially volatile and problematic situation successfully and to ensure a smooth
period of change without unrest. By offering reassurance through the promise of continuity
and stability, confidence is instilled in audience members that they are able to deal with the
transition that faces them; there is nothing to fear. A strategy of highlighting power is also

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available to a rhetor. If the audience is not presented with any possible avenues of protest,
its desire to oppose any transition is diminished. Implementation of these strategies
enables a rhetor to diffuse potential unrest and helps audience members adapt to a new
phase of their lives.

Abdoolcarim, Z. (2014, September 28). Hong Kong in turmoil: 5 takeaways from weekend of protests.

Time Magazine. Retrieved from
Burke, K. (1984). Attitudes toward history. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau. (2007, July 1). The Joint Declaration and Its Implementa-

tion. [Government website]. Retrieved from
Eades, M. (2014, February 20). Beijing’s fight against democracy: Activism in Hong Kong. The James-

town Foundation. Retrieved from

Lai, A. (2012, July 2). Thousands protest Hong Kong’s China-fication. CNN. Retrieved from

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Fantasy-Theme Criticism

The fantasy-theme method of rhetorical criticism, created by Ernest G. Bor-
mann, is designed to provide insights into the shared worldview of groups.1

Impetus for the method came from the work of Robert Bales and his associ-
ates in their study of communication in small groups. Bales discovered the
process of group fantasizing or dramatizing as a type of communication that
sometimes occurs in such groups.2 He characterized fantasizing communica-
tion in this way:

The tempo of the conversation would pick up. People would grow excited,
interrupt one another, blush, laugh, forget their self-consciousness. The
tone of the meeting, often quiet and tense immediately prior to the drama-
tizing, would become lively, animated, and boisterous, the chaining pro-
cess, involving both verbal and nonverbal communication, indicating
participation in the drama.3

Bormann extended the notion of fantasizing discovered by Bales into a
theory (symbolic convergence theory) and a method (fantasy-theme criticism)
that can be applied not only to the rhetoric of small groups but to all kinds of
rhetoric in which themes function dramatically to connect audiences with
messages. In contexts larger than small groups, fantasizing or dramatizing
occurs when individuals find some aspect of a “message that catches and
focuses their attention until they imaginatively participate in images and
actions stimulated by the message.”4

Symbolic convergence theory is based on two major assumptions. One is
that communication creates reality. As chapter 1 describes, reality is not fixed
but changes as our symbols for talking about it change. The symbols through
which our realities are filtered affect and even determine our view of some-
thing and how we are motivated to act toward it. Every word or image we
choose as a way to describe something results in seeing that object or idea in
one way rather than another. Our experience of the object or idea will be dif-
ferent depending on the symbols we use to frame it.

A second assumption on which symbolic convergence theory is based is
that symbols not only create reality for individuals but that individuals’ mean-


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ings for symbols can converge to create a shared reality or community con-
sciousness. Convergence, in the theory, refers “to the way two or more private
symbolic worlds incline toward each other, come more closely together, or
even overlap during certain processes of communication.” Individuals share
their meanings with others, who then “pick up and use the proffered symbolic
facts. They reiterate and reconfigure, repeat and embellish, and take the
themes as their own.”5

Convergence also means consensus or general agreement on subjective
meanings. As Bormann explains, “If several or many people develop portions
of their private symbolic worlds that overlap as a result of symbolic conver-
gence, they share a common consciousness and have the basis for communi-
cating with one another to create community, to discuss their common
experiences, and to achieve mutual understanding.”6 Meanings are not all that
are shared in symbolic convergence. Participants “have jointly experienced
the same emotions; they have developed the same attitudes and emotional
responses to the personae of the drama; and they have interpreted some
aspect of their experience in the same way.”7

Evidence of symbolic convergence can be discerned through frequent
mention of a theme, a narrative, or an analogy by members of a group across
a variety of messages. The war on terror discussed by many politicians is an
example of a theme that has gained symbolic convergence. Widespread appeal
of an advertising theme also may indicate a convergence. The “Got milk?”
advertising campaign by the National Dairy Council, for example, caught the
imagination of the American public and continues to chain out in various
ways. In the Denver International Airport, for example, travelers leaving the
security area encounter a sign, “Got laptop?” A FedEx Office has a sign on its
recycling bin that asks, “Got trees?” A catalogue advertises a doormat featur-
ing an image of a cat and the words “Got mouse?,” and a book of cookie reci-
pes is titled Got Milk? All of these are evidence that the slogan has chained out
because it is easily recognized and resonates with many people in a number of
different contexts.

Evidence of the sharing of fantasies includes cryptic allusions to symbolic
common ground. When people have shared a fantasy theme, they have
charged that theme with meanings and emotions that can be set off by an
agreed-upon cryptic symbolic cue, whether a code word, phrase, slogan, or
nonverbal sign or gesture. These serve as allusions to a previously shared fan-
tasy and arouse the emotions associated with that fantasy. Among a group of
college students who lived together in a dorm, for example, sweet red grape
might serve as a symbolic cue that evokes fond memories of dorm parties
where they drank cheap red wine.

The basic unit of analysis of symbolic convergence theory and fantasy-
theme criticism is the fantasy theme. Fantasy is “the creative and imaginative
interpretation of events,”8 and a fantasy theme is the means through which the
interpretation is accomplished in communication. A fantasy theme is a word,
phrase, or statement that interprets events in the past, envisions events in the
future, or depicts current events that are removed in time and/or space from
the actual activities of a group. The term fantasy is designed to capture the
constructed nature of the theme. It articulates the group’s mind or worldview,

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encompassing a common experience of the group and shaping it into shared
knowledge. Fantasy themes tell a story about a group’s experience that consti-
tutes a constructed reality for the participants.

A fantasy theme depicts actions that are removed from an actual current
group situation in time and place. In other words, it shows characters enact-
ing an incident “in a setting somewhere other than the present moment of the
people involved in the communication process.”9 Bormann distinguishes
between a dramatic situation that takes place in the immediate context of a
group and a dramatized communication shared by a group:

If, in the middle of a group discussion, several members come into conflict,
the situation would be dramatic, but because the action is unfolding in the
immediate experience of a group it would not qualify as a basis for the shar-
ing of a group fantasy. If, however, a group’s members begin talking about a
conflict some of them had in the past or if they envision a future conflict,
these comments would be dramatizing messages.10

In addition to their dramatic nature, fantasies are characterized by their
artistic and organized quality. While experience itself is often chaotic and con-
fusing, fantasy themes are organized and artistic. They are designed to create a
credible interpretation of experience as a way of making sense out of experi-
ence. Thus, fantasy themes are always ordered in particular ways to provide
compelling explanations for experiences. All fantasy themes involve the cre-
ative interpretation of events, but the artistry with which the fantasies are pre-
sented varies. Some groups construct fantasies “in which cardboard characters
enact stereotyped melodramas,” while others participate in “a social reality of
complexity peopled with characters of stature enacting high tragedies.”11

A close relationship exists between fantasies and argumentation in that
shared fantasies provide the ground for arguments or establish the assumptive
system that is the basis for arguments. Argumentation requires a common set
of assumptions about the proper way to provide good reasons for arguments,
and fantasy themes provide these assumptions. Bormann cites an example of
the connection between fantasy themes and arguments:

For instance, the Puritan vision gave highest place to evidence not of the
senses but to revelations, from God. The assumptive system undergirding
the Puritan arguments was a grand fantasy type in which a god persona
revealed the ultimate truth by inspiring humans to write a sacred text. Sup-
plementing this core drama was the fantasy type in which the god persona
inspired ministers to speak the truth when preaching and teaching. These
fantasy types provided the ultimate legitimization for the Bible as a source
of revealed knowledge and for the ministers as the proper teachers of bibli-
cal truths.12

Other shared fantasies provide different kinds of assumptions for argumenta-
tion than did the Puritan vision. Scientists, for example, assume that argu-
ment is based on the careful observation of facts, while lawyers use precedent
or past legal rulings as the basis for argument. These groups share different
fantasy themes as the basis for their construction of arguments.

The fantasy themes that describe the world from a group’s perspective are
of three types, corresponding to the elements necessary to create a drama: set-

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ting themes, character themes, and action themes. Statements that depict
where the action is taking place are setting themes. They not only name the
scene of the action but also describe the characteristics of that scene. Setting
themes also can deal with time—time of day, a particular season, or a histori-
cal period. Character themes describe the agents or actors in the drama and
ascribe characteristics and motives to them. Often, some characters are por-
trayed as heroes, while others are villains; some are major characters, while
others are supporting players. Action themes deal with the actions in which
the characters in the drama are seen to be engaged—they are the plotlines of
the drama.

When similar scenarios involving particular setting, character, and action
themes are shared by members of a community, they form a fantasy type. A
fantasy type is a stock scenario that encompasses several related fantasy
themes. Once a fantasy type has developed, rhetors do not need to provide an
audience with details about the specific fantasy themes it covers. They simply
state the general story line of the fantasy type or refer to one of the fantasy
themes in the scenario, and the audience is able to call up the specific details
of the entire scenario. If a fantasy type has formed, a student in a university
community can say, for example, “Students are fed up with professors who are
so busy with their own research that they don’t have time for students,” and an
entire scenario is called up among audience members. The success of the type
shows that audience members have shared specific fantasies about teachers
who are unprepared for class, who do not hold office hours, and who return
exams and papers late or not at all.

Fantasy types encourage groups to fit new events or experiences into famil-
iar patterns. If a new experience can be portrayed as an instance of a familiar
fantasy type, the new experience is brought into line with a group’s values and
emotions and becomes part of its shared reality. If the members of a university
community, for example, share a fantasy type that the State Board of Higher
Education does not support a university, the forced retirement of the univer-
sity’s president by the board may be interpreted as a continued lack of support
for the school, and the incident is incorporated into the group’s worldview.

The second primary unit of analysis in fantasy-theme criticism is the rhe-
torical vision. A rhetorical vision is a “unified putting together of the various
shared fantasies”13 or a swirling together of fantasy themes to provide a par-
ticular interpretation of reality. It contains fantasy themes relating to settings,
characters, and actions that together form a symbolic drama or a coherent
interpretation of reality. A rhetorical vision shared by college students at many
state institutions, for example, might include the legislature as a setting, hos-
tile legislators as the primary characters, and cutting funds to the university as
the action being done by the legislators.

The presence of a rhetorical vision suggests that a rhetorical community
has been formed that consists of participants in the vision or members who
share the fantasy themes.14 Messages have chained out and have created
“common ground that serves to unite the participants. A shared rhetorical
vision is a dramatizing message that has been publicly displayed and has been
appropriated by the sharers so that each has, as it were, made the dramatiza-
tion part of his or her consciousness.”15 The people who participate in a rhe-

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torical vision constitute a rhetorical community as they share common
symbolic ground and respond to messages in ways that are in tune with the
rhetorical vision:

They will cheer references to the heroic persona in their rhetorical vision.
They will respond with antipathy to allusions to the villains. They will have
agreed-upon procedures for problem-solving communication. They will
share the same vision of what counts as evidence, how to build a case, and
how to refute an argument.16

The motives for action for a rhetorical community reside in its rhetorical
vision. Each rhetorical vision contains as part of its substance the motive that
impels the participants to act in particular ways. As Bormann explains:
“Motives do not exist to be expressed in communication but rather arise in the
expression itself and come to be embedded in the drama of the fantasy themes
that generated and serve to sustain them.”17 Bormann provides some exam-
ples of how participation in a rhetorical vision motivates individuals to partic-
ular action:

The born-again Christian is baptized and adopts a life-style and behavior
modeled after the heroes of the dramas that sustain that vision. . . . Like-
wise the convert to one of the countercultures in the 1960s would let his
hair and beard grow, change his style of dress, and his method of work, and
so forth.18

Actions that make little sense to someone outside of a rhetorical vision
make perfect sense when viewed in the context of that vision because it pro-
vides the motive for action. The willingness of suicide bombers to die in support
of a cause, for example, may seem absurd to most of us. Once we discover the
rhetorical vision in which these terrorists participate, however, we have a much
better idea of why they are motivated to sacrifice their lives for that cause.

Using the fantasy-theme method of criticism, a critic analyzes an artifact

in a four-step process: (1) selecting an artifact; (2) analyzing the artifact; (3)
formulating a research question; and (4) writing the essay.

Selecting an Artifact
The artifact you select for a fantasy-theme analysis should be one where

you have some evidence that symbolic convergence has taken place—that peo-
ple have shared fantasy themes and a rhetorical vision. Any artifact that is
popular—an advertisement, a song, a book, a blog, or a film, for example—is
likely to show evidence of such symbolic convergence. An artifact produced by
a major public figure, such as a U.S. president’s speech or a commencement
address by a talk-show host, also typically constitutes evidence of symbolic
convergence because it incorporates themes the rhetor knows will resonate
with the audience. Both discursive and nondiscursive artifacts can be used
with the fantasy-theme method of criticism.

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Analyzing the Artifact
Analysis of an artifact using fantasy-theme analysis involves two steps: (1)

coding the artifact for setting, character, and action themes—and the sanc-
tioning agent, if there is one; and (2) constructing the rhetorical vision from
the fantasy themes.

Coding for Fantasy Themes
The first step in the fantasy-theme method of criticism is to code the arti-

fact for fantasy themes. This involves a careful examination of the artifact,
sentence by sentence or phrase by phrase in a discursive text, picking out each
reference to settings, characters, and actions. This coding process is illus-
trated in an excerpt from Daniel Beaty’s poem “Knock Knock.” You can see
him perform the poem on YouTube, and the fact that it has been viewed hun-
dreds of thousands of times suggests that the poem has chained out and that
the rhetorical vision he offers resonates with many individuals:

As a boy, I shared a game with my father
Played it every morning ’til I was three.
He would knock knock on my door,
And I’d pretend to be asleep
‘Til he got right next to the bed.
Then I would get up and jump into his

“Good morning, Papa.”
And my papa he would tell me that he

loved me.
We shared a game:
Knock knock.

Until that day when the knock never came,
And my mama takes me on a ride past

On this never-ending highway ’til we

reach a place of high rusty gates.
A confused little boy,
I entered the building carried in my

mama’s arms.
Knock knock.

We reach a room of windows and brown

Behind one of the windows sits my father.
I jump out of my mama’s arms
And run joyously towards my papa
Only to be confronted by this window.
I knock knock trying to break through the

Trying to get to my father.
I knock knock as my mama pulls me away
Before my papa even says a word.

And for years he has never said a word
And so twenty-five years later, I write

these words
For the little boy in me who still awaits his

papa’s knock

Papa, come home cause I miss you
I miss you waking me up in the morning

and telling me you love me
Papa, come home, cause there’s things I

don’t know
And I thought maybe you could teach me:
How to shave;
How to dribble a ball;
How to talk to a lady;
How to walk like a man
Papa, come home because I decided a

while back
I wanted to be just like you
But I’m forgetting who you are

And twenty-five years later a little boy

And so I write these words and try to heal
And try to father myself
And I dream up a father who says the
words my father did not

Dear Son

I’m sorry I never came home
For every lesson I failed to teach, hear

these words:
Shave in one direction in strong deliber-

ate strokes to avoid irritation

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For our analysis, we will only be coding the first three stanzas. The setting
themes you would code in these stanzas are: morning, door, bed, his [father’s]
arms, day when the knock never came, a ride, cornfields, highway, high rusty
gates, building, room, windows, mama’s arms, and glass. You’ll notice that
there are many setting themes in these three stanzas, but don’t be alarmed if
your artifact does not contain this many. You very well may find fewer themes
in one category of fantasy themes than another, which is important informa-
tion about how the rhetor has set up the vision.

Character themes to code in the poem are: boy, I, father, papa, mama, con-
fused little boy, brown faces, and window. Some of these characters are show-
ing up more than once in the poem; you just need to note them once if any of
the fantasy themes are repeated. Here, boy, I, and confused little boy refer to
the same character, and father and papa are the same character as well, so
your coding would reveal four human characters—boy, papa, mama, and
brown faces. Also, in some texts, you might find some nonhuman entities
engaging in human-like action. If so, they should be coded as characters—per-
haps something like the earth or music or Africa. In this excerpt, window,
when it appears toward the end of the third stanza, is functioning as a charac-
ter that is taking action, which is why it is coded as a character theme (but
windows near the beginning of that same stanza is a setting theme).

If the artifact contains descriptions of characters, code those as part of the
character themes. Confused little boy is being coded as a character theme
because it describes and fills out the picture of the character of the boy. If
more than one setting is presented in your artifact (as will often be the case),
note which characters appear in which settings as you are coding for charac-
ter themes. You would note, for example, that the boy and the father appear
both in the morning/bedroom setting and in the prison setting, while the
mother and the brown faces appear in the prison setting.

The next step in the process is to code the actions in which the characters
are shown engaging as the action themes, noting the character to whom the
action is linked. The action themes in “Knock Knock” are: shared a game (boy
and father), played it (boy and father), would knock knock (father), pretend to

Dribble the page with the brilliance of
your ballpoint pen

Walk like a god and your goddess will
come to you

No longer will I be there to knock on your

So you must learn to knock for yourself
Knock knock down doors of racism and

poverty that I could not
Knock knock down doors of opportunity
For the lost brilliance of the black men

who crowd these cells
Knock knock with diligence for the sake

of your children
Knock knock for me for as long as you are


These prison gates cannot contain my

The best of me still lives in you
Knock knock with the knowledge that you

are my son, but you are not my choices
Yes, we are our fathers’ sons and daughters
But we are not their choices
For despite their absences we are still

Still alive, still breathing
With the power to change this world
One little boy and girl at a time
Knock knock
Who’s there?
We are

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be asleep (boy), got right next to the bed (father), get up (boy), jump (boy), says
“Good morning, Papa” (boy), tell me that he loved me (father), knock knock (boy
and father), takes me (mother), reach a place (mother and boy), entered the
building (boy), carried (mother), knock knock (not clear who is doing the
knocking here), reach a room (mother and boy), sits (father), jump out (boy),
run joyously (boy), confronted (window), knock knock (boy), trying to break
through (boy), trying to get to my father (boy), knock knock (boy), pulls me away
(mother), and doesn’t say a word (papa).

At this preliminary stage of the coding, you may not always be sure if a
theme belongs in one category or another—settings, characters, or actions. A
word such as America, for example, may function both as a setting and a char-
acter. If the appropriate category is unclear, code it in both categories initially.
Decisions you make in the second step of looking for patterns as you construct
the rhetorical vision will determine in which category the word or phrase best
belongs. Note that you do not code anything in the text that is not a setting,
character, or action, so there are likely to be sentences or phrases that do not
get coded in this method of criticism because they do not contain references to
settings, characters, or actions.

If your artifact is visual—a painting or a restaurant, for example—then
your fantasy themes will not be words but images. If the painting is a repre-
sentational painting that depicts women picking flowers in a garden, your set-
ting themes would be those aspects of the setting that you see—perhaps a
path, a large tree, and flowers. The characters would be the women, dressed
in long white dresses, and the action would be picking flowers. If you are ana-
lyzing a restaurant, the setting themes would be the features of the exterior
façade of the restaurant and its interior spaces—perhaps a brick building with
small, evenly spaced windows on the outside and a black-and-white tile floor,
tin ceilings, black leather booths, and a curved wooden bar inside. The char-
acters in this case would be the customers, servers, hosts, and cooks visible in
the setting. Note the actions of the employees in the restaurant as well as the
actions of the customers. Customers’ actions would include eating, of course,
but you also would observe as action themes the kinds of foods they are eating
and whether they are engaged in other kinds of acts as well—talking with
friends, watching TV, listening to a jukebox, or playing games on their phones.
Pay attention to what they are wearing. You also want to deduce the kind of
people who would fit into this setting and who would be most appropriate in
the space from the physical cues provided in the restaurant. The menu, for
example, can give you clues about the nature of the characters who belong in
the restaurant. What types of foods are listed on the menu? What kind of
vocabulary is required to understand the menu? What are the actions that
would be expected to take place in the space? Talking quietly? Cheering row-
dily? You might discover that the characters are sports fans who are casually
dressed, who are eating pizza and drinking beer, and who are watching sports
on the television above the bar. You can begin to get a sense from such an
analysis of how restaurants create rhetorical visions to brand themselves and
to attract particular types of customers. We feel more comfortable going into
some restaurants than others in part because of the setting, character, and
action themes that characterize the rhetorical visions created by the spaces.

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One other element that might be evident in a rhetorical vision is the sanc-
tioning agent. A sanctioning agent is an authority who lends credibility to the
vision or authorizes its telling and retelling. It is the source of justification for
the creation, acceptance, and promotion of the vision. Sanctioning agents
may be actual people like the Surgeon General of the United States or a uni-
versity president; they may be groups like the Green Party or a family. Sanc-
tioning agents also may be objects like Apple Inc., texts or documents such as
the Bible, or ideals such as peace or democracy. Not all rhetorical visions
explicitly point to sanctioning agents, but if they do, note who or what those
sanctioning agents are.

Constructing the Rhetorical Vision
Your second step in a fantasy-theme analysis is to look for patterns in the

fantasy themes and to construct the rhetorical vision from the patterns. Begin
by determining which of the fantasy themes appear to be major themes and
which are minor themes. Those that appear most frequently are major
themes that become the subject of the analysis, and those that appear only
once or infrequently are discarded as not important parts of the rhetorical
vision. In “Knock Knock,” for example, the characters of brown faces appear
only once, while the boy and the father appear several times. The boy and his
father would be considered major characters in the vision, but brown faces
would not. Likewise, window would not be considered a major character
because it occurs only once and does not seem to play a major role in the
drama being presented.

To construct the rhetorical vision from the patterns of fantasy themes you
discovered, look at the major setting themes you identified and link them
with the characters depicted in those settings and the actions those charac-
ters are performing. In the three stanzas excerpted from “Knock Knock,”
there are two major settings—the boy’s bedroom and the prison—so you
would sort your characters and actions into each of those settings. In the set-
ting of the childhood bedroom (characteristics of this setting include morn-
ing, door, bed, and his [father’s] arms), there are two characters. One is the
father, who is engaged in the actions of shared a game, played it, would knock
knock, got right next to the bed, tell me that he loved me, and knock knock. The
other character in this setting is the boy, whose actions are shared a game;
played it; pretend to be asleep; get up; jump; says “Good morning, Papa”; and
knock knock.

In the setting of the prison (with its characteristics of day when the knock
never came, a ride, cornfields, highway, high rusty gates, building, room,
mama’s arms, and glass), there are three major characters (remember that we
decided not to include window and brown faces because they are such minor
characters)—the father, the mother, and the boy. The father sits and doesn’t say
a word, and the mother is depicted as acting in these ways: takes me, reach a
place, carried, reach a room, and pulls me away. The boy is shown engaged in
these actions: reach a place, entered the building, reach a room, jump out, run
joyously, knock knock, trying to break through, trying to get to my father, and
knock knock. Here is a visual summary of the fantasy themes in the first three
stanzas of “Knock Knock” organized by the two settings:

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Bedroom, characterized by morning, door, bed, his father’s arms (setting)
Father (character)

shared a game (actions)
played it
would knock knock
got right next to the bed
tell me that he loved me
knock knock.

Boy (character)
shared a game (actions)
played it
pretend to be asleep
get up; jump
says “Good morning, Papa”
knock knock

Prison, characterized by day when the knock never came, (setting)
a ride, cornfields, highway, high rusty gates, building, room,
mama’s arms, and glass

Father (character)
sits and doesn’t say a word (action)

Mother (character)
takes me (actions)
reach a place
reach a room
pulls me away

Boy (character)
reach a place (actions)
entered the building
reach a room
jump out
run joyously
knock knock
trying to break through
trying to get to my father
knock knock

Your task, at the end of a fantasy-theme analysis, is to come to some con-
clusions about the worldview constructed by the rhetor from the fantasy
themes you identified. Simply dividing the fantasy themes into the two groups
by setting gives you clues about the differences between the two settings and
some broad patterns concerning the ways in which each character is acting.
You now have a sense of what the rhetorical vision might be for those who
participate in it (and, of course, this rhetorical vision would be more fully
developed if we coded the entire poem and not just three stanzas). In the
home setting, father and son are loving playmates. In the prison setting, in
contrast, the father lacks agency, and prison is a place where the expression of
joy and love has no impact. The mother is an ambivalent bridge between the
two worlds.

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Formulating a Research Question
Knowing the rhetorical vision of an artifact can be the basis for under-

standing many different rhetorical processes, so the research questions asked
by critics using fantasy-theme analysis vary widely. You can ask questions, for
example, about strategies used to accomplish specific objectives, the kinds of
messages that are being communicated through particular rhetorical visions,
the functions of particular rhetorical visions, or the implications of certain
rhetorical visions for rhetorical processes or social controversies.

Writing the Essay
After completing the analysis, you are ready to write your essay, which

includes five major components: (1) an introduction, in which you discuss the
research question, its contribution to rhetorical theory, and its significance;
(2) a description of your artifact and its context; (3) a description of your
method of criticism—in this case, fantasy-theme analysis; (4) a report of the
findings of the analysis, in which you reveal the fantasy themes and rhetorical
vision(s) identified in your analysis; and (5) a discussion of the contribution
your analysis makes to rhetorical theory.

Sample Essays
The sample essays that follow illustrate applications of the method of fan-

tasy-theme analysis to various kinds of artifacts. Although they list three
research questions guiding their analysis, Amanda Hinnant and Elizabeth Hen-
drickson are answering one major research question in their essay about rhe-
torical visions of health in articles about celebrities: “What are the rhetorical
visions of health that are being offered to the general public by celebrity health
stories?” In Kelly Mendoza’s analysis of the song “One Tree Hill” by U2, fantasy-
theme criticism is used to explore the question, “What strategies does a rhetor
use to cope emotionally with the loss of sudden death?” Andrew Gilmore’s fan-
tasy-theme analysis of Jiang Zemin’s speech at the handover of Hong Kong fea-
tures as the research question, “What strategies can be used to normalize a new
state so that participants affected by the transition feel comfortable?”

1 Overviews of fantasy-theme criticism are provided in: Ernest G. Bormann, “Fantasy and Rhe-

torical Vision: The Rhetorical Criticism of Social Reality,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 58
(December 1972): 396–407; Ernest G. Bormann, “Symbolic Convergence Theory: A Communi-
cation Formulation,” Journal of Communication 35 (Autumn 1985): 128–38; and Ernest G. Bor-
mann, John F. Cragan, and Donald C. Shields, “In Defense of Symbolic Convergence Theory: A
Look at the Theory and Its Criticisms After Two Decades,” Communication Theory 4 (November
1994): 259–94. For other information on and samples of the fantasy-theme approach, see John
F. Cragan and Donald C. Shields, Applied Communication Research: A Dramatistic Approach
(Long Grove, IL: Waveland, 1981). For a critique of and a defense of fantasy-theme criticism,
see: G. P. Mohrmann, “An Essay on Fantasy Theme Criticism,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 68
(May 1982): 109–32; Ernest G. Bormann, “Fantasy and Rhetorical Vision: Ten Years Later,”
Quarterly Journal of Speech 68 (August 1982): 288–305; and G. P. Mohrmann, “Fantasy Theme
Criticism: A Peroration,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 68 (August 1982): 306–13. Additional cri-

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tiques of fantasy-theme analysis include: Stephen E. Lucas, rev. of The Force of Fantasy: Restor-
ing the American Dream, by Ernest G. Bormann, Rhetoric Society Quarterly 16 (Summer 1986):
199–205; and Charles E. Williams, “Fantasy Theme Analysis: Theory vs. Practice,” Rhetoric
Society Quarterly 17 (Winter 1987): 11–20.

2 Robert Freed Bales, Personality and Interpersonal Behavior (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Win-
ston, 1970), 136–55.

3 Bormann, “Fantasy and Rhetorical Vision,” 397.
4 Ernest G. Bormann, Roxann L. Knutson, and Karen Musolf, “Why Do People Share Fantasies?:

An Empirical Investigation of a Basic Tenet of the Symbolic Convergence Communication The-
ory,” Communication Studies 48 (Fall 1997): 255.

5 Donald C. Shields, “Symbolic Convergence and Special Communication Theories: Sensing and
Examining Dis/Enchantment with the Theoretical Robustness of Critical Autoethnography,”
Communication Monographs 67 (December 2000): 398.

6 Ernest G. Bormann, “Symbolic Convergence: Organizational Communication and Culture,” in
Communication and Organizations: An Interpretive Approach, ed. Linda L. Putnam and Michael
E. Pacanowsky (Beverly Hills: Sage, 1983), 102.

7 Bormann, “Symbolic Convergence Theory,” 104.
8 Ernest G. Bormann, “How to Make a Fantasy Theme Analysis,” unpublished essay, 4.
9 Carolyn Prentice and Suranthi Boange, “The Fantasy of Separatism: An Examination of the

Rhetoric of Sri Lanka’s Tamil Separatist Movement,” Speaker & Gavel 48 (2011): 6–7.
10 Ernest G. Bormann, The Force of Fantasy: Restoring the American Dream (Carbondale: South-

ern Illinois University Press, 1985), 4–5.
11 Bormann, The Force of Fantasy, 10.
12 Bormann, The Force of Fantasy, 16–17.
13 Bormann, “Symbolic Convergence Theory,” 114.
14 Bormann, The Force of Fantasy, 8.
15 Bormann, Knutson, and Musolf, “Why Do People Share Fantasies?,” 255.
16 Bormann, “Symbolic Convergence Theory,” 115.
17 Bormann, “Fantasy and Rhetorical Vision,” 406.
18 Bormann, “Fantasy and Rhetorical Vision,” 406–07.

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A Fantasy-Theme Analysis of Celebrity Articles

Amanda Hinnant and Elizabeth Hendrickson

This research endeavours to unearth some of the powerful discursive messages that
exist in celebrity health stories. Within the context of research on media coverage of health
issues (Levi 2001, Seale 2002, Kline 2006, Wright et al. 2008), celebrity health stories are
important to examine, especially in the current healthcare climate. Kurzman et al. (2007)
discuss the importance of the rise of celebrity coverage, specifically in magazines: “These
publications compete to report or invent stories of celebrities’ most intimate moments:
their relationships and sex scandals, pregnancies and children, weight gain and loss, and
struggles with drug and alcohol abuse” (2007, p. 353). Many of the intimate moments that
Kurzman et al. (2007) list are due to health conditions. These details of celebrities’ lives
may have an influence on the behaviour of readers, given the increasing normative privi-
lege of celebrities (Kurzman et al. 2007), which leads to non-celebrity imitation. Health falls
under this normative privilege, and there are numerous examples of people following
celebrities’ footsteps. One study (Larson et al. 2005) found that one-fourth of people who
witnessed a celebrity endorsement of a certain cancer screening said the message made
them more likely to be screened. Another study (Mooney et al. 2004) found that teenagers
reported a desire to emulate the diet and fitness routines of celebrities and noted they used
magazines as a source to find the details of these health habits. The most prominent exam-
ple of people emulating celebrity health behaviour and bestowing a celebrity with norma-
tive privilege has been called the “Katie Couric effect” (Cram et al. 2003). This
phenomenon showed that a celebrity endorsement of colon cancer screening (via an on-air
colonoscopy) led people to adopt that health behaviour.

Research on celebrity health stories is important to undertake given the US healthcare
system, which the National Network of Libraries of Medicine describes as “consumer-cen-
tric” (Glassman 2008). With privatised healthcare comes an individualised orientation to
healthcare needs wherein the patient needs to advocate for him or herself. Because con-
sumers are only entitled to what the market can give them, which varies greatly by socio-
economic status, finding out what kind of messages they receive about health, the
healthcare system, and their rights via popular entertainment journalism provides insight
into the information available. Looking at celebrities as exemplary individuals within the
healthcare system and paying attention to the subtext of class may reveal that the rhetorical
visions either support or deflect critiques of US healthcare.

Finally, the way in which morality is inscribed in celebrity health stories through pro-
tagonists and antagonists sheds light on how the rhetorical community might adjudicate
their own and others’ actions. Within Western neoliberal society, health and morality fol-
low the same slope inasmuch as bad personal decisions are seen as inviting illness (Brandt
1997, Leichter 1997, Galvin 2002). Galvin (2002) writes about how neoliberal ideology with
its focus on personal responsibility and health “choices” cultivates the inverse rationale: “if
we can choose to be healthy by acting in accordance with the lessons given us by epidemi-
ology and behavioural research, then surely we are culpable if we do become ill” (Galvin
2002, p. 119). Celebrities are public figures whose health problems allow readers to assess

From Celebrity Studies 3, no. 2 (July 2012): 197–212. Used by permission of Taylor and Francis and the authors.

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culpability without personal involvement. More importantly, the fixation on “behavioural
culpability” (Galvin, 2002) obscures the enormous role that social determinants play in
determining health outcomes.

This analysis compares two types of celebrity health problems in order to distinguish
the moral undertones about health actions. Moral activity is the main function of narrative
inquiry (Bochner 1997, Sharf and Vanderford 2003), and so we analysed narratives with
distinct moral tenors. We analysed narratives with health problems in which self-control is
not invoked (cancer) and health problems in which self-control is invoked (addiction and
obesity) in order to compare celebrity protagonists and antagonists in their respective roles
as innocent and guilty. Because these divergent rhetorical visions are both about health, we
can assess the gamut of fantasy themes that promote moral discourses. Fantasy, as defined
in symbolic convergence theory, is not a false illusion detached from reality (Foss 1989).
Rather, fantasy denotes a shared interpretation that allows the people who share it to make
sense of reality—in this case, the reality of health problems.

Celebrity Health Culture
Cultural scholars are increasingly discovering what deeper texts might be found

within celebrity stories (Holmes 2005, Muir 2005, Palmer 2005). The idea that celebrity cul-
ture fosters parasocial relationships (Horton and Wohl 1956, Giles 2000, Rojek 2001, Eyal
and Rubin 2003) between the mediated person and viewer, or the celebrity and the con-
sumer (Cohen 2004), is key to understanding the function of celebrity coverage. Research
(Giles and Maltby 2004) suggests that, from a young age, media consumers adopt a set of
celebrity “pseudo-friends,” and that, later in life, people seek out celebrities to which to
tether their personal life (Rojek 2001). Celebrity health stories may help assuage consum-
ers’ alienation from medicine, just as celebrities help people cope with social alienation
(Giles 2000, Rojek 2001), alienation under capitalism (Rojek 2001), and alienation from
nature (Brockington 2008). Celebrity stories about personal health may enable people to
experience that which they have not lived through (for example, a health condition) or
from which they feel detached (for example, the medical establishment).

Celebrity health stories could also serve as a means of social control in prescribing
acceptable health practices for people with a health condition. “It [celebrity] is a form of
status that serves the interests of capitalism, rather than defending economic niches that
capitalism is destined to conquer” (Kurzman et al. 2007, p. 363). Sanctioning the processes
inherent in commercialised healthcare could be considered one way that celebrity health
discourses serve capitalism. Moreover, Rojek describes the Frankfurt School’s approach to
celebrities, writing that they promote “an ideology of heroic individualism, upward mobil-
ity and choice in social conditions where standardisation, monotony and routine prevail”
(Rojek 2001, p. 33). When applied to a health setting, readers may be encouraged to per-
ceive celebrities as having more agency over how they act on their condition and believe
that those resources are available to them as well.

Another key factor that bolsters the value of celebrity health stories is their normative
power. As noted, the “Katie Couric effect” (Cram et al. 2003) was a prime example of how
people emulate celebrity health behaviour. Additionally, there was a significant increase in
mammography screenings in Australia after pop singer Kylie Minogue’s breast cancer
diagnosis (Chapman et al. 2005). As to why people mimic this behaviour, Rojek argues that
celebrity culture is responsible for mobilising and embodying “abstract desire” (Rojek
2001, p. 187), which showcases for the consumer what standards should be emulated. The

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ability of celebrities to “humanise desire” (Rojek 2001, p. 189) is important because celeb-
rity health stories are predicated on the humanising qualities of sharing the intimacies of
health. The shared ordinariness of health and mortality is the kind of ordinariness that
Gamson (1994) finds promotes more connection and intimacy between celebrities and
admirers. With these health stories, celebrities gain authenticity that, combined with their
elevated class status, could grant them a level of authority on matters of personal health.
Celebrity health stories diverge from stories of glamour and triumph because they expose
the celebrity to possible stigma. In fact, the moment that media interest shifts to a public
figure’s private life and away from that person’s public role, is the moment that he or she
becomes a celebrity (Boorstin 1962). Braudy (1997) points out that the democratisation of
fame means knowing about a celebrity’s flaws because he or she is an object of admiration
and derision. Therefore, the interest in a celebrity’s health status is a sign that he or she has
reached a significant threshold of popularity.

Moreover, identification with a celebrity can cause people to adopt thoughts, feelings,
and behaviours that the celebrity advocates, as Basil (1996) discovered. People who identi-
fied with basketball player and HIV advocate Magic Johnson were more likely to change
their sexual health behaviours than those who did not identify with him (Basil 1996).
McKay and Bonner (1999) observed the phenomenon of “tabloid pathography,” the inter-
weaving of “tabloid values and personal narratives” (p. 565) in both celebrity and non-
celebrity health stories in women’s magazines. Bonner and McKay (2000) write that it is the
ordinariness of celebrity health problems and how celebrities react to them that serve a cul-
tural function of teaching public virtues.

Similarly, the concept of “moral community” is a facet of celebrity media content rele-
vant to health stories, with discursive assignments of innocence and guilt (Persson and
Newman 2008). Bishop (2005) observed that Al Roker and Carnie Wilson, who both under-
went gastric bypass surgery, were treated differently in journalistic coverage: he as a reluc-
tant hero and she as a spotlight-magnet. Even in tabloid magazines, morality themes run
throughout, effectively policing the boundaries of acceptability. Media consumers use
these moral communities to sense a social connection and to share in what is “right” and
what is “wrong” (Hermes 1995). When examining health behaviours, celebrities can be
shown to model certain “right” (mammogram) and “wrong” (drug addiction) health
behaviours. Rojek observes that today, a celebrity featuring a transgression of the accepted
moral rules leads to greater status for the celebrity because of an increase in their cultural
commodity via publicity. Transgressive health behaviours offer a reader the fantasy that he
or she is morally superior to the celebrity. Overall, the issues of alienation, depoliticisation,
and emulation are all important functions of celebrity culture that relate to rhetorical
visions of health.

Symbolic Convergence Theory and Fantasy Theme Analysis
Bormann’s symbolic convergence theory illuminates why celebrity health stories reso-

nate with readers. Given that consumption of celebrity news establishes a parasocial rela-
tionship between celebrities and readers, and the degree to which celebrity stories are
shared from reader to reader, the social aspects of symbolic convergence theory are valu-
able. Although the theory is most powerful when used to explain group cohesiveness and
shared consciousness, it works to analyse media messages and, specifically, fantasy
themes. The word “fantasy” in symbolic convergence theory means the shared interpreta-
tion of events that satisfies the rhetorical or psychological needs of a group (Bormann

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1985). Unlike conventional understandings of fantasy, which would be a sense of a dream-
like unreality, fantasies are accounts of past or envisioned future events that work to sim-
plify social reality (Foss 1989). Fantasies also provide ways for people to think about the
future, which is relevant to visions of coping with certain health realities. In applying sym-
bolic convergence theory to health situations, Sharf and Vanderford (2003) contend that
health narratives (fantasies) serve three communal functions: provide shared support for
maladies affecting disparate individuals, raise awareness, and establish a recognisable dis-
course for advocacy.

Symbolic convergence theory centres around people’s inclinations to comprehend
occurrences in terms of certain types of people, such as celebrities, and how they make
decisions and take actions (Bormann 1985). “Interpreting events in terms of human action
allows us to assign responsibility, to praise or blame, to arouse and propitiate guilt, to hate
and to love” (Bormann 1985, p. 134). Celebrities’ actions in terms of personal health are
capable of evoking these types of responses. From alerting readers about risk factors for a
health problem, to arousing guilt in the reader for unhealthy habits, to blaming a celebrity
for self-inflicted health problems, there is a spectrum of emotions that stories of celebrities
can evoke. The baseline fantasies in these narratives are those of wellness and fame.
Beyond that, there are fantasy themes specific to the health situations. Generally speaking,
there are certain health problems that are more controllable than others, and the indication
of controllability is an important part of this interpretation. People are expected to control
what they can as a way to guard against disease, and a person’s guilt or innocence as it
relates to health outcomes is tied in to how controllable their disease is thought to be.

The fantasies allow people to envision success or failure in health situations that they
haven’t experienced and to motivate people to action, perhaps seeking wellness. Not only
are fantasy themes meant to provide comprehensible ways to understand events, Foss
writes that they are “always slanted and ordered in particular ways to provide compelling
explanations for experiences” (Foss 1989, p. 291). The fantasy themes, when brought
together, create a rhetorical vision to encompass a broader message (Foss 1989). These rhe-
torical visions of health offer readers a way to comprehend health realities, incentive to cer-
tain health behaviours, and paths through which to understand the meaning behind health
actions and interaction. The meanings that these fantasies cue are central to this analysis.

In order to explore the social realities and cultural meanings cultivated by celebrity
health story discourse, this study poses the following research questions:

RQ1: What are the prominent fantasy themes of the celebrity health stories in top-cir-
culating American magazines?

RQ1: How do the fantasy themes convey morality, medical authority, and class privilege?

RQ1: What are the rhetorical visions of health and what overarching meanings do
they cue, using symbolic convergence theory?

To achieve a nuanced look at how the health experiences of celebrities are reported

and how this relates to celebrities’ positions in the social structure, we used fantasy-theme
analysis to map symbolic convergence, which focuses on the setting, the characters, their
actions, and how they combine to create a common, coherent vision of reality (Bormann
1985, Foss 1989, Garner et al. 1998, Aleman 2005). Setting themes, or scenes, locate the
action and place where characters perform their roles; character themes designate charac-

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teristics, motives, and qualities to the actors or agents through description; and action
themes depict the plotlines, or the behaviour of the drama’s characters. These actions and
activities develop into fantasy themes that promote a moral order (Aleman 2005). This
allowed us to chart the messages about health behaviours and attitudes that emerged from
the various celebrity stories. Scholars have used symbolic convergence theory to examine
magazine text (Kidd 1975, Garner et al. 1998), and fantasy theme analysis to examine celeb-
rity coverage (Bishop 2003). To avoid the pitfalls of subjectivity, both researchers indepen-
dently coded all of the articles for the categories of setting, characters, action, and fantasy
theme. We compared findings for each celebrity and settled differences through joint anal-
ysis of the text.

Although the media landscape is crowded with new niche publications and online

outlets, paper-based magazines continue to generate readership and profits. During 2009,
US magazine circulation totalled nearly 350 million copies, 36 million sold at the news-
stand (Magazine Publishers of America [MPA] 2010–2011). The sheer volume of magazine
consumption makes this medium worth scrutiny. While we acknowledge the play value of
celebrity blogs, the posts do not provide ample coverage of health situations.

The magazines in this study are People, Glamour, Time, and Newsweek, and our reasons
for this selection were manifold. First, they represent three different genres of popular
magazines: celebrity, fashion, and news magazines. While one might expect to see celebrity
health coverage in the first two genres, representation in a news magazine could indicate
that the story had filtered into general interest media territory. Our goal is not to compare
stories among genres; instead we are looking to capture the general message about celeb-
rity health. Second, the titles are circulation leaders, with People at 3.6 million, Glamour at
2.3 million, Time at 3.3 million and Newsweek at 1.6 million total paid and verified circula-
tion (Audit Bureau of Circulations, 2010). Third, while we conducted a pre-test with addi-
tional titles in the same genres, these four magazines contained the highest number of
celebrity health stories. Surprisingly, Star and Us Weekly did not address celebrity health
issues at length, which made them insufficient for thematic analysis.

The celebrities, Carnie Wilson, Lindsay Lohan, Dana Reeve, and Melissa Etheridge,
were selected for both the prominence and focus of their health stories. We include the
number of stories not for statistical analysis, but to better gauge the celebrity’s prominence
within this editorial landscape. Our rationale for studying women is because women
trump men 64% to 36%, respectively (Pew 2008), in the audience share for entertainment
and health news. In every issue of these magazines between the years 2000 and 2008, these
four celebrities garnered significant publicity because of medical conditions from cancer
(Reeve and Etheridge) to addiction (Lohan) to obesity (Wilson). We chose these health
problems to capture issues that represent a causality split in health problems: those seen to
be self-inflicted (over-indulgence through addiction and obesity) and those not self-
inflicted (cancer). We analysed 56 articles about the celebrities in the four magazines.

For each celebrity, we trace the main fantasy theme through the components of setting,

characters, and action. We determine the prominent fantasy themes and explore how they
could function in signifying health realities, using symbolic convergence theory. We pay
close attention to denotations of social privilege that are a function of celebrity and that

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affect healthcare. We also look for morality claims and the cultivation of medical authority.
In the discussion section, we address potential motives for these rhetorical visions in the
communication about celebrities.

Celebrities as Health Protagonists

Melissa Etheridge
Melissa Etheridge is a musician who survived breast cancer and continued to do fund-

raising work after remission. Coverage of Etheridge spanned five articles in Time, one in
Newsweek, six in People, and one in Glamour. The theme of the coverage centres on an epi-
sode in which Etheridge appeared on stage bald due to chemotherapy treatments; this
moment shapes her fantasy theme.

The settings for Etheridge’s breast cancer battle is a Los Angeles hospital, her four-

bedroom 1920s farmhouse in Los Angeles, and the Grammy’s stage. The hospital is an
accessible public space; the Grammy’s stage is inaccessible; and the farmhouse is likewise
described as out-of-reach for the non-wealthy. Rather than describe the house as a man-
sion, the article characterises the farmhouse as anachronistic both in style and age, which
could add authenticity to Etheridge’s character.

Etheridge is the protagonist, and she is referred to as an accidental activist, a fearless

inspiration, and the poster child for breast cancer. She says that she did not expect to have
cancer and identified herself only as a rock star (Anderson 2005). Her public battle with
breast cancer becomes part of her cultural identity: “She has won two Grammys and end-
less admiration for her battle against cancer” (Time 2006, p. 13), and “Two-time Grammy
winner and high profile breast-cancer survivor” (Song 2005, p. 71). Breast cancer is the
antagonist in this fantasy because it is “the devious monster” (Etheridge 2007). However,
the way Etheridge describes cancer is also with respect. She writes: “Cancer is powerful. It
can stop whole lives and start new ones. It is the ultimate dark drama. Cancer brings a
crisp urgency to every hour: Live right, live well, live now” (Etheridge 2007, p. 102).

A medical authority character is Dr. Susan Love, “one of the country’s preeminent
breast cancer experts” whom Etheridge called after her diagnosis. This was on the advice
of talk-show celebrity Rosie O’Donnell, a friend of Etheridge. Love offers readers her sug-
gested course of treatment, although Etheridge is not her patient. This is an important
addition to the story because it shows Etheridge has access to a preeminent breast cancer
doctor via phone, giving her a level of agency in that she has a choice in her treatment. A
letter to the editor two weeks later calls attention to the power of Etheridge’s social net-
work. A reader writes: “seeing her on your cover as the poster child for breast cancer was
especially annoying. She has millions of dollars for the best physicians, and an entire world
of celebrities to help bring attention to her plight” (Briggs 2004, p. 5). The fact that People
printed this letter is noteworthy because it brings up the issue of access to healthcare
directly, which politicises the celebrity fantasy.

Etheridge’s decision not to wear a wig when on stage at the Grammy Awards show

was both an acknowledgment of her chemotherapy and also the touchstone event for most
of the coverage about Etheridge. People explains: “nothing prepared the music world for

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February’s Grammy telecast—when Etheridge, 44, bald and beautiful after chemotherapy
and radiation treatments for breast cancer, blew the roof off the Staples Center” (People
2005c). Another People article describes her baldness as “a startling reminder of the breast
cancer” (People 2005a). In a tribute to Etheridge, Lisa Marie Presley recounts the perfor-
mance, writing: “Melissa’s fearlessness was never clearer when, completely bald after
nearly five months of treatment for breast cancer, she gave a wrenching, rocking perfor-
mance” (Presley 2005, p. 88). The fact that Etheridge appeared bald speaks to the social
expectations of beauty for female performers and how Etheridge defied them for the sake
of the message. The beauty of Etheridge’s baldness is prominent. “She was showing us the
ravages, and the surprising beauty, revealed by breast-cancer treatments […] We have
traded in our beauty for some kind of cure” (Lucas 2005, p. 16). Even though Etheridge is
made into a hero, she is also cast as being similar to readers. “Amid all the cleavage and
hair bling, her bald head was shining a message to us about beauty” (Lucas 2005, p. 16). In
this description, Etheridge is telegraphing that she is not like the elite of Hollywood and
that she is “one of us.”

Her modesty with regard to the action is telling. “She walked off and seemed to have
no idea she had done something extraordinary. She was just being Melissa: honest, defiant,
fists in the air” (Presley 2005, p. 88). This speaks to the “accidental activist” nature of Ether-
idge. Regarding this decision, Etheridge says: “I thought, maybe this’ll help someone lying
in bed with chemo” (Sandell 2005, p. 238). One breast cancer patient is quoted as saying: “I
was wearing a scarf all the time, and then I saw Melissa. I just threw it out” (Lucas 2005, p.
16). This shows how Etheridge has modelled cancer behaviour. Etheridge’s openness about
being a cancer patient is compared with her being gay, and the implication is that it is sec-
ond nature for her to buck the status quo (Sandell 2005). She did not, however, buck the
status quo by choosing alternative cancer therapies, which is an important part of behaving
in a morally sanctioned manner. Etheridge’s actions to promote breast cancer research and
awareness are all part of the cancer-as-a-cause fantasy theme. She performed at benefits,
inspired a line of pink bracelets, and wrote an anthem for the Race for the Cure event (San-
dell 2005).

Fantasy theme
As a breast cancer survivor, Etheridge has a fantasy theme that adjudicates both the

bad and good of cancer. The central moment in her fantasy, when she went on stage bald,
sums up her cancer-as-a-cause fantasy. While the class elements of Etheridge having access
to top-notch cancer care might serve as a barrier between her and readers, that she flouted
expectations of beauty and turned the vulnerability of baldness into a statement make her
struggle relatable. The status of being bald emphasises the democratising force of illness.
The message being sent to readers is that of a hero, who is rebellious but also follows con-
ventional medical advice.

Dana Reeve
Dana Reeve, the late actor and singer, was best known for her work as a paralysis

activist and caregiver to her husband, Superman star Christopher Reeve, who died before
her diagnosis. Her health struggle with lung cancer was short-lived and her fantasy theme
fixates on the shock of her diagnosis and the cosmic unfairness of her death. The fact that
Reeve never smoked cements the undeserved nature of her health status. Four of the arti-
cles about Reeve’s lung cancer appeared before her death, and seven appeared after. Time,
Newsweek, and People each had three articles about her; Glamour had one.

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The settings are in New York at various charity events, and on Capitol Hill, where she

spoke about stem cell research. Two final settings are the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer
Center, where she died aged 44 years, and her memorial service at the New Amsterdam
Theater. The settings for Reeve’s narrative call attention to her charity work and her decline
and death with no other settings in between, which reinforces the speed and shock of her
illness. Signs of her privilege are diminished in the setting themes, though her treatment at
a premier cancer research hospital indicates the quality of coverage that she could attain.
Interestingly, the text does not address the preeminence of Sloan-Kettering, thereby natu-
ralising this celebrity’s class-based agency to go there.

Dana Reeve is the main character and hero in this fantasy theme. Glamour refers to her

as “the woman of steel,” playing off against her late husband’s role as “the man of steel”
and saying, “her devotion and courage were an inspiration” (Glamour 2006). She represents
the 15% of lung cancer victims who have never smoked. Reeve won respect for the way she
advocated for her husband after he was paralysed in a riding accident. Her role as support-
ive wife and mother are mentioned often. Lung cancer, as the “stealthy killer” (Barrett
2006), is the antagonist in this fantasy theme. The lack of control that Reeve had over devel-
oping, detecting, and treating the cancer makes it a powerful antagonist.

The late anchorman Peter Jennings is another character in this dramatising message, and
he had recently died from lung cancer when Reeve’s diagnosis was announced. His case
serves as a foil to hers because he smoked and she did not, making her case more sympa-
thetic. To have the announcement of her cancer occur after Jennings’ death was described as
“mind-numbing” (Gupta 2005). A Newsweek article states, “the diagnosis seemed particularly
cruel. Never a smoker, the actress and singer had lost her mother and her husband, Superman
star Christopher Reeve, just months before” (Barrett 2006, p. 50). The implication here is that
she did not deserve cancer because of her morally and medically sanctioned health behaviour.

A spectrum of health experts comment on Reeve’s illness but mainly appear in side-
bars, where the technical information about lung cancer is cordoned off. From the chief of
thoracic surgery at New York University (NYU) to a lung cancer specialist at Duke, top
doctors and researchers commented on the case. Articles about the gravity of the disease
appeared after Reeve’s death. Also, Reeve did not share details of the disease. There are
various celebrity friends, such as Susan Sarandon and Hillary Clinton, who comment on
how strong Reeve is and how she is concerned for her 13-year-old son.

The verbs used to describe Reeve’s actions toward cancer include: attack (Barrett

2006), fight (Whitaker 2005, Smolowe 2006), beating the odds (Barrett 2006), and facing the
challenge (People 2005b). She was also said to have a defiant humor (Smolowe 2006).
Reeve’s story is meant as a cautionary tale for people, especially women. Articles note that
non-smoking women are more at risk than men for lung cancer. Also, her role as a care-
giver for 10 years may have accelerated her risk for cancer (Barrett 2006). The implication
that her care for her husband sped up her death increases her martyr status. There was one
article that was hopeful, discussing how Reeve’s tumour was shrinking and stating that
she is “doing great” (Dagostino 2005).

Fantasy theme
The magazines play a role in judging Reeve’s illness to be unfair based on her actions.

Reeve stands in stark contrast to the implied “fairness” of Jennings’ suffering from lung

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cancer. Magazines editorialise about how undeserving Reeve is of lung cancer. For exam-
ple, in People: “Reeve had endured so much already; any other outcome [other than sur-
vival] seemed too cruel” (Smolowe 2006). A Newsweek article reads: “She never smoked a
day in her life. It was just more bad luck for a family that surely deserved a reprieve”
(Newsweek 2006). This speaks to the cosmic unfairness of her fantasy theme, due to her
avoidance of bad health behaviours. All but four of the 11 articles mention she was a non-
smoker. Reeve’s story is a tragedy. She is a hero character who undeservedly gets lung can-
cer, fights the cancer, and dies, thereby orphaning her son. The medical details of the
severity of lung cancer are saved until after her death, which could have been out of defer-
ence to Reeve, seeing as the medical information spelled impending doom. By fighting the
cancer (instead of being fatalistic), keeping a sense of humour, and following the medically
approved path to wellness, Reeve’s martyr text circulates a moral discourse.

Celebrities as Health Antagonists

Carnie Wilson
The daughter of Beach Boy lead singer Brian Wilson is as renowned for her weight

problems as she is for her singing career. Her weight challenges are well documented,
especially by People, which ran 17 stories. Two stories ran in both Time and Newsweek, and
Glamour had one. The majority of the coverage chronicled Wilson’s bariatric surgery, which
was broadcast online. Post-operation photos of Wilson trumpeted the positive effects of the
surgery; however, after childbirth, her weight did not go back down. The dramatising mes-
sages utilised to describe Wilson’s weight struggles are that of the confessional. Wilson’s
candid musings about her self-control issues resemble first-person accounts, for example,
“I felt out of control with the food, I couldn’t control my snacking,” and “I was so angry
that people were after me to lose weight, I was rebelling. Then I thought, ‘Who am I hurt-
ing? Me’ ” (Adato and Wihlborg 2006).

Much of Wilson’s coverage places her at her “Spanish-style villa” (Scott 2002) in Los

Angeles. They also mention her “three-bedroom, three-story row house just outside of
Philadelphia” (Dam and Wihlborg 2001). The descriptions of Wilson’s properties as set-
tings are important class signifiers and convey to the audience that Wilson’s health strug-
gles are not necessarily a product of her environment, but rather, an internal battle. In
addition to her domestic environment, medical descriptors (Scott 2002) such as a tummy
tuck, belly button reposition, breast lift, and liposuction costing an estimated $20,000, con-
note wealth. Wilson’s plastic surgeon also prescribed Wilson to undergo eight one-hour
sessions of oxygen therapy in a Plexiglass chamber, costing $250 each.

Wilson straddles both protagonist and antagonistic qualities. As a blameless protago-

nist, she is genetically predisposed to be heavy, having fought childhood obesity, saying:
“My mom used to get donuts in the middle of the night!” (Adato and Wihlborg 2006). As
an antagonist, she illustrates authenticity by admitting to unhealthy eating habits and
accepting blame, stating: “I made a decision to enjoy my pregnancy. . . . So sue me!” (Adato
and Wihlborg 2006). Together, these characteristics may lend sympathetic qualities to Wil-
son’s drama. In addition to Wilson’s messages are those from her physical trainer and her
gastric bypass surgeon Dr. Alan Wittgrove, who claims: “The stomach is still small—she

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still has that tool in place. But once you start snacking, that habit is hard to break” (Adato
and Wihlborg 2006). This quote serves to point out that from a medical standpoint the
weight gain is within Wilson’s control.

Wilson’s plotlines involve her lifelong battle with obesity. Early actions include both

overeating and regular dieting; however, the primary plotline is Wilson’s bariatric surgery
and dramatic weight loss and her subsequent struggles to keep her weight down. The sto-
ries impose morality judgments on Wilson by threading health-related information into
articles about her pregnancy—post gastric bypass—for example, that she gained 70 lbs
while pregnant, “more than double what doctors recommend” (Adato and Wihlborg 2006).
This action of gaining weight after surgery signals a transgression of overindulgence.
Additionally, some of the articles (Scott 2002) communicate a class-based privilege enjoyed
by celebrities like Wilson, who says she avoids overeating in a restaurant by taking one bite
of a dessert and then dousing it with salt. Significantly, the medical authority characters
play a minimal role in Wilson’s fantasy theme, which focuses on Wilson as the authority
about weight loss.

Fantasy theme
Articles utilise Wilson’s personal drama to examine America’s battle with obesity, as

illustrated by sidebars with information pertaining to obesity or gastric bypass surgery
accompanying the features. However, Wilson’s privileged status is mentioned fleetingly,
possibly because her wealth further separates her from the majority of Americans suffering
from obesity. Instead, the articles focus on Wilson’s battles to obtain fulfillment, a common
denominator with many readers. In addition, Wilson’s desire to be healthy and the accessi-
bility of her post-pregnancy weight battles serve to bridge the gap between celebrity and
reader. Her role as an antagonist in failing to control her weight by giving in to her indul-
gences portrays her as an everywoman, weakened by ordinary circumstances. It is through
this recurring fantasy theme that Wilson serves as a realistic actor in the moral battle against
obesity, thereby enhancing her authenticity as a person to whom readers could relate.

Lindsay Lohan
The coverage surrounding Lohan’s visits to rehab for alcohol addiction in 2006 and

2007 differ from conventional health messages in that the star never spoke about her illness.
Newsweek ran two mentions of the celebrity’s travails, but it was again People magazine that
attempted additional analysis with 10 articles. For example, a People piece titled “Road to
Ruin” (Tauber et al. 2007) chronicles Lohan’s childhood stardom and her decline into addic-
tion, citing her 2006 stint in rehab and subsequent Alcoholics Anonymous meetings before
her 2007 relapse. Although the feature utilises quotes such as “Everyone’s just been waiting
[for something tragic] to happen. All of us thought there would be something soon,” and
“She’s been working her whole life, and I think we have to give her a big break and get her
some real help this time,” all of the sources were anonymous (Tauber et al. 2007).

Lohan’s stints between treatments are documented in the Los Angeles area, usually in

public spaces following night clubbing. Pre-rehabilitation photos of Lohan showed her in
humiliating situations, such as exiting a car without underpants or passed out. During
treatment, photographs of Lohan consisted of the actress exiting the facility to go shopping
or to an appointment, smiling and primped. Articles describe one of the rehab facilities,

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Wonderland, as “ultra-cushy” (Tauber et al. 2007) and “pampering” (Lopez et al. 2007). The
settings for Lohan serve to distance her from normal life and set the stage for morality
judgments about reckless clubbing and non-punishing rehab.

Since she rejects opportunities to improve, Lohan assumes the role of antagonist to

health. While the stories portray her as reckless, they also partly justify her behaviour as a
reaction to her early stardom. In addition, many sources cite Lohan’s friends and family as
bad influences, claiming that Lohan will only remain sober when she is free from them.
These competing forces paint Lohan as both victim and villain. Coverage supports this ten-
sion by pitting anonymous sources saying: “They [friends and family] are her enemies.
She’s got to realise that and walk away. If she doesn’t, she could be the next Anna Nicole
Smith” (Schneider et al. 2007), against sentiments of support from her mother, Dina, and
her estranged father, Michael, a recovering addict.

Reports of an underage Lohan leaving addiction treatment, then partying and break-

ing the law, before going back into treatment and leaving again, reveal the actress flouting
a moral code. Anonymous sources recall that the celebrity would have friends “pour mixed
drinks in her water bottle” so people would not catch on to her drinking (Schneider et al.
2007). Occasionally a law or medical authority figure adds context. Lohan’s lawyer, Blair
Berk, told People: “Addiction is a terrible and vicious disease. She is safe, she is out of cus-
tody, and receiving medical care” (Schneider et al. 2007), while Beverly Hills “addiction
specialist” Marty Brenner added, “It’s not uncommon for the newly sober to slip. It’s part
of the disease” (Schneider et al. 2007). However, coverage of Lohan’s car crash, resulting in
her driving under the influence (DUI) arrest and leading to her second rehab visit, commu-
nicated overindulgent health actions and a lack of self-control beyond that which is attrib-
uted to addiction. This action would register significantly lower on the morality scale,
given the danger she posed to others, and would more likely point to a character flaw than
a disease-related misstep.

Fantasy theme
Lohan represents the morality theme of girl-gone-wrong. Nearly all the sampled sto-

ries mention the availability of quality alcohol treatment programmes, yet Lohan’s appar-
ent unwillingness to stick with sobriety or to try to gain control over her health bucks the
conventional moral code. The actress’s social privilege is evident by her repeated stints in
ritzy rehabilitation facilities and appearances at A-list events. While the drama serves to
address a health narrative prevalent in society, Lohan’s inability to get sober depicts her as
blameworthy in eschewing healthy living. During these episodes, which are constructed
using second-hand accounts and paparazzi photos, the actress never comments on her sit-
uation, thus inhibiting both elements of access and authenticity that may have acted to
buoy her protagonist role. Importantly, Lohan is not cast as an authority on her health
problems in the same way that Wilson and the other celebrities are.

In the case of the rhetorical vision of health, using celebrity fantasy themes, or the

shared interpretation of events that satisfies the psychological needs of a group (Bormann
1985), moral discourses emerge. Here, we have found that a celebrity’s authenticity is
intensified and the appearance of her class privilege is diminished through the intimacy

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particular to revealing health conditions. In sharing these ostensible weaknesses with read-
ers, celebrities can cultivate sympathy and popularity (Kurzman 2007) at the same time.
These celebrity health fantasy themes offer two rhetorical visions: one of no-fault health
problems and one of self-inflicted health problems. Within each rhetorical vision, there are
fantasy themes that contrast and which offer broad symbolic interpretations of health reali-
ties. This research enhances our understanding of both health coverage and magazine con-
tent by taking into account the symbolic realities of morality, privilege, and authority as
they surface in celebrity health fantasy themes.

Morality as a symbolic reality does the most work to separate the fantasy themes.
Moral failings and moral superiority are both shown to have an impact on wellness in the
celebrity health actions. Etheridge and Reeve, whose health stories inhabit the rhetorical
vision of no-fault health problems, transmit moral codes about acceptable health behav-
iours that encourage the audience to identify with them and to judge the behaviours posi-
tively. Advice that results from the protagonists’ behaviour includes: have a good attitude
or sense of humour; do not be fatalistic; be a role model; approach cancer as a cause; follow
traditional medical advice; and do not invite health problems (through smoking, for exam-
ple). The implication is that by enacting these behaviours, people deserve wellness.

Within the rhetorical vision of health problems as self-inflicted, Wilson and Lohan
both transgress acceptable health behaviours, although each woman represents dissimilar
health actions. While Wilson claims genetic predisposition is accountable for part of her
obesity, her proclivity for indulging in unhealthy behaviour is portrayed as the primary
culprit. Although American culture is wont to extol a level of indulgence, it also penalises
those who spiral into excess. Wilson’s culpability with her health reaches a level of immo-
rality that is associated with a lack of personal restraint. In contrast, the articles describing
Lohan’s addiction impart more severe messages of immorality and excess. In addition,
Lohan’s apparent inability to retain sobriety despite having treatment options unavailable
to most of the public further emphasises her moral failings and the deserved status of her
addiction problem.

The symbolic reality of privilege is a crucial element to understanding the importance
of these celebrity health stories. First, access to healthcare is a non-issue. From Etheridge
having casual access to the pre-eminent doctor, which a reader’s letter also pointed out, to
Wilson’s ability to have surgery and cosmetic treatments, simply getting medical help
never appears to be a hurdle. The authenticity that these celebrities achieve by sharing their
health stories serves to diminish the appearance of class barriers between the celebrity and
the readers. This could cultivate a false impression that regular people without class privi-
lege can also access treatment easily. The exception to this message is Lohan, whose charac-
ter is not cast as authentic or average in the same way that the other celebrities are. By
comparison, the majority of references to Lohan’s treatment centres use descriptors to com-
municate privilege, which act to further distance the actress from the reading population.
The reader is not made to identify with Lohan because of her wealth, lack of voice, and
moral transgressions, and therefore the lack of access to such rehabilitation facilities is not a
surprise. Overall, in terms of the issue of access to healthcare, the stories depoliticise the
issue by de-emphasising class privilege, except for the case of Lohan, which emphasises
her privilege and makes her more “deserving” of her health problem.

Authority as a symbolic reality is also unique to these celebrity health stories in that
celebrities are granted a certain level of legitimacy to speak about their health problems, a
role reserved for medical professionals. This agency in turn makes the celebrities account-
able for their health actions. With the celebrity protagonists, any actions they take are

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framed as a laudable coping mechanism or as the sanctioned health behaviour. Even
Reeve, who could not control her health outcomes through actions, appeared on some lev-
els to be “dying well” and in control until that point. Authority and agency are different
with celebrity antagonists because they have health conditions they have caused, and they
are deemed responsible for their actions but also for inviting health problems. Wilson’s
self-professed gluttony and inability to lose weight despite utilising surgical procedures
make her more deserving of her health problem. Lohan’s actions are cast as unredeemable
because she and the circle of antagonists around are portrayed as having control over her
resistance to sobriety. Even though Lohan has agency over her health problem, she lacks
authority because her story does not create the same kind of intimacy as the other celebrity
health stories. This lack of intimacy may well correspond with the problematic access to
Lohan herself. As her narrative was created utilising paparazzi photos and secondary
sources, rather than via the staged and managed events employed by the other celebrities
studied, Lohan is kept at arm’s length. This prevents the authenticity that leads to author-
ity. The combined authenticity and authority granted to the other celebrities signify that
their health actions are worth emulating. Celebrity agency, whether for good or ill, signals
that health and wellness are within a person’s control even when the health problems are
no-fault (such as cancer).

One limitation of this research is that we do not examine journalists’ decisions about
the use of celebrity narratives when covering health news. For example, how journalists
frame morality, privilege, and authority as they relate to health and which details they
choose to make salient would enhance our overall understanding of this phenomenon.
Another limitation is that we can only project what these rhetorical visions mean. We have
not analysed the rhetorical community that would find shared meaning in the symbolic
realities. However, we can look at intended motivations for action as they reside in the rhe-
torical vision (Foss 1989). Readers are supposed to learn about the right way to handle
health issues, through the no-fault rhetorical visions of the protagonist celebrities, and the
wrong way to handle health, through those celebrities who transgress moral codes and
“deserve” what they get. It is important to note that the newsmagazines covered Etheridge
and Reeve more than the other celebrities, which further distinguishes these two protago-
nists and their health struggles as newsworthy. Even though audiences are supposed to
identify with the protagonists featured in the rhetorical visions of no-fault health problems,
the antagonists still hold a position of authority through class privilege and, in Wilson’s
case, authenticity.

The overarching rhetorical vision is that health is containable and controllable. The
fantasies offer a way to envision oneself enacting health realities. By attaching moral value
to health actions and by diminishing class-based aspects of healthcare and socioeconomic
factors, the social reality of health is oversimplified in these discourses. Magazines might
rationalise such oversimplification with space limitations or a resistance to alternate
themes in keeping with majority portrayals. Nevertheless, the consistent and one-dimen-
sional fantasies perpetuate a unified theme centred on the episodic behaviour of an indi-
vidual faced with life-changing health circumstances.

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U2’s “One Tree Hill”

Kelly Mendoza

On July 3, 1986, a drunk driver killed Greg Carroll, roadie and assistant to U2, in an
accident in Dublin, Ireland. Bono, the singer of U2, was devastated by Carroll’s sudden
death. On July 10, he spoke and sang at Carroll’s funeral in Wanganui, New Zealand, and
two days later wrote lyrics to “One Tree Hill”* in honor of his friend Carroll. The song, a
response to the extremely painful experience of grieving and loss, suggests strategies that
individuals may use to cope with the mysterious and difficult subject of death. In this
essay, I analyze “One Tree Hill” to explore the strategies a rhetor uses to cope emotionally
with the loss of sudden death.

“One Tree Hill” is on U2’s The Joshua Tree album, released in 1987. The lyrics to the
song appear to be written for a funeral because noted under the lyrics on the album insert
are the words, “Greg Carroll’s Funeral, Wanganui, New Zealand, 10th July 1986” (although
the lyrics actually were written after Carroll’s funeral). On the last page of the album insert
is the text, “To the Memory of Greg Carroll 1960–1986.” The song “One Tree Hill” refers to
the highest of the volcanic hills that overlook Auckland, New Zealand, and Bono appar-
ently knew this place was very special to Carroll. The song itself is neither extremely slow
nor sad; in fact, it has an upbeat melody (unlike many songs that deal with death and
dying). Bono sings the song in a loud and strong voice.

The critical method I use to explore “One Tree Hill” is fantasy-theme criticism, devel-
oped by Ernest G. Bormann to investigate a shared worldview among a group of individuals.
There are two units of analysis in fantasy-theme criticism. The first is the fantasy theme, an
interpretation through communication that is organized and artistic and assumes the form of
settings, characters, and actions. The second unit of fantasy-theme criticism is the rhetorical
vision, the grouping together of several shared fantasy themes to create a worldview.

Rhetorical Vision
Identification of the character, action, and setting themes of “One Tree Hill” reveals

two primary categories of fantasy themes in the song. One set involves violence and the
other nonviolence. Below are the individual fantasy themes in each of these categories:

The fantasy themes connected to violence are as follows:
Characters Actions Settings

day begs
(your) sun leaves no shadows
scars carved into stone face of earth
(our) world firezone, heart of darkness
poets speak their hearts
poets bleed for (speaking)

This essay was written while Kelly Mendoza was a student in Sonja K. Foss’s rhetorical criticism class at the Uni-
versity of Colorado Denver in 2000. Used by permission of the author.

*To view the artifact’s lyrics enter the artist and song title into an Internet search engine.

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Characters Actions Settings

Jara sang his song hands of love
(Jara’s) blood still cries ground
bullets rape the night
stars fall
In the category of fantasy themes concerned with violence, non-human characters (day,

sun, scars, world, blood, bullets, and stars) perform somewhat violent actions, such as begs for
mercy, leaves no shadows, carved, cries, rape, and fall. The bullets perform the most extreme and
sudden violence—the act of rape. These actions reveal a nature that is unpredictable and
unforgiving. In contrast, whenever human characters (poets and Jara) speak or sing, they
get hurt—both of them bleed.

Raging heat exists in the war zone of nature. For example, the sun is so bright that it
seems to scorch the earth, the sun leaves no shadows, and the day begs the night for mercy. The
firezone setting describes a fiery war zone because when poets speak here, their hearts bleed.
After Jara sang his song (his weapon), his blood cried from the ground. This category illustrates
a hot and dry desert of nature’s violent and war-like elements and bloodshed that exists
only on earth. Humans, however, have no violent influence here.

The fantasy themes connected to nonviolence are as follows:
Characters Actions Settings

we turn away to face cold, enduring chill
moon is up and over One Tree Hill
we see the sun go down your eyes
you ran like a river sea
you know
it runs like a river sea

(runs) like a river sea
I don’t believe red
moon has turned red One Tree Hill
we run like a river sea

(run) like a river sea
The category of nonviolence is submissive and calm. The human characters (I, we, and

you) do not perform violent actions or even try to fight against the violence of nature but
run, turn away, or see the violence nature performs. The moon character acts with the same
passivity as the human characters because it goes up and over and has turned. Because the
moon looks over earth and is separate from earth, it is not a part of earth’s violent nature.
The moon, like human characters, observes the violence going on and, unlike the sun, it can-
not carve scars onto the face of earth.

In contrast to the heat and war featured in the category of violence, the prevailing
image of the category of nonviolence is coolness and calmness. The actions that the
humans and the moon perform in this category are passive. To add to the calmness of the
actions, the water of the river and the sea are a part of this category. In these waters exist a
coolness and a flowing that are in extreme contrast to the dry heat of nature’s firezone. The
coolness runs like a river to the wide body of calmness—the sea.

The setting of one tree on a hill represents the only part of the violent earth that is pas-
sive, barren, neutral, and safe. The moon performs its actions only around One Tree Hill,

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suggesting that this place is calm and cool. Perhaps the one tree is a metaphor for a person
(possibly Carroll) on the hill, and this is the only place on earth that is not violent where a
person can stand (but must stand alone in death).

The two different patterns created by the fantasy themes in the song—violence and
nonviolence—create an overall rhetorical vision. Bono’s rhetorical vision or worldview is
that humans ultimately find some sort of balance, comfort, understanding, and commonal-
ity (we run like a river to the sea) in the face of a violent, unfair, and unpredictable nature that
kills. This vision also suggests that humans should not try to fight against the extreme
forces of nature but accept them with passivity.

Because of the circumstances of Carroll’s accident—he was hit by a drunk driver—one
might expect Bono’s rhetorical vision to blame drunk drivers and the careless actions of
human beings. Instead, Bono associates death with the harshness and unpredictability of
nature. The rhetorical vision of the song is antithetical to a stereotypical blaming of humans
for causing tragic events. The rhetor surrenders to and accepts the force of nature’s laws as
an explanation for his friend’s death.

A fantasy-theme analysis of Bono’s lyrics in “One Tree Hill” suggests rhetorical strate-
gies that are available to any individual who seeks to cope with the death of a loved one.
The construction of a world in which elements of nature (over which humans have no con-
trol) are given agency for death removes the blame and guilt many humans feel regarding a
loved one’s death. By removing the agency from human actions, mourners may find com-
fort in the fact that they cannot prevent death. The violent picture created in this song sug-
gests a relentless war, with death seeming to provide a relief from the heat, fire, and
violence. These dramatic images encourage mourners to let go of a loved one in an act of
relief. Another strategy for coping with the loss of death is the depiction of the human
actions in the song. Humans are shown as passive and accepting, viewing death as a natural
process that requires no opposing action. Typical responses to death of resistance and rage
are not presented as useful options because they serve only to perpetuate the violence that
death involves. Bono recommends instead a peaceful acquiescence to a very normal event.

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A Fantasy-Theme Analysis of Jiang Zemin’s

Address at the Handover of Hong Kong
Andrew Gilmore

During times of transition, rhetors often try to control how their audiences handle and
adapt to a new situation or way of life. The rhetoric used can aid in acceptance of a situa-
tion, instill a sense of calm, help to reassure audience members that everything will be all
right, and possibly avoid unrest. When undergoing a period of transition, individuals can
experience a range of emotions, including excitement, fear, frustration, anger, resentment,
jealousy, and uncertainty. If a relationship between two people comes to an end, an individ-
ual becomes sick, or a person is made redundant in business, for example, the rhetor (ex-
partner, doctor, friend, or employer) can have a determining impact on how the individual
deals with this transition. In times of uncertainty, a natural exigency for human beings is to
seek reassurance. In this essay, I will explore strategies available to a rhetor to reassure an
audience and diffuse a potentially volatile and problematic situation, ensuring a smooth
period of change.

If the entire population of a city enters a time of transition, the words used by
respected or official rhetors are vital to maintain peace, acceptance, understanding, and the
happiness of its residents. Failure to control these elements has the potential to lead to a
number of undesirable outcomes, including unrest, protests, and perhaps even violence.
The 6.5 million residents of the city of Hong Kong experienced transition on a great scale
when, after 156 years of British rule, the city was handed back to the People’s Republic of
China (PRC) in 1997.

In full disclosure and as an exercise in self-reflexivity, I should note that I have a spe-
cial place in my heart for Hong Kong after living in the city for three years. Throughout my
time in the city, the growing sense of unrest and tension directed toward the mainland
from Hong Kong was evident to me, despite the reintegration with China still a number of
years away. Hong Kongers attribute the city’s plethora of problems, such as an ever-
increasing wealth gap, soaring housing prices, lack of hospital beds and school places, and
pollution issues to mainland China (Abdoolcarim, 2014). These “social, identity, and cul-
tural tensions” between Hong Kong citizens and residents from the mainland (Garrett,
2013, p. 58) have contributed to an unhealthy us-vs.-them mentality in Hong Kong. Hong
Kong citizens commonly believe that their city is already beginning to lose its identity and
uniqueness; there is widespread concern over the so-called “mainlandization” (Eades,
2014) or “China-fication” of Hong Kong and the “erosion of the city’s freedoms following
the 1997 handover” (Lai, 2012). The unrest and anxiety were evident prior to the 1997 han-
dover, and the scenes witnessed from Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution in the late sum-
mer of 2014 suggest that unrest continues to bubble up and sometimes erupt.

Andrew Gilmore began writing a series of essays on Jiang Zemin’s speech at the handover of Hong Kong when he
was a student in Sonja K. Foss’s rhetorical criticism class at the University of Colorado Denver in 2014; he com-
pleted the series in 2016. Used by permission of the author. Jiang Zemin’s full speech can be found on pp. 215–216
in chapter 7.

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Negotiated by the governments of the United Kingdom (UK) and the PRC, the Sino-

British Joint Declaration was signed on December 19, 1984. The Declaration laid the foun-
dation for how Hong Kong would be governed after the 1997 handover and throughout
the following 50 years. In addition to detailing the implementation of basic policies regard-
ing education, law, the judicial system, and the financial system, the Joint Declaration laid
out two crucial elements. The first was the implementation of the “one country, two sys-
tems” policy, which sanctioned Hong Kong’s independence from mainland China by
bestowing on Hong Kong the title of Special Administrative Region. This designation enabled
the city to “enjoy a high degree of autonomy” (Constitutional and Mainland Affairs
Bureau, 2007), although the actual level of autonomy that Hong Kong would be allowed
was extremely vague.

The second crucial element was the length of time the agreement would last—the Dec-
laration stated that life in Hong Kong would remain unchanged for 50 years and, after that
time, the PRC would assume sovereignty over Hong Kong. In accord with the Declaration,
at the stroke of midnight on July 1, 1997, the UK officially handed the city of Hong Kong
back to the PRC. The handover galvanized public opinion in Hong Kong and, while most
citizens agreed that the city should gain independence from the UK, nervousness set in,
and citizens’ focus shifted to what would become of Hong Kong when the agreement came
to an end and the city returned to Chinese jurisdiction after 50 years.

The official handover ceremony in Wan Chai, Hong Kong, included two speeches, one
made by the UK’s representative, Charles, Prince of Wales, on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II,
and one made by the president of the PRC, Jiang Zemin. The artifact that I will analyze for
strategies for how rhetoric can be used to reassure people in a time of transition is the
address made by Jiang Zemin. I will analyze the words he used to quell the concerns of
Hong Kong citizens ahead of the city’s impending return to China.

I will analyze Jiang’s speech using fantasy-theme analysis, a method developed by

Ernest G. Bormann that enables a critic to gain insight into the worldview of groups of
individuals. There is a two-step process that a critic follows to conduct fantasy-theme criti-
cism. The first step is to code the chosen artifact for fantasy themes, which involves closely
examining the artifact for settings, characters, and actions. A setting theme concerns times
or places that the rhetor discusses in the artifact, and the character themes are references to
the people or things active in those settings. The action themes are the activities in which
the character themes are shown to be engaging, and plot lines can be formed through these
actions. Once this coding process has been completed, the second step is to look for pat-
terns within the fantasy themes to construct the rhetorical vision presented in the artifact.

As a result of coding the speech for its fantasy themes, two main settings became

apparent throughout the address: the present and the future. Within these two setting
themes, three characters are present: Hong Kong, China, and the rest of the world.

Future Scenario
The major fantasy themes connected to the future are as follows:

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Settings Characters Actions

after the return China held on schedule
from now on unswervingly implement
a new era administer
eternal memory establishment
annals of history remembered
history go down in history

successfully resolved
Joint Declaration
held on schedule

Hong Kong returned
entered a new era
protected by law
gradually develop
solemnly risen
executive power
legislative power
independent judicial power

In Jiang’s rhetorical vision, a number of settings relate to the future: after the return,
from now on, a new era, annals of history, history, and eternal memory. In the setting of the
future, a number of action themes are associated with the character of China, including suc-
cessfully resolved, negotiated, and held on schedule, suggesting that the PRC has resumed con-
trol of Hong Kong in a diplomatic, trouble-free, and fair way. As such, Jiang is portraying
the PRC as an ordinary, regular government. The handover is a major transition in the lives
of all Hong Kongers, but, by normalizing the handover and the actions of the PRC, Jiang is
presenting the event as something Hong Kongers have nothing to fear.

In the setting of the future, a number of action themes associated with the character of
Hong Kong suggest that the city is entering a new era of development. These action themes
include entered a new era, gradually develop, and protected by law. Here, Jiang’s rhetorical
vision is at odds with the general feeling among Hong Kongers and the UK that Hong
Kong thrived and became successful while under British rule. This is an indication that
Jiang is attempting to legitimize the PRC’s resumption of power over Hong Kong by
diminishing the actual level of development that Hong Kong has already reached.

Other action themes such as enjoy and entered a new era suggest that Hong Kong is
entering an exciting new phase of its existence and should be celebrating this new chapter
in the city’s history. In Jiang’s rhetorical vision, Hong Kong is not the finished article.
Despite being in a good place, the city is still a work in progress and has yet to reach its full
potential. Jiang’s rhetorical vision suggests that the PRC is making Hong Kong a better

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place and, under the PRC’s stewardship, the city will thrive and become even more suc-
cessful than it already is. Action themes suggesting that China will offer defense to Hong
Kong and will ensure it is protected by law imply that the PRC will act to protect its interests
and fellow citizens as any legitimate and conventional government should.

Two settings in the future vision reference the past—history and annals of history.
Although the word history is generally associated with moments from the past, Jiang here
is using the term in a context that looks ahead to the future. He is transforming the past
into the future and informing the audience that, in the years to come, the handover of
Hong Kong will go down in eternal memory as an important, historical, and legitimate world
event. By constructing a rhetorical vision that erases the past, Jiang dismisses Hong Kong’s
period of growth and success while under British rule. In Jiang’s rhetorical vision, the city
of Hong Kong is a new piece of land that did not exist prior to July 1, 1997. This strategy of
“collective amnesia” (Billig, 1995, p. 38) or “strategic forgetfulness” (Lane Bruner, 2005, p.
316) means that the future success of Hong Kong cannot be measured against its successful
past. Jiang has erased Hong Kong’s past and, as a result, the city only can have a bright
future under the control of the PRC.

Present Scenario
The major fantasy themes connected to the present are as follows:
Settings Characters Actions

this moment rest of the world casting their eyes
this solemn occasion supported
today cared for
In Jiang’s rhetorical vision, a number of settings relate to the present—this moment, this

solemn occasion, today, and now. The rest of the world is the only character featured in the set-
ting of the present. Action themes attributed to the rest of the world are supported, cared for,
and casting their eyes. Together, these action themes suggest that China’s takeover of Hong
Kong has full support from across the globe. If the rest of the world has sanctioned the
PRC’s resumption of power over Hong Kong, there can be no question about the legiti-
macy of the handover. The limited number of action themes that are associated with the
character of the rest of the world, coupled with the fact that this character does not feature in
the setting of the future, suggest that, after the handover is complete, the rest of the world
will have no part to play in Hong Kong’s future. China is firmly in control, and the rest of
the world has no business interfering in the future of Hong Kong.

A fantasy-theme analysis of the address given by Jiang Zemin at the 1997 handover of

Hong Kong suggests a number of rhetorical strategies that are available to rhetors who
seek to reassure people in a time of transition. By constructing a rhetorical vision that nor-
malizes Hong Kong’s return to China, Jiang is attempting to allay any fears that Hong
Kongers may harbor about the transition. The PRC is presented as a fair and diplomatic
government that has dealt with the handover in an appropriate manner. In Jiang’s rhetori-
cal vision, the PRC is a competent government that should not be feared; thus, the hando-
ver is presented to Hong Kongers as an event that should be celebrated. Their city will be
defended and protected by China, and, furthermore, Hong Kong will continue to carry on

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developing—and will become even more successful and prosperous—under Chinese rule.
Finally, by informing his audience that the rest of the world is watching and supporting the
handover, Jiang is again portraying the handover as an event that should not be feared.
After all, other nations would not sit back and accept the handover if they believed that
Hong Kong would suffer as a result.

In order to reassure people in a time of transition, rhetors can construct rhetorical
visions that normalize the period of transition. By framing the transition as an opportunity
for development and celebration that should be embraced, an audience can feel much
calmer about a major life event. Finally, if a rhetor portrays a cooperative, diplomatic, and
nonthreatening front and suggests that many other people are in support of the event, the
audience has no reason to be concerned or feel nervous about the transition. By implement-
ing these strategies, a rhetor is able to construct a reality with which the audience feels
comfortable and in which it believes it can achieve success.

Abdoolcarim, Z. (2014, September 28). Hong Kong in turmoil: 5 takeaways from weekend of protests.

Time. Retrieved from
Billig, M. (1995). Banal nationalism. London, UK: Sage.
Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau. (2007, July 1). The Joint Declaration and its implementation.

[Government website]. Retrieved from
Eades, M. (2014, February 20). Beijing’s fight against democracy activism in Hong Kong. The James-

town Foundation. Retrieved from

Lai, A. (2012, July 2). Thousands protest Hong Kong’s China-fication. CNN. Retrieved from

Lane Bruner, M. (2005). Rhetorical theory and the critique of national identity construction. National
Identities, 7(3), 309–327.

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Feminist Criticism

Feminist criticism has its roots in feminism, a social and political movement
initiated to improve the lives of women. Although feminism has negative con-
notations for many people, the term is much more complex than the negative
connotations suggest. A few examples of the many kinds of feminism suggest
the rich diversity that characterizes the movement. Ecofeminists, for example,
link women’s oppression to the destruction of the environment and see Earth
as a female essence that can heal both human interaction and the environ-
ment, while lesbian feminists see heterosexuality as a primary cornerstone of
male supremacy and encourage women to create various kinds of identifica-
tions with one another. Cultural feminists believe that women and men are dif-
ferent primarily because of the ways that culture shapes individuals and
believe that women’s traditional roles socialize women into behaviors that are
nurturing and supportive. Power feminists do not see women as victims and
ask women to seek power and to use it responsibly, while womanists are
women of color who believe that an understanding of the intersection of race
and gender is needed to address the oppression of women of color. Girlie fem-
inists, also called lipstick feminists or cupcake feminists, embrace both femi-
nist politics and traditionally feminine activities and products such as baking,
crafting, pedicures, and makeup. Transnational feminists focus on how global
capitalism has created relations of inequality for people across nations, races,
genders, classes, and sexualities.

Although each different kind of feminism would likely generate a unique
definition of the term feminism, some basic definitions have provided com-
mon ground for the various types of feminism. Some of these definitions fea-
ture the concept of equality and see feminism as the belief that women and
men should have equal opportunities for self-expression. A similar definition
is that feminism is a “movement towards creating a society where women can
live a full, self-determined life.”1 Other definitions feature the idea of oppres-
sion and ways to end it, as does the definition that conceptualizes feminism as
“the theoretical study of women’s oppression and the strategical and political
ways that all of us, building on that theoretical and historical knowledge, can


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work to end that oppression.”2 A similar definition is “the struggle to end sex-
ist oppression”—the effort to change existing power relations between women
and men.3

Although many basic definitions of feminism focus on achieving various
objectives for women, many feminists do not believe that feminism should be
focused exclusively on women. Many people—not just women—are
oppressed, so many feminists want liberation for everyone. From this perspec-
tive, feminism constitutes a movement that challenges “an entire structure of
domination of which patriarchy is one part”4 and “directs our attention to sys-
tems of domination and the inter-relatedness of sex, race, and class oppres-
sion.”5 Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw’s intersectionality thesis6 is an example
of this approach to feminism. It “calls attention to interlocking and intermesh-
ing oppressions”7 and points to how gender and race interact “in unique and
plural ways.”8 Feminist theorist Gloria Anzaldúa summarizes this idea when
she suggests: “As long as woman is put down, the Indian and the Black in all
of us” are put down.9 Feminists who see the movement as relevant to all peo-
ple see it as a commitment to eliminate relations of oppression and domina-
tion in general, whether of women, African Americans or other racial groups,
seniors, lesbians, gay men, people with disabilities, coworkers, friends, or
family members.

Feminists who want to address the oppression of all people believe that the
way to do this is to “eradicate the ideology of domination that permeates” our
culture.10 Feminist theorist bell hooks11 explains that the ideology of domina-
tion is marked by “the belief in a notion of superior and inferior, and its con-
comitant ideology—that the superior should rule over the inferior.” This
ideology is so pervasive, she says, that “most citizens of the United States
believe in their heart of hearts that it is natural for a group or an individual to
dominate over others.”12 Because our culture is competitive, exploitative, and
alienating, participating in it means engaging “in a way of thinking and acting
that’s harmful to women, men, children and other living things.”13 Feminism
addresses this culture by seeking to “undermine and destroy the entire system
of power-over other human beings.”14 As communication theorist Julia Wood
aptly explains: “I don’t accept oppression and domination as worthy human
values, and I don’t believe differences must be ranked on a continuum of good
and bad. I believe there are better, more humane and enriching ways to live.”15

Feminists who want to eradicate the ideology of domination that charac-
terizes our culture define feminism as the effort to transform an unhealthy
and dangerous system of domination into one that is life affirming and nurtur-
ing. These feminists want “the alienation, competition, and dehumanization
that characterize human interaction” to be “replaced with feelings of intimacy,
mutuality, and camaraderie.”16 Feminism, they assert, “challenges each of us
to alter our person, our personal engagement (either as victims or perpetra-
tors or both) in a system of domination.”17

Feminists who work to transform the culture seek to do so by enacting val-
ues that help to disrupt the ideology of domination and that point to alterna-
tive, nondominating ways to live. Three such values are particularly
important—equality, immanent value, and self-determination. Equality is a
commitment to the elimination of the notions of superior and inferior that

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characterize most human relationships. It means that everyone is seen as
deserving of the same respect and the same opportunities for self-expression.
Immanent value derives from the principle that “your life is worth some-
thing. . . . You need only be what you are.”18 Worth cannot be determined by
positioning individuals on a hierarchy, ranking and comparing them, or by
attending to emblems of external achievement, for worth cannot be “earned,
acquired, or proven.”19 In the enactment of immanent value, all participants
in an interaction are seen as having experiences and holding perspectives that
are valuable and legitimate. Self-determination means that individuals should
be allowed to make their own decisions about how they wish to live their lives.
This principle involves a trust that others are doing the best they can at the
moment and simply need “to be unconditionally accepted as the experts on
their own lives.”20

Feminists who want to create more life-affirming ways to live believe that
enactment of the values of equality, immanent value, and self-determination
would go a long way toward disrupting and transforming the current ideology
of domination. All three values concern the effort to create relationships on
the basis of seeing others as equal and not as inferior or superior. They also
involve individuals appreciating and valuing the uniqueness of the others with
whom they interact, even if they do not agree with them. Finally, the three val-
ues require that individuals allow others to believe and act as they choose
without trying to change and thus dominate them.

When some feminists began to question culture and to believe that it
should and can be transformed, they realized that to do so means challenging
the “fundamental assumptions that organize all our thinking.”21 Feminism is
often equated now with practices of disruption in general—practices that
unsettle or challenge common assumptions, raise questions about traditional
perspectives, and foster reconsideration of what has been taken for granted.
Feminism as a challenge to hegemonies—to dominant or standard ways of
seeing the world or “established order in all its forms”22—is the definition of
feminism that forms the basis for criticism in this chapter. In its broadest
sense, this kind of feminism is a way of thinking outside of established catego-
ries and boundaries; it involves a “radical skepticism”23 toward the status quo,
and it seeks to generate “ideas which stand in direct opposition to accepted
‘knowledge.’”24 Because this feminism generates alternative assumptions
about society and produces alternative ways of seeing, it is a “theory of eman-
cipation”25 that is designed to “disrupt, transgress, and invent possibilities.”26

As feminist theorist Sonia Johnson explains, feminism is “a perspective, a way
of looking at all the issues,” a “totally different human possibility, a . . . way of
being in the world. It is about a new universal habit, a new mind.”27

Early feminist criticism involved an analysis of artifacts that oppressed,
subordinated, or silenced individuals in order to identify the ways in which
oppressive conditions are created. The focus in these analyses was on the
nature of the oppression in the artifacts being analyzed, the ways in which the
conditions were rhetorically constructed, and the harmful effects of the arti-
facts on participants and audiences. Thus, feminist critics often analyzed
films, for example, to identify the stereotypical views of women they por-
trayed, how those stereotypes were created, and the harmful effects of those

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stereotypes on our culture. Although an awareness of how structures of
oppression are created is important, a focus on these structures means that
the critic is focusing on what is—oppression—rather than on what could be—
liberation from oppression and the various ways in which rhetors can create
alternative, more enriching ways to live. When feminist criticism is rooted in a
definition of feminism as a disruption of common assumptions, it is designed
to identify strategies that disturb “thinking habits, dissipating what has
become familiar and clichéd.”28 From this perspective, feminist critics are
interested in discovering rhetorical options that “aim at producing a different
hearing and a renewed viewing” in which the structures of the dominant way
of thinking simply are not reproduced.29

At this point, you might wonder why this kind of feminist criticism is even
called feminist—after all, it has to do with disrupting conventional practices
and perspectives of all kinds and not just those involving women. Feminist
critics choose to call the method feminist for several reasons. One is that the
communicative practices of women are often used as a heuristic device for
studying how communication practices in general can be used to disrupt
hegemonies or standard perspectives and practices. Feminists’ initial focus on
women revealed strategies used by women to disrupt standard assumptions
and to conceptualize systems and cultures in new ways, so those who engage
in feminist criticism use the label to celebrate the difficult communicative
work that women have done throughout the centuries and to use these prac-
tices as models for other individuals and groups.

Feminist criticism deserves the label of feminist as well because it is
marked by a key objective of feminism—to decolonize minds or to disconnect
from hegemonic ways of believing, acting, and being. Decolonization is the
“breaking with the ways our reality is defined and shaped by the dominant
culture and asserting our understanding of that reality, of our own experi-
ence.”30 Feminists have done and continue to do this in multiple ways, starting
with the assumption that biology is not destiny and that a woman’s body does
not confine her to particular roles.

Finally, the feminist label for this kind of criticism acknowledges the schol-
ars who first began to engage in this kind of criticism—feminists. The history
of women is often neglected and ignored, and the feminist label ensures that
the history of rhetorical criticism incorporates the contributions of the schol-
ars who introduced feminist perspectives into the communication discipline.

Feminist efforts to disrupt established perspectives made their way into
the academy when feminist scholars and professors began to see that femi-
nism was something they could bring to their scholarship, their institutions,
and their disciplines. Feminist perspectives entered the communication disci-
pline through three influential essays. Karlyn Kohrs Campbell’s essay, “The
Rhetoric of Women’s Liberation,” published in 1973, is an analysis of the con-
temporary women’s movement. In this article, Campbell suggested that the
movement is an oxymoron because its substantive and stylistic components
are so different from traditional conceptions of rhetoric that it constitutes a
unique kind of social movement.31 Campbell’s essay was followed in 1974 by
an essay by Cheris Kramarae (formerly Kramer) titled “Women’s Speech: Sep-
arate but Unequal?” In this essay, Kramarae raised the possibility of “systems

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of co-occurring, sex-linked, linguistic signals” that point to linguistic sex dif-
ferences between women and men.32 Sally Miller Gearhart’s “The Womaniza-
tion of Rhetoric,” published in 1979, challenged a fundamental tenet of
rhetorical theory—the definition of rhetoric as persuasion. She indicted this
definition on the grounds that any intent to persuade is an act of violence and
proposed instead a female model of communication as an antidote to the vio-
lence that characterizes life on planet Earth.33

Another major feminist contribution to rhetorical theory and criticism
was scholarship dedicated to analysis of the rhetoric of women, disrupting the
practice in the communication discipline of only studying the speaking prac-
tices of men. Initially, famous women orators who had access to political and
social power were the focus of analysis, paralleling the study of famous male
speakers.34 The study of famous women speakers, however, pointed the way to
considerations of gendered speaking styles and to the study of forms of com-
munication more likely to be available to and used by women—a significant
disruption of the rhetorical tradition.35

Recognition that women had been neglected by rhetorical studies led to
various critiques of disciplinary traditions and practices. One of the first such
critiques was provided by Kathryn Carter and Carole Spitzack’s edited vol-
ume, Doing Research on Women’s Communication, published in 1989. In the
introductory essay in this volume, Spitzack and Carter addressed what they
referred to as the blind spot in the communication discipline—the impact of
gender on research practices. In the book, contributors questioned taken-for-
granted assumptions about communication scholarship, identified publishing
norms and practices that functioned to contain and subvert the radical nature
of feminist research, and opened the way for rethinking communication con-
cepts and scholarly practices.36

Another such critique occurred in 1994 with the publication of an essay by
Carole Blair, Julie R. Brown, and Leslie A. Baxter, “Disciplining the Femi-
nine,” in the Quarterly Journal of Speech. When an essay they wrote critiquing
a report that ranked female scholars in communication according to their
number of publications was rejected by a journal, they wrote a new essay in
which they analyzed as data the comments of the reviewers about the first
essay. The reviewers had questioned the authors’ status as scholars, accused
them of being anti-science, and declared them to be members of an “extremist
fringe of the so-called feminist movement.”37 Blair, Brown, and Baxter used
those comments to critique the masculinist ideology of the communication
discipline and its publishing practices.

The emergence of rhetorical studies about women, women’s issues, and
gender in all communication contexts raised the question of what constitutes
a feminist perspective. Various caucuses and conferences provided the space
in which such efforts to explore and define feminist perspectives could occur.
These included the creation of women’s caucuses in the national and regional
organizations of the communication discipline, including the Women’s Caucus
of the Speech Communication Association (now the National Communication
Association), formed in 1971, and the Organization for Research on Women
and Communication (ORWAC), affiliated with the Western States Communi-
cation Association, which started in 1976. Publication of its journal, Women’s

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Studies in Communication, began in 1977. The first conference to grapple
with issues at the heart of feminist perspectives occurred in 1978 at Bowling
Green State University. The conference spawned the Organization for the
Study of Communication, Language, and Gender (OSCLG), which now pub-
lishes the journal Women and Language, another outlet for feminist scholar-
ship in communication. The Conference on Gender and Communication,
which began at Pennsylvania State University in 1984, offered yet another
forum where feminist perspectives were debated.

As feminist scholarship developed, feminist scholars recognized that
incorporating feminist perspectives into rhetorical studies could do nothing
less than transform the discipline. Karen A. Foss and Sonja K. Foss, in their
summary article in 1983, “The Status of Research on Women and Communi-
cation,” pointed out that what was needed was “growth by revolution,”
whereby scholars question their presuppositions, replace them as appropri-
ate, and create new conceptualizations that incorporate women’s perspec-
tives.38 Similarly, in their 1987 typology of women in communication
research, Spitzack and Carter argued that feminist scholars need to do more
than fill in the gaps in existing research categories of women as communica-
tors if women truly are to be integrated into the communication discipline.
The process of reconceptualization, they suggested, will produce “novel theo-
ries, investigative strategies and topic areas” that will transform the disci-
pline.39 Many feminist scholars today use their research to reconceptualize
and thus challenge traditional rhetorical theory to reflect more inclusive
understandings of rhetoric.40 The primary focus of feminist criticism on iden-
tifying and explicating strategies of disruption that can lead to liberation and
transformation is part of this effort.

Using the feminist method of criticism, a critic analyzes an artifact in a

four-step process: (1) selecting an artifact; (2) analyzing the artifact; (3) for-
mulating a research question; and (4) writing the essay.

Selecting an Artifact
Many kinds of artifacts are appropriate to analyze using feminist criti-

cism. Much feminist criticism features the rhetoric of typically marginalized
or subordinated groups because of the origins of the method in the feminist
movement and because traditionally oppressed groups and individuals often
developed particularly innovative and inspiring strategies of disruption. But
the artifact you choose to analyze is not required to have this focus—it does
not have to have been created by a member or members of a traditionally mar-
ginalized group or represent the perspective of such a group. What you want
to see in an artifact that you analyze for feminist criticism are strategies that
disrupt hegemonies in various ways. As you’ll see in the sample essays at the
end of this chapter and on the list of additional samples of criticism on the
website, feminist criticism can be done with subject matter ranging from the
film The Big Lebowski to revolution in Belarus to Garrison Keillor’s radio

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monologues to the peace movement because all involve the disruption of some
kind of conventional perspective.

Analyzing the Artifact
Feminist criticism involves two basic steps: (1) identifying and explicating

the strategies used in the artifact to disrupt hegemonies; and (2) exploring the
impacts of the strategies of disruption on hegemonic ideologies and structures.

Identifying Strategies of Disruption
Your primary goal as a feminist critic is to identify and explicate strategies

that disrupt established hegemonies and, in turn, create new ways of thinking,
acting, and being. In the method you will be applying, you will be coding your
artifact for the strategies used by a rhetor to disrupt a dominant perspective or
practice and to create alternatives to it. The strategies of disruption described
below—generating multiple perspectives, cultivating ambiguity, reframing,
enacting, and juxtaposing incongruities—are not the only strategies you might
discover being used in an artifact; they provide a starter list only. Stay open to
whatever additional types of strategies of disruption you might find in your
artifact that can extend the options in this list for transforming dominant ways
of thinking and acting.

Generating Multiple Perspectives. One way in which a rhetor may disrupt
a hegemonic ideology is by presenting multiple perspectives on a subject. The
typical approach to the construction of messages is to narrow, focus, and
refine a perspective and then to reinforce it with evidence. A perspective that
is hegemonic essentially says that there is only one “right” perspective on a
subject, so deliberately generating alternatives is one way to disrupt it. By
deliberately presenting many different views on a subject, a rhetor makes
clear that the perspective being presented as dominant and natural is not the
only one available.

Rhetors may generate multiple perspectives in an artifact in various ways.
The most common is when a rhetor summarizes different perspectives on an
issue. Each perspective discussed is a different lens through which the issue
can be viewed or a different way of looking at the problem as a result of varied
areas of specialty, interest, or expertise. In a presentation discussing whether
a proposed Islamic community center and mosque should be built within two
blocks of the The National September 11 Memorial in New York City, for
example, a rhetor might explain the various perspectives on the issue. These
perspectives could include that of the developers, who see it as a way to “fos-
ter better relations between the West and Muslims”; that of the family mem-
bers of those killed in the twin towers of the World Trade Center on 9/11, who
see it as a “slap in the face”; that of documentary filmmaker Michael Moore,
who believes the mosque should be built at Ground Zero itself to demonstrate
America’s commitment to freedom of religion; and that of Pastor Fred, who
planned (but later canceled) a “Burn the Koran Day” on September 11, 2010,
to protest the building of the mosque. All of these perspectives are considered
a part of the dialogue about this issue, and the rhetor, in the presentation,
would fairly represent and not dismiss any of them.41 Another example of this

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strategy can be seen in the television series The Affair, created by Sarah Treem
and Hagai Levi, which presents events from the perspectives of the two main
characters, Noah and Allison. A scene is presented from the perspective of one
character, and then it is re-done from the perspective of the other, often with
dramatically different understandings of an event or experience.

Multiple perspectives can be presented in more subtle ways as well. A
common practice among filmmakers and photographers is to shoot the same
scene or image several times and then to select only one shot—the best one—
in the editing process. To present multiple views, a rhetor rejects this
approach and instead might include “a plurality of shots of the same subject
from very slightly different distances or angles.”42 Yet another strategy for pre-
senting multiple perspectives is through repetition of the same phrase or word
or image but with the context varied so that the meaning changes with each
new context. The initial meaning keeps on being displaced, altered, extended,
or supplemented so that meanings interact with one another in the process.
Daniel Beaty’s poem “Knock Knock” is an example (you can see him perform
his poem on YouTube, and the poem is included and discussed in detail in
chapter 5 on fantasy-theme criticism). The words knock knock are repeated
multiple times in the poem in a wide variety of contexts—in a happy family; in
a prison; in a discussion of racism and poverty; and in association with dili-
gence, freedom, choice, and change. As a result, the meaning of knock knock
keeps building and evolving.

Another way in which rhetors can cultivate multiple perspectives on a
subject is by deliberately seeking out perspectives that are different from
theirs. In other words, they question their own hegemonic beliefs by deliber-
ately subjecting them to critical interrogation and exposing them to “concrete
counter-examples” that disrupt their “seemingly fixed (yet often unstated)
assumptions.”43 As a result, individuals are able to engage in critical self-
examination, reflect on and explore their beliefs, and come to new meanings
and understandings. The process is not unlike that of invitational rhetoric, in
which individuals engage with one another not to try to persuade them but to
understand the perspectives they hold—perspectives that often are different
from their own.44 Rhetors who seek out different perspectives are likely to use
strategies such as asking many questions of the audience, encouraging audi-
ence members to identify and articulate their own problems and solutions,
and tentatively offering their own perspectives instead of trying to secure
audience adherence to them.

Cultivating Ambiguity. Cultivating ambiguity is another way by which
rhetors can disrupt standard practices and perspectives. Using this strategy,
rhetors deliberately construct messages that are unclear, inexact, equivocal,
and open to more than one interpretation. This strategy violates conventional
rules of rhetoric to construct messages that are clear and transparent (and
thus reductive in meaning): “Clear expression, often equated with correct
expression, has long been the criterion set forth in treatises on rhetoric, whose
aim was to order discourse so as to persuade.”45 Clarity is achieved through
normative formulas that provide “immediate accessibility. . . . The idea is clear
and there’s no need to strain the brain or the eye.”46 When an image ripples or

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is blurred in a film, for example, audiences know that this means the passage
from reality to a dream sequence—it is a formula virtually all audiences know,
and they do not question its meaning. Clarity, however, has embedded within
it a particular ideology, and “a demand for clear communication often proves
to be nothing else but an intolerance for any language other than the one
approved by the dominant ideology.”47

With ambiguous messages, rhetors deliberately encourage attention to
multiple meanings by refusing to present one clear meaning—a central mes-
sage or one single story is not supposed to emerge from the message. The
resulting hybrid, in-between space of multiple possibilities for meaning is
much like a “moment where suddenly everything stops; one’s luggages are
emptied out” and where “encounters with the ‘unfamiliar’ or ‘unknown’ are
multiplied and experienced anew.”48 Consequently, readers or “viewers may
not know what they are seeing, may not know how to see it,”49 and the reading
remains open. An example of such an ambiguous artifact is the outfit that Kel-
lyanne Conway, advisor to Donald Trump, wore to his inauguration in 2017: a
navy-blue Gucci coat with a white panel down the front accessorized with
large buttons and a belt. The coat had a red collar, and she wore a red hat and
gloves and carried a red handbag. Was the coat an allusion to Tchaikovsky’s
holiday classic The Nutcracker ballet? To the Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s
Lonely Hearts Club Band? To British soldiers in the Revolutionary War? To
marching bands? Because of its ambiguity, it offered a variety of possible
meanings for the audience.

One way in which rhetors can create ambiguous messages is by using the
strategy of repetition with variation. This repetition “is not just the automatic
reproduction of the same, but rather the production of the same with and in
differences.”50 Similar to one of the strategies for presenting multiple perspec-
tives, it involves repetition of a phrase, a sentence, a sound, or an image, each
time with slight variation. Feminist theorist and filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha
models this technique in films such as Reassemblage, when she records a com-
plete statement and then repeats different parts of it at different times, some-
times in its complete form and sometimes with words missing. The meaning
changes with each new context and, as a result, the audience has a wider
range of possible interpretations for a symbol.

Another technique that rhetors may use to create deliberately ambiguous
messages is to prevent narrative closure. In this technique, no closure or end-
ing point is provided for a message or an artifact. The message does not lead
from a starting point to an ending point, and no emphasis is given to a fin-
ished product. A story might tell about a woman who is struggling to write a
book, but it does not reveal at the end whether she finishes the book or is able
to get it published. Similarly, a film might show someone sewing, but the end
product of the work is never shown, and the audience never knows what gar-
ment was being constructed. Although lack of closure does not provide the
relief audiences typically expect and desire from an ending, “it does contain
an invitation to openness—to imaginative possibility—that is not possible
when a story is finished.”51

As a result of generating multiple perspectives, neither the rhetor nor the
audience can settle on the hegemonic or “normal” perspective on a subject.

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There are always other interpretations of it, and by using this strategy, the
rhetor deliberately sets out to generate some of those alternative interpreta-
tions and to ask the audience to consider them as possibilities.

Reframing. Reframing is the process of shifting perspective to view a
“situation from a different vantage point.”52 Communicators are always select-
ing interpretive frames for their experiences, and reframing involves the selec-
tion of a new frame for an experience. As therapists Paul Watzlawick, John
Weakland, and Richard Fisch explain, reframing “means to change the con-
ceptual and/or emotional setting or viewpoint in relation to which a situation
is experienced and to place it in another frame which fits the ‘facts’ of the
same concrete situation equally well or even better, and thereby changes its
entire meaning.”53

The result of reframing is the drawing of “a different frame around the
same set of circumstances” so that “new pathways come into view.”54 The
Dalai Lama provides an example of reframing when he reinterprets his exile
from Tibet:

For example, in my own case, I lost my country. From that viewpoint, it is
very tragic—and there are even worse things. There’s a lot of destruction
happening in our country. That’s a very negative thing. But if I look at the
same event from another angle, I realize that as a refugee, I have another
perspective. As a refugee there is no need for formalities, ceremony, proto-
col. If everything were status quo, if things were okay, then on a lot of occa-
sions you merely go through the motions, you pretend. But when you are
passing through desperate situations, there’s no time to pretend. So from
that angle, this tragic experience has been very useful to me. Also, being a
refugee creates a lot of new opportunities for meeting with many people.
People from different religious traditions, from different walks of life, those
who I may not have met had I remained in my country. So in that sense it’s
been very, very useful.55

Many rhetorical options are available for reframing. A common one is to
select a new metaphor for describing something that offers a different perspec-
tive on a subject. As you will learn if you read chapter 9 on metaphoric criticism,
metaphors play a key role in framing perceptions, and shifting metaphors means
changing perspectives—making new connections and seeing in new ways—for
both the creator of and audience for the metaphor. If someone describes a work-
place as a jungle, for example, that metaphor suggests a particular perspective
on that workplace. Shifting metaphors and choosing to describe it as a nest, in
contrast, presents a very different picture of that same workplace.

A strategy called resourcement also offers a way for rhetors to disrupt an
established frame. A term coined by Gearhart, resourcement means making a
choice to draw energy from a different source.56 In a communication situa-
tion, this means that rhetors can choose not to interact within the frame in
which an interaction is unfolding and use a different source from the original
frame to develop their communicative responses. The first step of resource-
ment is disengagement—stepping away from the original frame. Disengage-
ment can be as simple as walking away from a conflict or deleting a
provocative email message. The second step is formulating a response within

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a new frame or developing a creative response to the message being offered.
Often, this involves engaging in communication that does not directly argue
against or even address the message being offered. It addresses a different exi-
gency or starting point from the one implicit in the original message.

An example of resourcement is what linguist Suzette Haden Elgin calls the
Boring Baroque Response. With this response, a rhetor responds to a hostile,
threatening, or unkind message with a lengthy answer that is neutral in tone
and has nothing to do with the frame of the original message. The response
deprives the communicator of the fuel required to continue with the argu-
ment. For example, if someone says, “If you really cared about your kids, you
wouldn’t put them in day care,” a Boring Baroque Response might be:

You know, hearing you say that reminds me of something I read only the
other day in the New York Times. No, wait a minute—it couldn’t have been
the Times, because I haven’t gotten around to reading it this week, it must
have been the Washington Post. Or it could have been the Wall Street Jour-
nal, come to think of it, because . . . (And so on.)57

Another example of resourcement can be seen in the film The Long Walk
Home, a fictionalized account of the bus boycott by African Americans in
Montgomery, Alabama, during the civil rights movement. In one scene, a
group of white women and their black maids are surrounded by the white
women’s husbands, who are angry because their wives have begun to drive the
black women back and forth from their homes. The men threaten the women
with physical violence and, in response, the women join hands and begin to
sing a gospel song. The potential violence dissipates as a result of the refram-
ing of the situation from one of confrontation to one of peacefulness, trust,
and camaraderie.

Other ways are available for reframing a perspective. Redefinition
involves providing a new meaning for a word, providing a “qualitatively new
experience”58 of that word. Feminist theorist Mary Daly engages in many such
acts of redefinition. One of her most famous is her redefinition of the term
spinster, changing it from the definition of “an older, unmarried woman” into
“a woman whose occupation is to spin.”59 The term spinning, for Daly, means
“turning quickly on one’s heel; moving Counterclockwise; whirling away in all
directions from the death march of patriarchy,”60 so her redefinition turns the
term into a very positive one.

Altering the spelling of a word or changing its visual shape is another way
in which a rhetor may reframe. This can involve inserting slashes or parenthe-
ses into words or combining parts of words or entire words. Daly again pro-
vides examples of this practice. The term gynecology, for example, which
usually means a branch of medicine that deals with women’s diseases, is
transformed when Daly inserts a slash into the word to make it gyn/ecology,
which she defines as “practical wisdom concerning the complex web of rela-
tionships among Spinsters and all Elemental beings; . . . the ecstatic Realiza-
tion of Female Powers of Healing/Re-membering.”61 The term now is focused
on women’s perspectives and a commitment to the environment that were not
part of the term’s definition before. Similarly, she calls the dictionary of
woman-centered words she created a wickedary, combining the words diction-

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ary and wicked to suggest a dictionary that belongs to “wicked women.”62All of
these strategies make use of reframing to encourage and facilitate disruption
of a standard perspective.

Enacting. In enactment, individuals act out or embody an interpretation
of a situation that is counter to the one normally accepted—they embody the
point they are making about the new reality they desire. Rhetorical theorists
Karlyn Kohrs Campbell and Kathleen Hall Jamieson characterize enactment
as a form in which a rhetor “incarnates the argument, is the proof of the truth
of what is said.”63 Rhetorical theorist Suzanne M. Daughton elaborates,
explaining that

enactment is often an audacious, “in-your-face” strategy because it calls
attention to its own performative nature. It is usually presented as a fait
accompli, often announcing a conclusion, a status shift, or a significant
gain already having taken place, or else the rhetor would not be able to
prove the truth of her or his own claims. . . . Enactment says, “By the very
action I am taking now, I have achieved this power that I sought.”64

Instead of acting differently once conditions change, rhetors who employ
enactment act and feel differently even when external conditions remain the
same. They act as if the changes they desire in the world have already occurred.
As Johnson explains, “We do now what we want to be doing in the future, we be
now, feel now how we thought we would be and feel only in some future time.”65

Enactment is a way to disrupt a standard perspective on a very personal
level. Hooks sees it as a particularly effective way of disrupting the ideology of
domination because, as rhetors act in nondominating, nonexploitative, nonop-
pressive ways, their lives become “a living example” of their politics and their
commitments.66 Enactment of nondomination means, for example, that indi-
viduals “practice speaking in a loving and caring manner” to acquaintances,
friends, and family members. Rhetors who engage in enactment “create new
models for interaction . . . ways of being that promote respect and reconcilia-
tion” that challenge the hierarchical, competitive system that seeks to have
individuals “work against one another.”67 As hooks asserts: “Our lived prac-
tice, every moment of the day,” should be “saying ‘No!’” to the culture of dom-
ination in some way or another.68

The members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, an
organization dedicated to achieving civil rights for blacks in the 1960s, pro-
vide an example of enactment. In their sit-ins at lunch counters and in voter-
registration drives, the students “attempted to live ‘as if ’ segregation did not
exist,”69 innovating “concrete ways to throw over an entire array of deferential
behavior and ideas” and claiming “the respect and dignity that segregation
systematically denied them.”70 They experienced a “freedom created by their
own actions, freedom in that very moment. . . . It was freedom inside, freedom
as an inside job.”71 By acting as if the freedom they desired for the world was
already manifest, they disrupted the conventional view of their conditions as
oppressive and themselves as inferior citizens.

Enacting affirms and reinforces a new interpretation of a situation and
makes it part of the rhetor’s psyche or internal state. As Johnson notes, the
creation of a new world is not the monumental task we often think it is

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because it is created internally: “Right here in the midst of the wreckage of the
old order, we must build the new one. . . . . The new world is within us; it is
not a geographical space.”72

Juxtaposing Incongruities. In the strategy of juxtaposing incongruities,
which also is called perspective by incongruity, a rhetor merges categories typ-
ically believed to be mutually exclusive. Kenneth Burke calls the process “ver-
bal ‘atom cracking,’”73 and it involves wrenching a word loose from one
category and applying it to a different category. Human systems of belief and
motivation are organized by schemes of orientation that “function as stable
frames of reference which direct human perception and determine our judg-
ments about what is proper in a given circumstance.” The strategy of juxtapos-
ing incongruities unites under one heading items “generally considered in
complete isolation from one another,”74 upsetting and prying apart normal
patterns of association. The figure of speech known as the oxymoron engages
in this kind of juxtaposition. Examples of oxymorons are open secret, Arabian
Puritanism, Hell’s Angels, living death, and alone together. In the oxymoron,
two ideas that are seen to reside in very different categories are put together, a
pairing that typically disrupts and changes the meanings of both terms.

An example of juxtaposing contradictions can be seen in television ads
from the 2006 presidential campaign that linked voting with a first sexual
experience. The ads featured women celebrities reflecting on the first time
they voted in language typically used to describe a first sexual encounter:

Woman 1: You want me to tell you about the first time I did it?
Woman 2: I think the best time is in the fall.
Woman 3: When was it, what year?
Woman 4: I like to do it in the morning, when I’m fresh . . .
Woman 1: It’s kinda personal.
Woman 4: . . . and I feel that, you know, my synapses are clicking.
Woman 3: It was the summer of love, 1968.
Woman 1: I did a lot of research on, um . . . the positions that I liked.
Woman 5: Once I did it in an old woman’s garage—
Woman 2: —other people’s houses
Woman 3: Well, it made me feel powerful,
Woman 4: really important,
Woman 5: it’s cool,
Woman 4 pretty,
Woman 5: sexy.
Woman 4: I felt grown up.
Woman 2: I wasn’t a kid anymore.
Woman 6: All of a sudden I felt liberated.
Woman 5: I have been disappointed, yes, when I didn’t do it.
Woman 3: The first man that I had a crush on that wasn’t my Dad, was, uh,

John F. Kennedy, and I really wanted to do it for him.
Woman 1: I made a good choice.
Woman 2: You got all that energy flowing inside and you go in and com-

mit—it’s a beautiful thing.

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When the conversation stopped, the following message flashed on the screen:
VOTE November 7th. Women’s Voices. Women Vote. A nonpartisan organization
that neither endorses nor opposes any candidates. In this case, sex and voting were
juxtaposed in an implied image of a “voting virgin,” putting together two very
different subjects that usually are not seen as belonging in the same category.75

Juxtaposing opposites disrupts settled assumptions and beliefs about the
words and concepts by introducing new ideas into them. It is a method of
breaking down existing perceptions and establishing new ones. As a result,
point of view shifts, and audience members “approach events with a new iden-
tity, reclassifying them, putting things together that were in different classes,
and dividing things that had been together.”76

Exploring the Impact of Strategies of Disruption
After you have identified and explicated the strategies in an artifact that

have the potential to disrupt hegemonies or dominant perspectives and prac-
tices, you want to discuss how they function for the rhetor and the audience to
create new options for thinking, acting, and being. Do the strategies, for exam-
ple, allow rhetors to claim agency, to engage in acts of self-definition or self-
determination, to refuse to be confined by an ideology of domination, to trans-
form dominating structures and relations in imaginative ways, or to articulate
a different mode of being altogether? These are just a few of the ways in which
strategies of disruption may function. By describing these strategies, critics
are able to discover ways in which artifacts can serve as models for creating
alternatives to dominant ideologies and practices, effectively trivializing or
dismantling them. You also may discover that some strategies of disruption
used by a rhetor do not have the intended effect of producing new meanings
and an alternative world. If that is the case, you would want to explain why
the strategies failed to perform the desired function.

Formulating a Research Question
In feminist criticism, a critic’s primary interest is in the strategies that are

used to disrupt hegemonic structures and that provide alternative ways of think-
ing, acting, and being. The research questions feminist critics ask, then, are
likely to be questions such as these: “What strategies are available to rhetors
who seek to disrupt hegemonic perspectives?,” “How do rhetors construct ways
of being that are independent of accepted and conventional norms?,” “What rhe-
torical strategies can be used to transform an ideology of domination?,” or “How
do rhetorical strategies of disruption function to create new modes of living?”

Writing the Essay
After completing the analysis, you are ready to write your essay, which

includes five major components: (1) an introduction, in which you discuss the
research question, its contribution to rhetorical theory, and its significance;
(2) a description of your artifact and its context; (3) a description of your
method of criticism—in this case, feminist criticism; (4) a report of the find-
ings of the analysis, in which you describe the strategies of hegemonic disrup-
tion evident in the artifact and how they function; and (5) a discussion of the
contribution your analysis makes to rhetorical theory.

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Sample Essays
The essays that follow provide examples of different kinds of feminist crit-

icism. Pablo Martin and Valerie Renegar analyze the film The Big Lebowski to
answer the question, “How do carnivalesque rhetorical strategies challenge
hegemonic social hierarchies?” Dara Krause, See Vang, and Shonagh Brent’s
essay analyzing the children’s book Daddy’s Roommate demonstrates the strat-
egy of enactment at work to disrupt a hegemonic perspective. They analyze
the depiction of gay parenting in the book to answer the question, “What rhe-
torical strategies can be used to normalize a nonhegemonic and controversial
perspective?” Karen A. Foss, Sonja K. Foss, and Yufang Zhang analyze the
Advanced Style film and books to discover how elderly women use their fash-
ions to challenge the ideology of aging. Andrew Gilmore did not write an
essay of criticism for this chapter as he did for the others because the text he
analyzed, the speech by Jiang Zemin at the handover of Hong Kong, is not an
appropriate artifact for feminist analysis—in the speech, Jiang is not engaged
in disrupting any hegemonic ideologies or structures.

1 Mary MacNamara, “What is Feminism? Another View . . . ,” Wicca: “Wise Woman” Irish Femi-

nist Magazine, 21 (c. 1982), 6–7, qtd. in Cheris Kramarae, Paula A. Treichler, and Ann Russo, A
Feminist Dictionary (Boston: Pandora, 1985), 159.

2 Linda Aldoory and Elizabeth L. Toth, “The Complexities of Feminism in Communication Schol-
arship Today,” Communication Yearbook 24 (2001): 346.

3 bell hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (Boston: South End, 1984), 26.
4 bell hooks, Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black (Boston: South End, 1989), 25.
5 hooks, Feminist Theory, 31.
6 See, for example, Kimberlé Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Poli-

tics, and Violence Against Women of Color,” Stanford Law Review 43, no. 6 (July 1991): 1241–99.
7 Cindy L. Griffin and Karma R. Chávez, “Standing at the Intersections of Feminisms, Intersec-

tionality, and Communication Studies,” in Standing in the Intersection: Feminist Voices, Femi-
nist Practices in Communication Studies, ed. Karma R. Chávez and Cindy L. Griffin (Albany:
State University of New York Press, 2012), 8.

8 Carrie Crenshaw, “Women in the Gulf War: Toward an Intersectional Feminist Rhetorical Criti-
cism,” Howard Journal of Communications 8, no. 3 (1997): 223.

9 Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 1987), 84.
10 hooks, Feminist Theory, 24.
11 bell hooks does not capitalize the initial letters of her name.
12 bell hooks, Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations (New York: Routledge, 1994), 200.
13 Sally Gearhart, “What Are We Doing?,” Golden Gate Chapter, National Organization for

Women, San Francisco, 8 March 1975.
14 Sally Gearhart, “She Who Hath Ears,” in Women and the Word: Toward a Whole Theology, ed.

Jean Crosby and Jude Michaels (Berkeley, CA: Office of Women’s Affairs of the Graduate Theo-
logical Union, 1972), 77.

15 Julia T. Wood, Gendered Lives: Communication, Gender and Culture (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth,
1994), 4.

16 hooks, Feminist Theory, 34.
17 hooks, Talking Back, 22.
18 Starhawk, Truth or Dare: Encounters with Power, Authority, and Mystery (San Francisco: Harper

and Row, 1987), 115–16.
19 Starhawk, Truth or Dare, 21.
20 Sonia Johnson, The Ship that Sailed into the Living Room: Sex and Intimacy Reconsidered

(Estancia, NM: Wildfire, 1991), 162.

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21 Myra Jehlen, “Archimedes and the Paradox of Feminist Criticism,” Signs 6, no. 4 (Summer
1981): 575.

22 Trinh T. Minh-ha, When the Moon Waxes Red: Representation, Gender and Cultural Politics (New
York: Routledge, 1991), 114.

23 Jehlen, “Archimedes and the Paradox of Feminist Criticism,” 575.
24 Dawn Currie and Hamida Kazi, “Academic Feminism and the Process of De-radicalization: Re-

examining the Issues,” Feminist Review 25 (March 1987): 77.
25 John Hoffman, “Blind Alley: Defining Feminism,” Politics 21, no. 3 (2001): 197.
26 Dawn M. Shinew, “‘Disrupt, Transgress, and Invent Possibilities’: Feminists’ Interpretations of

Educating for Democratic Citizenship,” Theory & Research in Social Education 29, no. 3
(2001): 488–516.

27 Sonia Johnson, Going Out of Our Minds: The Metaphysics of Liberation (Freedom, CA: Crossing,
1987), 237.

28 Trinh, When the Moon Waxes Red, 21.
29 Trinh, When the Moon Waxes Red, 84.
30 bell hooks, Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Recovery (Boston: South End, 1993), 1–2.
31 Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, “The Rhetoric of Women’s Liberation: An Oxymoron,” Quarterly Jour-

nal of Speech 59 (February 1973): 74–86.
32 Cheris Kramer, “Women’s Speech: Separate but Unequal?” Quarterly Journal of Speech 60 (Feb-

ruary 1974): 14.
33 Sally Miller Gearhart, “The Womanization of Rhetoric,” Women’s Studies International Quar-

terly 2 (1979): 195–201.
34 Examples are: Patricia Scileppi Kennedy and Gloria Hartmann O’Shields, We Shall Be Heard:

Women Speakers in America, 1828 – Present (Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt, 1983); Judith Ander-
son, Outspoken Women: Speeches by American Women Reformers, 1635-1935 (Dubuque, IA: Ken-
dall/Hunt, 1984); Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, Man Cannot Speak for Her: Volume I: A Critical Study
of Early Feminist Rhetoric (New York: Praeger, 1989); and Victoria L. DeFrancisco and Marvin
D. Jensen, eds., Women’s Voices in Our Time: Statements by American Leaders (Long Grove, IL:
Waveland, 1994).

35 An example of this kind of expansion of the data for study is Karen A. Foss and Sonja K. Foss,
Women Speak: The Eloquence of Women’s Lives (Long Grove, IL: Waveland, 1991).

36 Carole Spitzack and Kathryn Carter, eds., Doing Research on Women’s Communication: Perspec-
tives on Theory and Method (Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1989).

37 Carole Blair, Julie R. Brown, and Leslie A. Baxter, “Disciplining the Feminine,” Quarterly Jour-
nal of Speech 80 (November 1994): 399.

38 Karen A. Foss and Sonja K. Foss, “The Status of Research on Women and Communication,”
Communication Quarterly 31 (Summer 1983): 202.

39 Carole Spitzack and Kathryn Carter, “Women in Communication Studies: A Typology for Revi-
sion,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 73 (November 1987): 419.

40 Samples of such feminist reconceptualizations include: Karen A. Foss, Sonja K. Foss, and
Cindy L. Griffin, Feminist Rhetorical Theories (1999; rpt. Long Grove, IL: Waveland, 2006);
Sonja K. Foss and Cindy L. Griffin, “Beyond Persuasion: A Proposal for an Invitational Rheto-
ric,” Communication Monographs 62 (March 1995): 2–18; Candace West, “Women’s Compe-
tence in Conversation,” Discourse and Society 6 (January 1995): 107–31; Mary Rose Williams,
“A Reconceptualization of Protest Rhetoric: Women’s Quilts as Rhetorical Forms,” Women’s
Studies in Communication 17 (Fall 1994): 20–44; Sonja K. Foss and Cindy L. Griffin, “A Femi-
nist Perspective on Rhetorical Theory: Toward a Clarification of Boundaries,” Western Journal
of Communication 56 (Fall 1992): 330–49; and Elizabeth J. DeGroot, “A Reconceptualization of
the Enthymeme from a Feminist Perspective,” Diss. University of Oregon 1990.

41 Joe Jackson and Bill Hutchinson, “Plan for Mosque Near World Trade Center Site Moves Ahead,”
October 7, 2010,
trade-center-site-moves-ahead.html; “If That ‘Mosque’ ISN’T Built, This is No Longer America . . . a
Letter from Michael Moore.”
isnt-built-no-longer-america; Lauren Russel, “Church Plans Quran-Burning Event,” July 30, 2010,
spokesman-ibrahim-hooper?_s=PM:US; “Fla. Pastor Will ‘Not Today, Not Ever’ Burn Quran,” Sep-
tember 11, 2010, The mosque was not built. The site is going
to house a 70-story luxury condominium tower and a small Islamic museum.

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42 Quoted in Scott MacDonald, “Film as Translation: A Net with No Fisherman,” Framer Framed,
by Trinh T. Minh-ha (New York: Routledge, 1992), 115.

43 bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom (New York: Routledge,
1994), 130.

44 Foss and Griffin, “Beyond Persuasion.”
45 Trinh T. Minh-ha, Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism (Bloomington:

Indiana University Press, 1989), 16.
46 Trinh, When the Moon Waxes Red, 111–12.
47 Trinh, When the Moon Waxes Red, 84.
48 Quoted in MacDonald, “Film as Translation,” 119.
49 Patricia Ticineto Clough, Feminist Thought: Desire, Power, and Academic Discourse (Cambridge,

MA: Blackwell, 1994), 126.
50 Quoted in MacDonald, “Film as Translation,” 114.
51 Sonja K. Foss and Karen A. Foss, “The Construction of Feminine Spectatorship in Garrison

Keillor’s Radio Monologues,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 80 (1994): 421.
52 Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living (New York: Riv-

erhead, 1998), 172.
53 Paul Watzlawick, John Weakland, and Richard Fisch, Change: Principles of Problem Formation

and Problem Resolution (New York: W. W. Norton, 1974), 95.
54 Rosamond Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander, The Art of Possibility (New York: Penguin,

2000), 1.
55 Dalai Lama and Cutler, The Art of Happiness, 173.
56 Sally Gearhart, “Womanpower: Energy Re-Sourcement,” in The Politics of Women’s Spiritual-

ity: Essays on the Rise of Spiritual Power within the Feminist Movement, ed. Charlene Spretnak
(Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1982), 195.

57 Suzette Haden Elgin, How to Disagree Without Being Disagreeable: Getting Your Point Across
with the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense (New York: John Wiley, 1997), 145.

58 Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation (Boston: Beacon,
1985), 8.

59 Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (Boston: Beacon, 1978), 3.
60 Mary Daly, in cahoots with Jane Caputi, Websters’ First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the Eng-

lish Language (New York: HarperCollins, 1987), 96.
61 Daly and Caputi, Wickedary, 77.
62 Daly and Caputi, Wickedary, 100.
63 Karlyn Kohrs Campbell and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, eds., Form and Genre: Shaping Rhetorical

Action (Falls Church, VA: Speech Communication Association, 1978), 9.
64 Suzanne M. Daughton, “The Fine Texture of Enactment: Iconicity as Empowerment in Ange-

lina Grimké’s Pennsylvania Hall Address,” Women’s Studies in Communication 18, no. 1
(Spring 1995): 22.

65 Sonia Johnson, Wildfire: Igniting the She/volution (Albuquerque, NM: Wildfire Books, 1989), 39.
66 hooks, Teaching to Transgress, 48.
67 bell hooks, Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics (Boston: South End, 1990), 94.
68 hooks, Outlaw Culture, 242.
69 Wesley C. Hogan, Many Minds, One Heart: SNCC’s Dream for a New America (Chapel Hill: Uni-

versity of North Carolina Press, 2002), 3.
70 Hogan, Many Minds, One Head, 23.
71 Hogan, Many Minds, One Heart, 255.
72 Johnson, Going Out of Our Minds, 157.
73 Kenneth Burke, Attitudes Toward History, 3rd ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press,

1984), 308.
74 Kenneth Burke, Permanence and Change: An Anatomy of Purpose (Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Mer-

rill, 1965), 89.
75 Karrin Vasby Anderson, “Deflowering the Voting Virgin: Piety, Political Advertising, and the

Pleasure Prerogative,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 103, nos. 1–2 (February–May 2017): 160–81.
76 Burke, Permanence and Change, 106.

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The Big Lebowski as Carnivalesque Social Critique

Paul “Pablo” Martin and Valerie Renegar

When The Big Lebowski was released in 1998, it was paradoxically derided by critics for
being both ostentatious and vapid. Nine years later, for at least one critic, it has become the
cult film of our times (Palopoli, 2002). This claim is validated by the abundance of “Leb-
owskifests,” conventions where hundreds of fans come together to watch the film, bowl
(this being the central motif of the film), and compete in costume and trivia contests
(Buchanan, 2004; “Lebowskifest,” n.d.; Parks, 2004). The movie has attracted a broad fol-
lowing, from U.S. Marines to Wall Street moguls (Palopoli). Such steadily increasing popu-
larity for a film originally regarded as a cinematic failure is intriguing.

When The Big Lebowski (TBL) entered theaters in the late 1990s, the United States was
enjoying a period of economic and social prosperity (Easterbrook, 1999). Consequently,
most Americans were not receptive to social critiques that TBL had to offer. However, in the
intervening years, the cultural landscape has shifted in several important areas. With a flag-
ging economy, an extended and bloody war with Iraq, and the terrorist attacks of September
11, the United States has increasingly become a place where the mainstream media tend to
legitimate only official points of view and political dissent is unpopular. The latter tends to
be “swallowed by the big official spin” (Griffen, 2002, p. 279), creating a void in popular crit-
ical discourse. With this void begging to be filled by those left voiceless and powerless, The
Big Lebowski has become even more relevant today. TBL provides a critique of the dominant
culture not only in the content of the film, but through the very cinematic and narrative
techniques critics lambasted upon its release, all three of which are carnivalesque in nature.
As described by Mikhail Bakhtin (1963/1984; 1965/1984), carnival “is the place for working
out, in a concretely sensuous, half-real and half-play-acted form, a new mode of interrelating
between individuals, counter-posed to the all-powerful socio-hierarchical relationships of
non-carnival life” (Bakhtin, 1963/1984, p. 123, emphasis in original).

Carnival, then, is used as a vehicle of social critique. While scholars within the fields of
linguistics, literary criticism, and communication in general have been intrigued by
Bakhtin’s work since it was first translated into English in 1984, it is only recently that com-
munication scholars have begun to look closely at Bakhtin’s analysis of carnivalesque rhet-
oric (Harold, 2004; Bruner, 2005). While this work focuses on the efficacy of carnivalesque
tactics in generating social and political change, this article speaks to carnival’s ability to
inspire such agency—encouraging audience members to recognize the constructed and
thus changeable nature of society. Understanding the architecture of carnivalesque media
forms and the implications they have for communication is also valuable because such cri-
tiques are particularly well suited to social environments where the dominant ideology
functions to silence dissent.

In this essay, we demonstrate the ways in which TBL employs carnivalesque rhetorical
strategies within such a discursively restricted setting in an effort to encourage audiences
to see that the social world is not a predetermined and “natural” reality, but one that is
shaped by powerful groups. Such a change in perspective is significant for it can embolden
those who make this shift to realize that they can have agency working to re-form the social

From Communication Studies 58, no. 3 (September 2007): 299–313. Used by permission of Taylor and Francis and
the authors.

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fabric. We begin by providing a brief synopsis of the film, then go on to describe the carni-
valesque and delineate the debate concerning its capacity to encourage social change, after
which we offer a detailed analysis of the film’s most salient carnivalesque qualities. Finally,
we make the argument that rather than dismissing carnival as just another form of parody
characterized by innocuous, prescriptive, and negative critique (Eco, 1984; Sobchack, 1996;
Frank, 1998; Harold, 2004), carnival’s particularly ambivalent form of parody serves to
reveal that established social structures are constructions that are open to debate, competi-
tion, and revision.

The Big Lebowski
Loosely based on several films and corresponding techniques from the film noir and

detective story genres (Robertson, 1998), TBL is a Los Angeles crime story at heart. The
main character, Jeff Lebowski (known as “Dude”), is involved in a case of mistaken iden-
tity. Dude’s rug is urinated upon by thugs seeking to harm another Jeff Lebowski (known
as “Mr. Lebowski”), a wheelchair bound millionaire whose “trophy wife” (Coen & Coen,
1998, 50:35), Bunny, has accrued a massive debt with a prominent producer of porno-
graphic films. Dude seeks recompense for his soiled rug and becomes embroiled in a kid-
napping plot full of double crosses. In the process of trying to save Bunny from her
kidnappers, Dude meets Mr. Lebowski’s daughter Maude, a feminist avant-garde artist,
who helps him unravel the crime. In the end, Dude exposes Mr. Lebowski as a devious and
heartless fraud and makes time to conceive a child with Maude before happily returning to
his simple life.

Due to the wandering structure of the narrative, TBL appears incoherent. Yet when
viewed with less concern for narrative conventions, the film dissects mainstream American
values and more specifically Americans’ diverse approaches to conflict resolution. The car-
nivalesque tropes in the film focus in part on United States’ foreign policy under Presidents
Reagan and Bush. In the film’s first lines of dialogue, the narrator establishes the setting of
the first Gulf War for the audience and then introduces the protagonist of the film, Dude, as
“the man for his time and place” (2:10). The narrator’s monologue is interrupted shortly
thereafter by then President (George Herbert Walker) Bush whom Dude sees speaking to
reporters on television, telling them “this will not stand, this aggression, against, uh,
Kuwait”(3:05; Friedman, 1990, p. A1). Shortly after this introduction, the viewer meets Mr.
Lebowski, a man who happily employs violence to satisfy his desires, and who not coinci-
dentally bears a striking resemblance to then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney. The film
includes other direct and indirect references to the Gulf War and makes various critiques
regarding the use of violence to resolve conflict. Characters such as Mr. Lebowski, the kid-
nappers, and Dude’s friend Walter rely on violence to satisfy their desires. In contrast,
Dude, the protagonist and the touted “man” of the film, is a pacifist, something Walter sees
as a psychological problem (19:01). Through both subtle and explicit commentary, TBL
challenges the values and the dominant national policies of 1991 America and celebrates
the qualities of the common, if pacificistic, citizen.1

The Carnivalesque and Social Transformation
Carnival is marked by the reversal of hierarchies, the abandoning of convention, and,

most importantly, by what Bakhtin describes as grotesque realism wherein all that is high
is brought down to earth (1965/1984). Within a rhetorical artifact, the symbolic inversion
typical of carnivalesque humor helps liberate audiences from social norms (Stallybrass &

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White, 1986/1999) and encourages them to reflect on and ultimately reject their fears of
power, law, and the sacred (Bakhtin, 1965/1984; Boje, Luhman, & Cunliffe, 2003). Yet the
carnivalesque is not negative; rather, it is ambivalent as it “contests and tests all aspects of
society” (LaCapra, 1983/1999) and produces a regenerative, affirmative, healing, and polit-
ically progressive laughter (Booth, 1982/1986). Through carnival, audiences can be freed
“from conventions and established truths, from clichés, from all that is humdrum and uni-
versally accepted” (Bakhtin, 1965/1984, p. 34). Carnivalesque texts thus provide a “route to
knowledge” (Emerson, 2002, p. 6), not simply a negation of the status quo.

Caryl Emerson (2002) writes that “carnival-type laughter dissipates fear, encourages
free inquiry. . . . [and] is in fact a rebuttal of power based etiologies” (pp. 6–7). This ambiva-
lent laughter to which Emerson refers is rooted in parody, “the privileged mode of artistic
carnivalization” (Stam, 1989, p. 173). Booker argues that pushing stereotypes to their
“extreme in spectacle” (1991, p. 226) helps to destabilize them. Carnival also serves as “a
theatrics of rant and madness seeking to repair felt separation and alienation . . . a release
from corporate power” (Boje, 2003, p. 8). Booth (1986) suggests that the carnivalesque has
the potential to regenerate, affirm, and heal individuals within their communities. One of
the few communication scholars to study carnival, Bruner (2005) recognizes that carnival
allows “subjects to enter a liminal realm of freedom and . . . create a space for critique that
would otherwise not be possible in ‘normal’ society” (p. 140).2

Other scholars see carnivalesque tropes as working to question and thus alter the
established meanings of signs within given social structures. Kristeva (1969/1980) finds the
actual discourse within carnival to be structurally reformative, arguing that it “breaks
through the laws of a language censored by grammar and semantics” (p. 65). Gardiner
(1992/1999) also argues that carnival can be effective in generating semiotic disruption,
suggesting that its capacity for “the ‘making strange’ of hegemonic genres, ideologies, and
symbols” (p. 261) reveals new perspectives to its participants. Gardiner’s reference to the
strange-making qualities of carnival highlights its similarities with other rhetorical strate-
gies, namely Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt, or alienation effect (1957/1964), but also Burke’s
perspective by incongruity (1954), Moylan’s critical utopia (1986), and Nietzsche’s stance
regarding Dionysian festivity (Stam, 1989).

The reception of carnivalesque strategies has not always been positive or without
qualification. The humorous and crass tropes of carnival have been largely denigrated by
scholars from the Middle Ages to the present day (Bakhtin, 1965/1984; Stam, 1989). Mor-
son and Emerson (1992) argue that while Bakhtin’s carnival can be advantageous to the
oppressed, they suggest that without a positive and directed liberating force, carnival can
simply be a celebration of nihilism. For Harold (2004), the parody of carnival serves only to
present a different social binary and thus provides no meaningful avenue for social trans-
formation. While Ladurie disagrees, finding that “a binary system does not always apply”
in carnival (1979, p. 314), he nonetheless maintains that carnival offers only the possibility
to move “society as a whole in the direction of social change” (p. 316). He states, “anti-
Semitic Carnivals (Montpellier, Rome) can hardly be deemed progressive” (p. 316, empha-
sis in original). Stallybrass and White (1986/1997) share this position, arguing that carnival
effectively reinforces the social hierarchy, demonizes the weaker members of society, while
Russo (1995) adds that it can actually encourage brutal violence against the powerless.
LaCapra goes further, arguing that Bakhtin fails to address certain aspects of carnival,
namely “victimization, repressive social control, and the manifestation of ordinary social
grievances or conflicts” (1983/1999, pp. 240–241). Still others argue that carnival is an activ-
ity, licensed by the powerful, without any real ability to effect change (Eco, 1984; Sobchack,

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1996). Both Eco and Sobchack suggest that the carnivalized content ubiquitous in mass
media proves its innocuous nature.3

Simply because a text employs a selection of carnivalesque tropes does not necessarily
qualify it as being carnivalesque. A closer assessment of such texts suggests that many of
them tend toward those carnivalesque tropes that provide shock and spectacle rather than
employing those devices, such as grotesque degradation or structural experimentation, that
also encourage social awareness and critical distance (Bakhtin, 1965/1984; Suarez, 1993;
Stam, 1989). Bakhtin observes that while grotesque laughter prevails throughout humorous
texts from the Middle Ages on, it devolved into mere “erotic frivolity” (p. 103) and ephem-
eral “festive luxury” (p. 95) bereft of the inversions and degradations it once had. This trend
has continued through today in texts that otherwise borrow heavily from carnival’s tradi-
tions (Stam). Without the critical elements, such texts are greatly hampered in their ability
to carry carnival’s central purpose. Rather than seeking to direct the perspective of audi-
ences to question the social structure, these ersatz and pseudo-carnivalesque forms deliver
only diversionary entertainment and “distorted versions of carnival’s utopian promise”
(Stam, p. 226). The popular program Jackass, aired on MTV, depends entirely on the disgust-
ing and the absurd for its content4 and seems geared to do nothing more than draw the eye-
balls of a coveted marketing demographic to advertisers. This and other spectacular texts
should not be confused with those that are true to the carnivalesque spirit.

Moreover, carnival does not operate through negation, but ambiguity. The hierarchical
inversion of carnival, itself only one of its defining elements, does not aim to supplant other
hierarchies with its own, as Harold (2004) contends in her discussion of pranking rhetoric.
Rather, in its parodic inversions, carnival reveals that the established social hierarchy,
indeed all of social reality, is a human construct. Viewed thus, pranking can be understood
as being largely carnivalesque in nature. Butler (1999) reinforces this position. Speaking to
gender, she argues that the proliferation of parody works to disrupt “naturalized or essen-
tialist” (p. 120) claims and binaries. Furthermore, throughout his argument Bakhtin asserts
that carnivalesque humor is ambivalent humor (1965/1984). The laughter it engenders
“becomes the form of a free and critical consciousness that mocks dogmatism and fanati-
cism” (Stam, 1989, p. 87), but does not establish an alternate version of truth. Booker (1991)
emphasizes this point, noting that the ambivalent parody within carnival disrupts “the
Aristotelian ‘either-or’ principle of noncontradiction” (p. 236). Given this, we hold that car-
nival does not seek to reinforce binaries and hierarchies, but interrogate them.

Whether a carnivalesque text communicates a progressive message to its audiences or
one that serves to reinforce existing power structures can also be explained by looking at the
decoding practices of audiences. According to Hall (1980/2006), the alternating celebration
and denigration of a text by audience members, including the divergent responses elicited
by TBL, can be credited to the various ways, from dominant to resistant, that individuals
decode it.5 Rather than seeing parodic inversions as challenging the norm, they may in fact
see them as reinforcing and promoting it. While we acknowledge the validity of such varied
interpretations, we argue that the overwhelming number and nature of the carnivalesque
elements within TBL merit its being identified as a progressive carnivalesque film.

Carnival in The Big Lebowski
Through an analysis of Bakhtin’s work, critics can identify a litany of qualities that

characterize the carnivalesque theoretical perspective. Working from Bakhtin’s Problems of
Dostoevsky’s Poetics (1963/1984)6 and Rabelais and His World (1965/1984), in addition to

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Stam’s reading of the latter, we discern three tropes that are central to both the carni-
valesque and TBL: 1) grotesque realism, 2) inversion of hierarchies, and 3) structural and
grammatical experimentation. Of these elements, the first two are key to providing the
socially critical elements of carnival, while the third complements them by encouraging
audiences to achieve a critical distance from viewing the film as pure entertainment.

Grotesque Realism
Among all of the carnivalesque qualities outlined by Bakhtin and elaborated by Stam,

grotesque imagery is the most salient. TBL is rife with grotesque details in all of their man-
ifestations, each of which encourages viewers to remember the fact that all of them are
earth bound animals, linked to it and one another by those very vibrant, if “dirty,” biologi-
cal processes that this truth entails. In general, the grotesque is degradation, a “lowering of
all that is high, spiritual, ideal, abstract . . . to the material level, to the sphere of earth and
body” (Bakhtin, 1965/1984, pp. 19–20). Specifically, grotesque imagery includes references
to and examples of “copulation, pregnancy, birth, growth, old age, disintegration, [and]
dismemberment” (Bakhtin, p. 25) as well as defecation, the use of billingsgate, or abusive
language, and profanity. In the West, after the Renaissance, the body was “isolated, alone,
fenced off from all other bodies” (Bakhtin, p. 29), and biological functions were viewed as
dirty and base. Grotesque realism strives to break these molds and promotes the idea that
everyone’s body, not just those of the privileged classes, is a deeply positive, even heavenly
entity. As such, audiences exposed to the grotesqueries in TBL are encouraged to see the
imposed limitations and divisions of the established order and can thus wonder about the
possibility of existing within other modes of social organization.

The Big Lebowski demonstrates a preoccupation with the “lower stratum of the body,
the life of the belly and the reproductive organs” (Bakhtin, 1965/1984, p. 20)—critical com-
ponents of the grotesque. When the Coen brothers introduce the viewer to a character
named Jesus, he is wearing skin-tight jeans with a clearly discernible bulge in his crotch, an
effect intentionally created by the filmmakers (Robertson, 1998). There are many other
minor inclusions of grotesque body imagery. In the aforementioned scene, Jesus encounters
a man with a large “beer-belly” with a thoroughly food-stained shirt draping over it.
Throughout the film, the Coens also include shots and angles that reveal Dude’s somewhat
large gut and Walter ’s greatly distended stomach. In addition to these shots, the opening
credits are full of images of heavy-set bowlers. Though not dramatic as isolated instances,
the preponderance of imagery focused on excessive bodies throughout the film grounds
audiences in an awareness of the biological body.

The film’s preoccupation with grotesque imagery continues with its focus on bodily
processes which provide often humorous stand-ins for death, fertility, and rebirth, concepts
that are central to carnival in that they encourage an awareness of the similarity among all
human beings. The plot’s central motif, for example, is a rug that is soiled with urine. Such
“drenching in urine [represents] the gay funeral of [the] old world” (Bakhtin, 1965/1984, p.
176) and prepares the way for the birth of a new world and new perspectives, given audi-
ences read it from the “proper” position (Hall, 1980/2006). Other such references to bodily
functions and their related body parts occur throughout the film. For example, when
Dude’s stolen car is recovered, it smells like it was “used as a toilet” (56:15). For Bakhtin,
the degradation of all that is high to the earthly plane is captured in such “acts of defeca-
tion” and concerns with “the lower stratum of the body” (1965/1984, p. 20).

In addition to a focus on the body itself, TBL is rife with visual and narrative references
to dismembered body parts, another common trope of the grotesque. For example, Mr.

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Lebowski informs Dude that he lost the use of his legs during the Korean war; the kidnap-
pers try to coerce Mr. Lebowski by sending him what appears to be Bunny’s toe; and Wal-
ter bites off one of the kidnappers’ ears and spits it into the sky as the camera follows the
ear ’s arc in slow motion. While none of these three dismemberments necessarily moves the
plot forward, they do situate the film within the carnivalesque. The trope is employed most
effectively, however, through Maude, who has adorned her studio with art pieces com-
posed from a variety of mannequin body parts. Most of her sculptures are of bare women’s
torsos, one of which is a pregnant mannequin whose hinged belly opens to reveal the head
of another mannequin. With these details, the film combines several grotesque tropes: the
naked body, the dismembered body, and the pregnant body. By situating this and the other
art pieces in the art studio of a feminist, the film parodies the hegemonic codes that dictate
women’s roles in traditional United States society and, in turn, may encourage viewers to
question these roles. This challenge to women’s alienation from their bodies is echoed for
men in that the threat to cut off Dude’s penis is a recurring motif. All of the references to
the body and its parts seek to establish that the world within the film is a space outside of
the norm, a deviant space that challenges the status quo. Orchestrated with countless other
challenges throughout the film, these dismemberments serve to refract the world through a
lens that encourages the audience members’ critical engagement with it. However, should
some audiences embrace established social norms to the point where they find such degra-
dations offensive or inappropriate, it is unlikely that they will be able to find humor in
them or be compelled to take a critical and potentially challenging perspective on their
own social reality.

Grotesque realism is evident within the dialogue as well, marked as it is by an over-
whelming preponderance of sexual verbiage, both implied and explicit.7 Many of the inter-
actions between characters are intensely sexualized, especially during initial encounters.
By doing so, the film may promote audiences to look differently at the nature of human
interaction and human relationships. When Dude first meets Mrs. Bunny Lebowski, she
coquettishly asks him to blow on her freshly painted toenails, simpering “I can’t blow that
far” (15:45). Abruptly, she adopts a husky, business-like tone, and tells him, “I’ll suck your
cock for a thousand dollars” (15:59). Positioned as a “trophy wife” here and throughout the
film, she would seem relatively powerless. Yet through her sexual advances and blatantly
open speech, she subverts the expectations one might have of a woman in her position,
especially as constructed in mainstream American cinema and television. As Stam argues,
carnival “promotes the subversive use of language by those who otherwise lack social
power” (1989, p. 18). The subversive use of language can also be seen in the conversations
between Maude and Dude. In their first meeting, Maude opens with a comment about her
art, telling Dude, “my art has been commended as being strongly vaginal” (43:49). In this
and the rest of her conversations with Dude she also employs various euphemisms for
male and female genitalia. This is a prime example of “the linguistic corollary of carnival-
ization [for the scene] entails the liberation of language from the norms of good sense and
etiquette” (Stam, 1989, p. 99). Grotesque language, as all grotesque devices, seeks to
encourage audiences to be mindful of their physicality, inviting them to revel in the body
and its processes in the hope of inspiring an interrogation into the conservative and hierar-
chical constraints society imposes upon and between them.

Inversion of Hierarchies
The inversion of the hierarchical structuring of society represents another focused rejec-

tion of social standards. Similar to the grotesque, which brings the cosmos down to the

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earthly plane, the inversion of hierarchies within carnival results in the dethroning of rulers
while the lowly take their places. Through carnival, a suspension of all “hierarchical structure
. . . and everything resulting from sociohierarchical inequality” occurs (Bakhtin, pp. 122–
123). This suspension and inversion highlights the existence of often accepted if not invisible
social hierarchies, thus encouraging a rethinking of such a system of values and potentially
opening the way for social structures that are less elitist and more popular in scope. From the
beginning of the film to its end, TBL celebrates many such crownings and uncrownings.

In the opening sequence of the film, Dude is hailed as the man for his time and place.
One might therefore expect Dude to look the part of the typical Hollywood studio hero.
Standing slightly hunched, wearing slippers, a bathrobe, a threadbare undershirt, and Ber-
muda shorts, peering intently through his sunglasses at the dairy section in a grocery store,
it is clear he is quite the opposite. To punctuate the dissonance the protagonist embodies,
the audience is told that Dude may be the laziest human being on the planet. Thus, from
the outset, the filmmakers place a self-admitted “deadbeat” (1:38:08) in the role of hero,
thereby inverting the standards of the American, capitalist ideal of success by placing this
“bum” at the top of the social ladder. Of course, because TBL is a carnivalesque film, Dude
is himself a target for degradation. When Dude returns from his errand at the grocery store,
thugs have broken into his apartment and attack him, repeatedly dunking his head in the
toilet and literally bringing his crown down to the muck of the earth and into the realm of
the grotesque. Such thronings and dethronings of fools and kings is a common trope of car-
nivalized rhetoric (Bakhtin, 1965/1984; Stam, 1989; Suarez, 1993), and one with the poten-
tial to encourage a critique of established social structure.

Dude is not unaware of his important, if volatile status. He introduces himself to Mr.
Lebowski, apparently a very powerful and wealthy businessman, as “the Dude, or His
Dudeness or . . . El Duderino” (13:00, emphasis added). As for Mr. Lebowski, his wealth and
status are mere illusion. As the film progresses, the viewer learns that Mr. Lebowski is a
total failure in business and actually subsists on an allowance from the trust of his deceased
spouse. Thus the narrative of the film literally reveals the “unvarnished truth under the
veil of false claims and arbitrary ranks” (Pomorska, 1984, p. x), enabling audiences to won-
der, “which character really is the big Lebowski?” The inversion of social hierarchies in TBL
not only works to question the idea that wealth goes to those who work hard or that suc-
cess is only measured out in dollar signs; a major component is that it can function to
assuage fear of enemies, monsters, and the unknown.

As “the acute awareness of victory over fear is an essential element” of carnival
(Bakhtin, 1965/1984, p. 91), in carnivalized media one can see the degradation of enemies
of the people to servile, ridiculous, and laughable positions (Gardiner, 1992/1999). Set in
1991, the film plays on the tensions between Iraq and the United States that eventually led
to war with Saddam Hussein. In the film, when Dude’s second dream takes him to a bowl-
ing alley, Saddam is there working as a bowling shoe attendant. He offers Dude a unique
pair of silver and gold bowling shoes thereby reinforcing Dude’s kingly position against
Hussein’s own lowly status. By placing characters into such grossly inverted roles, recep-
tive audiences are enabled to see social reality as a construct and are thus encouraged to
question it (LaCapra, 1983/1999; Rockler, 2002).

Structural and Grammatical Experimentation
In addition to content, narrative structure is also an effective vehicle for carnivalesque

influences. While the literary carnivalesque seeks to destabilize normative forms in its use
of language (Stam, 1989), cinematic carnivalesque devices strive to reveal the constructed-

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ness of social norms by disrupting established cinematic styles. Applied to film structure,
carnival can be a particularly effective tool to resist hegemonic domination “because it
deploys the force of dominant discourse against itself” (Stam, p. 173). By breaking
“through the laws of a language censored by grammar and semantics . . . [carnivalesque
discourse] is a social and political protest” (Kristeva, 1969/1980, p. 65). Disrupting expecta-
tions and guidelines in the language of film—through the application of “asymmetry, het-
erogeneity, [and] the oxymoron” (Stam, p. 94) in its narrative, visual, and aural structure—
establishes antigrammaticality in form that encourage a critical distance from the content
of the film and an awareness and curiosity regarding the nature of its construction. The
opening scene of TBL is an exceptional demonstration of these techniques. The film begins
with the sounds of a twangy, country music guitar and the image of a tumbleweed blowing
through the desert as a thickly drawled narrator sets the stage. Suddenly, the tumbleweed
crests a ridge and the audience realizes this desert is actually just outside of the urbanized
city of Los Angeles, California. The Stranger (as identified in the credits) tells the audience
the story is set here in 1991, and the incongruity of his voice to this setting is compounded
as the camera pursues the tumbleweed down the dark city streets of nighttime L.A. to its
final destination—the beaches of Malibu. In a manner similar to Burke’s perspective by
incongruity (1954), these disjointed and thus carnivalesque elements “jar viewers out of
their willing suspension of disbelief through the incongruous juxtaposition of the musical
soundtrack and the narrative action” (Vande Berg, 1989/1996, p. 252).

Similar incongruities can be observed through the role of the film’s narrator in that he
breaks with structural standards on at least three occasions. As he is concluding the open-
ing scene with a description of Dude and why he is “the man,” he loses his train of
thought. Halfway through the film and again at its conclusion, the Stranger physically
enters the action—sitting at the bowling alley bar, he talks with Dude and offers him some
advice—a device reminiscent of Bertolt Brecht (1957/1964). Subverting the familiar role of
the narrator helps shift the viewer ’s attention away from the content to focus “our atten-
tion to our assumptions and expectations about . . . film itself” (Nichols, 2001, p. 128).
Indeed, carnival is “the ‘making strange’ of hegemonic genres, ideologies, and symbols”
(Gardiner, 1992/1999, p. 261). Forcing the disruption of a viewer ’s expectations thus
enables viewers to break away from conventional ways of perceiving a narrative, empow-
ering them to “see fresh generic features and expectations” (Vande Berg, 1989/1996, p.
239). If genre norms can be viewed as a form of hegemony (Stam, 1989; Vande Berg), then
such mixing can be seen as establishing a “critical relation to the structures of discursive
authority” (Stam, p. 105).

In addition to their haphazard combination of generic forms, the Coens’ narrative
structure is equally chaotic, a move that elicited derision in most early criticism of the film.
Critics compared the film’s structure to a “convoluted funhouse ride” (Glieberman, 1998, ¶
1) and its plot to a “rubberized freak at a circus sideshow” (“The Big Lebowski,” n.d.).
While the critics’ complaints that the Coens wallow in “meaningless diversion” (Shargel,
1998, ¶ 12) seek to penalize it for going against standard Hollywood convention, they
unwittingly highlight the film’s carnivalesque qualities. The critics fail to recognize that the
plot is intentionally confused. Despite the film’s apparent narrative anarchy, the Coens are
meticulous in how they plan their films (Horowitz, 1991). One could argue that their dis-
ruption of this most fundamental and hegemonic of narrative conventions is purposefully
done to create an entirely new art form—a notion supported by a semi-autobiographical
character in another of their films who claims he wants to create a “new cinema, of, for, and
about the common man” (Coen & Coen, 1991, 6:30). If this is indeed the case, such an

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endeavor seems geared to revolutionize how people perceive their worlds. To quote
Bakhtin, “a new type of communication always creates new forms of speech or a new
meaning given to the old forms” (1965/1984, p. 16).

Conclusions and Implications
In both form and content, TBL typifies carnival in that it encourages the viewer to see

the world through a different system of evaluation. From the disjointed opening scenes
through its anticlimactic dénouement, the film pushes viewers to be aware of the con-
structed nature of society. The filmmakers constantly remind us that they have utter freedom
in how they construct the universe of their film and in doing so, demonstrate that a film
need not be confined to generic limitations to be successful. This parallels the story the film-
makers tell about Dude. He is a man without a job, much less a career, and is even ignorant
as to what day it is. In a lifestyle appalling to button-down conservatives like Mr. Lebowski,
Dude is at peace living by his own ethics in a world that does its very best to make him con-
form. At the conclusion of the film, he has not become wealthy, gained any social status,
found true love, nor has he saved the day. Instead, as he casually prepares for the upcoming
bowling tournament, he tells us, “the Dude abides” (1:50:25). TBL thus encourages viewers
to question the norms upon which we base our lives and positions us to follow Dude’s lead.

Dedicated Lebowski fans have done just this, realizing the film’s carnivalesque qualities
within a festival of their own. Itself “a pageant without footlights” (Stam, 1989, p. 93), Leb-
owskifest ( has become an annual event where the action takes
place on screen and off. Held in bowling alleys, bars, and conference halls, participants
come dressed in costume to exchange witty dialogue, discuss the film’s minutiae, and revel
in debauchery with Dude’s favorite drink. Reminiscent of the midnight costume parties
held at showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the boundary between screen and seat,
and even among participants, is erased as everyone engages in the world of TBL. The film
thus generates a tripartite carnival through its content, structure, and audience participa-
tion. Unlike earlier carnivals that may have had diminished social impact as they were sanc-
tioned by the church, state, or both (Eco, 1984; Averintsev, 1993/1999), a Lebowskifest can
take place wherever and whenever a group decides to host one. Moreover, this and other
carnivalized texts can be viewed by anyone, anywhere, at anytime without the license of the
powerful, making them even more effective tools for spurring the questioning of authority.
Ultimately, how effective such media are at challenging social norms is, of course, depen-
dent on the audience and how receptive they are to such carnivalizations (Hall, 1980/2006).

In general, carnivalesque art forms can reveal to their audiences that they have the lib-
erty to choose the perspective through which they understand their own realities.8 Audi-
ences need not see the social world through a lens entrenched over time and propped up
by an established power elite. Instead, they may recognize that the nature of social reality is
malleable, as is their place within it. This, in turn, allows audience members to substitute
alternative codes for those that may have unconsciously dictated their actions and perspec-
tives before.

This study has enhanced the understanding of the potential for carnival to liberate
people from the confines of rigid, hierarchical ideology and points to the ways in which a
carnivalesque perspective enables scholars to evaluate rhetorical artifacts in new and
enlightening ways. Humorous, popular culture texts need not be dismissed as trivial.
Instead, this research provides scholars with new tools to evaluate this and other popular
texts as cultural critiques. In searching for other carnivalesque texts, scholars may identify

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those in which multiple carnivalesque tropes are at work, especially those texts in which
hierarchical inversion and grotesque imagery play a significant role. Should patterns of
cultural criticism be discerned, the text should be revisited in order to identify when and
where carnivalesque devices occur. Scholars can then highlight the socially critical
enthymemes woven within the carnivalesque layers.

Still, more work needs to be done evaluating carnivalesque rhetoric and its impact in a
media saturated world. We wonder, is there a point at which there is too much carnival in
media, so much so that audiences become inured to its ability to encourage critical distance?
Or, instead of desensitizing viewers, is it possible that a flood of such strategies could actu-
ally revolutionize how we engage with media and encourage a relatively constant level of
critical distance? Beyond these questions, another avenue of inquiry could explore whether
audiences who are receptive to carnivalesque tropes are moved to act based on their new
perspectives, and if so, whether these actions will in fact be progressive in scope. A related
line of questioning would involve comparing the different impact carnivalesque media has
on audiences against the effect of physically participating in a true carnival. While the latter
is likely to be a more potent, the opportunity for repeat exposures and the inherent liberties
that media afford suggests the former can have powerful effects as well.

The carnivalesque perspective offers a rich and liberating tool for the critical/cultural
scholar. It reveals, underneath the apparent nihilism of a carnivalesque text, clear social
criticism. One of carnival’s detractors, Umberto Eco (1979), argued “a democratic civiliza-
tion will save itself only if it makes the language of the image into a stimulus for critical
reflection, not an invitation to hypnosis” (p. 15). While some aspects of carnival can serve
as a tool of distraction, scholars must recognize that it can also be used as a tool to foment a
critical perspective as well. Within a mediascape well populated with the spectacular, there
exist texts that employ a range of carnivalesque devices with the hope of breaking viewers
out of their established ways of seeing the world, encouraging them to revel in something
totally new to their experience. To say that all carnivalesque texts are simply spectacles that
seek to either lull us into political apathy or give us another push toward reckless consum-
erism is to deny the long tradition of carnival’s challenge against authority and to oversim-
plify its potential to encourage social progress.

[1] The Coens’ body of work tends to focus on the plight and perspective of the common, working-class citizen.

This is a major theme common to carnivalesque texts (Bakhtin, 1965/1984). Moreover, in Barton Fink, the semi-
autobiographical namesake of the film is a screenwriter who tries to “‘make a difference‘” (Coen & Coen, 1991).

[2] Analyzing the efficacy of carnivalesque tactics in social protests, Bruner (2005) suggests that their results dif-
fer greatly depending on the setting. Such protest strategies are most effective given such protests operate
within a liberal (social) democracy where “checks and balances to state power” (p. 143) exist. These tactics can
also be moderately effective when the control mechanisms in an otherwise totalitarian state are temporarily
relaxed to allow for limited public protest. Bruner goes on to propose that “carnivalesque protest is simply
not possible if the state is so oppressively humorless that it utterly eliminates all public opposition” (p. 149).
Finally, within conservative (market) democracies, carnivalesque protests are endured, though they are not
very effective given the populace tends to “crave certainty and discourage dissensus” (p. 137).

[3] Yet if spectacular media is common and popularly appreciated, why was TBL so reviled? We suggest that
viewers did not find humor in the Coens’ carnivalizations, if they perceived them at all. Nor is it surprising
that the pundits of mainstream media condemned a film that challenges the status quo on so many fronts.

[4] One episode involved “poo-diving,” where a member of the Jackass crew donned a diving-mask and snorkel
and attempted to skin-dive at a sewage treatment plant.

[5] Hall specifies three different positions from which a text can be decoded: 1) dominant/hegemonic, 2) negoti-
ated, and 3) oppositional. Those who interpret a text from the first position see the text as its creators
intended. Those who negotiate the meaning of the text may see some of the carnivalesque tropes as challeng-

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ing the status quo, but only those that speak to their experience—thus they might see a gross generalization as
an accurate portrayal. Those who read TBL and other carnivalesque texts from the oppositional position
would not see its hierarchical inversions and its parodies as socially transformative but as representations that
reinforce stereotypes and the status quo.

[6] While Dostoevsky’s Poetics focuses on Menippean satire rather than carnival per se, we turn to this work given
Menippea is a genre that is “profoundly” carnivalesque (Bakhtin, 1963/1984, p. 156). For Stam, Menippean
satire is “intimately linked to a carnivalesque vision of the world” (1989, p. 9) and paves the way for the carni-
valization of literature in general.

[7] For example, the word “fuck” and its variants are employed 281 times in the film.
[8] However, carnivalesque strategies are not bound solely to the arts or limited to the analysis of academics. See

Harold’s work on pranking rhetoric (2004), Bruner ’s analysis of carnivalesque protests (2005), Oring’s discus-
sion of humor as an organizational tool (2003), and Stam’s carnivalized election-campaign strategies (1989)
for examples. Moreover, the introduction of relatively inexpensive digital media production and the abun-
dance of Internet forums allows laypeople to produce and distribute their own carnivalesque media.

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A Feminist Analysis of Daddy’s Roommate

Dara R. Krause, See Vang, and Shonagh L. Brent

Bell hooks defines feminism as “a struggle to eradicate the ideology of domination
that pervades Western culture” (hooks 24) and a challenge to an entire system of domina-
tion of which patriarchy is part. Feminist critics can contribute to the eradication of the ide-
ology of domination by analyzing artifacts that provide new models for living in which
difference is not equated with inferiority. Our purpose in this essay is to analyze one such
artifact—a children’s book, Daddy’s Roommate, by Michael Willhoite, published by Alyson
Wonderland in 1990.

Sasha Alyson, founder of Alyson Wonderland, one of the country’s first gay publish-
ing companies, provides an anecdote about the impact of the book Daddy’s Roommate on
children: “Let’s start with Nicholas, a 5-year-old with two gay fathers. For a week after he
got the book, Nicholas carried ‘Daddy’s Roommate’ everywhere. The book apparently
made him feel included in a way the families he had seen on TV and in other books had
not” (Alyson 1). The mission statement of the Alyson Wonderland series is that it “focuses
on books for and about the children of lesbian and gay parents” (Willhoite 31). Alyson
explains how children of gay men can be validated by a depiction of a family that counter-
acts hegemony and normalizes the child’s controversial lifestyle.

Hegemony expresses the advantaged position of white, heterosexual men in a patriar-
chal system. Daddy’s Roommate departs from hegemony in that it does not express a hetero-
sexual perspective. Hegemony in this instance relates to the patriarchal standard of
children having a married female mother and male father who fulfill the roles of nurturer
and breadwinner, respectively. This hegemonic perspective suggests that gay men are not
able to care effectively for children because they are selfish and oversexed, they do not pro-
vide the female figure required to provide a nurturing environment, and they subject chil-
dren to the possibilities of harassment and emotional problems. In short, these reasons
suggest, gay men who parent do not fit the patriarchal notion of living a “normal” life.

Daddy’s Roommate is worthy of close examination because it is a teaching tool for chil-
dren who need an alternative account of homosexuality. This tool needs to be comprehensi-
ble to children, exposing them to functional homosexual love. The young boy’s admission
of ignorance in the book probably applies to many of the book’s readers: “At first I didn’t
know what [gay] meant. So [Mom] explained it” (15). Through its words and illustrations,
Daddy’s Roommate seems to make a conscious effort to acknowledge and challenge homo-
sexual stereotypes for the reader who has become accustomed to hegemony.

Daddy’s Roommate
Daddy’s Roommate is a straightforward description of a young boy’s interaction with

one of his sets of parents—his father and his father’s partner. The text is simple: a single
sentence lines the bottom of each page and provides the caption for a picture, which suits
the book’s intended audience of young children. Publisher Alyson Wonderland describes
Daddy’s Roommate in this way: “This is the first book written for the children of gay men.

This essay was written while Dara R. Krause, See Vang, and Shonagh L. Brent were students in Bernard J.
Armada’s rhetorical criticism class at the University of St. Thomas in 2003. Used by permission of the authors.

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The large, full-color illustrations depict a boy, his father, and the father’s lover as they take
part in activities familiar to all kinds of families: cleaning the house, shopping, playing
games, fighting, and making up” (Alyson Wonderland 1). The Sexuality Information and
Education Council of the United States, which affirms sexuality as a natural and healthy
part of life no matter what one’s orientation, adds, “Using simple language . . . this book is
intended for very young children. The main character and narrator is a young boy who
talks about his daddy and his daddy’s roommate, Frank. He mentions all the fun activities
the three do together” (Lesbian 1). Though it was one of the 10 most challenged books of
the 1990s (Greenblatt 1), it is also a Lambda Literary Award-winning pioneer book
(Daddy’s 1). This is evidence that although a work may garner literary merit, some believe
it should be unconditionally rejected simply because it contains homosexual content. Such
responses suggest the enormity of the task faced by Daddy’s Roommate in trying to trans-
form the hegemonic perspective on families with gay parents.

To analyze Daddy’s Roommate, we will be using the feminist method of rhetorical criti-

cism, which is designed to discover the nature and function of strategies for the disruption
of hegemony—ways in which alternative perceptions and ways of being can be manifest.
In this essay, our focus is on identifying strategies used to challenge a hegemonic construc-
tion of sexual orientation, particularly as it relates to families. We argue that the book
Daddy’s Roommate departs from heterosexual hegemony by presenting two gay men who
are capable parent figures actively involved in the life of a child. The book thus seeks to
transform American society’s narrow, patriarchal construction of functional families
through the unbiased perspective of a young boy, who discovers an alternative view of
love and happiness through a gay relationship—“just one more kind of love” (26).

Daddy’s Roommate challenges stereotypes about and encourages acceptance of gay par-
enting and lifestyles by situating the gay family squarely in the American dream—showing
the family as enacting or embodying that dream. It does this in three ways. First, it marks
the family as middle class, thus meeting the economic criteria for the dream. Second, it
presents loving characters interacting in everyday roles and activities that mark the Ameri-
can dream and to which the audience thus can relate. Third, it shows the family as
embodying traditional family values. The book thus expands the parameters of the Ameri-
can dream to include homosexual parents’ participation in this dream.

Middle-Class Status
Daddy’s Roommate depicts the two gay men in the book as embodying the middle-class

values of the American dream. The cover sets the tone for the whole book in this regard. A
middle-class setting is evident in the manicured landscaping, average household furnish-
ings, contemporary interior design, and the characters’ fashionable attire and possessions.
The members of this family clearly live comfortable lives. The men dress in ways that
reflect and are typical of middle-class economic status. They are clean cut and wear conser-
vative, classy clothing that is often red, white, and blue. Frank reads Time, a signature
household publication of America (2). He also plays baseball, the American pastime, with
the boy (10), and they attend a ball game sporting team apparel (18). The men work in
white-collar jobs and appear financially secure, evidenced by the professional business
attire each man wears at one point in the book. Their professional occupations suggest both
respectability as well as their ability to care for and spend quality time with the boy.

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Loving and Familiar Characters
A second way in which Daddy’s Roommate challenges stereotypes about and encour-

ages acceptance of a new family form is through its depiction of characters. The characters
of the book are loving individuals in familiar roles, making them accessible and appealing
to the reader. The repetition of the word together as well as the depiction of the boy and the
two fathers spending time together show the familial bond. The organization of the story
starts with an explanation of what the father and Frank do together (live, work, eat, sleep,
shave, fight, make up) and then describes what the men and the boy do together (go to ball
games, the zoo, and the beach; work; shop; sing). These are very familiar roles for parents
and children in families.

The family is socially well adjusted, as can be seen in the illustrations that portray the
main characters fitting in with traditional families that do not seem to recognize their alterna-
tive lifestyle. A prime example of this is when Frank is rubbing sunscreen on the father while
the boy talks with other people on the beach (20). No one pays attention to the gay relation-
ship in this scene. The same apparent lack of recognition of the nonhegemonic nature of this
family by others is evident when the three are at the ball game, the zoo, and the theater.

Another way in which the characters are seen as loving and normal is in the depiction of
the boy’s mother. Although the boy’s father and mother get divorced at the beginning of the
story, the mother is neither angry nor bitter. She seems to accept her former husband’s rela-
tionship, even explaining it to her son as “just one more kind of love” (26). She clearly has no
flaw that caused the divorce or the father’s preference, evidence in her wearing an apron
with “world’s best mom” imprinted on it as she spends time with and cares for her son.

Family Values
Daddy’s Roommate also challenges the assumption that gay men cannot be nurturers and

adequate parents by emphasizing common parental roles often associated with the ideal fam-
ily that is part of the American dream. The men are in contact with the boy in 19 of 27 scenes,
often in a one-to-one activity, which shows the cultivated individual relationship the boy
shares with each of his father figures. They clearly are devoted to him. Each of the men plays
both a traditional male and a female role in his relationship with the child, suggesting that
both roles associated with traditional families are being met in this family. For instance, Frank
helps the boy catch bugs (12). Two scenes later, he is making a “great peanut butter-and-jelly
sandwich” (14). The fathers sing at the piano in the evenings with the boy (23) and comfort
him when he has nightmares (15). Further, the decisions about the family and the boy are
shared by the couple, illustrated when the men make a common decision that heterosexual
couples routinely face with their children: whether to feed them healthy cereal or sugary cereal
(22). The book challenges assumptions that men can fulfill only certain roles and that they are
not fit to be nurturers. Clearly, they play the paternal and maternal roles simultaneously.

The book also counters the hegemonic perception that gay men are primarily focused
on sex and thus cannot be focused on children, as is required for parenting. In this way, the
book continues to make the men’s relationship fit the parameters of the ideal American
family, where sex between the mother and father is not a featured part of that ideal. The
book downplays the sexual relationship between the two men in several ways. It is note-
worthy that Frank unselfishly accepts the son; Frank is not in the relationship for his part-
ner only. The relationship of the men to the child—and not to each other—is emphasized.
The men’s unselfishness is extended through an intimate bond that is not overtly sexual.
The book takes “the sex out of homosexuality. These aren’t books about sex or sex educa-

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tion. They’re about families” (History 1). Of the eight scenes of the men alone, most of them
are in neutral, nonsexual locations. In the more intimate scenes, there is no sexual tone. For
instance, when the men are going to bed, the father is turning out the light, and Frank is
already sleeping (6). In the making-up scene following a fight over clothing burned by an
iron, the men are in close proximity, yet the only physical contact is a hand on the other’s
arm (9). The book thus violates a common misperception that homosexuals are exceedingly
sexual. In fact, the issue of being gay does not arise until page 24 of 29. A mainstream life-
style has been emphasized until this point, which increases the accessibility and likelihood
of a positive reception for the revelation. Had the book started with “My daddy and Frank
are gay,” it would have risked audience shock and displeasure.

A final stereotype to which the book responds is that a gay father’s relationship will
negatively affect his son. Actually, the boy seems positively affected; the final two pages are
displays of happiness that could be seen in traditional American families. The book shows
the father and Frank enjoying popcorn and a movie together, captioned with the words,
“Daddy and his roommate are very happy together.” The final page is of the three males
together, stating, “And I’m happy too!”

In Daddy’s Roommate, the patriarchal ideal of the American dream is acknowledged

and modified to assert that two gay men can be attentive and loving parents and thus meet
the criteria for that dream. The book presents the middle-class, economically secure setting
of the dream, the loving characters in familiar roles who populate the dream, and the typi-
cal family activities that mark the dream. The basic rhetorical strategy the book uses to
induce acceptance of the controversial lifestyle of a marginalized group is to embed it
within the ideal vision of the American dream, showing the members of that group enact-
ing the dream. The three characters of the father, Frank, and the boy are the proof of the
claim they make that they rightly belong in the American dream. The book shows what
many would consider to be an unAmerican family meeting the criteria for the economic
status, characters, and activities that mark fulfillment of a very American dream. This strat-
egy serves to normalize the counter-hegemonic perspective and positions readers and gay
parents on the same side—the side of the American dream—so that the mentality of “us
and them” becomes “we”—a common dream for a way of life.

Works Cited
Alyson, Sasha. “Children of the Rainbow.” 30 Dec. 1992. 31 March 2003

“Alyson Wonderland Book Listing.” 31 Mar. 2003 http://www/qrd/org/qrd/youth/1994/

“Daddy’s Roommate—Written and Illustrated by Michael Willhoite.” Gay-mart. 2002. 31 Mar. 2003

<http://www.gaymart. com/shopbook/2item/i004570.html>.
Greenblatt, Ellen. “Barriers to GLBT Library Service in the Electronic Age.” 2001. 2 Apr. 2003>.
“History of Heather.” 2000. 31 Mar. 2003 <

hooks, belle. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. Boston: South End, 1984.
“Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Sexuality and Related Issues.” SIECUS. 2002. 2 Apr. 2003. <>.
Willhoite, Michael. Daddy’s Roommate. Boston: Alyson Wonderland, 1990.

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Strategies Fashioned to Disrupt the Ideology of Aging

Karen A. Foss, Sonja K. Foss, and Yufang Zhang

The focus of feminist critics for many years was on the ways in which oppressive con-
ditions are created rhetorically. This was an important starting point for understanding the
myriad practices that construct restrictive conditions for not only women but all human
beings. Now, however, many feminist critics are choosing to study the strategies individu-
als use to liberate themselves from such conditions, preferring to focus on the creativity
and agency that rhetors exhibit and the ways in which such strategies have the potential to
transform both rhetors and their conditions. One such strategy is disruption—challenging
an established order to open up a space for envisioning new ideas and ways of being.

The works of photographer Ari Seth Cohen offer an opportunity to investigate the
strategy of disruption in operation. As a child, Cohen was inspired by his grandmothers’
sense of style and fascinated by the vintage clothes in their closets. He moved to New York
City after the passing of his “Grandma Bluma,” who had told him that “everything cre-
ative is happening there” (Cohen, 2012, p. 5). In New York City, he “found ladies and gen-
tlemen who still wear hats and gloves and who express a sense of style all their own” (p. 5)
and began taking photographs of stylish women past the age of 60. He started a blog,
Advanced Style, to display his photographs with the objectives of capturing an often-over-
looked segment of society and one missing from the pages of fashion magazines—the
elderly; to “show that you can be stylish, creative and vital at any age” (Cohen, Advanced
Style blog, n.d.); and to pay homage to his grandmothers’ style and spirit. Cohen followed
the creation of the blog with three books—Advanced Style in 2012, Advanced Style: Older and
Wiser in 2016, and a coloring book in 2013 (Cohen & Schraer, 2013)—and a documentary
film, Advanced Style, written by Cohen and Lina Plioplyte and released in 2014.

Many of the outfits worn by the women Cohen photographs are flamboyant and osten-
tatious. Their key feature is that the wearer makes sure to “never do when you can overdo”
(Cohen, 2014). Leopard prints are layered over plaids, ethnic jackets are piled over vests
that are piled over long dresses with asymmetrical hems, and chunky necklaces crown the
ensembles. Outfits are often completed with scarves, bows, ruffles, bracelets, belts, funky
eyeglasses or sunglasses, huge rings, gloves, and hats and often all of the above. An exam-
ple is Ilona’s bright orange, extremely long false eyelashes, which she makes out of her own
hennaed hair. Wild stockings, high heels, colorful flats, or vintage boots ground the outfits.

The unusual principles that guide the women in the construction of their outfits are
captured in Sue’s style tips:

• Less is less, more is not quite enough.
• As far as exuberant color is concerned, throw away the color wheel; everything goes

with everything!
• It is quite okay to wear an entire ethnology department around your neck.
• Good taste is overrated.
• And finally, . . . Don’t wear beige, it might kill you! (Cohen, 2016, p. 250)

This essay is a condensed version of a paper, “The Fashionable Enactment of Agency in Advanced Style,” that was
presented at the National Communication Association convention in Las Vegas, Nevada, in November 2015. It is
part of an ongoing research project by the authors. Used by permission of the authors.

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Debra’s approach to getting dressed every morning is typical rather than the excep-
tion: “She wraps fabric in unexpected ways, turns her skirts backwards or upside down,
and stacks on kitchen utensils” (Cohen, 2012, p. 52). Jean’s outfit is also illustrative of the
Advanced Style women’s fashions: She wears a floor-length quilted black duster with blue
lapels, a coat of a black and white geometric print with a different print on the collar, a pen-
dant necklace that features a huge black ball, red-and-white striped barrettes in her hair,
and a black pillbox hat that sports a large feather tilted to one side.

The outfits of the Advanced Style women are not simply worn; they are performed. The
women “fling themselves onto the ramparts” and “hit the streets” (Doonan, 2016, pp. 4–5)
to ensure that they and their outfits are noticed. As Doonan (2016) explains in his introduc-
tion to Cohen’s second book, these women ultimately “dress to express” (p. 5). Valerie’s
comment is typical of the women’s performances of their outfits: “Life is a costume party,
and getting dressed for it is simply grand. . . . If you don’t make your life a bit grandiose,
who will do it for you?” (Cohen, 2016, p. 100). Tziporah best exemplifies the importance of
performance to the women because she rides her bike around New York City simply to
showcase her outfits: “I show off my outfits on a bike. I do not wear a helmet because every
outfit for me has a hat” (Cohen & Plioplyte, 2014). Lynn summarizes the women’s commit-
ment to performing their fashions in this way: “We must dress every day for the theatre of
our lives” (Cohen, 2012, p. 157).

The premise of Cohen’s photographs—that older individuals, and especially older
women, are dismissed, ignored, and subject to negative and unflattering stereotypes—is
the prominent view of aging in the West (Hatch, 2005). Rowe and Kahn (1999) summarize
six common myths about aging: To be old is to be sick; an old dog cannot be taught new
tricks; the horse is out of the barn; the secret to successful aging is to choose your parents
wisely; the lights may be on, but the voltage is low; and the elderly do not pull their
weight. Such stereotypes, which sanction sickness, genetics, incompetence, and a lack of
productivity as hallmarks of aging, are even worse for women. Older women appear less
frequently in media and are portrayed more negatively than older men. When they do
appear, they are evaluated on their looks, in contrast to men, who typically are judged by
their achievements.

Cohen’s photographs, disseminated in his blog, books, documentary film, and color-
ing book, present an opportunity to explore a view of aging for older women that is not
only more complicated but also more positive than are many images of older women. Our
objective in this essay is to examine the dress of the women featured in Cohen’s photo-
graphs and the text that accompanies the photographs to discover the strategies by which
they challenge major tenets of the ideology of aging.

To accomplish this purpose, we use feminist criticism, which is designed to identify
strategies that disturb conventional ways of thinking and acting. This kind of feminist crit-
icism is rooted in a definition of feminism as a way of thinking outside of established cate-
gories and boundaries to generate ideas that invent new possibilities. Feminist criticism
involves the two steps of identifying the strategies of disruption used in an artifact and the
function or functions these strategies perform.

The women of Advanced Style use their outfits to disrupt the ideology of aging using a

strategy of enactment. In enactment, rhetors embody an interpretation of a situation that
contradicts the normal interpretation—they incarnate the argument that they are making,

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proving the truth of their own claims. What the women of Advanced Style are enacting non-
verbally through their fashions and verbally through their explanations is a challenge to
three tenets of the conventional perspective on aging: (1) invisibility; (2) age-appropriate
behavior; and (3) a focus on the past.

Challenge to Invisibility
The dress and performativity of the Advanced Style women offer a direct challenge to

the expectation that older women are and should be invisible. As Mary Anita explains,
“We . . . have a special problem in obtaining presence in an ageist society, and by presence I
mean conveying a sophisticated, intelligent, adult persona” (Cohen, 2016, p. 239). The
women of Advanced Style, however, refuse to exercise “restraint, propriety, and formality” by
dressing in gray and beige like an “East German librarian” (Doonan, 2016, p. 4.). Their
unusual use of colors, textures, layers, and accessories in their outfits assert, in essence, “you
cannot not look at me”; their fashions triumph over audiences’ attempts not to see them.

For many of the women, a unique style is the key to the in-your-face visibility of the
outfits they assemble. Joyce offers the formula that guides the construction of her outfits as
“find a distinctive style and make it your own.” For her, this includes starting with a great hair-
style and then checking “out the many bead shops” and finding “barrettes in different
shapes and colors. Wear one every day in the same visible place in your hair. This is now
your style” (Cohen, 2016, p. 67). Gretchen explains how she achieves her own unique look:
“I construct my jewelry with multiple storylines of color, texture, and pattern. My neck-
laces have a complicated plot of elements” (Cohen, 2016, p. 219). The results can be seen in
one of Debra’s outfits, in which she wears silk red-and-silver flowered pants, silver san-
dals, a lavender short-sleeved fitted top with a coral wool collar that drapes down the front
in pleats, a lavender necklace made of fur and beads, blue-rimmed sunglasses, and red
spiked hair. Cohen summarizes the women’s approach to style in this way: “If you’re look-
ing for a punk rock anarchy, look at Advanced Style” (Cohen & Plioplyte, 2014).

The Advanced Style women make themselves visible as well by wearing their fashions
at what typically would be considered inappropriate times. They wear their outfits not just
for occasions that require women to dress up but whenever they leave the house—even if
just to go grocery shopping or to run errands. As Cohen explains about Mary, “Under no
condition will she leave the house without the perfect shoes and, more often than not,
properly coordinated socks” (Cohen, 2012, p. 166). Ruth, who is 100 years old, says she
“never leaves the house without being perfectly dressed because ‘you never know whom
you may meet on the way to the mailbox’” (Cohen, 2012, p. 136).

The women Cohen photographs perform, through their dress, a visibility rare for
older women. Their outfits, created according to their personal, unique formulas and worn
on what typically would be considered inappropriate or at least unnecessary occasions,
demand that the women themselves be noticed.

Challenge to Age-Appropriate Behavior
The outfits of the Advanced Style women also allow them to challenge expectations

about how older women should behave, contrary to stereotypes that older women are
retired and should settle into preordained scripts of appropriateness, responsibility, and
dignity. As Lyn notes, life comes down to either writing “original stories” or accepting “the
scripts that others have written for us,” and she and her Advanced Style compatriots refuse
to “accept and enact somebody else’s scripts of invisibility, ‘retirement,’ ‘age-appropriate
dress,’ and dismissal simply because we got older” (Cohen, 2016, p. 31).

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The Advanced Style women eschew the approval of others, violating expectations of
decorum and concern for what others might think about them. They have reached their
“don’t-give-a-shit years” (Doonan, 2016, p. 4) concerning their dress. Because “they don’t
have a job, they don’t have to impress their bosses, their children, their lovers. In dressing,
they have no one to please but themselves” (La Ferla, 2012). Linda elaborates: “When you
are younger, you dress for other people. When you are older, you dress for yourself ”
(Cohen, 2012, p. 112). Freed from the constraints of their earlier years, the women are less
self-conscious, more daring, and more willing to take risks. Joyce frames this freedom as a
dare to other older women: “dare to do and say anything you like and do it with audacity”
(Cohen, 2016, p. 67). For Ilona, the freedom she feels is a kind of openness to the world:

At 80 years old I finally became free of my worries, my self-consciousness, and my feel-
ings of not being good enough. . . . Now I am totally free and full of openness, and that
openness permits me to let so much of the world enter in. (Cohen, 2016, p. 22)

The women make themselves visible in part by deliberately breaking fashion rules in
their embrace of individuality over fashion. They pay no attention to the fashion guide-
lines that usually dictate or constrain individuals’ choices in terms of dress. They do so not
because they cannot keep up with fashion trends or have no reason to dress fashionably—
two common stereotypes of older women—but because they do not want to look like
everyone else. Rose, whose photograph opens the second volume of Advanced Style, cap-
tures this belief: “If everyone is wearing it, then it’s not for me” (Cohen, 2016, p. 8).
Another woman says, “My philosophy is fashion says, ‘me too,’ while style says ‘only
me’ ” (Cohen, 2012, p. 156). Debra explains the alternative principle behind their fashions:
“When we are being creative, there are no rules. When there are no rules there is no fear”
(Cohen, 2016, p. 89).

The fashions of the women of Advanced Style are constructed by putting together
prints, plaids, and colors that are not typically seen as going together; matching is discour-
aged. In Cohen’s documentary, Ilona is looking for a hat to wear with a particular outfit on
National Hat Day. When she tries one hat on, her friend rejects it with the explanation, “Too
matchy match” (Cohen & Plioplyte, 2014); the matching expected to meet the guidelines of
fashion is deliberately contradicted. Carol’s outfit illustrates the defiance of traditional
rules of fashion as well. She wears a sleeveless multicolored striped mid-calf dress with a
red belt, a hat of another striped fabric, a pink shawl, a necklace made of large green balls
and a blue plastic bracelet, blue tights, and pink flats.

The outfits of the women of Advanced Style clearly signal that they are in charge of
their choices, answer to no one but themselves, and do whatever they please. They enact a
clear disregard of and challenge to the age-appropriate restrictions that characterize stereo-
types of old age.

Challenge to a Focus on the Past
A third tenet of the ideology of aging that is challenged by the Advanced Style women

is a focus on the past. They imagine and create exciting futures for themselves through
their dress and their attitudes rather than focusing on the past. Certainly, they acknowl-
edge that death is close, and they are not afraid to talk about it. Ilona, for example, says,
“I’m between 50 and death . . . I can’t buy green bananas anymore” (Cohen & Plioplyte,
2014). Sue also acknowledges the nearness of death: “We may not be dead yet, but we can
almost see it from here” (Cohen, 2016, p. 249); the same sentiment is echoed when another
woman adds, “A few days. That’s all we have left, honey” (Cohen & Plioplyte, 2014).

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Although they recognize that they cannot avoid death and talk openly about it, the
women of Advanced Style control how they deal with the knowledge that death is immi-
nent: They choose to focus on the future rather than on death. Beatrix’s comment is typical:
“I love every day, even if others find it dreadful” (Cohen, 2016, p. 177). Her sentiment is
echoed by Joy, who says, “Every morning upon waking, I ask God, ‘What exciting surprise
awaits me today?’ ” (Cohen, 2016, p. 208).

The primary means used by the women to enact their focus on the future is through the
creation of their outfits. The Advanced Style women suggest there is always some reason to get
dressed up. “Tomorrow is another day and another look,” asserts Debra (La Ferla, 2015). They
joyfully anticipate a new day and new outfits. Lana explains how constructing a new outfit is
not just an outfit but a vision for the future. She imagines “the art of the body as canvas” that

presents new ideas of how I want to be and live. Sometimes it starts with a hat; other
times a pair of gloves. Sometimes I just want to make the raindrops happy. . . . How
delicious to discover a new palette every day. (Cohen, 2016, p. 193)

Alice’s advice for approaching the future involves several recommendations that involve
fashion, including “Never leave home without lipstick,” “Cut that long hair. Keep it short,
stylish & chic,” and “Determine what you look good in. Call it your uniform and wear a
variation every day” (Cohen, 2016, p. 158).

The Advanced Style women embrace every day as a special occasion, filled with oppor-
tunities to use their fashion choices to “celebrate every day” and not “look at the calendar”
(Cohen, 2012, p. 141). They continue to look forward to life and, as their outfits suggest,
they contradict expectations that the creativity and accomplishments of older women are in
the past.

We have suggested in this essay that the women of Ari Seth Cohen’s Advanced Style

use their ostentatious fashions as a strategy of enactment that challenges the ideology of
aging and its tenets concerning the invisibility of older women, what is considered to be
age-appropriate behavior for older women, and a focus on the past. They advance a style
of vibrant presence, freedom from the constraints and the need for approval of youth, and
a joyful creativity focused on the future. As their fashions disrupt the conventional ideol-
ogy of aging, they hold a mirror up to society, questioning the current social order and
showing society’s shortcomings in terms of its perspective on the elderly. Most important,
they make evident that other ways of enacting old age are both possible and compelling.

Cohen, A. S. Advanced style website. Retrieved from
Cohen, A. S. (2012). Advanced style. Brooklyn, NY: powerHouse Books.
Cohen, A. S. (2016). Advanced style: Older and wiser. Brooklyn, NY: powerHouse Books.
Cohen, A. S. (Producer), & Plioplyte, L. (Director). (2014). Advanced style [Documentary]. United

States: Bond/360.
Cohen, A. S., & Schraer, I. (2013). Advanced style: The coloring book. Brooklyn, NY: powerHouse Books.
Doonan, S. (2016). Foreword. In A. S. Cohen, Advanced style: Older and wiser (pp. 4-5).
Hatch, L. R. (2005). Gender and ageism. Generations, 29, 19-24.
La Ferla, R. (2012, June 14). Ari Seth Cohen’s portraits of older women. The New York Times. Retrieved

Rowe, J. W., & Kahn, R. L. (1998). Successful aging. New York: Pantheon.

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Generic Criticism

Generic criticism is rooted in the assumption that certain types of situations
provoke similar needs and expectations in audiences and thus call for particu-
lar kinds of rhetoric. Rather than seeking to discover how one situation affects
one particular rhetorical act, the generic critic seeks to discover commonali-
ties in rhetorical patterns across recurring situations. The purpose of generic
criticism is to understand rhetorical practices, sometimes in different time
periods and in different places, by identifying the similarities in rhetorical sit-
uations and the rhetoric constructed in response to them. The French word
genre “connotes sameness in kind, type, or form”1 and is used to refer to a dis-
tinct group, type, class, or category of artifacts that share important charac-
teristics that differentiate it from other groups. In rhetorical studies, genres
are seen as “rhetorical actions based in recurrent situations”2 or “ways of rec-
ognizing, responding to . . . and helping to reproduce recurrent situations.”3 If
there is a genre of eulogistic discourse, for example, then speeches of eulogy
for Eleanor Roosevelt, Mother Teresa, Prince, and soldiers killed in the Iraq
War should be similar in major aspects, addressing as they do a similar situa-
tion—the death of someone significant or beloved.

A rhetorical genre is a constellation, fusion, or clustering of three different
kinds of elements so that a unique kind of artifact is created. Situational
requirements, or the perception of conditions in a situation that call for partic-
ular kinds of rhetorical responses, constitute the first generic element. A genre
also contains substantive and stylistic characteristics of the rhetoric—these
features constitute the second key element of a generic analysis, and they are
the characteristics of the rhetoric chosen by the rhetor to respond to the per-
ceived requirements of particular situations. Substantive characteristics are
those that constitute the content of the rhetoric, while stylistic characteristics
constitute its form.4 The third element of a rhetorical genre, the organizing
principle, is the root term or key idea that serves as an umbrella label for the
characteristic features of the rhetoric. It is the label for the internal dynamic
of the constellation that is formed by the situational, substantive, and stylistic
features of the genre.5 Although strategic responses and stylistic choices may


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appear in isolation in other rhetorical forms, what is distinctive about a genre
of rhetoric is the recurrence of the forms together, unified by the same orga-
nizing principle. A genre, then, is not simply a set of features that character-
izes various rhetorical acts but a set of interdependent features.

We recognize and participate in multiple genres in our communicative
lives. Among the genres that are widespread in everyday life are various
genres of greetings, farewells, and congratulations. Weather forecasts, adver-
tisements, instruction manuals, the closing arguments at a criminal trial,
travel blogs, websites for presidential candidates, and personal home pages
are all genres. If you are a graduate student, you participated in the genre of
the personal statement required of graduate-student applications in the U.S.,
and you may be looking forward to writing your thesis, which is another
genre. Different communities use different types of genres and thus have dif-
ferent genre repertoires or sets of genres that they routinely enact.6 In aca-
demic communities, for example, knowledge production is carried out and
documented through the genres of lab reports, grant proposals, conference
papers, journal articles, reviews of journal manuscripts, books, and book
reviews. Corporations often use generic forms of communication such as
expense forms, business letters, training seminars, and annual shareholders’
meetings. They might employ email genres such as the dialogue genre, which
embeds old messages into a new message, and the proposal genre, in which
the writer proposes or advocates for a particular course of action.

A reciprocity exists between individuals and the genres in which they par-
ticipate. Genres not only sort and classify rhetoric, but they help shape and
generate the types of rhetoric we employ. As Mikhail Bakhtin explains, even
“in the most free, the most unconstrained conversation, we cast our speech in
definite generic forms, sometimes rigid and trite ones, sometimes more flexi-
ble, plastic, and creative ones.”7 As you initiate communication, genres influ-
ence you to develop your messages in particular ways—they serve as
prescriptive, ready-made patterns of communication that you can use as tem-
plates. As Thomas Luckmann suggests, “Once one has ‘chosen’ a genre for a
communicative project, it is the genre that ‘chooses’ the parts for its accom-
plishment.”8 When you are asked to present an award to someone at a ban-
quet or ceremony, for example, you are likely to draw on the content and form
of the award-giving genre to prepare your remarks, and your speech will be
much like other speeches used to bestow awards. Just as rhetors are being
influenced by genres available to them as they create messages, audience
members recognize particular messages as belonging to specific genres, and
that recognition influences their strategies of comprehension and response.9

Because we are always interacting with genres, we have input into their con-
struction, which means that genres can change—they “can be unstable over time
as they develop due to changes in media technology structures, market transfor-
mations, or even the intentions and concerns” of rhetors.10 Although members
typically reinforce established genres through their communicative actions, they
can and sometimes do challenge and modify these genres, either inadvertently or
deliberately. When changes to genres are accepted, new genres may develop,
which is what happened with the memo genre. It emerged out of modifications in
the genre of the business letter, and it then evolved into a new and separate genre.

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The roots of the notion of genre and thus of generic criticism can be traced
to the writings of Aristotle and other classical Greek rhetoricians. Much of
classical rhetorical theory is based on the assumption that situations fall into
general types, depending on the objective of the rhetoric. Classical rhetori-
cians divided rhetoric into three types of discourse—deliberative or political,
forensic or legal, and epideictic or ceremonial. Each of these types has distinc-
tive aims—expedience for deliberative speaking, justice for forensic speaking,
and honor for epideictic speaking. They have distinctive strategies as well—
exhortation and dissuasion for deliberative speaking, accusation and defense
for forensic speaking, and praise and blame for epideictic speaking.11 Thus,
classification of discourse on the basis of similar characteristics and situations
has been part of the tradition of the communication field since its inception.

The first person to use the term generic criticism in the communication
discipline was Edwin Black in his critique of neo-Aristotelianism in 1965. He
proposed as an alternative to the traditional method of criticism a generic
frame that included these tenets: (1) “there is a limited number of situations in
which a rhetor can find himself ”; (2) “there is a limited number of ways in
which a rhetor can and will respond rhetorically to any given situational
type”; and (3) “the recurrence of a given situational type through history will
provide a critic with information on the rhetorical responses available in that
situation.”12 Black suggested that distinctive, recurrent situations exist in
which discourse occurs and encouraged critics to analyze historical texts to
describe their common features.

Lloyd F. Bitzer’s notion of the rhetorical situation, presented in 1968, also
contributed to the development of generic criticism. Bitzer’s focus on recur-
ring situations was particularly significant for generic criticism: “From day to
day, year to year, comparable situations occur, prompting comparable
responses; hence rhetorical forms are born and a special vocabulary, gram-
mar, and style are established.”13 Although his conception of the rhetorical sit-
uation generated controversy,14 it contributed in significant ways to the
theoretical base for generic criticism.

Another contribution to the development of generic criticism was a con-
ference held in 1976 called “Significant Form” in Rhetorical Criticism. Spon-
sored by the Speech Communication Association (now the National
Communication Association) and the University of Kansas, the conference
was organized around the idea of significant form, which referred to recur-
ring patterns in discourse or action. These patterns include the “repeated use
of images, metaphors, arguments, structural arrangements, configurations of
language or a combination of such elements into what critics have termed
‘genres’ or ‘rhetorics.’”15 The result of the conference was a book, Form and
Genre: Shaping Rhetorical Action, edited by Karlyn Kohrs Campbell and Kath-
leen Hall Jamieson, which provided theoretical discussions of the concept of
genre and included samples of generic criticism. Jackson Harrell and Wil A.
Linkugel followed with a proposal for the procedures for generic criticism in
1978 with an aim of systematizing research into rhetorical genres.16

Carolyn R. Miller’s “Genre as Social Action,” published in 1984, advanced
the discussion of genre in a number of ways. She argued that “a rhetorically
sound definition of genre must be centered not on the substance or the form of

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discourse but on the action it is used to accomplish.”17 She also entered the
debate about the nature of the exigency in the rhetorical situation as it applies to
genres, suggesting that a rhetor’s recognition of a situation as calling for a cer-
tain response is based on that rhetor’s particular definition of the situation. She
extended the scope of genre analysis to include everyday discourse such as the
letter of recommendation, the user manual, the lecture, and the ransom note.
Miller revisited her essay 30 years later with another essay on genre. Following
a brief history of the study of genre in the intervening years, in the second arti-
cle, she anticipated the ways in which the Internet was changing how genres
are “structured, controlled, or determined.”18 She was among the first scholars
to study the blog as a potential genre and concluded that “the blog is not a genre
but is rather a technological medium that can support multiple genres.”19

The next major contribution to theorizing about genre in the communica-
tion discipline came from Barry Brummett in his book Rhetorical Homologies:
Form, Culture, Experience (2004). Brummett defines a homology as “a pattern
found to be ordering significant particulars of different and disparate experi-
ences”20 and conducts several analyses of homologies that reveal similarities
where they would not be expected to be found—across “disparate orders of
experience.”21 Brummett, for example, identifies a homology that unites the
disparate contexts of Christian martyr stories, Laurel and Hardy films, the
African American practice of playing the dozens, and professional wrestling—
a pattern he calls ritual injury. Ritual injury is marked by a group or individ-
ual’s willingness to endure assault and acts of violence that are inflicted on
them ceremoniously and without reciprocating that violence.22 Brummett
does not explicitly link the homology to the genre and, in fact, some scholars
believe that a homology is different from a genre.23 The difference for them
lies in the fact that rhetorical homologies involve different orders of experi-
ence, while genres are concerned with situations marked by obvious similari-
ties. Despite these theoretical differences, Brummett makes clear that studies
of similar categories of rhetorical forms do not need to be limited to those
forms that appear, on the surface, to be the same.

The Sydney School of genre studies, named after its primary institutional
base in the University of Sydney’s Department of Linguistics, offers another
contribution to genre studies—the study of genres to effect social change.
Michael Halliday, who once headed the department, sought to bring linguists
and educators together to create a literacy pedagogy appropriate for a multi-
cultural society.24 The result was the use of generic analysis to probe systems
of belief, ideologies, and values. The work of the members of this school
encourages critics to ask questions about genres such as: How do some genres
come to be valorized, valued, or privileged? In whose interest is such valoriza-
tion? What kinds of social organization are put in place or kept in place by
such valorization? What does participation in a genre do to and for an individ-
ual or a group? What opportunities do the relationships reflected in and struc-
tured by a genre afford for humane creative action or, alternatively, for the
domination of others? Do genres empower some people while silencing oth-
ers? What representations of the world are entailed in genres? These questions
suggest as an agenda for the next phase of generic studies a critical examina-
tion of issues such as the nature of the representations that are sanctioned and

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normalized in genres and their implications for people’s lives, the degree of
accessibility of a genre to potential users, and genre maintenance as power
maintenance. More generally, the Australian genre researchers contribute an
explicit acknowledgment of the political dimensions of genres to our under-
standing of generic criticism.25

Anthony Paré and Graham Smart expanded the study of genre by focusing
specifically on rhetorical genres in organizational settings. They define genre
as a distinctive profile of regularities across four dimensions: (1) textual fea-
tures such as styles of texts and modes of argument; (2) the composing process
such as information gathering and analysis of information; (3) reading prac-
tices such as where, when, and why a document is read; and (4) the social
roles performed by writers and readers so that no matter who assumes a par-
ticular role—the role of social worker, judge, or project manager, for exam-
ple—the genre is enacted in much the same way. Paré and Smart believe this
view of genres in organizations explains how the effective production of dis-
course and knowledge occurs within organizations.26

The method of corpus linguistics in the linguistics discipline, employed by
scholars such as Douglas Biber,27 Amy J. Devitt,28 Hans-Jürgen Diller,29 Ste-
fan Gries,30 Thomas Kohnen,31 and Brian Paltridge,32 offers another approach
to the study of genres. Researchers employ statistical methods using comput-
ers to study the language in large corpora (samples) of “real world” or natural
texts that were produced in natural communicative settings and that are avail-
able in electronic form. Their objective is to identify groups of linguistic fea-
tures that co-occur with high frequency in various genres, so they might want
to find out, for example, how often morphemes occur with particular words or
how often particular words occur in certain grammatical constructions.33

They then are able “to define text membership within genres on the basis of
how closely their structural and linguistic patterns relate to the genre proto-
type.”34 Corpus linguists engage in their work on genres for two reasons: (1)
the analysis of existing genre examples provides insights about the defining
linguistic characteristics of a genre; and (2) the list of defining characteristics
functions as a guide as to whether a new example is or is not part of that
genre. Corpus linguistics assumes that formal differences in language corre-
spond to functional differences, so knowledge about the characteristics of
genres provides them with insights into how those genres work in the world
for those who participate in them.35

Using generic criticism, a critic analyzes an artifact in a four-step process:

(1) selecting an artifact; (2) analyzing the artifact; (3) formulating a research
question; and (4) writing the essay.

Selecting an Artifact
Your choice of an artifact or artifacts for generic criticism depends on the

kind of analysis you are doing. As explained in more detail below, generic crit-
icism involves three options—generic description, generic participation, and

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generic application. If you are interested in generic description, your artifacts
should be a variety of texts that appear to respond to a similar situation and,
on the surface, to share some rhetorical similarities. These artifacts can come
from different time periods and be of various forms—speeches, essays, songs,
websites, works of art, and advertisements, for example—if they all seem sim-
ilar in nature and function. If your goal is generic participation, choose an arti-
fact that seems like it should belong to or has been assigned to a particular
genre but does not seem to fit. If you are doing generic application, your arti-
fact should be one that you want to assess in terms of how well it conforms to
the genre of which it is a part. This should be an artifact that, for some reason,
leads you to question how it is functioning in the context of its genre.

Analyzing the Artifact
Generic criticism involves three different options for a critic—generic

description, generic participation, and generic application.36 The first option
is generic description, where you examine several artifacts to determine if a
genre exists. This is an inductive operation, in which you begin with a consid-
eration of specific features of artifacts and move to a generalization about
them in the naming of a genre. The second option, generic participation, is a
deductive procedure in which you move from consideration of a general class
of rhetoric to consideration of a specific artifact. Here, you test a specific arti-
fact against a genre to discover if it participates in that genre. The third option
is generic application—also a deductive procedure—that involves application
of a generic model to particular artifacts in order to evaluate or assess them.

Generic Description
In the attempt to describe a genre, a critic examines various artifacts to

see if a genre exists. Your purpose in generic description is to define a genre
and formulate theoretical constructs about its characteristics if, in fact, you
discover that a genre exists. Generic description involves four steps: (1)
observing similarities in rhetorical responses to particular situations; (2) col-
lecting artifacts that occur in similar situations; (3) analyzing the artifacts to
discover if they share characteristics; and (4) if they do share characteristics,
formulating the organizing principle of the genre.

The first step of generic description is your observation that similar situa-
tions, perhaps removed from each other in time and place, seem to generate
similar rhetorical responses. As you observe similar situations that seem to
generate similar kinds of rhetoric, keep in mind that the rhetor’s interpreta-
tion or definition determines whether a situation invites a rhetorical response
or not—not a material environment or circumstance. As Miller explains, “at
the center of action is a process of interpretation. Before we can act, we must
interpret the indeterminate material environment; we define, or ‘determine,’ a
situation.”37 Some condition does not cause or invite rhetorical action. What
causes or invites rhetorical action is a rhetor’s interpretation of the condition
as something that is dangerous, unhealthy, or problematic in some way. In
other words, the rhetor essentially creates the exigency determined to be cen-
tral to the genre. As Richard E. Vatz explains, “No situation can have a nature
independent of the perception of its interpreter or independent of the rhetoric

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with which” the rhetor chooses to characterize it.38 Rhetors and critics deter-
mine what a situation means and whether it deserves a response or not.

The second step is the collection of a varied sample of artifacts that may
represent the genre. For this step, you identify rhetorical acts in which the
perceived rhetorical situation appears similar, or search out contexts that
seem to be characterized by similar constraints of situation. If you suspect a
genre of rhetoric may exist, for example, in which individuals announce their
candidacy for office, you would want to collect instances where individuals
have announced their intention to run for office—speeches or statements on
websites by U.S. presidential candidates, candidates for the state legislature,
candidates for the local school board, and candidates for president of the
union in a corporation, for example. A study by James S. Measell began in a
similar fashion. He noticed that similar rhetorical situations were faced by
President Abraham Lincoln and William Pitt, the prime minister of England
during the French Revolution. Both Lincoln and Pitt needed to justify “their
administrative policy to withhold the privileges of habeas corpus,”39 so Mea-
sell wanted to discover whether their rhetoric constituted a genre. Or perhaps
you notice that wedding dresses, Christmas trees, and party hats seem to
share a number of features and to function in similar ways, and that observa-
tion would lead you to analyze them to see if they participate in a genre.

The third step in the process is close analysis of the artifacts collected to
discover if there are shared substantive or stylistic features in the various arti-
facts you have collected. Here, you seek commonalities in how the rhetors
dealt with the perceived problem in the situation. In the process of discover-
ing similarities and differences among the rhetorical acts under study, you are
not confined to looking for particular kinds of strategies or to using one criti-
cal method. Ideally, you allow the artifacts being studied to suggest the impor-
tant similarities and differences, focusing on those elements that stand out to
you as critical. You may discover, for example, that the substantive strate-
gies—those that deal primarily with content or the information conveyed—in
one genre are themes about family or the expression of self-sacrifice. Stylistic
strategies—those that deal largely with form and with “the pattern that orders
the content or the physical manifestation of the message”40—may include ele-
ments such as adoption of a belligerent tone or use of ambiguous terminology.

Don’t be surprised, however, if you cannot really distinguish between sub-
stantive and stylistic strategies in many artifacts. Because content and form
are typically intertwined, distinguishing between them is often difficult. You
will discover, then, that many generic analyses do not make a distinction
between these two sets of strategies and simply identify strategies in general.
You also may choose to focus on units of analysis suggested in other critical
methods such as fantasy-theme (chapter 5) or metaphoric criticism (chapter
9). Fantasy-theme criticism could be used at this stage of generic description
to search for commonalities in depictions of characters, settings, and actions.
Metaphoric criticism could be used to discover similarities among the various
artifacts in the use of certain types of metaphors.

Let’s look at a couple of examples of genres to see what the substantive
and stylistic features of them might be. The genre of narratives produced by
survivors of breast cancer has several standard features. The narrative begins

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at the moment of the discovery of a lump in the breast, and it has a happy end-
ing—the woman survives, often with some new awareness or insights about
her life. The primary character is a woman who is well informed and respon-
sible and who functions as a self-determining agent. She is shown battling the
disease with humor and optimism (never despair and discouragement). She is
encouraged to shop for certain products to support the cause of breast-cancer
research and to engage in activities such as walking, running, or skydiving to
contribute to that research. The genre focuses on the individual, who deals
with her individual diagnosis, her individual rounds of chemotherapy, her
individual struggle, and her individual survival. It does not deal with issues
related to collective concerns such as the environmental carcinogens that
might cause breast cancer or ways in which communities might prevent it.41

We can see other kinds of substantive and stylistic features in the genre of
the email ballot. It is typically composed of three interrelated types of mes-
sages. The first is the ballot questionnaire, a message from one group member
to others that lists and describes the issue on which group members are asked
to vote. The opening message solicits participation, provides instructions on
how to vote, provides a number of options for dealing with an issue, and
sometimes includes the rhetor’s own preference for one of the options. The
second type of message involved in the genre is responses to the ballot. Mes-
sages from members describe their voting choices and their reasons for the
positions they are taking. Occasionally, they propose alternative ways of deal-
ing with the issue from those initially proposed—suggesting a new location for
the holiday party or a different kind of training for employees on a particular
topic, for example. The third component is the ballot result, a message from
the ballot initiator that summarizes the results of the voting. Also a part of the
genre is that the results are not always decided by a raw vote count or a sim-
ple majority; the votes of some members of the group or team weigh more
than others, and they may even have veto power over a decision made via the
email ballot.42

The genre of corporate history provides another example of what might
constitute substantive and stylistic strategies of a genre. This genre tells about
the past of an organization in web pages, annual reports, promotional pam-
phlets, or the physical space of the organization’s headquarters. Among the fea-
tures of the genre are that it focuses on events, which are typically presented in
chronological order. The characters featured in the histories are the founder of
the organization, the founder’s family, and the employees, and events such as
wars or economic crises are often treated as characters as well. Competitors
are rarely presented in the histories and are seen as less important to the story
of the organization than the external conditions that have impacted the com-
pany such as wars or economic crises. The general plot line is a rags-to-riches
story, with the organization overcoming obstacles of various kinds. Organiza-
tions make abundant use of photographs, archival documents, products, and
logos as visual aids and supporting materials in these histories.43

Although she claims to be doing a homological analysis rather than a
generic analysis because she is analyzing rhetorical practice across disparate
forms, Kathryn M. Olson’s analysis of three forms of impersonal violence pro-
vides another example of the kinds of substantive and stylistic features that

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may emerge from generic description. She asserts that the discourses of sport
hunting, hate crimes, and stranger rape share a common interpretive frame-
work: (1) the rhetor symbolically constructs and physically initiates an adver-
sarial relationship with non-consenting victims/prey; (2) victims/prey are
selected opportunistically and constructed impersonally as relatively inter-
changeable class representatives; (3) rhetors distance and impersonalize vic-
tims/prey without objectifying them or diminishing their presumed potency or
the status that comes from conquering them; and (4) rhetors express a desire
to physically assert—and take pleasure in exhibiting—their dominance over
the victims.44 Her framework uniting three forms of violence constitutes the
substantive and stylistic features that generic description asks you to identify.

In the process of textual analysis to discover substantive and stylistic strat-
egies, you may want to perform subsample comparisons of the artifacts you
are investigating to identify subclasses of a genre. You may seek to determine,
for example, if a genre of resignation rhetoric exists and, in the process, dis-
cover variants of resignation rhetoric, each characterized by a somewhat dif-
ferent set of rhetorical strategies. You may need to distinguish, then, among
various characteristics, seeing some as paradigm or prototypical cases of a
genre, some as borderline cases, and some as characteristics of a subgenre.45

B. L. Ware and Wil A. Linkugel’s essay on speeches of apology is an example
of the delineation of subgenres; they identify four different subgenres of apolo-
getic discourse: absolutive, vindicative, explanative, and justificative.46

If you note sufficient similarities among your artifacts to continue the
search for a genre, the fourth step in generic description is to formulate the
organizing principle that captures the essence of the strategies common to the
artifacts. In her analysis of Seinfeld, Beavis and Butt-head, and The Howard
Stern Show as examples of a possible genre of humorous incivility, for exam-
ple, Laura K. Hahn names “closure to new perspectives” as the organizing
principle. What brings the shows’ substantive and stylistic characteristics
together, she suggests, is an active resistance to diverse perspectives.47 This
act of labeling the organizing principle actually may occur simultaneously
with the delineation of substantive and stylistic strategies because the ele-
ments identified may come to your attention grouped around an obvious core
or principle. Regardless of the order in which the steps occur, at the end of
this process, you have formulated a list of rhetorical characteristics that
appear to define a genre and an organizing principle that unites them.

You may have difficulty deciding whether or not a particular characteris-
tic is a distinguishing feature of a genre. In such instances, the following ques-
tions will help you determine if it is one that contributes to a distinct genre:

• Can rules be named with which other critics or observers would concur
in identifying characteristics of rhetorical practice when shown the
same examples? Not only must the distinguishing features of a genre be
nameable but so should the rules that are guiding you in making distinc-
tions among the features in different artifacts. These rules, of course, do
not specify precisely how the rhetorical act is to be performed. A genre
is not formulaic because there is always another strategy that a rhetor
can use to meet the requirements of the situation. But a genre estab-
lishes bounded options for rhetors in situations, and naming the rules

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that define those options can help clarify whether a characteristic is part
of a genre or not.48

• Are the similarities in substantive and stylistic strategies clearly rooted
in the situations in which they were generated? In other words, does the
way in which the situation is defined require the inclusion of an element
like this in the artifact? The mere appearance of one characteristic in
several artifacts does not mean it was devised to deal with the same per-
ceived situational constraints. Refer frequently to your description of
the perceived situation to establish that the similarities are not simply
coincidental but are grounded in the rhetor’s perception of some aspect
of that situation.49

• Would the absence of the characteristic in question alter the nature of
the artifact? A genre is created from a fusion of characteristics, and all
are critical in the dynamic of that fusion. Simply saying that a certain
element appears in all of the artifacts under study is not enough. A
genre exists only if each element is fused to or intertwined with the
other elements so its absence would alter the organizing principle. A
genre is given its character by a fusion of forms and not by its individ-
ual elements.50

• Does the characteristic contribute to insight about a type of rhetoric or
simply lead to the development of a classification scheme? The test of a
genre is the degree of understanding it provides about the artifacts.
Insight—and not neatness of a classification scheme—is your goal in
generic description. If the discovery of similarities among artifacts clas-
sifies but does not clarify, it may not be particularly useful.51

Description of a genre in which various artifacts are examined to see if a
genre exists is one option for the generic critic. This procedure involves exam-
ining a variety of artifacts that seem to be generated in similar situations to
discover if they have in common substantive and stylistic strategies and an
organizing principle that fuses those strategies. If, in fact, they do, you have
developed a theory about the existence of a genre.

Generic Participation
A critic who engages in generic participation determines which artifacts

participate in which genres. This involves a deductive process in which you
test an instance of rhetoric against the characteristics of a genre. Generic par-
ticipation involves three steps: (1) describing the perceived situational
requirements, substantive and stylistic strategies, and organizing principle of
a genre; (2) describing the perceived situational requirements, substantive and
stylistic strategies, and organizing principle of an artifact; and (3) comparing
the characteristics of the artifact with those of the genre to discover if the arti-
fact belongs in that genre. You then use these findings to confirm the charac-
teristics of the genre or to suggest modifications in it.

As an example of this process, let’s assume you are interested in discover-
ing if the rhetoric used in the exhibits at the UFO museum in Roswell, New
Mexico, constitutes conspiracy rhetoric. For a study of generic participation,
you first would turn to earlier studies in which the characteristics of conspir-

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acy rhetoric are delineated and then would see what elements characterize the
text and photographs in the exhibition. Comparison of the two sets of features
would enable you to discover whether the items in the museum participate in
a genre of conspiratorial discourse. If no studies have been done that lay out
the characteristics of the conspiracy genre, you first would have to engage in
generic description in order to discover the characteristics of that genre.

Generic Application
A third option open to a critic who is interested in studying genres is

generic application. Rather than simply determining if a particular artifact
belongs in a particular genre, you use the description of the genre to evaluate
or assess particular instances of rhetoric. Your task here is to apply the situa-
tional, stylistic, and substantive elements that characterize a genre to a spe-
cific artifact that participates in that genre in order to assess it. Once you have
applied the generic characteristics to the specific model, you are able to deter-
mine if the artifact is a good or poor example of the genre.

Four basic steps are involved in generic application (the first three are the
same as the steps for generic participation): (1) describing the perceived situa-
tional requirements, substantive and stylistic strategies, and organizing prin-
ciple of a genre; (2) describing the perceived situational requirements,
substantive and stylistic strategies, and organizing principle of an artifact that
is representative of that genre; (3) comparing the characteristics of the artifact
with those of the genre; and (4) evaluating the artifact according to its success
in fulfilling the required characteristics of the genre.

In using generic features to evaluate an artifact, a critic draws critical
insights about the effectiveness of a particular artifact in fulfilling perceived
situational demands. When a generic form is used by a rhetor, it leads audi-
ence members to expect a particular style and certain types of content. If the
rhetoric does not fulfill these expectations, the audience is likely to be con-
fused and to react negatively. Body art, for example, a form of visual and per-
formance art, tends to violate the genre of visual art. Visitors to galleries
expect to see art framed and hanging on walls—the generic form of visual art.
Instead, they encounter works such as Transfixed, in which body artist Chris
Burden had himself nailed to the roof of a Volkswagen bug and had the engine
run at full speed for two minutes. While viewers may come to realize that the
breaking of the generic frame is done intentionally by the artist/rhetor to
encourage viewers to question the definition of art, the violation of generic
expectations may create confusion, frustration, and rejection of the artwork
by viewers—at least initially.52

A critic also may discover that generic violations increase an artifact’s
effectiveness, as is the case with Sergio Leone’s film Once Upon a Time in the
West. Viewers expect a film in the genre of the Western tradition but find many
violations of the genre—in the unusual costumes worn by the cowboys, the
very slow unfolding of scenes, and their difficulty in telling the heroes from
the villains. These violations, however, create an experience for the viewer
that is positive rather than negative. Evaluation of artifacts, whether positive
or negative, is made on the basis of the suasory impact of the artifacts that
results from their fulfillment or violation of generic expectations.

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Formulating a Research Question
Your research questions in generic criticism will vary according to

whether you are engaged in generic description, generic participation, or
generic application. In generic description, your research questions are: “Does
a genre exist among a set of artifacts? If so, what are the characteristics of the
genre?” In generic participation, your research question is: “Does this artifact
participate in a particular genre?” In generic application, the question with
which you are concerned is: “Is this artifact successful in fulfilling the
required characteristics of its genre?” In generic criticism, you may include
your artifact and the genre with which you are concerned in your research
question because your interest is in a particular genre and particular artifacts.
You also may choose to go beyond these specific research questions about
genre to ask questions about other rhetorical processes that involve the genre
you are studying. You will see examples of such questions in some of the sam-
ple essays below, in which the authors have formulated questions about some
rhetorical processes in general even as they are engaging in generic descrip-
tion, generic participation, or generic application.

Writing the Essay
After completing the analysis, you are ready to write your essay, which

includes five major components: (1) an introduction, in which you discuss the
research question, its contribution to rhetorical theory, and its significance;
(2) a description of your artifact(s) and their contexts; (3) a description of your
method of criticism—in this case, generic analysis and the specific type in
which you are engaged—generic description, generic participation, or generic
application; (4) a report of the findings of the analysis, in which you reveal the
connections you have discovered between your artifact(s) and a genre; and (5)
a discussion of the contribution your analysis makes to rhetorical theory.

Sample Essays
The four sample essays that follow illustrate the options open to a critic

who engages in generic criticism. The first two essays are examples of generic
description. Jörgen Skågeby seeks to discover if there is a genre of shred
music videos by asking, “What are the formal characteristics of shred music
videos?” Andrew Gilmore analyzes speeches by Jiang Zemin, Barack Obama,
and Pope Francis to discover if a genre of handover rhetoric exists. The next
two essays are samples of generic participation. Danielle Montoya engages in
an analysis of generic participation to discover if Ansel Adams’s photograph
Discussion on Art reflects attributes of Adams’s artistic genre and, if so, how it
participates in communicating the artist’s perspective. Joshua Carlisle Harz-
man analyzes a work that artist Banksy installed at Disneyland to discover if it
participates in the genre of culture jamming. Generic application is not repre-
sented in the four sample essays as it is the type of generic criticism that is
least frequently done.

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1 James S. Measell, “Whither Genre? (Or, Genre Withered?),” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 6 (Win-

ter 1976): 1.
2 Carolyn R. Miller, “Genre as Social Action,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 70 (1984): 159.
3 Anis S. Bawarshi and Mary Jo Reiff, Genre: An Introduction to History, Theory, Research, and

Pedagogy (West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2010), 3.
4 For a useful description of substance and form as they relate to genre, see Miller, “Genre as

Social Action,” 159.
5 For a discussion of strategies and organizing principle, see: Karlyn Kohrs Campbell and Kath-

leen Hall Jamieson, “Form and Genre in Rhetorical Criticism: An Introduction,” in Form and
Genre: Shaping Rhetorical Action, ed. Karlyn Kohrs Campbell and Kathleen Hall Jamieson
(Falls Church, VA: Speech Communication Association, [1978]), 18, 21, 25; Karlyn Kohrs
Campbell and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, “Rhetorical Hybrids: Fusion of Generic Elements,”
Quarterly Journal of Speech 68 (May 1982): 146; Jackson Harrell and Wil A. Linkugel, “On Rhe-
torical Genre: An Organizing Perspective,” Philosophy and Rhetoric 11 (Fall 1978): 263–64; and
Robert L. Ivie, “Images of Savagery in American Justifications for War,” Communication Mono-
graphs 47 (November 1980): 282.

6 Wanda J. Orlikowski and JoAnne Yates, “Genre Repertoire: The Structuring of Communicative
Practices in Organizations,” Administrative Science Quarterly 39 (December 1994): 542.

7 M. M. Bakhtin, Speech Genres and Other Late Essays, trans. Vern W. McGee, ed. Caryl Emerson
and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986), 78–79.

8 Thomas Luckmann, “Observations on the Structure and Function of Communicative Genres,”
Semiotica 173 (2009): 273.

9 Richard M. Coe, “‘An Arousing and Fulfillment of Desires’: The Rhetoric of Genre in the Pro-
cess Era—and Beyond,” in Genre and the New Rhetoric, ed. Aviva Freedman and Peter Medway
(London: Taylor & Francis, 1994), 182.

10 Jörgen Skågeby, “Dismantling the Guitar Hero?: A Case of Prodused Parody and Disarmed
Subversion,” Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies
19 (2012): 66.

11 Aristotle, Rhetoric, 1.5–10. For a more elaborate discussion of genre in the Rhetoric, see G. P.
Mohrmann and Michael C. Leff, “Lincoln at Cooper Union: A Rationale for Neo-Classical Criti-
cism,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 60 (December 1974): 463. For a discussion of differences
between contemporary notions and Aristotle’s notion of genre, see Thomas M. Conley, “Ancient
Rhetoric and Modern Genre Criticism,” Communication Quarterly 27 (Fall 1979): 47–48.

12 Edwin Black, Rhetorical Criticism: A Study in Method (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press,
1978), 133.

13 Lloyd F. Bitzer, “The Rhetorical Situation,” Philosophy and Rhetoric 1 (Winter 1968): 13.
14 Among the essays that deal with Bitzer’s notion of the rhetorical situation are: Lloyd F. Bitzer,

“The Rhetorical Situation,” Philosophy and Rhetoric 1 (Winter 1968): 1–14; Richard L. Larson,
“Lloyd Bitzer’s ‘Rhetorical Situation’ and the Classification of Discourse: Problems and Impli-
cations,” Philosophy and Rhetoric 3 (Summer 1970): 165–68; Arthur B. Miller, “Rhetorical Exi-
gence,” Philosophy and Rhetoric 5 (Spring 1972): 111–18; Richard E. Vatz, “The Myth of the
Rhetorical Situation,” Philosophy and Rhetoric 6 (Summer 1973): 154–61; Scott Consigny,
“Rhetoric and Its Situations,” Philosophy and Rhetoric 7 (Summer 1974): 175–86; Barry Brum-
mett, “Some Implications of ‘Process’ or ‘Intersubjectivity’: Postmodern Rhetoric,” Philosophy
and Rhetoric 9 (Winter 1976): 21–51; David M. Hunsaker and Craig R. Smith, “The Nature of
Issues: A Constructive Approach to Situational Rhetoric,” Western Speech Communication 40
(Summer 1976): 144–56; Lloyd F. Bitzer, “Functional Communication: A Situational Perspec-
tive,” in Rhetoric in Transition: Studies in the Nature and Uses of Rhetoric, ed. Eugene E. White
(University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1980), 21–38; and Richard A. Cherwitz
and James W. Hikins, Communication and Knowledge: An Investigation in Rhetorical Epistemol-
ogy (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1986).

15 Karlyn Kohrs Campbell and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, “Acknowledgements,” in Form and Genre:
Shaping Rhetorical Action, ed. Karlyn Kohrs Campbell and Kathleen Hall Jamieson (Falls
Church, VA: Speech Communication Association, [1978]), 3.

16 Harrell and Linkugel, “On Rhetorical Genre.”
17 Carolyn R. Miller, “Genre as Social Action,” 151.

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18 Carolyn R. Miller, “Genre as Social Action (1984), Revisited 30 Years Later (2014),” Letras and
Letras 31 (2015): 61.

19 Carolyn R. Miller, “Genre as Social Action (1984), Revisited 30 Years Later (2014),” 64.
20 Barry Brummett, Rhetorical Homologies: Form, Culture, Experience (Tuscaloosa: University of

Alabama Press, 2004), 1.
21 Brummett, Rhetorical Homologies, 2.
22 Brummett, Rhetorical Homologies, 49.
23 See, for example, Kathryn M. Olson, “Detecting a Common Interpretive Framework for Imper-

sonal Violence: The Homology in Participants’ Rhetoric on Sport Hunting, ‘Hate Crimes,’ and
Stranger Rape,” Southern Communication Journal 67, no. 3 (Spring 2002): 217.

24 Michael A. K. Halliday, An Introduction to Functional Grammar (London: Edward Arnold,
1985). For a history of the Sydney School, see Bill Cope, Mary Kalantzis, Gunther Kress, and
Jim Martin, “Bibliographic Essay: Developing the Theory and Practice of Genre-Based Liter-
acy,” comp. Lorraine Murphy, in The Powers of Literacy: A Genre Approach to Teaching Writing,
ed. Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1993), 231–47.

25 Many scholars continue to raise questions about and refine generic criticism. See, for example,
Herbert W. Simons and Aram A. Aghazarian, Form, Genre, and the Study of Political Discourse
(Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1986); Thomas Conley’s essay in Simons and
Aghazarian’s volume: “The Linnaean Blues: Thoughts on the Genre Approach,” 59–78; William
L. Benoit, “Beyond Genre Theory: The Genesis of Rhetorical Action,” Communication Mono-
graphs 67 (June 2000): 178–92; and the book Genre in a Changing World, ed. Charles Bazerman,
Adair Bonini, and Débora Figueiredo (West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2009).

26 Anthony Paré and Graham Smart, “Observing Genres in Action: Towards a Research Methodol-
ogy,” in Genres and the New Rhetoric, ed. Aviva Freedman and Peter Medway (London: Taylor &
Francis, 1994), 146–54.

27 See, for example, Douglas Biber, Discourse on the Move: Using Corpus Analysis to Describe Dis-
course Structure (Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins, 2007).

28 See, for example, Amy J. Devitt, “Genre as Textual Variable: Some Historical Evidence from
Scots and American English,” American Speech 64 (1989): 291–303.

29 See, for example, Hans-Jürgen Diller, “Genre in Linguistics and Related Discourses,” in
Towards a History of English as a History of Genres, ed. Hans-Jürgen Diller and Manfred Gör-
lach (Heidelberg, Germany: Universitätsverlag, 2001), 3–43.

30 See, for example, Stefan Th. Gries, “What is Corpus Linguistics?,” Language and Linguistics
Compass 3 (2009): 1–12.

31 See, for example, Thomas Kohnen, “Text Types as Catalysts for Language Change: The Exam-
ples of the Adverbial First Participle Construction,” in Towards a History of English as a History
of Genres, ed. Hans-Jürgen Diller and Manfred Görlach (Heidelberg, Germany: Universitäts-
verlag, 2001), 111–24.

32 See, for example, Brian Paltridge, Genre, Frames and Writing in Research Settings (Amsterdam,
The Netherlands: John Benjamins, 1997).

33 Gries, “What is Corpus Linguistics?,” 2–3.
34 Bawarshi and Reiff, Genre, 39.
35 Gries, “What is Corpus Linguistics?,” 4.
36 These three options were suggested by Harrell and Linkugel, “On Rhetorical Genre,” 274–77.
37 Miller, “Genre as Social Action,” 156.
38 Richard E. Vatz, “The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation,” Philosophy & Rhetoric 6 (1973): 154.
39 James S. Measell, “A Comparative Study of Prime Minister William Pitt and President Abraham

Lincoln on Suspension of Habeas Corpus,” in Form and Genre: Shaping Rhetorical Action, ed.
Karlyn Kohrs Campbell and Kathleen Hall Jamieson (Falls Church, VA: Speech Communica-
tion Association, [1978]), 87.

40 Brummett, Rhetorical Homologies, 3.
41 Judy Z. Segal, “Breast Cancer Narratives as Public Rhetoric: Genre Itself and the Maintenance

of Ignorance,” Linguistics and the Human Sciences 3 (2007): 3–23.
42 Orlikowski and Yates, “Genre Repertoire,” 557–61.
43 Agnès Delahaye, Charles Booth, Peter Clark, Stephen Procter, and Michael Rowlinson, “The

Genre of Corporate History,” Emerald: Journal of Organizational Change Management 22
(2009): 27–48.

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44 Olson, “Detecting a Common Interpretive Framework.”
45 For more discussion of this process, see Herbert W. Simons, “‘Genre-alizing’ About Rhetoric: A

Scientific Approach,” in Form and Genre: Shaping Rhetorical Action, ed. Karlyn Kohrs Camp-
bell and Kathleen Hall Jamieson (Falls Church, VA: Speech Communication Association,
[1978]), 41.

46 B. L. Ware and Wil A. Linkugel, “They Spoke in Defense of Themselves: On the Genre Criticism
of Apologia,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 59 (October 1973): 282–83. They define the subgenres
in this way: In the absolutive subgenre, the speaker seeks acquittal; in the vindictive subgenre,
preservation of the accused’s reputation and recognition of the rhetor’s worth as a human
being relative to that of the accusers; in the explanative subgenre, understanding by the audi-
ence of the rhetor’s motives, actions, or beliefs so it will be unable to condemn; and in the justi-
ficative subgenre, understanding and approval.

47 Laura K. Hahn, “A Generic Analysis of the Rhetoric of Humorous Incivility in Popular Culture,”
Diss. Ohio State University 1999.

48 For more on the notion of rules, see: Campbell and Jamieson, “Introduction,” 295–96.
49 This notion receives some treatment in: Stephen E. Lucas, “Genre Criticism and Historical

Context: The Case of George Washington’s First Inaugural Address,” Southern Speech Commu-
nication Journal 51 (Summer 1986): 356–57; and Campbell and Jamieson, “Form and Genre in
Rhetorical Criticism,” 22.

50 Campbell and Jamieson, “Form and Genre in Rhetorical Criticism,” 23–24.
51 This notion was suggested by: Campbell and Jamieson, “Form and Genre in Rhetorical Criti-

cism,” 18; Walter R. Fisher, “Genre: Concepts and Applications in Rhetorical Criticism,” West-
ern Journal of Speech Communication 44 (Fall 1980): 291; and Roderick P. Hart,
“Contemporary Scholarship in Public Address: A Research Editorial,” Western Journal of
Speech Communication 50 (Summer 1986): 292.

52 For a discussion of body art and its function for an audience, see Sonja K. Foss, “Body Art:
Insanity as Communication,” Central States Speech Journal 38 (Summer 1987): 122–31. For
more discussion and examples of the impact of genres on audience expectations, see Kathleen
M. Hall Jamieson, “Generic Constraints and the Rhetorical Situation,” Philosophy and Rhetoric
6 (Summer 1973): 166–67.

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A Case of Prodused Parody and Disarmed Subversion

Jörgen Skågeby

Introduction: Shredding Media and Genres
A “shreds” video combines existing live music concert footage, predominantly includ-

ing a famous male rock guitarist or guitar-based rock group,1 with a self-produced over-
dubbed soundtrack. The result is a musical parody that exists in an intersection between
production and consumption and works as a within-genre evolution. This paper examines
shreds as a form of multimodal intertextual critique by engaging with the videos them-
selves as well as audience responses to them.

The originator of the “shreds” videos is a Finn named Santeri Ojala (aka StSanders).
After producing a number of shreds videos, Ojala was reportedly banned from YouTube
after them receiving complaints of copyright infringement (Wortham, 2008). In a way this
is indicative of a tension between a legal and an illegal element of the shred and the separa-
tion between consumers and producers as enforced by economic measures (Enzensberger,
1970). While it can be contended that this is a form of piracy per se, there is an interesting
grey zone relating for example to fair use and media companies’ content management pol-
icies to be explored here. As of now many of the videos are still available, both on YouTube
(although with significantly smaller number of views) and through Ojala’s own website
( While Ojala is commonly regarded as the originator of the
shred parody, others have appropriated the form since the initial videos. In a typical
“shreds” video much precaution is taken to carefully synchronize the added sound with
the existing visual content of the live footage. The final result is a video with a user-gener-
ated soundtrack that is so well coordinated that many users, unexposed to previous
“shreds,” initially mistake it for the original video and sound (Phan, 2007). However, as
shall be further detailed in the analysis and discussion, the added sound in many ways
confronts and critiques many of the common assumptions about the male guitar hero, the
audience and the context of the concert.

For the purposes of this paper, “shreds” is a particularly interesting phenomenon since
it so explicitly combines a pre-existing visual material with a user-produced sound in a
socio-digital context. The fact that this produsage is done with such laborious time-con-
suming effort further motivates them as a target of study. In addition, and what is perhaps
even more interesting is, of course, how the produsage of this material is placed within
remix culture and emerging cultural values.

Background: Produsage on YouTube
When the concept of a remix found its use in everyday language, it was commonly

connected to the restructuring of a piece of music (Knobel and Lankshear, 2008; Manovich,
2007). Today, the concept has a wider connotation, but still, the underlying structure of the
music remix remains at the core of it. The ability to “disconnect” and separate various
tracks of the music enabled a way of manipulation that, in hindsight, was a step towards
complete “digitalism.” This improved ability to manipulate parts of the whole, and recom-

From Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 19, no. 1 (2012): 63–76. Used by
permission of Sage and the author.

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bine them into new wholes, lead to new creative outputs and genres. In fact, a recent study
shows that the amount and diversity of productive outcomes of a community or network is
heavily related to the ability to reuse and remix available content (Cheliotis and Yew, 2009).

Thus, the previous separation of consumption and production is to an increasing
extent being challenged by scholars who theorize that these activities are better modelled
as a coincident process of “prosumption” or “produsage” (Bruns, 2007b; Fornäs et al., 2007;
Humphreys and Grayson, 2008; Tapscott and Williams, 2006). For this paper we will use
the term “produser” for the combination of user/producer. By engaging themselves in a
process of co-creation of new knowledge and artefacts, which builds and extends on exist-
ing content and artefacts, users become produsers (Bruns, 2007a). Produsage theory sees a
user as always already a producer. In other words, produsers, with the help of pervasive
media technologies, applications and services, engage in the repurposing, remixing and
redistribution of media objects (Lessig, 2008) and virtual products (Skågeby, 2011). Such
media objects include music, sound, images and videos, which originate from a variety of
sources (e.g. television, motion pictures, Internet, personal media archives) (Knobel and
Lankshear, 2008). On a larger scale, Cooper (2009: 304) explores, in what she refers to as
“economic dynamics,” an insightful framing that acknowledges that capitalist relations
today are often muddled with more common wealth or distributed gift-giving modes of
goods and service circulation. As such, “things are not simply used up, but used in perfor-
mative ways to create (new) economic, social and cultural values as well as statuses.”

In this context of produsage, YouTube has emerged as an important media-sharing
platform for user-generated content. YouTube is a video sharing service that provides pro-
dusers with a relatively straightforward platform to add and view videos (Benevenuto et
al., 2008). These videos can be, for example, “home videos,” videos originating from broad-
cast television or movies, commercial videos (trailers, product commercials) or remixes of
various kinds. YouTube videos are often also embedded in, or linked to, from other online
services (e.g. blogs, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace) (Cha et al., 2007). It is also common for
videos of a certain type to link to each other and consequently form embedded small net-
works, or communities, of their own (Cheng et al., 2007).

More importantly for this paper, YouTube has also become an important forum for
critical commentary and parody (Edwards and Tryon, 2009). Shred videos engage audi-
ences in an “attack” of their host genre from within. As such they also engage in parody as
a specific form of critical intertextuality (Gray, 2006).

Theory: Parody, Critical Intertextuality and Genre Literacy
Parody is commonly defined as an imitation of the style of a particular writer, artist or

genre with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect. As such, the parody, by definition, con-
tains references to other genres and texts. Without these references, or intertextuality
(Chandler, 2007), the parody would lose its potential “to talk back to more authoritative
texts and genres, to recontextualize and pollute their meaning-construction processes, and
to offer other, ‘improper’, and yet more media literate and savvy interpretations” (Gray,
2006: 4). An analysis of intertextuality can then be defined as a concern for the external rela-
tions between texts (rather than the internal logic of a text). Intertextuality views texts as
always co-dependent on other texts for their textual meanings (i.e. as always already part
of existing semiotic systems). As such, texts can provide proposed readings that challenge
mainstream interpretations and subvert conventional discourses. It is obvious that a critical
intertextual perspective has conceptual commonalities with both hypermedia (Landow

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and Delany, 1994; Orr, 2009) and the consumer-as-producer (Grossberg et al., 1998; Kotler,
1986; Toffler, 1980). Without going in to meticulous detail on the philosophical underpin-
nings of intertextuality, this paper will examine parody as a critical form of intertextuality,
specifically in the context of video produsage and genre literacy. As such, it also becomes
important to conceptualize the genre.

Genres are seen as one of the main principles for structuring modern media (Bjurström
et al., 2000). Genres are defined as (relatively) stable patterns or familiar forms that func-
tion as a common frame of reference. In this way, they shape expectations by forming rela-
tionships between consumers and producers (Grossberg, et al., 1998) and by being both
descriptive and prescriptive. As such, genres are also ideal theoretical and methodological
tools for examining produsage: “I focus on genres because they are the meeting-point
between the process of producing media materials and the process of using them” (Agre,
1998: 81).

Genre, rather than providing a strict definition of a class of objects, provides an orien-
tation for produsage activities and outcomes. Genre can be seen as a collection of conven-
tions, a structure of cultural value judgments or as a set of intertextual relations (Devitt,
1993; Miller, 1984; Swales, 1990). In practice, this is what creates a recognizable genre,
allowing people to produce similar objects. The genre also implies that there is a “stream”
of cultural objects following a recurring form and function, rather than a single instance
(Agre, 1998). However, the genre is not to be regarded as completely rigid in form and
function. Genres can be unstable over time as they develop due to changes in media tech-
nology structures, market transformations, or even the intentions and concerns of produs-
ers. Any such changes may happen gradually (e.g. through a merging of genres) or
rapidly (e.g. through regulated changes). Another dynamic of genre has to do with the fact
that it is self-referring—instances of the genre continuously reinforce or challenge the
genre itself (Yates and Orlikowski, 1992). Reconnecting genre and parody it can be said
that parody is an intertextual process that “makes fun of the way a genre works” (Gray,
2006: 45). Parody criticizes the genre from within. For this critique to be fruitful, the pro-
cess of parody requires of its audience an understanding of the genre’s conventions—a
genre literacy.

Genre literacy, as such, not only may act as a powerful tool for conformity to be main-
tained, but also provides two integral conditions for a critical intertextuality: it is a sys-
tem that can be disrupted and reconstituted by one text, allowing one text to affect
many, and given the prevalence of media discussion today, it is a system that allows for
communities to form around such rogue texts, communities that can act to reinforce,
further disseminate, or even amplify such texts’ disruptive force. (Gray, 2006: 46)

Interpretative communities—or produsing audiences—become so significant because
they embody the comprehension of the criticism. At the same time, the parody is also at the
mercy of audience miscomprehension or disregard. Hence, it is important, as Gray stresses,
to conduct a cultural analysis of genre—an analysis that is sensitive to “the processes of
categorization and at what cultural and media practices that are behind them” (2006: 30). In
summary, what is interesting for this paper are the ways that produsers re-use media,
genres and their boundaries, to create parodic content, which is then shared over a com-
puter-mediated social network. While it can be difficult to definitely determine when a
stream of media objects come to form a genre of its own, the process of parody produsage
is important since it highlights which elements are culturally and temporally situated
within the (emerging) genre at the time of the study.

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Research Question
This paper explores “shreds” as a form of prodused musical parody by focusing on:
1. The formal characteristics of “shred” music videos
2. The intertextual relationships of shred videos
3. The shared understandings among produsers concerning the interpretation of

those characteristics and relationships
In a larger sense, an exploration of these aspects can tell us more about the potential of pro-
dused parody in a contemporary social mediated culture.

Material and Delimitations
Two types of data were sourced for this paper: (1) shred videos, and (2) video user com-

ments. The paper will focus mainly on the shred videos created by Ojala since he is the origi-
nator, the most productive produser of shreds, and has been continually produsing shreds
over the development of the genre. However, the data material will also include a number of
shreds prodused by other YouTube aliases to indicate the adoption of the format. Ojala’s web-
site reports 18 specific instances of “guitar shreds,” including for example santana shreds,2
Eddie van Halen shreds3 and Jake E. Lee Shreds.4 Further, other produsers have adopted the
format of the “shred” in for example The Who shreds,5 Slipknot shreds6 and Creed Shreds.7 In
total 21 shred videos were analysed. The videos have between 25,000 and 2,200,000 views on
YouTube as of the time of writing. The reason for the relatively low view count should be read
in the light that the original videos have been pulled from YouTube (due to copyright infringe-
ment claims) once before and the new uploads have not yet generated views in the same
range. For the 21 chosen videos the comments on YouTube amount to 27,059 at the time of
writing. To create a more manageable volume of comments, five shred videos were randomly
selected and all comments elicited. The rationale behind this approach, rather than randomiz-
ing from the entire comment pool, is to retain the coherence and sequence of the comments
made to a single video. This selection resulted in 4277 comments included in the analysis.

The general methodological framework used in this paper can be referred to as genre

analysis. Genre analysis follows a number of generic steps (Arvola et al., 2010):
1. map out the contents of the object;
2. identify purpose of object and content elements;
3. identify shared characteristics of and differences between a stream of objects.

However, genres are not manifested through texts alone. All genres are dependent on the
support of an interpretative community or the staying power of the genre would soon
wither. Therefore, an important addition to the genre analysis model is to:

4. identify shared understandings among produsers concerning the interpretation of
those characteristics

Step 1. Because the objects of study in this paper are videos specifically, the paper fol-
lows the generic procedure of the genre analysis, but also uses a specifically developed
method to mapping out the content. An adapted version of the video analysis method
developed by Machin (2010) was used. The purpose of this method is to “transcribe videos
in a way that allows us to best describe and analyse the way that sound, image and word

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work together multimodally, to show how they interrelate to form a single communicative
act” (2010: 185). More specifically, the analysis made use of an annotation model consisting
of three “tracks.” This is a particularly fruitful way to analyse prodused parody because it
makes it easy to identify what tracks actually contain produsergenerated material (Table 1).

Features and recurring themes can be established in order to characterize similarities
and dissimilarities relating both to each case on its own, but also over the cases. This
method allows us to consider emerging genres: “The kinds of semiotic resources being
used in particular cases [of produsage] specify not only certain formal characteristics of
genres, but also a range of understandings shared among [produsers] concerning the inter-
pretation of those characteristics” (Machin, 2010: 5).

Step 2. For the second step of the analysis (to identify purpose of object and content ele-
ments), we turn to characteristics particularly relating to the semiotics of intertextuality. Chan-
dler (2007) provides a comprehensive list of some of the defining features of intertextuality:

• Reflexivity: the degree of self-reference or self-consciousness that is visible in the text;
• Alteration: the degree of modification of the sources for the text (remix);
• Explicitness: refers to the degree by which direct references are included/excluded/

• Comprehension: relates to how important it is for readers to be able to recognize the

intertextuality of included elements;
• Structural unboundedness: the extent to which the text can be seen to belong to a

larger structure (e.g. a genre, a specific practice, a service).
Step 3. The identification of shared characteristics over the selected objects was man-

aged by a straightforward thematic analysis based on the features described in step 2. Put
simply, patterns were identified through careful reading and re-reading of the analyses of
the various videos.

Step 4. As noted previously, the shared understandings of produsers can be fruitfully
analysed via the semiotic resources typically used as genre elements. Still, YouTube also
provides another source for data in the comments that other produsers can post to each
video. Consequently, this paper will include a complementary analysis of the comments to
each video as a way to provide a richer picture of shared understandings and interpreta-
tions among produsers. All video comments were collected and analysed thematically.

The full analysis of all the videos will naturally not be included in the paper, but to

provide an idea of how the analysis was conducted, we shall include a brief example from
“santana shreds” (Table 2). The analysis of the comments followed a generic thematic anal-
ysis, identifying themes and subthemes through a careful reading and re-reading (Freeday
and Muir-Cochrane, 2006).

Table 1. Annotation model for “shreds” analysis.

Video Music Sound and/or vocal effects

Descriptions of Descriptions of musical qualities Description of added sound effects
scenes and cuts and instrumentation or vocals

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There is an obvious risk of over-intellectualising parody and removing all aspects of

fun through dry academic analysis. Nevertheless, shreds as cultural and social objects are
more than just “guys mucking about in their boring office-desk jobs.” First, the very effort
of produsing a shred is significant and defies simplistic reduction to just-for-fun (even
though this is part of it). This is also expressed vividly in the video comments, for example,
“The twisted mastermind behind these is incredibly dedicated, patient, and talented” (user
comment). Second, as audiences engage with media objects, there is a chance that they (the
media objects) become more than what the produser may have intended from the begin-
ning. This includes a development of the shred in itself and as such the host genre in gen-
eral. While the early shreds were generally focused upon bad guitar playing, adding new
instruments, (out-of-genre) sounds and even lyrics became part of the development. In
addition, a more deliberate imitation of the original artist’s style of playing or well-known
hit song added to the (mis-)comprehension of the shred.

Table 2. Brief example of shred video analysis.


Fade-in from black. Mid-range
shot of Santana approaching the
microphone. After speaking into
it he starts playing his guitar.

Mid-range shot of man playing a
rhythmic instrument using a
long stick.

Long-range shot of the scene.
Cut to mid-range shot of Santana

with a bass player in the back-

Organist in the foreground, San-
tana in the background.

Camera angle from behind the
drummer who hits a variety of
drums in the set.

Close-up of percussionist from
scene 2. He approaches the
microphone while playing the
rhythmic instrument. He then
speaks into the microphone.

[Scenes omitted due to space

Santana turns towards the organ
player who vividly plays a lower
and upper keyboard.

Melody qualities

Guitar riffs begin as Santana hits
the strings of the guitar.

Guitar riffs continue while a “ting-
ing” sound is synchronized with
the movements of the pictured

Guitar solo continues.
Guitar solo continues, perfectly

synched with video, but is
beginning to be notably medio-
cre in precision and skill. Dis-
persed bass notes are heard as
bassist slaps strings.

Random organ chords overlay
second-rate guitar solo.

Drum sounds synchronized with
drummer’s movements while
guitar solo continues.

“Tinging” sound dubbed over
guitar solo

Organist plays the intro to “The
Final Countdown” by Europe,
which transforms into random
dabbles on the keyboard.

Sound and/or vocal effects

The video starts with applause
and wordless vocal sound as
Santana speaks into the

Applause in the background.

The scene ends with audience
applause dubbed over guitar

Applause continues.

Applause continues.

Applause continues. Wordless
vocal sound synched with
mouth movement.

Applause after organ solo.

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Homage and Subversion
Parody can be tributary and loving, serving as homage and flattery, but it can also take
the ground in order to transgress and subvert. (Gray, 2006: 45)

Naturally, there are several ways to read the “shred” genre. A main theme, however, is
located in the tension between cultural critique and cultural homage. It is clear that there
are some manifest pop-cultural references made in shreds. The explicit inclusion of frag-
ments of well-known “rock anthems” (e.g., “The Final Countdown” by Europe and “Iron
Man” by Black Sabbath) in the audio soundtrack creates a sense of familiarity with the
audience and points to a guitarist-in-learning. Several comments make reference to “a gui-
tar center on a Saturday afternoon” where novice players try out their favourite licks and
riffs. Further, including elements that are not typically part of the host genre, such as tap-
dancing or whistling, pose further challenges to the romantic idea and connotations of the
guitar hero.

On a more latent level, the shred also highlights how the produsage of a particular
parody requires prior knowledge of genre elements (“comprehension” in Chandler’s
terms, “genre literacy” in Gray’s terms). The shred can include emphases that make the
added sound particularly critical or humorous. For example, the adding of applause after
each (poorly) performed solo can be read as simply being in contrast to the quality of the
performed solo, but also as a critique against the custom for each band member to perform
lengthy solos that the audience then (customarily) cheer for.

As mentioned, the produser-generated guitar melodies are created with a balance
between skill and deliberate amateurism. While the melodic qualities are obviously flawed
the sound of the guitar is kept very realistic. The quality of the other sounds, however, are
very “cheap.” Keyboards, handclaps and drums all sound very amateurish, synthetic and
out-of-date. Still, viewers unfamiliar with the band, or not knowing what the original con-
tent should sound, may be tricked by the quality of the synchronized material and interpret
the performance as being that of a very poor musician. For example, several comments
highlight the gradual (or sudden) realization that the video is, in fact, parodic: “I didn’t
understand that it was fake until like half way. I was thinking ‘interesting style.’ Then when
I realized it was fake, I couldn’t stop laughing” (user comment). Others seem to not realize
that the audio is overdubbed at all: “ummm this was aweful:(vai is good but here he dont
have a good day:/” (user comment). This, however, leads us to a common theme in the
comments, namely irony. The irony takes on several different forms, but (mis-)comprehen-
sion is a major theme. Some comments acknowledge that the audio has been substituted,
but make an ironic jest out of the notion that the sound has been exchanged for a “genuine”
track by another group (e.g. Nickelback, Primus or The Residents). This becomes meta-crit-
ical since it also criticizes the referred artist and its genre (e.g., “art rock”). A variation on
this is to imply that the artist in the shred is in fact copying a player-in-learning: “I played
this exact same piece during the 2nd grade talent show. Thanks for ripping me off Steve”
(user comment)—and thus reverse the direction of flattery. Other comments seem to pre-
tend to not have comprehended that the audio is replaced, and for example make use of
advanced music-theoretical terms to suggest that the skill required to perform a solo of this
kind is immense. Deliberate miscomprehension also takes the form of rants about how a
hard rock life of drugs and downward artistic spiralling may have played a part in this par-
ticular shoddy performance. Of course, there are also members of the audience who leap to
the defence of their heroes. Their comments express a dislike against what they see, not as
homage at all, but as plain mockery of a genuinely skilled guitar player.

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Gender Performance
An important function of the parody is to bring to light that which has been left obscured:

The parodic text adds itself to our genre understanding, and works toward corroding
away that which has been allowed to work undetected in the genre. (Gray, 2006: 47)

Ganetz, citing Judith Butler, points to parody as one way to “make visible the cracks”
in gender-normative performances: “The resistance against the already given gender
norms, against the repetitions, can be found in the parodies that make visible the character-
istics of the imitation” (2009: 128, my translation). As the electric guitar and “rock” music in
general is closely connected to the performance of masculinity (Bayton, 1997), the prodused
parody of the “shred” becomes particularly interesting to analyse in terms of gender perfor-
mance. Indeed, it is hard to ignore the fact that virtually all instances of the “shred” genre
contain male musicians only. The hegemonic masculinity of guitar heroes is also paralleled
in the popular literature. For example, in the book The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists the
author remarks that out of the 100 presented guitarists 48 were American, 14 Swedish, 13
British, seven German, four Norwegian and three Canadian. Two each came from Finland,
Poland, Brazil and Denmark, and one each from Switzerland, France and Australia. Ninety-
six of the guitarists were still living at the time the book was published, with only Eurony-
mous, Jesse Pintado, Chuck Schuldiner and “Dimebag” Darrell deceased (McIver, 2009).

What the author fails to mention is that not a single one was female. Even if we do not
limit ourselves to “metal rock” music, it is clear that most “guitar heroes” are men. In 2003,
Rolling Stone Magazine presented their “100 greatest guitarists” list. On the list were two
women: Joni Mitchell (no. 71) and Joan Jett (no. 86) (Rolling Stone Magazine, 2003). To fur-
ther the argument, signs of a male hegemony in (electric) guitar music are visible in, for
example, recruitment to instrumentalist education (Zervoudakes and Tanur, 1994), in
media representation (Ganetz, 2009) and in audience reception (Tagg, 1989)—the guitar,
and particularly the electric guitar, is repeatedly coded as an instrument connected to mas-
culinity. This points to what Acker (2006) has coined an inequality regime. Inequality
regimes are defined as “the interlocked practices and processes that result in continuing
inequalities in all work organizations” (2006: 441). The analytical approach of inequality
regimes is closely connected to the concepts of legitimacy and visibility. Legitimacy entails
how inequality regimes justify (or do not justify) the inequalities they sustain; while visibil-
ity concerns the awareness the organization displays regarding inequalities (manifest or
latent). In terms of legitimacy there are examples of parodied female guitarists, but (cur-
rently) women are not as well represented as men in guitar rock, which is a fundamental
part of why the parody of the shred can be read as gender-normative critique. When it
comes to visibility, the recurring lists of “top guitarists” are, but one, clear sign of “invisi-
ble” inequality regimes at play.

As mentioned, a well-performed guitar solo is also a good performance of masculinity
(Ganetz, 2009). In the shred video the guitarist enacts all the expected elements of mascu-
line gender performance by, for example, arm-waving, jumping, tough and aggressive
body language and (facially) displaying deep emotional investment in the performed gui-
tar solo. This is however contrasted by the prosumer-generated soundtrack, which syn-
chronizes appropriately with the visuals, but confronts them in terms of performance.
Thus, this presents an intersection between visual and audible gender performance. In the
prosumption of “shreds,” gender performance arguably becomes a multimodal postmod-
ern canvas (albeit not necessarily a “blank” canvas) that can be “tampered with.” Conse-

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quently, by referring to Halberstam’s (2005) distinction between transgendered and
transsexual bodies, we may shed even more light on the “shred.” According to this notion,
the “shredded” guitarist can be read mainly as transgendered—that is, the multimodal
gender performance is altered—but it can not be read as transsexual since the visual body
is not “deliberately reorganized” (2005: 97). In reading the shred as an example of transgen-
dered bodies, we have already noted that the visual representation of the male bodies are
left (technically) unaltered. However, in visuality is also embedded social power, which is
here brought into ambivalence. This unsettling of social power arguably directs our atten-
tion towards the visual representation as such, altering our “socio-material perception” of
it—very much in the way Ganetz and Butler identified the purpose of the parody. That is,
when gender performance follows the expected norms, we think little of it. But, when the
shred alters the audial performance, certain elements of (gendered) imitation and visuality
become highlighted to us.

As a final reflection on gender performance, it is likely that “shredding” (as produsing
practice) is still a very male-orientated practice. As such, there is also reason to think that
the humour of shreds is co-constructed to actually reduce anxiety about any “queering”
that may be going on (Hawkins, 2006). That is, the jest of the parody may not only function
as a gender-normative critique, but also as to disarm any real challenge to the constructed
nature of conventional masculinity. Thus, the shred should certainly not be over-interpreted
as a sign of the destabilization of hegemonic masculinity. Nevertheless, at the same time it
cannot be neglected as an (attempt at) undermining of traditional and repeated masculinity.

Synchronicity and Dis/harmony
Synchronization is an important part of many produsage activities (Knobel and Lank-

shear, 2008). However, the shred relies on synchronicity in a broader sense, both technically
and socially. Their combination of existing video with self-produced (and synchronized)
music and sound is the technical part. This is a laborious and time-consuming effort. In the
case of shreds, it is particularly salient that produsers must, during the actual process of
produsage, consume the originating material in order to produce a synchronized experi-
ence. That is, produsers, in order to perform the art of audiovisual synchronization must
quite literally and concurrently consume the original visual material while producing the
audio (although post-editing is certainly utilized for perfection).

While synchronicity is a central characteristic of produsing multimodal parody, it does
not capture the “sense-making” sociomaterial aspects very well. On a sociomaterial level,
the shred expresses a co-dependency between being technically “on time” and being socio-
economically disharmonius.

Media synchronicity needs to align with genre literacy or the parodic power is lost. At
the same time, a shred also needs to be critical enough to parodize its host genre effectively,
and thus also be disharmonius in relation to the mainstream. The media synchronicity of
the shred relates both to harmony (within the disruption of the genre) and disharmony (in
relation to the mainstream). However, the disharmony of parody cannot be completely
without sociomaterial resonance—the peer prosumers (or audience) must be able to make
sense of it. It can be almost a relief for the audience to find that the pet peeve they have

(Media) (Socio-economical)
Synchronicity Dis/harmony

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been so annoyed about has been effectively captured n a particular piece of prodused par-
ody. As such, there is an element of harmony in disharmony that may perhaps be best
described as a recognition of commonality in going against the mainstream), as a growing
number of people may find the same parody expressing their concerns and/or intentions.

An interesting aspect of the shred genre is how many of the instruments remain
unheard when out of picture. This is a very literal practice of audiovisual synchronization.
It may, of course, be a pragmatic decision on the behalf of the produser of the video to min-
imize the effort expended. However, this choice also adds value to the final product as it
emphasizes a perception of the artist(s) as being of second-rate quality, which is arguably
one of the functions/purposes of the genre.

Another purpose of the synchronization is more directed towards the audience of the
genre. The synchronization is key to the produsage balance of the genre. For the shred, the
balance remains in being “convincingly bad.” That is, the produser needs to be good
enough to persuade consumers that the final product could be the real thing. At the same
time, they criticize the romantic idea of the guitar hero as an instrument equilibrist, by pro-
ducing a “bad” soundtrack.

The examples analyzed in this paper indicate the variety of practices and semiotic

styles used when produsing parody on YouTube. By analysing these examples as emerging
genres with certain commonalities we can begin to position them as parts of counter-cul-
ture. Counter-culture refers to modes of resistance to, critique of, or deviation from what is
perceived as a non-desirable norm. In the media climate of today there is reason to explore
how counter-culture, consumerism and technicity are interwoven. Assuming a “long tail
development” of cultural expression and consumption, we will likely also witness a great
variety of emerging forms of counter-culture that may, or may not, become mainstream,
but where the academic excitement is found in the processes of emergence and how partic-
ipants experience them. This paper has begun to show how the analysis of produsage out-
comes can identify and characterize new media genres and genre elements. These genres
are of cultural importance since they are mediators of the relation between produsers.
Through their form, function and content, genres assist produsers in recognizing situations
and objects. As consumers, we have certain expectations from a certain genre. However,
these expectations can also be confronted by prodused media objects, which in turn can
come to evolve the genre in itself.

This paper has suggested that we can understand parody on YouTube as prodused,
intertextual, genre-evolving critique. The practice of produsing parody on YouTube is situ-
ated in a co-dependence between (technical) synchronization and (sociocultural) dis/har-
mony. In a wider sense, the videos analysed in this paper are (post-)modern examples of
counter-culture. They use existing media to produse “improper” alterations and alternative
interpretations. Still, because of the social network effect of YouTube they are capable of
reaching a mass audience, form sub-genres of parody and even generate revenue (both for
personal account holders and for YouTube). As such, the role of the produser is a contradic-
tory, or perhaps, intermediary, one. This is because of the fact that the range of potential alter-
ation is nebulous and manifold, due to it being based on an infrastructure deeply enmeshed
in commercial exploitation, for example by the capitalization of attention (Skågeby, 2009).
This shows how YouTube is also situated in-between a common-placed media institution
and a platform offering relationships that go beyond the institutionalized set of rules. The

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mundane produsage of shreds can be interpreted as a liberating and empowering practice.
However, on a socioeconomic level it can also be seen as subject to re-commodification and
incorporated in an economy ultimately based on exchange values (rather than social bond-
ing values). As Comor (2010) suggests, a process of produsage is always followed by
attempts to manage and exploit. As such, it is interesting not only to reconsider the removal
of the shred videos on YouTube, but also the appearance of Ojala on the American Jimmy
Kimmel TV Show (ABC, 9 January 2008). In a segment from the show Ojala is interviewed
and asked to perform a “live shred” (i.e., a video is shown on a screen and Ojala “shreds” to
it). Ojala is then joined by guitarist Slash, from Guns ’n’ Roses, who plays along with Ojala,
eventually interrupting and drowning Ojala’s shred with a “properly skilled” guitar solo. So,
while these examples of prodused parody are illustrative of a practice where previously pas-
sive consumers express their new produsive positions as members of networked culture,
they can also be seen as subversion that can be effectively disarmed or controlled.

This in turn leads us to consider the relationship between technology and technique.
Technology, in this case, can be understood as YouTube, easy-to-use movie editing software
and networked computers. Technique, in this case, refers more to the embodied skills of
produsers to code and decode cultural messages. At times, prodused parody enters the
mainstream to become part of broader public discourses on contemporary popular culture,
spreading well beyond YouTube. As such, the produsage of parody is a vivid example of
technique-in-use—that is, the potential to apply technique through technology. The big
change, compared with earlier forms of prodused parody, is that produsers now engage in
collaborative self-reflection and discussion round technique-in-use. Interpretative commu-
nities continuously re-mix cultural content in a process of concurrent discursive re-evalua-
tion and re-interpretation.

1. “Shredded” guitarists and bands include Steve Vai, Eric Clapton, Eddie van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughan, San-

tana, Kiss and The Who, amongst others.
2. santana shreds (2008), uploaded by sa238,
3. Eddie Van Halen Shreds (2008), uploaded by Topoieka, v=pdFJTbaFcZ0
4. Jake E. Lee Shreds (2008), uploaded by sa238,
5. The Who Shreds (2008), uploaded by NanoGraine,
6. Slipknot SHREDS (2008), uploaded by thisnextsongiscalled,

7. Creed Shreds 4 – A Thousand Yasseahs! By SPIRITSWITCHBOARD (2010), uploaded by tehjizz,


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A Generic Description of Handover Rhetoric

Andrew Gilmore

In recent times, numerous countries, including Nigeria, Venezuela, and The Philip-
pines, have experienced significant handovers. In March, 2013, the country of Myanmar
witnessed a historic handover when a civilian-dominated government gained power over
the country, ending a period of dictatorship of more than 50 years. In 2004, following the
fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, Iraq’s US-led administration transferred sovereignty of
the county to the interim Iraqi government in a momentous handover that took place at a
hastily arranged, low-key ceremony in an effort to avoid terrorist attacks. Such instances
highlight the increasing need to analyze the rhetoric that is used at handovers across the
globe and to uncover strategies that rhetors can use to establish power and, most impor-
tant, successfully communicate with and address the needs of an audience in such a situa-
tion. The handover of power is a delicate balancing act that carries many consequences for
both a rhetor and an audience. If a rhetor displays too much power, an audience may feel
alienated, and unrest may occur through an uprising. If a rhetor displays too little power,
however, an audience may gain control and power over the rhetor or feel threatened
because of the apparent weakness of the new government or leader.

In this essay, I analyze three addresses presented by rhetors during situations in which
power is handed over from one individual, territory, or entity to another. The artifacts I
have chosen to analyze are three addresses presented at three significant handovers: Jiang
Zemin’s address at the ceremony to mark Hong Kong’s return to China in July, 1997;
Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration speech in January, 2009; and Pope Francis’s first
speech as pontiff in March, 2013. By analyzing these addresses, I aim to discover if a genre
of handover rhetoric exists. If a genre is uncovered, this could provide evidence for how
major handovers of power can successfully occur, with a rhetor establishing power; main-
taining order; calming possible fears of an audience; and uniting an audience behind the
handover and a new leader, government, or entity.

In order to achieve the above aim, I will analyze the three addresses using generic crit-
icism. Taken from the French word genre, which refers to a distinct collection of artifacts
that share important characteristics, generic criticism is rooted in the assumption that, in
certain situations, particular kinds of rhetoric are required to meet the needs and expecta-
tions of an audience. I will conduct a generic description of the three addresses with the
goal of discovering if there are commonalities among the various rhetorics in the recurring
situation of a handover and, if so, to identify what those commonalities are. To carry out
this analysis, I will observe similarities and dissimilarities in the handover situation and in
the rhetorical characteristics and organizing principle of the three speeches.

Andrew Gilmore began writing a series of essays on Jiang Zemin’s speech at the handover of Hong Kong when he
was a student in Sonja K. Foss’s rhetorical criticism class at the University of Colorado Denver in 2014; he com-
pleted the series in 2016. Used by permission of the author.

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Description of the Artifacts

Jiang Zemin: Receiving Sovereignty Over Hong Kong
On July 1, 1997, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), led by president Jiang Zemin,

regained control of the city of Hong Kong after 156 years of British rule. The PRC’s resump-
tion of sovereignty over Hong Kong was compelling for a number of reasons. The terms of
the handover of Hong Kong were groundbreaking and unique. The joint agreement
between the PRC and the United Kingdom (UK)—the Sino-British Joint Declaration—laid
the foundation for how Hong Kong would be governed after the 1997 handover and
throughout the subsequent 50 years. Although Hong Kong was officially being returned to
China as a result of the agreement, China did not have full control over Hong Kong. The
terms of the agreement stated that life in Hong Kong would remain unchanged for 50
years, and Hong Kong was granted the title of Special Administrative Region, which enabled
the city to “enjoy a high degree of autonomy” (Constitutional and Mainland Affairs
Bureau, 2007).

The handover galvanized public opinion and, while most citizens agreed that the city
should gain independence from the UK, citizens began to worry about what would become
of Hong Kong after it was returned to China. Many Hong Kong citizens were concerned
that the Chinese government would disregard the stipulations of the Joint Declaration and
force Hong Kong to implement rules and laws against their will. A final crucial aspect of
Jiang’s handover address was that he was not in charge when the Joint Declaration was
agreed upon and signed in 1984. As a result, Jiang was implementing policies that he did
not negotiate and about which many Hong Kongers were anxious.

Barack Obama: Receiving the Presidency
On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama became the 44th president of the United States.

There are a number of reasons behind my decision to select Obama’s inauguration speech
to analyze for this essay. As the first African-American president of the US, Obama’s presi-
dential victory was a groundbreaking and historic event. Obama assumed his role in the
White House after George W. Bush’s eight-year presidential reign. Bush’s presidency coin-
cided with the 9/11 terrorist attacks and, under his leadership, the US initiated wars in
Afghanistan and Iraq as well as a War on Terror, all of which were controversial. Bush was
also criticized for a number of decisions and policies during his time in office, including his
response to Hurricane Katrina and his authorization of torture as a CIA interrogation tac-
tic. Faced with assuming the presidency after George W. Bush’s tumultuous reign,
Obama’s inauguration speech saw him addressing an American public feeling fear, anxiety,
and anger.

In addition to America’s position on foreign fronts, the country was suffering the
effects of a global financial crisis. The country’s gross domestic product was in sharp
decline, and many businesses were facing bankruptcy. A number of US automobile compa-
nies—an industry relied upon in many states—required government bailouts in order to
survive. Over 700,000 jobs were being lost every month, and millions of Americans were
facing home foreclosure (Davis, 2016; Long 2016). Because of the country’s precarious posi-
tion on national and international fronts, as well as the ever-present threat of terrorism,
Obama was being handed a country that was rife with tension and uncertainty. An exi-
gency for Obama was to reassure the American people that he was the right man to lead
the country during these times of uncertainty.

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Pope Francis: Receiving the Papacy
On March 13, 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio became the 266th pope of the Roman Catho-

lic Church. A number of circumstances relating to Pope Francis’s election to preside over
the world’s largest Christian church influenced my decision to analyze the speech he pre-
sented as he assumed the office. Pope Francis’s reign represented many firsts: He was the
first Jesuit pope, the first pope from the Americas, the first pope from the Southern Hemi-
sphere, and the first non-European pope since 741. The manner in which Pope Francis
became pope was also unusual. When Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, resigned
the papacy due to ill health, he became the first pope to resign since 1485. Pope Benedict
broke the trend of modern-day popes staying in the position until their deaths. As a result,
Pope Francis was in the extremely rare position of taking over from a living predecessor.

In addition to being handed the papacy under unique circumstances, Francis was
about to preside over a church that was facing a number of challenges. As the threat of ter-
rorism and religious extremism continued to grip the globe, different faiths were more
divided than ever. As a result, like Obama, an exigency for Francis was to calm fears and
attempt to unite people. In addition to this pressing issue, however, the Catholic Church
was being called upon to modernize by addressing the issue of female priests, to tackle
arguments surrounding celibacy for priests, and to respond to the revelations of sexual
abuse of young people by priests. Because of this, the handover of the papacy to Pope Fran-
cis occurred during a period of immense transition and turmoil not just for the Catholic
Church but for global peace.

Analysis of the three addresses provides evidence of four characteristics of handover

rhetoric that are implemented by rhetors who are being handed power of some kind: facing
an issue, setting a standard, claiming success, and decentering the self.

Facing an Issue
Each rhetor draws attention to an issue that must be faced and tackled after the hando-

ver. Throughout his address, Jiang draws attention to the “century of vicissitudes” that
Hong Kong has faced and to “the Hong Kong question.” Many Hong Kongers were per-
fectly happy under British rule or, at the very least, they were not particularly unhappy
with their situation. Jiang, however, is presenting a reality in which a century of wrongdo-
ings has occurred, during which time the identity of Hong Kongers was confused and
questionable. Jiang uses Hong Kong’s lack of national identity and the city’s confusing sta-
tus after being colonized by the UK for over 150 years as factors that have led to a question
being raised concerning Hong Kong’s status and where it belongs. When Jiang states that
China has “successfully resolved the Hong Kong question,” he presents these issues as
problems that have already been fixed. By doing so, Jiang is displaying his power due to
the fact that China has resolved the issues and, as leader of the PRC, Jiang is responsible. In
turn, this tactic could be viewed as an attempt to calm the fears of Hong Kongers and unite
them with Chinese mainlanders.

President Obama draws attention to a number of issues that are facing America,
including a weakened economy, a poor healthcare system, and a poor educational system.
Despite these issues, all of which could be causes for weakened morale among Americans,
the threats of terrorism and war are the major issues that Obama highlights in his address.
Obama points to “the common dangers” that are faced by Americans and states that “our

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nation is at war against a far reaching network of violence and hatred.” He also references
the threat of individuals who “advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering
innocents.” There can be little doubt that this was the one issue that caused the most fear;
depleted morale; and, crucially, divided America’s diverse population. Although most
American citizens held the same view of terrorism, the division was caused by differing
views on how to deal with the threat of terrorism. The decision to go to war in an attempt
to tackle terrorism had been a controversial strategy that divided opinion not just across
America but across the globe.

In a similar strategy to that of Obama, on a number of occasions throughout his
address, Pope Francis draws attention to the death and destruction of humankind and the
world. Francis states that there are “Herods who plot death, wreak havoc, and mar the
countenance of men and women.” He also informs his audience that “whenever we fail to
care for creation and for our brothers and sisters, the way is opened to destruction and
hearts are hardened.”

Setting a Standard
After presenting an issue that is being faced, each rhetor continues by establishing a

standard he will follow in an attempt to address and remedy these issues and boost morale
and unity among the audience. Ultimately, the standard presented by each rhetor will
determine the success or failure of his time in power. Jiang uses the “one country, two sys-
tems” policy as his standard. This policy was negotiated between the UK and the PRC as
part of the terms that facilitated Hong Kong’s return to the mainland. The “one country,
two systems” policy sanctioned Hong Kong’s independence from mainland China by
bestowing on Hong Kong the title of Special Administrative Region.

In his address, Jiang states that “the Chinese Government will unswervingly imple-
ment the basic policies of ‘one country, two systems.’” This statement is designed to instill
a sense of calm among Hong Kongers by portraying the PRC as a rule-abiding govern-
ment. Despite the fact that the “one country, two systems” policy was jointly developed by
the PRC and the UK, Jiang informs the audience that the PRC will be remembered for the
“creative concept of ‘one country, two systems.’” Although this statement is not entirely
true, Jiang’s assertion works in three ways. As head of the PRC, Jiang is demonstrating the
PRC’s—and his—power. Jiang is also offering reassurance to Hong Kongers by implying
that China is the best ruler for Hong Kong because it has helped to resolve Hong Kong’s
confused history. Finally, by asserting that the mainland has aided Hong Kong, Jiang is
attempting to unite and form a bond between mainlanders and Hong Kongers. If the main-
land has helped Hong Kong, Hong Kongers may be more inclined to feel attached to their
Chinese roots.

Obama uses history as the standard that he will follow in his efforts to lead. He states
that “the time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit, to choose our better history” and
that “we, the People, have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our
founding documents.” But Obama is clear that only America’s positive history will be used
as his standard. He warns that “those who cling to power through corruption and deceit
and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history.”

Like Obama, Pope Francis uses historical events and figures as the standard he will
follow for evaluating how successful the handover will be. Throughout his address, Pope
Francis holds himself and his audience accountable to a number of Biblical characters. He
describes Saint Joseph as a “protector” of the church and references God’s faith and trust in
Joseph. Francis explains his desire to follow in the path of Joseph by continuing his work as

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a protector when he states, “let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others,
so that we can protect creation.” He informs the audience that “the vocation of being a pro-
tector, however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior
dimension which is simply human, involving everyone.” With this statement, Francis is
attempting to unite people of all faiths as well as nonbelievers.

Analysis of the standards presented by the three rhetors reveals a common theme.
Each rhetor uses history as the standard by which he will address the problem he is facing
and the standard to which his newly handed role will be compared; it also is the standard
by which he will be judged. By implementing such a strategy, each rhetor could be per-
ceived as attempting to direct any potential ill feeling, unrest, or blame away from himself
that may arise if his time in power is not successful and the entity for which he is responsi-
ble does not thrive. By highlighting a concept that was not devised or signed by the rhetor
(Jiang); drawing attention to previous presidents and associating history with corruption,
deceit, and dissent (Obama); and using characters from scriptures that were written thou-
sands of years earlier (Francis), each rhetor is actually removing himself as the main focus
of the handover and distancing himself from the present by using events that have already
passed. This strategy appears to be counterintuitive as new leaders usually would be
expected to implement their own policies and regimes and would be perceived as wanting
to think about the future, not the past.

Claiming Success
A third characteristic of handover rhetoric is that rhetors state that the outcome of the

handover will be a success. Jiang states that the handover of Hong Kong is “a victory for
the universal cause of peace and justice” and “a day that merits eternal memory.” Both of
these bold statements suggest that Hong Kong’s return to the mainland certainly will be
successful. With regards to specific successes, Jiang informs the audience that “Hong Kong
has now entered a new era of development” and, after the handover is complete, Hong
Kong will “maintain its long-term prosperity and stability, thereby ensuring Hong Kong a
splendid future.”

Obama sends a message directly to terrorists and enemies of the US when he informs
them that “you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.” As highlighted in the first step
of this analysis, the threat of terrorism is the biggest fear of the American public. If terror-
ism can be defeated, Obama’s tenure in office will be a success, and the fears of the Ameri-
can people will be assuaged. Obama also draws attention to the fact that he is the first
African-American president of the US as a further statement of success before he has fully
taken control of the country. In another reference to history, Obama states that the fact that
“a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restau-
rant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath” is testament to “the meaning of
our liberty and our creed” that enables “men and women and children of every race and
every faith [to] join in celebration.” By drawing attention to his personal situation, Obama
is informing the audience that the handover of the American presidency, although it has
just begun, is already a success.

Pope Francis informs the audience that it is entering a new era when he states that
“today, together with the feast of Saint Joseph, we are celebrating the beginning of the min-
istry of the new Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Peter, which also involves a certain
power.” Francis also states that “the star of hope will shine brightly.” Both of these state-
ments point to the handover as being an event that moves the Catholic Church into a mod-
ern era that corrects the issues that are facing the church.

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When delivering their statements of success, all three rhetors directly address the
issues that are troubling their audiences—the continuing stability and long-term future of
Hong Kong, the threat of terrorism, and the modernization of the Catholic Church. Refer-
encing these troubling situations carries a potential to scare an audience; however, by stat-
ing that these difficult situations will be overcome and that the handover will be a success,
each rhetor is attempting to instill a sense of confidence in his leadership.

Decentering the Self
Although each rhetor is being promoted to a position of immense power and influence

and, in turn, is the focal point of a historic and important handover, analysis of the
addresses reveals that each rhetor is reluctant to use or at least display power. In addition,
this strategy can be seen as an attempt by the rhetors to create identification with their
respective audiences and to calm any audience anxiety.

Each rhetor informs the audience that it has the power, not him. Jiang uses a number
of strategies to ensure that he removes himself from the center of the handover. He states,
for example, that “Hong Kong compatriots have become true masters of this Chinese
land.” If Hong Kongers are “masters” of their land, in theory, they have power and agency.
This statement, however, also functions in a number of other ways. In addition to attempt-
ing to calm the fears that Hong Kongers harbor toward the mainland by informing them
that they are already Chinese, this statement is also made in an effort to instill a sense of
identification between Hong Kongers and mainlanders.

Jiang is quick to draw attention to the fact that he is not responsible for the design of
the “one country, two systems” concept. By describing the policy as a “creative concept,”
Jiang pays respect to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). At the same time, Jiang ensures
that the audience is fully aware that he had nothing to do with the concept. This means that,
if the handover is a success, as a member of the CCP, Jiang can take credit for that success. If
the handover fails, however, Jiang did not design or agree to the terms of the handover or
the “one country, two systems” policy. Jiang implements an additional strategy to decenter
himself from the terms of the handover by thanking “all those in the world who have cared
for and supported Hong Kong’s return to the motherland.” By doing this, Jiang is inform-
ing the audience that the rest of the world is in full support of the handover of Hong Kong,
and the city is not being handed over only as a result of his and the PRC’s actions. There-
fore, if issues do arise, many other countries agree with and support the handover.

In an effort to decenter himself from the handover, Obama uses the terms us, we, and
our in relation to the issues that America is facing. He begins his address by stating, “I
stand here today humbled by the task before us” and informs the audience that “we are in
the midst of crisis,” “our nation is at war against a far reaching network of violence and
hatred,” and “our economy is badly weakened.” Obama also states that everybody is
responsible for the current situation in which America finds itself when he references “our
collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.” By attribut-
ing failure to everyone, Obama is again removing himself as the main focus of his rhetoric
and the handover.

Of course, as president, Obama is facing issues that he has inherited from former lead-
ers. By using inclusive language, however, Obama is informing the American people—and
other members of his administration—that they are all facing the situation together and, as
a result, any failure will be a collective failure. Obama will not take sole responsibility for
any failure. Indeed, Obama even goes so far as to inform the audience that, ultimately, the
American people have more power than the government, stating that “for as much as gov-

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ernment can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American
people upon which this nation relies.”

Pope Francis also decenters himself from the power he is being handed. Like Obama,
he uses the inclusive terms us and we. By using these terms, Francis is placing himself on an
equal footing with his audience members rather than positioning himself above them. On a
number of occasions, Francis refers to himself in the third person, as when he states: “He
must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked Saint Joseph,”
effectively removing himself as the main focal point of the handover. Francis’s main strat-
egy of decentering himself from the handover, however, is to make a number of Biblical
characters and his audience the major characters in his address. These characters include
God, Christ, Saint Joseph, the Virgin Mary, and Saint Francis of Assisi. Francis ends his
address by asking for a number of these characters to intervene and help him. Francis
informs the audience that, like Saint Joseph, they, too, should be “protectors of creation,
protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environ-
ment” and states that “to be protectors, we also have to keep watch over ourselves.”

In a final act of decentering himself from the power he is receiving, the pope ends his
speech by asking for “the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, Saints Peter and
Paul, and Saint Francis, that the Holy Spirit may accompany my ministry” and even asks
his audience to pray for him. This is unexpected as the audience members undoubtedly
would be expecting the pope to pray for them. By asking this of the audience, however,
Francis is telling the audience that he is just the same as it is. Even as pope, he is no differ-
ent and, as a result, the audience and Biblical characters are just as accountable to any fail-
ure as the pope himself. This strategy sees Francis distance himself from the enormous
responsibility and power that he has just been given as the new pope.

The tactic used by all three rhetors of distancing themselves from the power they have
just been handed suggests another tool that helps protect them from the possibility of fail-
ure due to audience unrest and disagreement. If the rhetor is not the main focus of the rhet-
oric or the handover event, each has less chance of being judged a failure if his leadership
does not go according to plan. This removal of power is important due to the fact that one
would expect the president of the United States, the president of the People’s Republic of
China, and the pope to have more power than most world leaders. Analysis of their
addresses, however, suggests that, in their initial speeches, each rhetor is reluctant to claim
and use that power explicitly. By not showing power, each rhetor may calm any unrest or
resentment that the audience may be harboring. If an audience does not feel dictated to,
morale may be boosted. On the other hand, by purposefully not displaying power—or
severely limiting the amount of power shown—a rhetor may make an audience more ner-
vous. If an audience is unsure as to how another is going to use and implement power, the
fate of the audience is unclear as it faces an uncertain future.

Although Jiang Zemin, Barack Obama, and Pope Francis were all being handed very

different forms of power, analysis of their rhetoric reveals four characteristics that consti-
tute a genre of handover rhetoric. These characteristics are facing an issue, setting a stan-
dard, claiming success, and decentering the self. By drawing attention to an issue that must
be faced after the handover, rhetors can make the audience feel that a problem needs to be
dealt with and, having uncovered the problem, they are capable of dealing with it. In
response to the issue that has been raised, the next stage of handover rhetoric involves

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rhetors laying out a standard by which the issue will be addressed. This standard, however,
can be historical. By using history as a standard, rhetors may attempt to deflect ill feeling,
unrest, or blame away from themselves if their time in power is unsuccessful. A third strat-
egy characteristic of handover rhetoric is designed to ensure that a sense of confidence is
instilled in an audience. Here, rhetors clearly state that the handover will be successful. A
fourth strategy of handover rhetoric reveals a tactic whereby rhetors remove themselves as
the focal point of the handover. This tactic is vital as it distances rhetors from the potential
of an unsuccessful handover and limits the possibility of being judged a failure if their lead-
ership does not go according to plan. If the four characteristics of handover rhetoric are
implemented successfully, rhetors can establish power, calm possible fears, and unite an
audience behind the new leader, government, or entity that is being handed power. More
important, by implementing the genre of handover rhetoric, rhetors are provided with the
best possible chance of completing a successful and trouble-free period of power.

Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau. (2007, July 1). The Joint Declaration and Its Implementa-

tion. [Government website]. Retrieved from
Davis, O. (2016, January 12). State of the union 2016: How the economy has fared since Barack Obama

took office. International Business Times. Retrieved from

Long, H. (2016, January 12). Obama’s economic legacy: Unfinished business. CNN. Retrieved from

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Jiang Zemin
Wan Chai, Hong Kong

July 1, 1997

Your Royal Highness Prince Charles, Prime Minister Tony Blair, Distinguished Guests, Ladies
and Gentlemen:

The national flag of the People’s Republic of China and the regional flag of the Hong Kong
Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China have now solemnly risen over this
land. At this moment, people of all countries in the world are casting their eyes on Hong Kong.

In accordance with the Sino-British Joint Declaration on the question of Hong Kong, the two
governments have held on schedule the handover ceremony to mark China’s resumption of the
exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong and the official establishment of the Hong Kong Special
Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. This is both a festival for the Chinese
nation and a victory for the universal cause of peace and justice.

Thus, July 1, 1997, will go down in the annals of history as a day that merits eternal memory.
The return of Hong Kong to the motherland after going through more than one century of vicis-
situdes indicates that from now on, Hong Kong compatriots have become true masters of this
Chinese land and that Hong Kong has now entered a new era of development. History will
remember Mr. Deng Xiaoping for his creative concept of “one country, two systems.” It is pre-
cisely along the course envisaged by this great concept that we have successfully resolved the
Hong Kong question through diplomatic negotiations and finally achieved Hong Kong’s return to
the motherland.

On this solemn occasion, I wish to express thanks to all the personages in both China and
Britain who have contributed to the settlement of the Hong Kong question and to all those in the
world who have cared for and supported Hong Kong’s return to the motherland. On this solemn
occasion, I wish to extend cordial greetings and best wishes to more than six million Hong Kong
compatriots who have now returned to the embrace of the motherland.

After the return of Hong Kong, the Chinese Government will unswervingly implement the
basic policies of “one country, two systems,” “Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong” and
“a high degree of autonomy” and keep Hong Kong’s previous socio-economic system and way of
life of Hong Kong unchanged and its previous laws basically unchanged.

After the return of Hong Kong, the Central People’s Government shall be responsible for for-
eign affairs relating to Hong Kong and the defense of Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Special Admin-
istrative Region shall be vested, in accordance with the Basic Law, with executive power,
legislative power and independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication. Hong
Kong people shall enjoy various rights and freedoms according to law. The Hong Kong Special
Administrative Region shall gradually develop a democratic system that suits Hong Kong’s reality.

After the return, Hong Kong will retain its status of a free port, continue to function as an
international financial, trade and shipping center and maintain and develop its economic and
cultural ties with other countries, regions, and relevant international organizations. The legiti-
mate economic interests of all countries and regions in Hong Kong will be protected by law.

I hope that all the countries and regions that have investment and trade interests here will
continue to work for the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong.

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Hong Kong compatriots have a glorious patriotic tradition. Hong Kong’s prosperity today, in
the final analysis, has been built by Hong Kong compatriots. It is also inseparable from the devel-
opment and support of the mainland. I am confident that, with the strong backing of the entire
Chinese people, the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and Hong
Kong compatriots will be able to manage Hong Kong well, build it up and maintain its long-term
prosperity and stability, thereby ensuring Hong Kong a splendid future.

Barack Obama

Washington, DC
January 20, 2009

My fellow citizens: I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust
you’ve bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors.

I thank President Bush for his service to our nation as well as the generosity and cooperation
he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken
during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often, the oath is taken
amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not sim-
ply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we, the people, have
remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears and true to our founding documents.

So it has been; so it must be with this generation of Americans.
That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war against a far-

reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of
greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard
choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shut-
tered. Our health care is too costly, our schools fail too many—and each day brings further evi-
dence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable, but no less
profound, is a sapping of confidence across our land—a nagging fear that America’s decline is
inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many.
They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: They will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict
and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises,
the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics. We
remain a young nation. But in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.
The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward
that precious gift, that noble idea passed on from generation to generation: the God-given prom-
ise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation we understand that greatness is never a given. It
must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been
the path for the faint-hearted, for those that prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of

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riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things—some cele-
brated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor—who have carried us up the long
rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of
a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops, and settled the West, endured the lash of the whip,
and plowed the hard earth. For us, they fought and died in places like Concord and Gettysburg,
Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands
were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our indi-
vidual ambitions, greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on
Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less
inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week, or last month, or last
year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow
interests and putting off unpleasant decisions—that time has surely passed. Starting today, we
must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of our economy calls for action,
bold and swift. And we will act, not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for
growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our com-
merce and bind us together. We’ll restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s
wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds
and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges
and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. All this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system
cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this
country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to
common purpose, and necessity to courage. What the cynics fail to understand is that the
ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for
so long no longer apply.

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but
whether it works—whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a
retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the
answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to
account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only
then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to gener-
ate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched. But this crisis has reminded us that without a
watchful eye, the market can spin out of control. The nation cannot prosper long when it favors
only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our
gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity, on the ability to extend opportunity
to every willing heart—not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.
Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure
the rule of law and the rights of man—a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those
ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience sake.

And so, to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grand-
est capitals to the small village where my father was born, know that America is a friend of each

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nation, and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity. And we are
ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles
and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our
power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead they knew that
our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause,
the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more we can meet those
new threats that demand even greater effort, even greater cooperation and understanding
between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard-earned
peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we’ll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear
threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet.

We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense. And for those who
seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that
our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken—you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of
Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language
and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth, and because we have tasted the bitter swill of
civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we
cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon
dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that
America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual
respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills
on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.

To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent,
know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing
to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish
and let clean waters flow, to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations
like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering
outside our borders, nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the
world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the role that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those
brave Americans who at this very hour patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have
something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We
honor them not only because they are the guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the
spirit of service—a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves.

And yet at this moment, a moment that will define a generation, it is precisely this spirit that
must inhabit us all. For as much as government can do, and must do, it is ultimately the faith and
determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a
stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours
than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s cour-
age to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child that
finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But
those values upon which our success depends—honesty and hard work, courage and fair play,

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tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism—these things are old. These things are true. They
have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.

What is demanded, then, is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era
of responsibility—a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves,
our nation and the world—duties that we do not grudgingly accept, but rather seize gladly, firm
in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than
giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship. This is the source of our confidence—the
knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny. This is the meaning of our liberty
and our creed, why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in cele-
bration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might
not have been served in a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance of who we are and how far we have traveled. In
the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying
campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing.
The snow was stained with blood. At the moment when the outcome of our revolution was most
in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words to be read to the people: “Let it be told to
the future world . . . that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could sur-
vive . . . that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].”

America: In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember
these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure
what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we
refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter, and with eyes fixed on
the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it
safely to future generations.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.

Pope Francis

Vatican City, Rome
March 13, 2013

Dear Brothers and Sisters, I thank the Lord that I can celebrate this Holy Mass for the inaugu-
ration of my Petrine ministry on the solemnity of Saint Joseph, the spouse of the Virgin Mary and
the patron of the universal Church. It is a significant coincidence, and it is also the name-day of
my venerable predecessor: We are close to him with our prayers, full of affection and gratitude.

I offer a warm greeting to my brother cardinals and bishops, the priests, deacons, men and
women religious, and all the lay faithful. I thank the representatives of the other churches and
ecclesial communities, as well as the representatives of the Jewish community and the other reli-
gious communities, for their presence. My cordial greetings go to the Heads of State and Govern-
ment, the members of the official Delegations from many countries throughout the world, and
the Diplomatic Corps.

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In the Gospel we heard that “Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took
Mary as his wife” (Mt 1:24). These words already point to the mission which God entrusts to
Joseph: He is to be the custos, the protector. The protector of whom? Of Mary and Jesus; but this
protection is then extended to the Church, as Blessed John Paul II pointed out: “Just as Saint
Joseph took loving care of Mary and gladly dedicated himself to Jesus Christ’s upbringing, he
likewise watches over and protects Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, of which the Virgin Mary is
the exemplar and model” (Redemptoris Custos, 1).

How does Joseph exercise his role as protector? Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an
unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand. From the time of
his betrothal to Mary until the finding of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem, he
is there at every moment with loving care. As the spouse of Mary, he is at her side in good times
and bad, on the journey to Bethlehem for the census and in the anxious and joyful hours when
she gave birth; amid the drama of the flight into Egypt and during the frantic search for their
child in the Temple; and later in the day-to-day life of the home of Nazareth, in the workshop
where he taught his trade to Jesus.

How does Joseph respond to his calling to be the protector of Mary, Jesus and the Church?
By being constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God’s presence and receptive to God’s
plans, and not simply to his own. This is what God asked of David, as we heard in the first reading.
God does not want a house built by men, but faithfulness to his word, to his plan. It is God himself
who builds the house, but from living stones sealed by his Spirit. Joseph is a “protector” because
he is able to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will; and for this reason he is all the more sen-
sitive to the persons entrusted to his safekeeping. He can look at things realistically, he is in touch
with his surroundings, he can make truly wise decisions. In him, dear friends, we learn how to
respond to God’s call, readily and willingly, but we also see the core of the Christian vocation,
which is Christ! Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can pro-
tect creation!

The vocation of being a “protector,” however, is not just something involving us Christians
alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protect-
ing all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Fran-
cis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the
environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and
every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think
about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one
another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, pro-
tect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust,
respect, and goodness. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us
are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!

Whenever human beings fail to live up to this responsibility, whenever we fail to care for cre-
ation and for our brothers and sisters, the way is opened to destruction and hearts are hardened.
Tragically, in every period of history there are “Herods” who plot death, wreak havoc, and mar the
countenance of men and women.

Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political
and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: Let us be “protectors” of creation, protectors
of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. Let us not
allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world! But to be “pro-
tectors,” we also have to keep watch over ourselves! Let us not forget that hatred, envy and pride
defile our lives! Being protectors, then, also means keeping watch over our emotions, over our

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hearts, because they are the seat of good and evil intentions: intentions that build up and tear
down! We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness!

Here I would add one more thing: caring, protecting, demands goodness, it calls for a certain
tenderness. In the Gospels, Saint Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working
man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak but rather a sign
of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others,
for love. We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!

Today, together with the feast of Saint Joseph, we are celebrating the beginning of the min-
istry of the new Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Peter, which also involves a certain power. Cer-
tainly, Jesus Christ conferred power upon Peter, but what sort of power was it? Jesus’ three
questions to Peter about love are followed by three commands: feed my lambs, feed my sheep.
Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the Pope too, when exercising power,
must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross. He
must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked Saint Joseph and, like
him, he must open his arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the
whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Mat-
thew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick
and those in prison (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Only those who serve with love are able to protect!

In the second reading, Saint Paul speaks of Abraham, who, “hoping against hope, believed”
(Rom 4:18). Hoping against hope! Today too, amid so much darkness, we need to see the light of
hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others. To protect creation, to protect every
man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of
hope; it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds; it is to bring the warmth of hope!
For believers, for us Christians, like Abraham, like Saint Joseph, the hope that we bring is set
against the horizon of God, which has opened up before us in Christ. It is a hope built on the rock
which is God.

To protect Jesus with Mary, to protect the whole of creation, to protect each person, espe-
cially the poorest, to protect ourselves: this is a service that the Bishop of Rome is called to carry
out, yet one to which all of us are called, so that the star of hope will shine brightly. Let us protect
with love all that God has given us!

I implore the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, Saints Peter and Paul, and Saint
Francis, that the Holy Spirit may accompany my ministry, and I ask all of you to pray for me! Amen.

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Discussion on Art

Danielle Montoya

Artist Ansel Adams is known throughout the world for his landscape photographs set
in the American West and Southwest. I received an Ansel Adams calendar for Christmas
and found, among the works included, a photograph that seemed to violate the genre of
the landscape photograph for which he is known. It is entitled Discussion on Art and was
taken about 1936. Unlike any of his other photographs, this work depicts two men in what
appears to be an unnatural or constructed setting, and it challenges the characteristic
works of Adams through distinct choices of style, form, and composition.

This essay was written while Danielle Montoya was a student in Karen A. Foss’s rhetorical criticism class at the
University of New Mexico in 2002. Used by permission of the author.

“Discussion on Art,” San Francisco, 1936. Photograph by Ansel Adams. Collection Center for Creative Pho-
tography, University of Arizona. © 2017 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust.

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The purpose of this analysis is to investigate the photograph Discussion on Art to dis-
cover if it reflects attributes of Ansel Adams’s artistic genre and, if so, how the photograph
participates in communicating the rhetor’s artistic perspective. To explore the work’s par-
ticipation in the genre, I will apply the method of generic rhetorical criticism and, in partic-
ular, of generic participation.

I will analyze Discussion on Art and its participation in Ansel Adams’s artistic genre
according to three specific elements of rhetorical genres: (1) situational requirements—the
contextual setting that evokes specific rhetorical responses; (2) substantive and stylistic
characteristics—the unique features that constitute the content; and (3) the organizing prin-
ciple—the dynamic formed by the situational and stylistic elements. In the interest of
achieving a solid and representative understanding of the artistic genre of the photographs
of Ansel Adams, I first analyze seven photographs from the Images 1920–1974 collection:
Mount Resplendent, Mount Roboson National Park, Canada, 1928; Icicles, Yosemite National
Park, California, 1950; Bicycle, Yosemite National Park, California, 1937; Granite Crags,
Sierra Nevada, California, 1927; Statue and Oil Derricks, Signal Hill, Long Beach, California,
1939; Cape Royal from the South Rim, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, c. 1947; and Sil-
verton, Colorado, 1951.

Description of the Adams Genre
In the collection of natural landscape photographs available in the seven photographs

I analyzed, five patterns of situational and stylistic elements emerge: (1) contrast in natural
settings; (2) contrast between light and dark; (3) contrast between high and low; (4) con-
trast between humans and nature; and (5) contrast between smooth and rough. Each of the
seven works participates in all five patterns on some level. However, each composition is
unique and individual in the emphasis of the elements of contrast and opposition and how
they function in the work.

Contrast in Natural Settings
The primary defining feature of Ansel Adams’s artistic genre is that all of the photo-

graphs focus on subjects in their natural settings. By natural setting, I do not mean that all of
the photographs avoid and omit materials or settings that are humanly made; however, the
works reflect physical contexts that have been undisturbed or unprovoked by the artist.
The settings are free of affectation or artificiality. They are not altered or disguised and are
photographed as the artist found them to exist in the physical world.

Each composition is created through the aesthetic contrast and opposition of elements
found in the natural setting. For example, Bicycle exhibits a humanly made object, the bicy-
cle, in opposition to the natural snow. The human presence is acknowledged but, at the
same time, is contrasted with a statement of absence in the collection of snow. Neither the
bicycle nor the snow has been altered, disguised, or manipulated by the artist. The compo-
sition and contrast exist in the natural, physical world without the influence of the artist.

Icicles found melting on a rock face provide another example of elements found in nat-
ural opposition. In Icicles, the color and texture of the icicles in the foreground are found in
natural contrast with the color and texture of the rocks in the background. The image of
contrast occurs naturally and is not altered or corrupted by the artist. Opposition and con-
trast are found and represented in the setting in which they were discovered by Adams.

Another setting that articulates a perspective of opposition is exposed by Adams in
Statue and Oil Derricks. Nearly all elements in the composition are humanly created; how-

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ever, the setting in which they are discovered and photographed is left unchanged and is
represented as it exists without the influence of the artist. The natural medium in which the
statue was created contrasts with the medium of the oil derricks and industrial park in the
background. These two main elements of the work are in striking contrast as they existed
and were found by Adams.

Adams chooses to photograph beauty found in the contrast he sees around him in the
world, as it exists, without artistic influence, alteration, or manipulation apart from that
involved in the selection of the photographic frame. He observes contrast within and
between subjects and their environments, emphasizing those elements through his artistic

Contrast Between Light and Dark
A signature technique to the aesthetic composition of Adams’s work is a focus on ele-

ments of light and dark. This stylistic practice creates a generic style that emphasizes the
contrast and opposition he finds in natural settings. For example, Mount Resplendent
depicts stark contrast between the layer of white snow and the huge mountain of black
rock. Shadows caused by the terrain cause black striping to occur horizontally in the fore-
ground, opposing the same effect that happens vertically in the background. The crevices,
crags, and points in the mountain itself add depth and texture through the use of black and
white. In the foreground, a chunky shadow is cast amid the smoothness of the horizontal
plane of the snow leading to the sheer cliff at the top of the mountain. At the left side of the
composition, the dark mountain is contrasted against the light of the sky, giving Mount
Resplendent an ominous feel. It evokes an awe of the natural beauty contrasted with the
stark danger and darkness of the mountain and its elements.

Adams uses the same stylistic technique in Cape Royal from the South Rim to capture the
awe the viewer experiences in seeing the space, texture, and “grandness” of the Grand
Canyon. In this piece, the light and shadow are caught playing on high plateaus and low
valleys. The shadow and darkness emphasize the depth of the canyon and obscure the
rocks below so that the observer is impressed with a sense of endlessness and void. The
shadow and depth are contrasted with the light striking the inclining sides and flat tops of
the plateaus. The light also brings focus to the texture of the higher land, detailing the sheer
cliffs, jagged inclines, and the step-like layering of the two. Light and darkness are
observed and captured as they articulate the contrast that emphasizes the beauty and com-
plexity of the Grand Canyon. Adams articulates his perspective through the photograph,
composing an image of contrast to attempt to enhance and accentuate the experience for
the viewer.

Images of light and darkness aid in underscoring the opposition present in Statue and
Oil Derricks. In this composition, the light color of the medium in which the statue was cre-
ated is enhanced by direct sun on the largest open surface area, making the statue seem to
radiate light. Light also enhances the soft curves of the statue, bringing attention to the gen-
tle and feminine presence of the work. A shadow, in contrast, falls across the left side of the
face of the image, accentuating the statue’s contemplative, downcast, non-threatening air.
The gentle, luminescent presence of the statue is contrasted with the darkness of the back-
ground. Strong black lines draw attention to the angular, sharp shape of the oil derricks.
The strength of steel and the blackness of industry are in direct opposition to the statue.
The dark shapes and the black of oil and industry create looming shadowy silhouettes. The
statue at the center of the photograph, however, is highlighted by the sun and is a brighter,
stronger, more present and powerful image than the opposing oil derricks. Images con-

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trasted in dark and light create the gentle presence as more central to the composition and
assist in creating mood and meaning around the statue and oil derricks.

In all of the seven photographs I analyzed, Adams uses elements of light and dark to
emphasize and enhance. In the three works discussed, light and dark contribute signifi-
cantly to the composition. In other works, tension between light and dark is still present
but is not as important to the visual aesthetic or perspective of the compositions.

Contrast Between High and Low
Patterns in high and low contrast in Adams’s photographs also work to define his

artistic genre. Statue and Oil Derricks combines aspects of light and dark with aspects of
high and low. The statue, higher in the composition, is in contrast with the oil derricks that
are lower in the photograph, although the derricks would dwarf the statue if placed next to
it. Adams uses height to create the statue as the dominant image and to subvert the appear-
ance of the oil derricks. Levels of height assist the artist in communicating his perspective.

This skill is also employed in Silverton, Colorado. Low one-story houses in the foreground
are contrasted with the height and mass of the mountains behind them. The low placement
of the houses contributes to creating and enhancing the effect of the towering mountains.
Although the houses are in the foreground and want to make their presence known, the
height of the mountains behind them seems to overpower and overcome them. Portraying
the relative height of the mountains and the houses helps to expound the significance and
independence of the land and makes clear the view of the artist. Characteristics of high and
low are also present and significant in Cape Royal from the South Rim and Granite Crags. The
stylistic application of contrast between high and low helps to define the genre and to high-
light significant aspects of the works. The elements of high and low are present in each of the
seven photographs and are a qualifying characteristic of the genre. Like the other qualifying
characteristics, this one varies across the photographs in emphasis and significance.

Contrast Between Humans and Nature
A tension or contrast between humans and nature is a recurring image and theme in all

seven works. Although Adams often photographs landscapes devoid of human presence and
undisturbed by human existence, his own presence is articulated through the existence of the
photograph. In that sense, each photograph, specifically the most desolate and intimidating set-
tings, is in conflict with the human presence of the artist. Several of the photographs, however,
expressly address the contrast of the human presence with nature. Silverton, Colorado, for exam-
ple, portrays the existence of humans as natural. The human presence, represented by houses
in the foreground, is not obtrusive, and it does not deface or harm the power and beauty of the
mountain behind it. The houses are simply a part of what is real; they are a part of the land-
scape and construct a natural contrast. The human presence is not destructive here—it just is.

The same presence is found in Bicycle. The bicycle indicates the human presence that is
contrasted with the suggestion of human absence through the layer of snow that has col-
lected. The existence of people and artificial objects is not seen as an intrusion on nature.
They are not seen as blatant disruptions in the natural environment but actually have
membership in it. The beauty is created in the contrast the two create as they exist together.

Contrast Between Smooth and Rough
The pattern of beauty in contrast is perpetuated through the stylistic elements of

smooth and rough, soft and hard. Bicycle, for example, illustrates the contrast between the

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hard, smooth metal bicycle and the soft and textured snow cover. The contrast of textures
underscores other elements of opposition that occur in the composition, such as those of
light and dark and human and natural. The tension between textures is also exemplified in
Icicles. The clear, white icicles are contrasted with the dark, solid, opaque rock beneath. The
aesthetic opposition is enhanced by the competition of the textures. The smoothness of the
sharp icicles in the foreground contradicts the rough, dull rock face in the background.

This same technique is evident in Granite Crags, where the jagged angular rocks cut
into the soft cirrus clouds in the background, accentuating the harsh and stark qualities of
the formation. Patterns of texture are clear in all seven works and are enhanced and elabo-
rated with contrasts of light and dark, high and low, and human and nature.

All five recurring stylistic and situational characteristics combine to comprise Adams’s
photographic genre. Beauty and aesthetic appeal are found in natural contrasts the artist
finds in the world, as it exists, without influence, alteration, or manipulation by the artist
himself. The organizing principle that governs each composition and comprises the genre
is beauty in natural opposition.

Generic Comparison with Discussion on Art
To determine the generic participation of Discussion on Art in Adams’s genre, I applied

each of the five stylistic and situational characteristics that typify his photographs to the
photograph in question.

Contrast in Natural Settings
All seven works analyzed to investigate the generic qualities of Adams’s work existed

in a natural setting. Each photograph contained evidence of materials or objects created
from the earth that exist with and in spite of the human presence. At first glance, Discussion
on Art seems to stray from this qualifying characteristic. Upon a more careful investigation,
however, the generic pattern of opposition in a natural setting is perpetuated.

The photograph suggests that humans in their natural settings are in conflict. As in the
seven works definitive of the genre, the artist has found contrast in the world as it exists,
without artistic influence, alteration, or manipulation. Adams has photographed what he
wants the audience to believe is spontaneous. The work captures a scene that is unpro-
voked and undisturbed by the artist. In accordance with the generic quality, Adams
observes contrast among subjects and between subjects and their environments, emphasiz-
ing those elements through the aesthetic composition.

Contrast Between Light and Dark
Elements of light and dark accentuate the natural opposition found in the photograph.

The white flower is contrasted with the dark suit to emphasize the symbols of what is con-
sidered genteel and civilized. Just a few inches lower on the darkness of the suit is the con-
trast of the light hand beginning to grip the suit in an act that violates the social control
implied by the suits and the flower. The light areas in the dark background also draw atten-
tion to the female figure positioned similarly to the impassioned man in the center. The
contrast of light and dark that is carried through both figures opposes the gentle nurturing
nature of the female and the aggressive threatening nature of the male. The contrast
between man and woman in the work also underscores the contrast and opposition of the
central action in the photograph. The light areas in the work are only the hands and faces of

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the characters in the composition. These areas, in contrast to the overall darkness of the
work, highlight the placement of the faces in the photograph.

Contrast Between High and Low
Adams’s use of light and dark aligns the faces of Discussion on Art on an incline from

right to left. While the man on the right is confronted, he does not display intimidation by
lowering himself to his aggressor; however, the aggressor is attempting to assert power by
raising himself over and leaning into his opponent. The higher and lower positioning of
the bodies in the composition highlights the conflict and activity in the center of the photo-
graph. The figure highest in the composition, however, is the woman in the background.
Her position asserts her importance, strength, and power as a central figure in the piece
despite her placement in the background. The high and low visual aesthetics work in com-
bination with contrasts of light and dark to emphasize the opposition taking place on many
different levels in the work.

Contrast Between Humans and Nature
Light and dark and high and low also work to stress the conflict between humans and

nature in the photograph. The conflict underscored in this stylistic pattern becomes the
conflict between humans and their own nature. The setting implied by the title is an art
museum, calling for a level of class, gentility, and civilization. The dark suits and accentuat-
ing flower highlight the push and desire for social control, propriety, and decency. These
characteristics are contrasted with the nature of the humans embroiled in the conflict and
unable to adhere to imposed social control. Although humans are perceived to be of a
higher order, their baseness is the animalistic quality they cannot escape.

Contrast Between Smooth and Rough
The textures of civilized and uncivilized, refined and rough around the edges, are

polarized facets of the same entity in Discussion on Art. Texture is elaborated not with what
can be seen as visually tactile but occurs metaphorically between civilized and uncivilized,
man and woman. The softness of the gentle and nurturing woman is a stark contrast to the
rough and hard aggressive nature of the man. The texture is found in the language we con-
struct around the nature of man, woman, and human nature. The aesthetic visual elements
in the work underscore the evidence of natural opposition and contrast found in the setting
and communicated through the work.

Concluding Observations
Discussion on Art, seemingly not part of Ansel Adams’s artistic genre, exhibits the

recurring patterns of situational and stylistic qualities characteristic of that genre. Charac-
teristics of all five elements of the genre are apparent in Discussion on Art, qualifying the
work as a participant in Adams’s aesthetic genre. Through this genre, the artist’s insights
and observations are communicated and perpetuated.

Beauty in natural opposition communicates the patriarchal idea that humans’ natural
setting is conflict. The nature of humans drives them to assert their personal perspective.
As human beings, we constantly strive to have our perspectives and presence asserted and
validated. We judge our value and worth by the acceptance of our ideas and opinions by
others and, as history has shown, we turn to violence and conflict to force acceptance of our
presence and perspective by others.

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The participation of Discussion on Art in the genre of Adams’s photography also com-
municates that we are in conflict with what we perceive to be the nature of humankind.
Men are socially expected to be the aggressor, violent, in conflict, hard, and rough, while
women are forced to ignore that which we name natural to humanity and remain soft, kind,
and nurturing. Woman is asked to ignore the human tendency to assert her perspective and
presence aggressively. She must stand in the background and accept her socially defined
place and nature, just as man accepts his. Both sexes are in conflict with the culturally cre-
ated social reality imposed on them. The beauty, then, is the contrast between the human
nature and the expectations we place on ourselves that create the conflict and opposition,
the natural shadows, the plateaus that we allow to surface, and the valleys we subvert.

As a rhetorical vehicle, Adams obscures and enlightens perspectives, beliefs, views,
and opinions that emphasize and communicate beauty in conflict. Each of his masterpieces
contributes to this perspective and functions as a medium that expresses the rhetor. The
genre allows the artist to reinforce his perspective and presence through repetition in
themes and style. The patterns that characterize the genre act as an echo to the social reality
constructed and communicated by the artist, and we are able to see and appreciate the
beauty in conflict.

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Generic Participation in Culture Jamming

Joshua Carlisle Harzman

Culture jam is a profound genre of communication and its proliferation demands fur-
ther academic scholarship. Twenty-first century U.S. America is a world inundated with
corporate, cultural, and institutional symbolization. While most persons readily consume
these icons, a small few distort them in order to craft new meanings of their own. Culture
jamming is an act of alteration in which a widely known artifact is transformed in an
attempt to reroute the original meaning and engender awareness amongst audiences
(Lasn, 1999). The practice is a tactic of counter-cultures, using culture jamming to
embolden messages of anti-corporatism, civil disobedience, political progressivism, and
resistance. Culture jamming is not a narrow genre; its proponents use a wide array of tac-
tics that infiltrate most modern media. Famed British artist, Banksy1 (2010), illustrates
counter messages through graffiti, live performance, and street art installations. This essay
seeks to investigate to what extent one particular art piece, Banksy at Disneyland,2 partici-
pates within the genre of culture jamming.

On September 11, 2006, Banksy skillfully installed Banksy at Disneyland at the Big Thun-
der Mountain Railroad themed ride at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. The piece con-
sisted of an inflatable mannequin dressed in an orange jumpsuit, black gloves, and a black
hood covering its face; the figure was positioned on its knees, with its hands and feet bound.
The installation remained in place for 90 minutes before the ride was closed and the street
art removed. A spokeswoman for Banksy noted that the piece was conceived to spotlight
the plight of detainees at the United States’ prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba (BBC, 2006).
Immediately following the installation, Banksy featured the footage as a short film at their
L.A. exhibition, Barely Legal (Bowes, 2006). Banksy at Disneyland encompasses both the origi-
nal installment of the piece and its online presence. While the piece lasted only an hour and
a half, the installation was captured on video, uploaded to YouTube, and covered by main-
stream news outlets such as the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and The New York
Times (Nath, 2013; Wyatt, 2006). Even today, curious audiences may view the piece and its
installation in the documentary entitled, Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy, 2010). Banksy at
Disneyland gained widespread viewership through each of these respective platforms.
Moreover, the text maintains an eternal online presence for audiences across the globe.

Culture jamming scholarship is growing in popularity within contemporary commu-
nication studies. A refined focus of the genre, as I intend to offer in this essay, is pertinent
for many reasons. Initially, this study contributes a conceptual interpretation and refine-
ment of culture jamming to communication theory through a lens of genre criticism meth-
odology. Establishing a foundation of the genre can better serve future scholars in critical
investigation of culture jamming and its merits. Second, this study explores the political
and social implications of Banksy at Disneyland, which adds to the culture jamming archive.
Third, only through understanding the text can scholars discern the terministic screens of
Banksy and subsequent insights into the artist’s worldview. As Banksy remains a globally
preeminent street artist, investigating Banksy at Disneyland offers a glimpse into the notable
contemporary issues that the artist seeks to challenge. With a sizable following, under-

From Kaleidoscope: A Graduate Journal of Qualitative Communication Research 14 (Fall 2015): 17–26. Used by permis-
sion of the Department of Communication Studies, Southern Illinois University, and the author.

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standing the worldviews that Banksy promotes through their art offers an insight into con-
temporary ideologies worldwide.

Genre Criticism
Genre participation has been a function of rhetorical criticism since Aristotle’s Rhetoric.

The Grecian scholar emphasized that rhetoric took one of three forms—deliberative, epide-
ictic, or forensic (Aristotle, 2001). Each of these modes maintained communication of pub-
lic deliberation pertaining to policy, character, and judgment. Edwin Black (1968) helped to
embolden the practice of identifying genres by noting that certain audiences will require
distinct responses from the rhetor. The recurrence of particular types of situations offers
information to rhetorical critics regarding the available responses for each setting. The
critic must find unity in the genre, as artifacts take on various forms. Similarly, to deem a
situation as rhetorical, the rhetor must be able to adapt within the audience constraints
(Bitzer, 1970). Additionally, a genre type is identified by a “fusion of forms” and not by its
individual elements (Campbell & Jamieson, 1978, p. 21). It is in a similarity of techniques,
rather than content, that genres of rhetorical criticism come to fruition.

Furthermore, Mikhail Bakhtin’s (1986) work on genre studies offers a fruitful concep-
tion of a communication tactic that exists as fluidly as culture jamming. The author notes
that in our most free and unrestrained dialogues, we speak in definitive generic forms.
Sometimes these communication techniques are more rigid, while other times they are
more creative. Establishing and understanding genres—why particular situations call for
particular styles—has long existed as a practice of rhetorical criticism. In an effort to dem-
onstrate this notion, rhetorician Sonja K. Foss (2009) offers a blueprint for the methods of
proposing a genre criticism. According to Foss,

Generic description involves four steps: (1) observing similarities in rhetorical
responses to particular situations; (2) collecting artifacts that occur in similar situations;
(3) analyzing the artifacts to discover if they share characteristics; and (4) formulating
the organizing principle of the genre. (p. 141)

As rhetors develop messages, genres introduce opportunities to bolster the strength of
their message or to craft new ones altogether. Foss further articulates that rhetorical partic-
ipation will maintain the genre’s situational requirements, include the substantive and sty-
listic characteristics, and promote the organizing principle. Each of these variables ought to
be fulfilled in order to ground a rhetorical genre such as culture jamming. Therefore, this
study seeks to investigate what attributes constitute a communication artifact as a culture
jam as well as to what extent Banksy at Disneyland participates within the genre.

Culture Jamming
As advertising and corporatism flood the public sphere in the industrialized West,

activists resist these norms through a variety of tactics. In particular, the practice of culture
jamming offers a communication platform to those whose voices reside in the periphery.
The concept originates from the unique, audio-collage and billboard alteration techniques
of the band Negativland (Dery, 1990). In its essence, culture jamming involves the distor-
tion of an artifact in order to voice a critique. Whether an audio file or a billboard, one of
the earliest academic authors on culture jamming Mark Dery (2010) explains,

Jamming was the joke-y, trollish, then prevalent in the C.B. radio community, of dis-
rupting other users’ conversations with obscene or nonsensical interjections; billboard

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banditry is the neo-Situationist practice of illegally altering billboards to perversely
funny, usually political effect in order to critique consumerism, capitalism, representa-
tions of race and gender in advertising, or American foreign policy. (para. 2)

While culture jamming found its roots in audio media, its rapid ascension into billboard
manipulation foreshadowed the tactic’s versatility. In some of the earliest culture jamming
techniques, activists used spray cans in order to recreate billboard messages. By changing
slogans, these jammers hoped to startle viewers into thinking differently about the original
messages (Sturken & Cartwright, 2009). Through this asymmetric communication tech-
nique, artists expose the oppressive nature of institutions through the modification of
widely recognized symbols.

Founder of Adbusters magazine, Kalle Lasn (1999), promotes his text Culture Jam as
both a historical account of the concept and a quasi-manifesto for aspiring jammers. Lasn
notes that jamming is a means to bolster awareness and public discourse in order to inspire
social or political change. One major inspiration behind culture jamming was the work of
the Situationists in twentieth century France, led by Guy Debord. Their practice of detour-
nement, literally translated as a “turning around,” emphasized a distortion of arousing
imagery and spectacle, in order to reverse and subsequently reclaim their meanings (Lasn,
1999, p. 103). The genre, at its core, is about illustrating a critique of the status quo. As a
result, an act of culture jamming is reliant upon a pre-existing artifact that is allegedly
deserving of rejection. Similar to the concept of bricolage, an act of culture jamming involves
the modification of pre-existing messages that resonate throughout society (Sturken &
Cartwright, 2009). According to Klein (2000), “Artists will always make art by re-configur-
ing our shared cultural languages and references” (p. 178). Over time those experiences
shift and a different set of challenges emerges that brings question to the way freedom of
expression is defined in a branded culture. Rather than starting from scratch, culture jam-
ming is a communication tactic that relies on the renown of an icon.

As a communication genre, culture jamming is expansive and subsequently has many
names: culture jamming, guerilla semiotics, and subvertising, to name a few (Dery, 1990).
Since its inception, scholars have expanded the genre with great alacrity. Culture jamming
has been promoted as a positive inspiration in art pedagogy (Darts, 2004), critical adult
education (Sandlin, 2007), youth development (Lambert-Beatty, 2010), and student activ-
ism (Frankenstein, 2010). Additionally, communication scholars have explored the rhetori-
cal implications of a culture jamming genre. The practice can be considered an act of
resistance, but can also be associated with a higher sense of pranking for praxis (Harold,
2004). Television shows such as The Daily Show engage in a false reality that posits a politi-
cal culture jam, stalling normative political branding messages (Warner, 2007). Others have
emphasized the genre’s capacity to stimulate agenda building (Robinson & Bell, 2014). A
genre of culture jamming is evident within communication scholarship. Still, a gap in liter-
ature exists when considering what constitutes as an act of culture jamming.

Contemporary academic work on culture jamming illustrates the genre’s wide reach.
It is my contention that culture jamming entails an act of rhetorical criticism in which
highly recognizable artifacts are distorted in an effort to raise awareness. It is the fame of a
pre-existing icon that gives power to its modified state via culture jamming with the end
goal of activists seeking to challenge the salience of oppression that these artifacts represent
(Lasn, 1999). In an effort to ground the fundamental tenets of the genre, five culture jam-
ming artifacts were examined: Ella Watson by Gordon Parks (1942), Read My Lips by Gran
Fury (1988), iRaq by Copper Greene (2004), The Right to Life by Hans Haacke (1979), and
Think disillusioned by the Billboard Liberation Front (1989). Each of these artifacts is readily

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available in the 2009 text, Practices of Looking, by Maria Sturken and Lisa Cartwright. These
culture jams were selected for audience accessibility, but more importantly, their proximity
allows for a substantial analysis. A close reading of the aforementioned culture jams illumi-
nates three decisive elements that constitute participation within the genre: artifact, distor-
tion, and awareness.

Initially, culture jamming is contingent on the situational requirement of an artifact—
an image, sound, or other symbolic representation of a larger corporation, event, institu-
tion, location, person, etc. In Ella Watson, the photo mimics the iconic American Gothic paint-
ing; Read My Lips uses the highly popularized statement by President George W. Bush; The
Right to Life draws from pro-life messages; iRaq uses Apple’s signature title design (iPod,
iPad, etc.); Think disillusioned capitalizes on Apple’s distinguished catch phrase “Think Dif-
ferent.” In all of these culture jams, the rhetor utilizes the situational requirement of a pop-
ular artifact, as culture jamming necessitates the use of a preexisting symbol.

Next, the substantive and stylistic characteristic of a culture jamming genre is distor-
tion. It may be the hegemonic notoriety of an artifact that draws audiences in; however,
culture jamming acts to distort the original message. Ella Watson is illustrative of the iconic
American Gothic painting, yet, only one person resides within the frame. A broom and mop
replace the farm tools and the subject stands in front of a U.S. American flag. Both Read My
Lips and The Right to Life juxtapose the sound bites of conservative rhetoric with progres-
sive causes—the AIDS epidemic amongst queer populations and women’s reproductive
rights. Green’s iRaq resembles an Apple advertisement, but imposes an Abu Ghraib pris-
oner being electrocuted. Lastly, Think disillusioned distorts an original billboard catchphrase
by hijacking the advertisement’s space and inserting “disillusioned.” Distortion by activ-
ists may be illustrated digitally or physically, discursive or nondiscursive, through a live
performance, or otherwise (Klein, 2000). Ultimately, culture jamming maintains a charac-
teristic of distortion because it is reliant upon an already established artifact. A message
must already exist before it can readily be modified for new audiences.

Lastly, the organizational principle of the genre is awareness. Culture jamming forces a
double-take effect in which viewers recognize a familiar sight but are then asked to interro-
gate its merits, rather than unquestionably consume its ideology. Ella Watson brings atten-
tion to racial disparities throughout the United States; Read My Lips raises AIDS awareness;
iRaq is a vehement critique of consumerism; The Right to Life interrogates forced steriliza-
tion and reproductive rights; Think disillusioned questions the costs of globalization (Stur-
ken & Cartwright, 2009). Amongst each of the analyzed culture jams, the genre qualities
are highly evident. Culture jamming targets recognizable artifacts, distorts their intended
messages, and generates an alternative awareness among audiences.

Banksy at Disneyland
Founded in the Bristol underground scene of the United Kingdom, Banksy’s rapid rise

in popularity is often attributed to their anonymity—no one exactly knows Banksy’s iden-
tity (Wyatt, 2006). The artist’s initial style emphasized spray-painted, stenciled silhouettes
showcasing politically and socially motivated critiques (James, 2010; see also Israel, 2014).
More recent works include annually self-published collections and a 30-day-long residency
and artistic installation in New York City, New York. In 2010, Banksy released a self-
directed film entitled Exit Through the Gift Shop; the documentary tells the story of Thierry
Guetta’s rapid ascension into fame as graffitist Mr. Brainwash (Banksy, 2010). Yet, halfway
through Exit Through the Gift Shop, Banksy becomes a prominent plot point as the storyline
focuses on the artist’s 2006 show, Barely Legal. Barely Legal took place at a Los Angeles

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industrial warehouse, attracting Hollywood celebrities where prints of the anonymous art-
ist’s work sold for $500 each (Wyatt, 2006). Days before the exhibition, however, Banksy
took advantage of their Southern Californian location and began creating a new piece of art
to be exhibited at a U.S. landmark, Disneyland.

Footage, shot by Thierry, shows the artist departing an escalator, boarding a tram with
patrons, and watching as the contents of his backpack are checked by security. Banksy nar-
rates, “It was around the anniversary of September the eleventh, so, it was a pretty high-
temper moment” (Banksy, 2010). After purchasing park tickets, the film shows the artist
entering Disneyland. While walking the park, Banksy selects the Big Thunder Mountain
Railroad to host their new work. The artist states, “So we’ve been wandering around the
park for awhile and then there’s this sign with a picture of a camera on it saying, ‘This
would be a great place to take your souvenir photo.’ So, that obviously seemed like the best
place to put him” (Banksy, 2010). The camera pans to the artist seated on a bench. Banksy,
dressed in blue jeans, a long-sleeve button-down shirt, sneakers, and a ball cap, inflates a
mannequin for his new street art installment. Audio of Congo drums beat nervously over
Thierry’s video as Banksy steps through a waist-high, wooden fence. Wearing the back-
pack that once housed the mannequin, the artist carries the act-ready, inflatable Guantá-
namo detainee. Quickly, Banksy navigates through the restricted terrain that separates a
designated walking path of the park and the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The artist
slaloms between shoulder-high cacti for roughly 25 feet until they reach a tall iron fence.
Banksy carefully raises the inflatable detainee over the pointed fence and positions it as the
ride zooms past overhead. In the final shot, Banksy makes one last adjustment to the piece
before grabbing his backpack and departing the scene. The camera zooms out and the
sound of happily screaming patrons crescendos as Banksy departs the right side of the
frame. Seconds after the artist exits the screen, the riders of the Big Thunder Mountain Rail-
road bellow past Banksy’s new piece.

Banksy at Disneyland is incredibly powerful. Still, in order for the piece to be considered
a culture jam, it must meet the genre qualifications. First, Banksy clearly targets a preexist-
ing, representational artifact, the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad—which is one of many
Disneyland artifacts. The British artist is motivated to install their piece at a location that
promotes its scenic caliber. Endorsed by the park through the sign that encourages a photo
opportunity, the site is considered by Disneyland to be a critical location that positions itself
as an embodiment of Disneyland. Banksy’s installation at the Big Thunder Mountain Rail-
road successfully manipulates the original message of Disneyland consumerism by utilizing
the ride as the culture jamming artifact. Banksy artistically hijacks this message in a success-
ful culture jam, modifying the Disneyland attraction to create a resonating message of their
own. As the piece utilizes a popular artifact, it fulfills the initial situational requirement.

Second, the artistic installment is indicative of distortion. Banksy’s Guantánamo Bay
detainee disrupts the experience of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad by distorting the
site’s intended photographic experience. Unlike their notorious stencil graffiti, the artist
utilized a 3-dimensional display to bolster the aggressiveness of the piece. Live audiences
had the opportunity to take a memorable photograph in which the new installment could
be captured from the scenic “photo opportunity” location. The utilization of an easily visi-
ble 3-D art installation in opposition to graffiti emboldens the volume of resonation that
viewing audiences receive. Additionally, the display of the inflatable detainee in an orange
jumpsuit, wearing sensory deprivation gear, and in a kneeling position successfully
invokes public memory of the torture that detainees suffered at Guantánamo Bay. Through
the art’s placement, the original artifact of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is readily

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altered for participating audiences. As such, Banksy at Disneyland meets the characteristic
requirement of distortion.

Finally, Banksy’s piece seeks to create awareness as viewers are exposed to a victim of
the United States Federal Government. The audience experiences a shock; Banksy at Disney-
land interrupts their pleasurable patronage and washes it in a reenactment of violence.
Whereas the detention center at Guantánamo Bay is completely removed from public view-
ership, Banksy’s piece jarringly weaves images of imprisonment directly into the Disneyland
experience. Through the contrast of jovial consumerism with terrorists and torture, audiences
are forced to consider the costs of their privilege that others endure. The artist’s work
employs the technique of culture jamming—a direct modification of the Big Thunder Moun-
tain Railroad photo opportunity—to showcase the interplay between pleasure and punish-
ment. An otherwise pleasing experience is stolen from the viewer, replacing the homogeny of
happiness with a clashing scene of insidious imprisonment; the hidden becomes the revealed
at the ultimate point of pleasure. Just as Klein (2000) notes, these audiences do not have a
choice in their viewership. Banksy at Disneyland is an aggressive hail to open consciences,
demanding that viewers consider the implications of their identities, rather than consume in
ignorance. As a result, a resonating message of awareness is conveyed to viewers as they con-
sider the embodiment of a Guantánamo detainee, oblivious to their participation in consum-
erism. Through a message of awareness, the piece engages the substantive requirement.

Ultimately, Banksy at Disneyland alters the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, through an
installation of street art, in order to create audience awareness. As a result, this piece suc-
cessfully participates within the rhetorical genre of culture jamming. Banksy at Disneyland
seeks to contrast the concealed detainees of Guantánamo Bay with the consumerist culture
of Disneyland. Through the juxtaposition of these concepts, the artist utilizes what Alinsky
(1989) calls “mass political jujitsu” (p. 152); Banksy uses the renown of the park against
itself. By installing their art within viewership of a scenic location at Big Thunder Mountain
Railroad, the artist misdirects the message of Disneyland in order to yield a resonating one
of their own creation—awareness. Banksy at Disneyland seeks to convey cognizance to the
identities that we create through consumerism and, more importantly, expose those whom
we exile to the periphery of imprisonment. Moreover, the installment is highly visible and
recorded. Audiences can experience the performance as often as they may like. As Banksy at
Disneyland was recreated through its inclusion as a performance in Exit Through the Gift
Shop, the live installment and the immortal recreation leave a resonating message amongst
audiences across time and space. Perhaps most importantly, Banksy’s installation, residing
within the parameters of the park, positions this particular piece as incredibly unique.
Their venue choices aren’t simply illegal; they are often highly provocative locations to cre-
ate art (Israel, 2014). The installation of Banksy’s text within Disneyland, a space that relies
on fiction and storytelling, creates new rhetorical implications for culture jamming.

Disneyland exists as a hyperreality—a space in which the atmosphere and settings are
so fantastically real that audiences are persuaded to accept them as reality. Umberto Eco
(1996) posits that the park exists as a space so incredibly perfected that its experience blurs
and can even surpass the pleasures of reality. Disneyland is a unique space that promotes
technology as being able to offer more reality to audiences than nature ever could. Simi-
larly, Jean Baudrillard (1994) notes how this particular hyperreality serves as a space capa-
ble of erasing conceptions of the real world. Baudrillard writes,

Everywhere today one must recycle waste, and the dreams, the phantasms, the histori-
cal, fairylike, legendary imaginary of children and adults is a waste product, the first

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great toxic excrement of a hyperreal civilization. On a mental level, Disneyland is the
prototype of this new function. (p. 13)

In a place that proudly proclaims a hegemonic narrative of consumerism, Banksy at
Disneyland successfully asks audiences to interrogate that experience. Although the park is
frequently used as an escape from the real world, Banksy’s culture jam thrusts the grit of
reality into an unsuspecting private space. Not only does Banksy at Disneyland challenge
the vulnerabilities of a hyperreality, it successfully provokes audience awareness. As park
visitors clamored to view the installation, Disneyland responded by stopping the Big
Thunder Mountain Railroad until the art was removed, effectively shutting down a part of
the park (James, 2010). Although patrons chose to actively participate in a hyperreality,
Banksy at Disneyland served to remind them of the inescapable status quo—as you’re enjoy-
ing this space, persons are suffering elsewhere. Banksy’s text serves as a reminder to audi-
ences that no space, not even a hyperreality, is safe from the reach of culture jamming.

Culture jamming is an avenue of communication used by those encouraging aware-

ness and resistance. Through the distortion of a widely known artifact, activists create a
moment of critical awareness. This study offers communication theory a grounded concep-
tualization of the culture jamming genre. Moreover, Banksy at Disneyland is understood to
successfully participate within the genre of culture jam, engendering new implications for
rhetorical theory. Utilizing a distortion of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, with the install-
ment of a Guantánamo Bay detainee, the artist generated a message of awareness amongst
audiences. Rather than experience the hegemonic narrative of a hyperreality, audiences are
forcefully reminded of the costs that others endure for their privilege. What future graffiti,
performance, and street art by Banksy will come to fruition is unknown. Until then, specta-
tors can view Banksy at Disneyland at their leisure, offering audiences an immortal install-
ment of culture jamming.

1 As Banksy’s identity remains unknown, I maintain neutral pronouns when addressing the artist. For example:

they and their, instead of him or her.
2 I use the phrase Banksy at Disneyland to situate the artifact of this study.

Alinsky, S. D. (1971). Rules for radicals: A practical primer for realistic radicals. New York, NY: Random

Aristotle. (2001). Rhetoric by Aristotle. Blacksburg, VA: Virginia Tech.
Bakhtin, M. M., Holquist, M., & Emerson, C. (1986). Speech genres and other late essays M. M. Bakhtin.

Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
Banksy. (2010). Exit through the gift shop. Film. Paranoid Pictures.
Baudrillard, J. (1994). Simulacra and simulation. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
BBC. (2006, September 11). Artist Banksy targets Disneyland. BBC News. Retrieved from
Bitzer, L. F. (1970). The rhetorical situation. Philosophy & Rhetoric, 1(1), 1–14.
Black, E. (1978). Rhetorical criticism: A study in method. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
Bowes, P. (2006, September 14). “Guerilla artist” Banksy hits LA. BBC News. Retrieved from
Campbell, K. K., & Jamieson, K. H., eds. (1978). Form and genre: Shaping rhetorical action. Falls Church,

VA: Speech Communication Association.

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Darts, D. (2004). Visual culture jam: Art, pedagogy, and creative resistance. Studies in Art Education,
45(4), 313–327.

Dery, M. (1990, December 23). The merry pranksters and the art of the hoax. The New York Times.
Retrieved from

Dery, M. (2010, October 8). Culture jamming: Hacking, slashing, and sniping in the empire of signs.
Retrieved from

Eco, U. (1986). Travels in hyperreality. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Foss, S. (2009). Rhetorical criticism: Exploration & practice. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.
Frankenstein, M. (2010). Studying culture jamming to inspire student activism. Radical Teacher, 89, 30–46.
Harold, C. (2004). Pranking rhetoric: “Culture jamming” as media activism. Critical Studies in Media

Communication, 21(3), 189–211.
Israel, M. (2014, August 26). Is Banksy over? Huffington Post. Retrieved from
James, E. (2010, April 8). Banksy strikes again. Mother Jones. Retrieved from
Klein, N. (2000). No logo: Taking aim at the brand bullies. Toronto: Knopf Canada.
Lambert-Beatty, C. (2010). Fill in the blank: Culture jamming and the advertising of agency. New

Directions for Youth Development, 2010(125), 99–112.
Lasn, K. (1999). Culture jam: How to reverse America’s suicidal consumer binge—and why we must. New

York, NY: Quill.
Nath, A. (2013). Seeing Guantanamo, blown up: Banksy’s installation in Disneyland. American Quar-

terly, 65(1), 185–192.
Robinson, N. W., & Bell, G. C. (2013). Effectiveness of culture jamming in agenda building: An analy-

sis of the yes men’s bhopal disaster prank. Southern Communication Journal, 78(4), 352–368.
Sandlin, J. A. (2007). Popular culture, cultural resistance, and anticonsumption activism: An explora-

tion of culture jamming as critical adult education. New Directions for Adult & Continuing Educa-
tion, 2007(115), 73–82.

Sturken, M., & Cartwright, L. (2009). Practices of looking: An introduction to visual culture. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.

Warner, J. (2007). Political culture jamming: The dissident humor of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
Popular Communication, 5(1), 17–36.

Wyatt, E. (2006, September 16). In the land of beautiful people, an artist without a face. The New York
Times, B9. Retrieved from

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Ideological Criticism

You might be surprised to learn that there is a method of criticism that deals
with ideology because the term ideology is often seen as something sinister and
negative. Most people think of ideology as a blind dedication “to a rigid set of
beliefs, regardless of what these beliefs recommend, regardless of whether or not
these beliefs match reality, regardless of whether or not they are ethically right or
practically helpful.”1 We are going to be looking at ideology and ideological criti-
cism in this chapter in a different way from these popular conceptions. Here, we
are defining an ideology as a system of ideas or a pattern of beliefs that deter-
mines a group’s interpretations of some aspect(s) of the world. It is a mental
framework—the “concepts, categories, imagery of thought, and the systems of
representation” that a group deploys to make sense of and define the world or
some aspect of it.2 In an ideological analysis, a critic looks beyond the surface
structure of an artifact to discover the beliefs, values, and assumptions it suggests.

Ideologies are characterized by a number of features. One is that an ideology
is composed of evaluative beliefs—beliefs about which there are possible alterna-
tive judgments.3 They highlight particular positions on social issues. These posi-
tions are not ones that express personal desires or that focus on personal issues
such as “I don’t like this car” or “I want to have a salad for lunch.” Instead, the
statements in an ideology are likely to communicate group beliefs.4 We can see
such an ideology in the following set of beliefs about the issue of immigration:

• Too many people come to our country.

• Immigrants only come here to live off welfare.

• Immigrants take jobs from Americans who need them.

• The government should deport illegal immigrants, even those who came
to the U.S. as small children.

• A wall should be built at the U.S.–Mexico border to keep immigrants out.

• Immigrants are security risks.

• Immigrants should not be let in from countries with histories of terrorism.

• Immigration should be restricted to “real” refugees only.5


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Beliefs such as these comprise an ideology around immigration that serves as
the foundation for the knowledge, attitudes, and motives of groups that adhere
to this ideology.

Other examples of ideologies are patriotism, anti-Communism, Christian-
ity, 12-step programs, multiculturalism, conservatism, anti-terrorism, vegetar-
ianism, and survivalism. Ideologies also can be less formal, as evidenced in
the ideologies embedded in reality-television shows, testing as the means for
judging quality in education, bridal shops, and dieting. Each of these ideolo-
gies is comprised of a set of beliefs that interprets and evaluates relevant
issues and topics for a group and encourages particular attitudes toward them
as a result.

Ideologies often include attention to a core set of topics or concerns
related to the group. The following subjects are usually addressed—at least
implicitly—in ideologies:

• Membership. According to the ideology, who are the adherents to the ide-
ology or members of the group that espouses the ideology? Where are they
from? What do they look like? Who can become a member of the group?

• Activities. What do those who espouse the ideology do? What is expected
of them?

• Goals. Why do those who are committed to the ideology do what they
do? What do they want to accomplish?

• Core belief. What one major idea best characterizes the essence of the

• Defining event. What event, invention, time period, movement, court
case, or condition had the most influence on shaping the ideology?

• Sacred text. What document, book, or film best captures the commit-
ments embedded in the ideology?

• Ultimate authority. Who or what is the sanctioning agent or highest
authority, according to the ideology? Is it, for example, a set of docu-
ments such as annual reports and stock indexes? Is it a method of rating
such as best-seller lists or box-office receipts? Is it a deity such as God,
Great Spirit, or Mother Earth?

• Values/norms. What are the main values embedded in the ideology? How
do adherents to the ideology evaluate or assess themselves and others?
What things should they do or not do?

• Position and group relations. Who are the supporters of the group mem-
bers? Who are their enemies or opponents?

• Resources. What are the essential social resources the group has or
needs to have?6

Ideologies control and coordinate the actions of those who adhere to
them. Ideologies ensure that members of a group generally “act in similar
ways in similar situations, are able to cooperate in joint tasks, and will thus
contribute to group cohesion, solidarity, and the successful reproduction of
the group.”7 Ideologies enable group members to act as group members, “to
know what is good and bad for them, and what to do in situations of conflict,

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threat, or competition. In sum, . . . ideologies function primarily to serve as an
interface between collective group interests and individual social practices.”8

Because there are many different groups, organizations, institutions, and
other social collectives in a society, multiple ideologies—multiple patterns of
belief—exist in any culture. Some ideologies, however, are privileged over oth-
ers, and ideologies that present perspectives different from the privileged ones
are sometimes repressed. The result is a dominant way of seeing the world or
the development of a hegemonic ideology in certain domains. Hegemony is
the privileging of the ideology of one group over the ideologies of other
groups. It thus constitutes a kind of social control, a means of symbolic coer-
cion, or a form of domination by more powerful groups over the ideologies of
those with less power.9 When an ideology becomes hegemonic in a culture,
certain interests or groups are served by it more than others—the hegemonic
ideology represents experience in ways that support the interests of those with
more power.

When an ideology becomes hegemonic, it accumulates “the symbolic
power to map or classify the world for others.”10 It invites “us to understand
the world in certain ways, but not in others.”11 A dominant ideology controls
what participants see as natural or obvious by establishing the norm. Normal
discourse, then, maintains the ideology, and challenges to it seem abnormal. A
hegemonic ideology provides a sense that things are the way they have to be; it
asserts that its meanings are the real, natural ones. In a culture where the ide-
ology of racism is hegemonic, for example, the privilege accorded to whites
seems normal, as does the lack of opportunity accorded to individuals of other
races. If practices concerning people of color in such a culture are questioned,
the questions are seen as strange and abnormal.

To maintain a position of dominance, a hegemonic ideology must be
renewed, reinforced, and defended continually through the use of rhetorical
strategies and practices. Resistance to the dominant ideology is muted or con-
tained, and its impact thus is limited by a variety of sophisticated rhetorical
strategies. Often, in fact, these strategies incorporate the resistance into the
dominant discourse in such a way that the challenge will not contradict and
may even support the dominant ideology. In a culture in which an ideology of
racism is dominant, for example, questions about why people of color are not
given equal opportunities may be muted by media representations of these
people as lacking in internal motivation. Consequently, the argument that they
are not given equal opportunities is seen as irrelevant and thus is unable to
have much impact on the dominant ideology. Similarly, hegemonic institu-
tions sometimes offer positive images of African Americans and engage in
practices that are appealing to blacks and that placate those who resist the
racial hegemony—the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday and of
Black History Month, for example. These practices suggest an honoring and
appreciation of black culture but in ways that do not affect the privilege typi-
cally accorded to whites. The hegemony concerning race makes sure that
these practices are viewed as peripheral to mainstream culture and do not
alter the order of racial dominance in it.12

The rise to dominance of particular ideologies is not always as deliberate
and conscious a process as the above description makes it seem. We all are

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subjected to dominant perspectives in the most mundane and ordinary activi-
ties of our lives. All of the institutions in which we participate embody particu-
lar ideologies. Our educational system, for example, shapes students in
particular directions; part of its complex ideology teaches obedience to rules.
Religion, families, the media, the legal system, and popular culture perpetuate
various ideologies and encourage participants in a culture to accept those ide-
ologies. Ideologies even can exist around seemingly small issues such as the
desirability for women to have plump lips in current American culture. Plump
lips are seen as a sign of good health, beauty, and youth, so many women,
especially celebrities, engage in a number of practices to augment their lips,
including lip injections, lip implants, lip lifts, and permanent makeup. Women
who have been convinced that their lips are not naturally beautiful and that
they must do something to make them attractive are participating in an ideol-
ogy and are acting in accordance with that ideology.13 Although we may
adhere, as individuals, to ideologies different from one that is hegemonic, we
cannot help but participate in the hegemonic ideology as we participate in our
culture through activities such as watching television, browsing through pop-
ular magazines, listening to music, surfing the Internet, and attending school.

A number of intellectual systems have provided the foundation for ideo-
logical criticism. One perspective that informs ideological criticism is struc-
turalism, a series of projects in which linguistics is used as a model for
attempts to develop the “grammars” of systems such as myths, novels, and
genres. Claude Lévi-Strauss, for example, analyzed a wide range of myths to
discover their structure or grammar.14 By constructing such grammars—sys-
tematic inventories of elements and their relationships—structuralists gain
insights into the ideologies of artifacts because the grammars embody and
provide clues to those ideologies.

A form of structuralism that many ideological critics have found useful is
semiotics or semiology, the science of signs. Developed by Ferdinand de
Saussure15 and Charles Sanders Peirce,16 semiotics is a systematic attempt to
understand what signs are and how they function. Semioticians have a
broader definition of signs than the one presented in chapter 1. They define
signs as units that can be taken as substitutes for something else, such as
words, font styles, camera angles, colors, clothing, and gestures. Semiotics
provides a way to study components of an artifact as clues to its meaning and
ideology. Among those who have contributed to the development of semiotics
and its use in ideological criticism are Roland Barthes,17 Arthur Asa Berger,18

and Kaja Silverman.19

Marxism also informs the work of many ideological critics.20 As an intel-
lectual system, Marxism is a way of analyzing cultural products in terms of the
social and economic practices and institutions that produce them. Although
Marxist theorists—including Theodor Adorno,21 Louis Althusser,22 Walter
Benjamin,23 Bertolt Brecht,24 Terry Eagleton,25 Jürgen Habermas,26 Georg
Lukács,27 and Herbert Marcuse28—differ in their interpretations and applica-
tions of Marxism, they are united by the belief that material conditions inter-
act with and influence the symbols by which groups make sense of their
worlds. These scholars believe ideological forms are more than ideas, beliefs,
and values. They have a material existence and are embodied in cultural insti-

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tutions such as schools, churches, and political parties and in artifacts such as
paintings, novels, Facebook pages, and speeches.

Yet another influence on ideological criticism is deconstructionism, which
sometimes is called poststructuralism because it developed after and in
response to structuralism. The philosophy and critical method of deconstruc-
tionism is most closely associated with Jacques Derrida,29 and its foremost
American exponent is Paul de Man.30 The purpose of deconstructionism is to
deconstruct the self-evidence of central concepts—to subject to critical analy-
ses the basic structures and assumptions that govern texts and the develop-
ment of knowledge. Methodologically, deconstruction is directed to the
questioning of texts—taking apart and exposing their underlying meanings,
biases, and preconceptions—and then transforming or reconceptualizing the
conceptual fields of those texts.

Postmodernism, a theory of cultural, intellectual, and societal discontinuity,
also influences much ideological criticism. Postmodern theories are based on
the notion that our culture has moved into a new phase—one that follows the
period of modernism, which championed reason as the source of progress in
society and privileged the foundation of systematic knowledge. The new form of
society has been transformed radically by media and technology, which have
introduced new forms of communication and representation into contemporary
life. This postmodern society requires new concepts and theories to address the
features that characterize the new era: fragmentation of individuals and com-
munities; a consumer lifestyle; a sense of alienation; and a destabilization of uni-
fying discourses and principles. The postmodern project is useful to ideological
critics in that it provides information about the context for many contemporary
artifacts and suggests the exigency to which many of these artifacts and their
ideologies respond. Among the primary contributors to theories of postmodern-
ism are Jean-François Lyotard,31 Jean Baudrillard,32 and Fredric Jameson.33

Another source from which ideological critics draw is cultural studies, an
interdisciplinary project focused around the idea that relations of power within
a society are embedded in and reproduced through cultural creation. Critics
who work from this perspective seek to uncover oppressive relations and the
forces available that have the potential to lead to liberation or emancipation.
As a loosely unified movement, cultural studies dates back to 1964, when the
Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in Great Britain was
founded by Richard Hoggart34 and later headed by Stuart Hall.35 Although the-
orists associated with cultural studies adopt diverse approaches, including
Marxist, poststructuralist, postmodern, feminist, and Jungian perspectives,
they tend to share some basic assumptions about culture. Culture, they believe,
consists of everyday discursive practices, with these discursive practices both
embodying and constructing a culture’s ideology. They see artifacts of popular
culture as legitimate data for critical analysis because they are places where
struggles take place over which meanings and ideologies will dominate.

Articulation as a theory and critical method also contributes to ideological
criticism. An offshoot of cultural studies, articulation theory has been devel-
oped primarily by Ernesto Laclau, Chantal Mouffe,36 and Stuart Hall.37 The
term articulation has had a variety of “medical, biological and enunciative
meanings. But in every case, the word suggests some kind of joining of parts

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to make a unity.”38 In the context of ideological criticism, articulation means
establishment of a relationship among elements (such as beliefs, practices,
and values) so that their identity is transformed. The notion of articulation
guides the “critic’s attention to specific connections between ideological ele-
ments” to identify “ideology’s systemic and structural levels of operation.”39 A
critical focus on articulation also involves analysis of the connection of these
elements to “social, political, economic, and technological practices and
structures”40 to discover how they construct certain “ways of thinking, being,
and acting in the world as possible or not.”41 The end of an analysis focused
on articulation is “to understand how meaning is ideologically constructed
within the level of complex social formation.”42

A number of scholars have contributed to the development of ideological
criticism in the communication field, drawing on the various perspectives and
philosophies in their development of ideological approaches to criticism.
Among them are: Teun A. van Dijk,43 Philip C. Wander,44 Michael Calvin
McGee,45 Maurice Charland,46 Raymie E. McKerrow,47 Janice Hocker Rush-
ing and Thomas S. Frentz,48 Lawrence Grossberg,49 Celeste Michelle Condit,50

Dana L. Cloud,51 and Joshua Gunn and Shaun Treat.52 Regardless of the spe-
cific perspectives they embrace, the primary goal of ideological critics is to
discover and make visible the ideology embedded in an artifact. As a result of
an ideological analysis, a critic seeks to explicate the role of communication in
creating and sustaining an ideology and to discover whose interests are repre-
sented in that ideology. Such an analysis provides a critical distance on exist-
ing arrangements and clears a space in which they can be evaluated and
perhaps altered. Ideological criticism identifies existing arrangements and the
ideology behind them, calls attention to them, and opens the way for envision-
ing alternatives to create a better world.

Using the ideological method of criticism, a critic analyzes an artifact in a

four-step process: (1) selecting an artifact; (2) analyzing the artifact; (3) for-
mulating a research question; and (4) writing the essay.

Selecting an Artifact
Virtually any artifact can serve as an artifact for ideological criticism

because ideologies exist everywhere. Every artifact takes an evaluative posi-
tion on various subjects simply by the rhetorical choices that the rhetor made
in creating that artifact. Although you may be tempted to select a political text
for an ideological analysis, other kinds of artifacts often can produce less obvi-
ous insights. Artifacts of popular culture such as advertisements, television
shows, basketball games, concerts, coffee houses, computer games, lawn
ornaments, films, websites, and songs are sites where ideologies are rhetori-
cally packaged and sold and where ideological conflicts are played out. Audi-
ences are often less resistant to ideological messages in such artifacts because
they do not expect to see them there; as a result, such artifacts are often more
productive and interesting to analyze.

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Analyzing the Artifact
A critic who explores an artifact for the ideology it manifests does so in

four steps: (1) identifying the presented elements of the artifact; (2) identifying
the suggested elements linked to the presented elements; (3) formulating an
ideology; and (4) identifying the functions served by the ideology.

Identifying Presented Elements
The first step in an ideological analysis is to identify and focus on rhetori-

cal aspects of the artifact that provide clues to its ideology. The critic seeks to
identify the assumptions, presuppositions, or premises behind the artifact that
constitute its ideology. Your task here is to examine individual signs that point
to ideological tenets in the artifact, working back to the often implicit ideology
through the rhetorical content and form of the artifact.

An easy way to begin the process of identifying the assumptions that construct
a particular ideology for an artifact is to code your artifact for presented ele-
ments.53 Identification of presented elements involves identifying the basic observ-
able features of the artifact. These might be, for example, major arguments, types
of evidence, particular terms, or metaphors. In visual artifacts, physical features
such as shapes and colors constitute presented elements. Whatever form your arti-
fact assumes, you are looking for observable aspects of the artifact that provide
clues to its ideology. Make a list of these major elements or features of the artifact.

A stanza from Meghan Trainor’s song “Dear Future Husband” provides an
example of what to identify as presented elements if your artifact is verbal or
discursive. One stanza from the song is this:

You got that 9 to 5
But, baby, so do I.
So don’t be thinking I’ll be home and baking apple pies.
I never learned to cook,
But I can write a hook.
Sing along with me
Sing, sing along with me.

The presented elements in this stanza would be these argumentative claims:
• Both I and my future husband work from 9 to 5.
• Do not expect me to bake apple pies.

• I do not know how to cook.
• I know how to write a song.

• I invite my future husband to sing along with me.
There also might be some musical features of the song you would want to iden-
tify as presented elements—an unusual chord progression, an upbeat melody,
or a particular key, for example—that seem relevant to the ideology of the song.
Some aspects of Trainor’s voice also might function as presented elements.

In a nondiscursive or visual artifact, the presented elements are shapes, ma-
terials, and objects. Take as an example the Humana Building in Louisville, Ken-
tucky. This building is the headquarters of the Humana Corporation, a health-
benefits company, and it was designed by architect Michael Graves. In this
building, you might identify the major presented elements as follows:54

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• granite
• massive scale

• L shape
• pyramid shape at the top of

the building

• rounded shaft down the south
side of the building

• façade columns

• water flowing down each side
of the entrance

• glass panels

• crossed lines
• grid-like steel truss
• marble floor of geometric

shapes in the lobby
• rotunda formed by six mar-

ble columns

• information booth
• works of art throughout the


• wood
• 25th floor with a sitting

room, reception hall, audito-
rium, and terrace.

The presented elements you identify may include all of the key elements
you notice, or you may choose to focus on certain aspects of the artifact. You
may choose to do ideological criticism because you are particularly interested
in the ideologies related to a particular subject, and you want to analyze only
the ideology concerning that subject in your artifact. You might be interested,
for example, in the ideology of an artifact in terms of the environment and
what it suggests about how to think about environmental issues. In such a
case, you want to focus on identifying key presented elements of the artifact
related to the environment. In our analyses of Meghan Trainor’s song and the
Humana Building, we are assuming no such interest in a particular direction,
so all of the major presented elements were identified.

Identifying Suggested Elements
In the second step of ideological criticism, the critic articulates ideas, ref-

erences, themes, allusions, or concepts that are suggested by the presented
elements. This is the step at which you identify the meanings suggested by the
elements that will serve as the basis for ideological tenets. Take your list of
presented elements and generate at least one idea or concept that is suggested
by each one.

The suggested elements that derive from the presented elements we identi-
fied earlier from Meghan Trainor’s song might be:

The Humana Building. Image Courtesy of Michael Graves &

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• Both I and my future husband work from 9 to 5: Both men and women
work outside the home.

• Do not expect me to bake apple pies: I will not conform to conventional
gender stereotypes.

• I do not know how to cook: Cooking is not the responsibility only of
women in a marriage. Some women do not know how to cook.

• I know how to write a song: Women have talents other than cooking,
such as songwriting.

• I invite my future husband to sing along with me: Interests and roles in a
couple do not have to be segregated. It’s good for partners in a marriage to
share the same vision of their roles. Couples enjoy doing things together.

In an analysis of the Humana Building, the presented elements we identi-
fied earlier might point to the following suggested elements:

• granite: permanence, durability, wealth

• massive scale: grandeur, awe

• L shape: tombstone, memorial, cash register

• pyramid shape: ziggurat, a terraced tower of Assyria and Babylonia

• rounded shaft: column

• façade columns: order, ceremony, decorum

• water: sustenance, purification, cleanliness

• glass panels: water (a lake or pond), flags hung in a row

• crossed lines: crosses

• steel truss: bridges

• lobby: wealth, grandeur, permanence (marble), Pantheon (patterned floor
and vaulted ceiling), cemetery (ordered geometric shapes on the floor)

• rotunda: tomb or mausoleum

• information booth: security guards or caretakers

• works of art: wealth and treasure

• wood: expensive coffin

• 25th floor: elegant mansion (sitting room), outdoor plaza and grand ball-
room (reception area), church (auditorium with crosses), outdoor gar-
den (terrace)

The two lists you prepare of the presented and suggested elements will not
appear in the essay you write. These lists are tools to help you discover the ide-
ology in the artifact. Your analysis transforms the key presented and suggested
elements into an ideology, and that is the next step of ideological criticism.

Formulating an Ideology
In the third step of ideological criticism, the critic groups the suggested ele-

ments into categories and organizes them into a coherent framework that con-
stitutes the ideology you suggest is implicit in the artifact. To discover this
ideology, you want to figure out what major clusters, themes, or ideas charac-
terize all or most of your suggested elements. Notice that, at this step in the pro-

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cess, you are no longer dealing with the presented elements you identified. Your
attention is on the suggested elements alone. You will bring the presented ele-
ments in as support for your ideological tenets when you write your essay, but
for now, your attention is on the ideas suggested by those presented elements.

The suggested elements of the Humana Building, for example, cluster into
two major categories—death and wealth. Death emerges as a key idea from
the suggested elements because several of them call attention to memorial
structures used to commemorate the lives of those who have died. The granite
and marble used on the exterior of the building are materials used on tomb-
stones. The pyramid-like structure at the top of the building has a tomb-like
quality in its allusion to the sacred burial place of kings. The rounded shaft
that bisects the building is symbolic of a grave marker. The most obvious
“memorial” is the inner circle of the rotunda, where visitors feel the quiet and
sanctity of a mausoleum. The information attendant, in this context, becomes
a caretaker or guard of the dead.

The suggested elements also can be grouped into various rituals associ-
ated with death. The references to water are symbolic of the purification ritu-
als that many cultures perform in preparation for the burial of a body. The
references to bridges and rivers call up the water journeys connected with
death in various cultures. The various works of art displayed throughout the
building might be viewed as the treasures buried with individuals in their
tombs. The “flags” hung on the side of the building—the glass panels—can be
seen as banners hung in mourning.

Many of the suggested elements also reference the various settings or con-
texts used by the living to deal with death. The 25th floor of the building con-
tains several of these contexts. The sitting room is the “living room” of the
funeral parlor, which is suggested by the reception hall. This hall also can be
viewed as an outdoor plaza where mourners carry the body in ceremonial
processional to the cemetery. The auditorium, with its church-like references,
is a place where survivors eulogize the dead. Finally, the terrace suggests a
cemetery or sanctuary where survivors may visit the dead.

Other elements of the Humana Building suggest the theme of wealth. The
materials of granite and marble are expensive and somewhat precious. The
artworks, because of their age or the reputations of their creators, are valu-
able. The theme of wealth is referenced by the stately elegance and ballroom
style of the 25th floor and the cash-register shape on the top of the building.

Using the major themes of death and wealth that emerged from the analy-
sis of the Humana Building, you now want to formulate the ideology of the
artifact clearly and succinctly. This might take the form of a single sentence,
or it may require two or three sentences. If you need more words than that to
explain the ideology, you probably have not come up with the core idea of the
ideology yet. You also will find that the statement you formulate for the ideol-
ogy usually makes a good thesis or preview statement for your essay. The ide-
ology you offer of the Humana Building might be something like this: The
Humana Building “is a memorial to those who have suffered or died because
of its system of health care—a system that emphasizes profit over charity.”55

The following questions might help you articulate the ideology in the arti-
fact you are analyzing:

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• What is the preferred reading of the artifact?

• What does the artifact ask the audience to believe, understand, feel, or
think about?

• What claim do the arguments being made in the artifact support?

• What particular characteristics, roles, actions, or ways of seeing does
the artifact commend?

• What values or general conceptions of what is and is not good are sug-

• What doesn’t the artifact want the audience to think about?

• What ways of seeing does it ask the audience to avoid?

• What alternative interpretations of the world are possible to the one
offered by the ideology in the artifact?

• What does the artifact suggest is unacceptable, negative, undesirable,
marginal, or insignificant?

• Who is empowered or disempowered by the ideology? Who is visible in
the ideology and who is not? Who does the ideology say is or ought to be
in charge, and who is not?

Here are some samples of ideologies that critics have articulated as a
result of engaging in ideological criticism of various artifacts. They give you
an idea of the form you want to use to articulate the ideology that emerges
from your analysis:

• Judy Chicago’s work of art The Dinner Party empowers and legitimizes
women’s authentic voices through three primary strategies: “(1) The
work is independent from male-created reality; (2) it creates new stan-
dards for evaluation of its own rhetoric; and (3) women are clearly
labeled as agents.”56

• The children’s book Daddy’s Roommate presents an ideology that
acknowledges and challenges homosexual stereotypes by embedding a
homosexual relationship within the American dream. The book’s ideol-
ogy is one in which an un-American family meets the “criteria for the
economic status, characters, and activities that mark fulfillment of a
very American dream.”57

• The ideology that undergirds the film Pocahontas constructs Pocahontas
as “a prisoner, wrongfully and immorally trapped within a backward
and pre-scientific culture.” The film “enacts the colonialist narrative and
in so doing legitimates a cultural framework rooted in racism, anti-mis-
cegenation, patriarchy, and capitalism.”58

• The Delta Blues Museum presents an ideology to visitors that promotes
“‘authentic’ images of primitiveness and impoverishment—iconic sym-
bols that reflect larger, more encompassing, blues mythic narratives—
that arguably satisfy (White) tourists who share culturally specific mem-
ories of the blues. At the same time, these mythic narratives serve to
racially reinscribe predictable and stereotypical images of the down-
trodden, dispossessed blues subject.”59

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• The Woman’s Building at the 1893 World’s Columbia Exposition affirms
the “dominant rhetoric of ‘civilization’ as White and male” by co-opting
minority voices “to serve the interests of the dominant narrative.”60

Identifying the Functions Served by the Ideology
In the final step of ideological criticism, your task is to discover how the

ideology you constructed from the artifact functions for the audience who
encounters it and the consequences it has in the world. Does it encourage the
audience to accept a particular position on a social issue? Does it present a
view of a condition that is naïve, misguided, or inappropriate for some rea-
son? How does the ideology encourage audience members to construct them-
selves? Does the ideology present something as natural and normal in the
artifact so that audiences do not question a particular perspective? Does it
represent a marginalized perspective that it invites the audience to consider?

Formulating a Research Question
Ideological criticism is a kind of criticism in which your research question

can be specifically about your artifact, although you might want to explain
why knowing the ideology of a particular artifact is important if you formulate
such a question. One or more of the following questions are likely to serve as
your research question in ideological analysis: “What is the ideology manifest
in this artifact?” “Who are the groups or voices whose interests are repre-
sented, served, or favored in the ideology?” “What are the implications of the
ideology for the world in which it participates?”

Writing the Critical Essay
After completing the analysis, you are ready to write your essay, which

includes five major components: (1) an introduction, in which you discuss the
research question, its contribution to rhetorical theory, and its significance;
(2) a description of your artifact and its context; (3) a description of your
method of criticism—in this case, ideological criticism; (4) a report of the find-
ings of the analysis, in which you identify the ideology manifest in the artifact
and the rhetorical strategies that promote it over other ideologies; and (5) a
discussion of the contribution your analysis makes to rhetorical theory.

Sample Essays
In the essays that follow, critics analyze a variety of artifacts to discover

the ideologies they embody. Greg Dickinson, Brian L. Ott, and Eric Aoki ana-
lyze the Buffalo Bill Museum to discover what vision of the West it constructs
for visitors. In her analysis of the websites of three United Nations agencies,
Khadidiatou Ndiaye seeks to answer the question: “How inclusive is the ideol-
ogy of UNICEF, UNFPA, and UNAIDS as portrayed in these organizations’
websites?” Andrew Gilmore’s analysis of Jiang Zemin’s speech answers the
research question: “What was the ideology Jiang Zemin constructed for his
speech, and how did it function at the handover of Hong King to China?”

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1 Mark Garrett Longaker and Jeffrey Walker, Rhetorical Analysis: A Brief Guide for Writers (Bos-

ton: Longman, 2011), 185.
2 Teun A. van Dijk, Ideology: A Multidisciplinary Approach (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1998), 69;

and Anne Makus, “Stuart Hall’s Theory of Ideology: A Frame for Rhetorical Criticism,” Western
Journal of Speech Communication 54 (Fall 1990): 499.

3 For a more detailed explanation of beliefs and ideology, see van Dijk, Ideology, 28–52.
4 Teun A. van Dijk, “Discourse as Interaction in Society,” in Discourse as Social Interaction: Dis-

course Studies: A Multidisciplinary Introduction: Volume 2, ed. Teun A. van Dijk (Thousand
Oaks, CA: Sage, 1997), 32.

5 Adapted from van Dijk, Ideology, 66.
6 van Dijk, Ideology, 69–70; and Mark Gerzon, A House Divided (New York: Putnam, 1996).
7 van Dijk, “Discourse as Interaction,” 26.
8 van Dijk, “Discourse as Interaction,” 29.
9 Antonio Gramsci is credited with the initial conceptualization of the notion of hegemony. See

Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, trans. and ed. Quintin Hoare and Geof-
frey N. Smith (New York: International, 1987).

10 Stuart Hall, “The Toad in the Garden: Thatcherism Among the Theorists,” in Marxism and the
Interpretation of Culture, ed. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (Urbana: University of Illi-
nois Press, 1988), 44.

11 Alan O’Connor and John Downing, “Culture and Communication,” in Questioning the Media: A
Critical Introduction (2nd ed.), ed. John Downing, Ali Mohammadi, and Annabelle Sreberny-
Mohammadi (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1990), 16.

12 Lee Artz and Bren Ortega Murphy, Cultural Hegemony in the United States (Thousand Oaks, CA:
Sage, 2000), 77.

13 Artz and Murphy, Cultural Hegemony, 56.
14 See, for example, Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Savage Mind (Chicago: Chicago University Press,

1966); and Claude Lévi-Strauss, Totemism, trans. Rodney Needham (Boston: Beacon, 1963).
15 See, for example, Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics, ed. Charles Bally,

Albert Sechehaye, and Albert Reidlinger, trans. Roy Harris (London: Duckworth, 1983).
16 See, for example, Charles Sanders Peirce, Peirce on Signs: Writings on Semiotic, ed. James

Hoopes (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991).
17 See, for example, Roland Barthes, Elements of Semiology, trans. Annette Lavers and Colin

Smith (New York: Noonday, 1967); and Roland Barthes, Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers
(New York: Noonday, 1972).

18 See, for example, Arthur Asa Berger, Signs in Contemporary Culture: An Introduction to Semiot-
ics (New York: Longman, 1984); and Arthur Asa Berger, Media Analysis Techniques (Newbury
Park, CA: Sage, 1991).

19 Kaja Silverman, The Subject of Semiotics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983).
20 See, for example, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The German Ideology: Parts I and III, ed.

Roy Pascal (New York: International, 1947); and Karl Marx, The Grundrisse, ed. and trans.
David McLellan (New York: Harper and Row, 1971).

21 See, for example, Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, ed. Gretal Adorno and Rolf Tiedmann,
trans. C. Lenhardt (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984); and Theodor Adorno, The Jar-
gon of Authenticity, trans. Knut Tarnowski and Frederic Will (Evanston, IL: Northwestern Uni-
versity Press, 1973).

22 See, for example, Louis Althusser, For Marx, trans. Ben Brewster (London: Allen Lane, 1969);
and Louis Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster (New York:
Monthly Review, 1971).

23 See, for example, Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (New
York: Schocken, 1968); and Walter Benjamin, Understanding Brecht, trans. Anna Bostock (Lon-
don: NLB, 1977).

24 See, for example, Bertolt Brecht, Brecht on Theatre, ed. and trans. John Willett (New York: Hill
and Wang, 1964).

25 See, for example, Terry Eagleton, Marxism and Literary Criticism (Berkeley: University of Cali-
fornia Press, 1976); and Terry Eagleton, The Function of Criticism: From the Spectator to Post-
Structuralism (London: Verso, 1984).

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26 See, for example, Jürgen Habermas, Communication and the Evolution of Society, trans. Thomas
McCarthy (Boston: Beacon, 1979); Jürgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, Vol-
ume I: Reason and the Rationalization of Society, trans. Thomas McCarthy (Boston: Beacon,
1984); and Jürgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, Volume II: Lifeworld and
System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason, trans. Thomas McCarthy (Boston: Beacon, 1987).

27 See, for example, Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, trans. Rodney Livingston
(London: Merlin, 1971); and Georg Lukács, The Historical Novel, trans. Hannah Mitchell and
Stanley Mitchell (London: Merlin, 1962).

28 See, for example, Herbert Marcuse, An Essay on Liberation (Boston: Beacon, 1969); and Her-
bert Marcuse, Counterrevolution and Revolt (Boston: Beacon, 1972).

29 See, for example, Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: Univer-
sity of Chicago Press, 1978); Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chi-
cago: University of Chicago Press, 1982); and Jacques Derrida, “Structure, Sign, and Play,” in
The Structuralist Controversy, ed. Richard Macksey and Eugenio Donato (Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins Press, 1972), 247–72.

30 See, for example, Paul de Man, Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Crit-
icism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971); and Paul de Man, Allegories of Reading: Figural
Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke, and Proust (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979).

31 See, for example, Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge,
trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984).

32 See, for example, Jean Baudrillard, Simulations (New York: Semiotext(e), 1983); and Jean Bau-
drillard, The Mirror of Production, trans. Mark Poster (St. Louis: Telos, 1975).

33 See, for example, Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism
(Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991); and Fredric Jameson, The Geopolitical Aesthetic:
Cinema and Space in the World System (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992).

34 See, for example, Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy: Aspects of Working-Class Life, with
Special Reference to Publications and Entertainments (New York: Oxford University Press,
1970); and Richard Hoggart, On Culture and Communication (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1972).

35 See, for example, Stuart Hall, “The Rediscovery of ‘Ideology’: Return of the Repressed in Media
Studies,” in Culture, Society and the Media, ed. Michael Gurevitch, Tony Bennett, James Cur-
ran, and Janet Woolacott (London: Methuen, 1982), 56–90; Stuart Hall, “Encoding/Decoding,”
in Culture, Media, Language, ed. Stuart Hall, Dorothy Hobson, Andrew Lowe, and Paul Willis
(London: Hutchinson, 1980), 128–38; and Stuart Hall and Tony Jefferson, eds., Resistance
Through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain (London: Hutchinson, 1976).

36 Ernesto Laclau, Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory (London: New Left, 1977); and Ernesto
Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic
Politics (London: Verson, 1985).

37 Hall, “Rediscovery of ‘Ideology’”; and Stuart Hall, “Signification, Representation, Ideology:
Althusser and the Post-Structuralist Debates,” Critical Studies in Mass Communication 2 (June
1985): 91–114.

38 Jennifer Daryl Slack, “The Theory and Method of Articulation in Cultural Studies,” in Stuart
Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, ed. David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen (New York:
Routledge, 1996), 115.

39 Makus, “Stuart Hall’s Theory of Ideology,” 503.
40 Makus, “Stuart Hall’s Theory of Ideology,” 496.
41 Jennifer Daryl Slack, “Communication as Articulation,” in Communication as . . . Perspectives

on Theory, ed. Gregory J. Shepherd, Jeffrey St. John, and Ted Striphas (Thousand Oaks, CA:
Sage, 2006), 225.

42 Makus, “Stuart Hall’s Theory of Ideology,” 503.
43 van Dijk, Ideology; Teun A. van Dijk, Communicating Racism: Ethnic Prejudice in Thought and

Talk (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1987); Teun A. van Dijk, News Analysis: Case Studies of Interna-
tional and National News in the Press (Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 1988); Teun A. van Dijk, Elite
Discourse and Racism (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1993); and Teun A. van Dijk, “Discourse as
Interaction in Society,” 1–37.

44 Philip C. Wander, “Salvation Through Separation: The Image of the Negro in the American Col-
onization Society,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 57 (February 1971): 57–67; Philip C. Wander,

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“The John Birch and Martin Luther King Symbols in the Radical Right,” Western Speech 35
(Winter 1971): 4–14; Philip C. Wander, “The Savage Child: The Image of the Negro in the Pro-
Slavery Movement,” Southern Speech Communication Journal 37 (Summer 1972): 335–60;
Philip Wander and Steven Jenkins, “Rhetoric, Society, and the Critical Response,” Quarterly
Journal of Speech 58 (December 1972): 441–50; Philip Wander, “The Waltons: How Sweet It
Was,” Journal of Communication 26 (Autumn 1976): 148–54; Philip Wander, “On the Meaning
of Roots,” Journal of Communication 27 (Autumn 1977): 64–69; Philip Wander, “The Angst of
the Upper Class,” Journal of Communication 29 (Autumn 1979): 85–88; Philip Wander, “Cul-
tural Criticism,” in Handbook of Political Communication, ed. Dan D. Nimmo and Keith R.
Sanders (Beverly Hills: Sage, 1981), 497–528; Philip Wander, “The Ideological Turn in Modern
Criticism,” Central States Speech Journal 34 (Spring 1983): 1–18; Philip Wander, “The Aesthet-
ics of Fascism,” Journal of Communication 33 (Spring 1983): 70–78; Philip Wander, “The Rhet-
oric of American Foreign Policy,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 70 (November 1984): 339–61;
Philip Wander, “The Third Persona: An Ideological Turn in Rhetorical Theory,” Central States
Speech Journal 35 (Winter 1984): 197–216; Richard Morris and Philip Wander, “Native Ameri-
can Rhetoric: Dancing in the Shadows of the Ghost Dance,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 76
(May 1990): 164–91; and Philip C. Wander, “Introduction: Special Issue on Ideology,” Western
Journal of Communication 57 (Spring 1993): 105–10.

45 Michael C. McGee, “In Search of ‘The People’: A Rhetorical Alternative,” Quarterly Journal of
Speech 61 (October 1975): 235–49; Michael C. McGee, “‘Not Men, but Measures’: The Origins
and Import of an Ideological Principle,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 64 (April 1978): 141–54;
Michael Calvin McGee, “The ‘Ideograph’: A Link Between Rhetoric and Ideology,” Quarterly
Journal of Speech 66 (February 1980): 1–16; Michael Calvin McGee, “The Origins of ‘Liberty’: A
Feminization of Power,” Communication Monographs 47 (March 1980): 23–45; Michael Calvin
McGee and Martha Anne Martin, “Public Knowledge and Ideological Argumentation,” Commu-
nication Monographs 50 (March 1983): 47–65; Michael Calvin McGee, “Secular Humanism: A
Radical Reading of ‘Culture Industry’ Productions,” Critical Studies in Mass Communication 1
(March 1984): 1–33; Michael Calvin McGee, “Another Philippic: Notes on the Ideological Turn
in Criticism,” Central States Speech Journal 35 (Spring 1984): 43–50; Allen Scult, Michael Cal-
vin McGee, and J. Kenneth Buntz, “Genesis and Power: An Analysis of the Biblical Story of Cre-
ation,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 72 (May 1986): 113–31; Michael Calvin McGee, “Power to
the {People},” Critical Studies in Mass Communication 4 (December 1987): 432–37; and
Michael Calvin McGee, “Text, Context, and the Fragmentation of Contemporary Culture,” West-
ern Journal of Speech Communication 54 (Summer 1990): 274–89.

46 Maurice Charland, “Constitutive Rhetoric: The Case of the Peuple Québécois,” Quarterly Journal
of Speech 73 (May 1987): 133–50.

47 Raymie E. McKerrow, “Critical Rhetoric: Theory and Praxis,” Communication Monographs 56
(June 1989): 91–111; and Raymie E. McKerrow, “Critical Rhetoric in a Postmodern World,”
Quarterly Journal of Speech 77 (February 1991): 75–78.

48 Janice Hocker Rushing, “The Rhetoric of the American Western Myth,” Communication Mono-
graphs 50 (March 1983): 14–32; Janice Hocker Rushing, “E.T. as Rhetorical Transcendence,”
Quarterly Journal of Speech 71 (May 1985): 188–203; Janice Hocker Rushing, “Mythic Evolu-
tion of ‘The New Frontier’ in Mass Mediated Rhetoric,” Critical Studies in Mass Communica-
tion 3 (September 1986): 265–96; Janice Hocker Rushing, “Ronald Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’
Address: Mythic Containment of Technical Reasoning,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 72 (Novem-
ber 1986): 415–33; Janice Hocker Rushing, “Evolution of ‘The New Frontier’ in Alien and
Aliens: Patriarchal Co-optation of the Feminine Archetype,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 75
(February 1989): 1–24; Janice Hocker Rushing, “Power, Other, and Spirit in Cultural Texts,”
Western Journal of Communication 57 (Spring 1993): 159–68; Thomas S. Frentz and Thomas B.
Farrell, “Conversion of America’s Consciousness: The Rhetoric of The Exorcist,” Quarterly Jour-
nal of Speech 61 (February 1975): 40–47; Janice Hocker Rushing and Thomas S. Frentz, “The
Frankenstein Myth in Contemporary Cinema,” Critical Studies in Mass Communication 6
(March 1989): 61–80; Janice Hocker Rushing and Thomas S. Frentz, “Integrating Ideology and
Archetype in Rhetorical Criticism,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 77 (November 1991): 385–406;
and Thomas S. Frentz and Janice Hocker Rushing, “Integrating Ideology and Archetype in
Rhetorical Criticism, Part II: A Case Study of Jaws,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 79 (February
1993): 61–81.

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49 Lawrence Grossberg, “Marxist Dialectics and Rhetorical Criticism,” Quarterly Journal of
Speech 65 (October 1979): 235–49; Lawrence Grossberg, “Is There Rock after Punk?” Critical
Studies in Mass Communication 3 (March 1986): 50–73; and Lawrence Grossberg, “Cultural
Studies and/in New Worlds,” Critical Studies in Mass Communication 10 (March 1993): 1–22.

50 Celeste Michelle Condit, “Hegemony in a Mass-Mediated Society: Concordance about Repro-
ductive Technologies,” Critical Studies in Mass Communication 11 (September 1994): 205–30;
and Celeste Michelle Condit, “The Rhetorical Limits of Polysemy,” Critical Studies in Mass
Communication 6 (June 1989): 103–22.

51 See, for example, Dana L. Cloud, Control and Consolation in American Politics and Culture
Rhetorics of Therapy (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1998); Dana L. Cloud, “Hegemony or Concor-
dance? The Rhetoric of Tokenism in Oprah Winfrey’s Rags-to-Riches Biography,” Critical Stud-
ies in Mass Communication 13 (June 1996): 115–37; “‘To Veil the Threat of Terror’: Afghan
Women and the <Clash of Civilizations> in the Imagery of the U.S. War on Terrorism,” Quar-
terly Journal of Speech 90 (August 2004): 285–306; and Dana L. Cloud, “The Rhetoric of <Fam-
ily Values>: Scapegoating, Utopia, and the Privatization of Social Responsibility,” Western
Journal of Communication 62 (Fall 1998): 387–419.

52 Joshua Gunn and Shaun Treat, “Zombie Trouble: A Propaedeutic on Ideological Subjectifica-
tion and the Unconscious,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 91 (May 2005): 144–74.

53 This vocabulary and method were developed by Marla Kanengieter. See Marla R. Kanengieter,
“Message Formation from Architecture: A Rhetorical Analysis,” Diss. University of Oregon
1990; and Sonja K. Foss and Marla R. Kanengieter, “Visual Communication in the Basic
Course,” Communication Education 41 (July 1992): 312–23.

54 This analysis of the Humana Building is from Foss and Kanengieter, “Visual Communication.”
55 Foss and Kanengieter, “Visual Communication,” 317.
56 Sonja K. Foss, “Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party: Empowering of Women’s Voice in Visual Art,”

in Women Communicating: Studies of Women’s Talk, ed. Barbara Bate and Anita Taylor (Nor-
wood, NJ: Ablex, 1988), 17.

57 Dara R. Krause, See Vang, and Shonagh L. Brent, “Americanizing Gay Parents: A Feminist
Analysis of Daddy’s Roommate,” in Sonja K. Foss, Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration & Practice,
3rd ed. (Long Grove, IL: Waveland, 2004), 185.

58 Derek T. Buescher and Kent A. Ono, “Civilized Colonialism: Pocahontas as Neocolonial Rheto-
ric,” Women’s Studies in Communication 19 (Summer 1996): 147, 151.

59 Stephen A. King, “Memory, Mythmaking, and Museums: Constructive Authenticity and the
Primitive Blues Subject,” Southern Communication Journal 71 (September 2006): 247–48.

60 Andrew F. Wood, “Managing the Lady Managers: The Shaping of Heterotopian Spaces in the
1893 Chicago Exposition’s Woman’s Building,” Southern Communication Journal 69 (Summer
2004): 289, 290.

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Greg Dickinson, Brian L. Ott, and Eric Aoki

The story of the American frontier is a foundational myth. It both reveals how Ameri-

cans view themselves as “Americans” and informs the actions they take on a local and
global stage (Slotkin, 1992, p. 10). Like all national (hi)stories, it is a dynamic myth, adapting
to the demands of an age and the psychological needs of those who would tell the story as
their own. It is a story that first began to be told in the eighteenth century, and one that took
on particular importance in the late nineteenth century when Frederick Jackson Turner
(1994) first read his paper, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” to an audi-
ence of nearly 200 historians gathered in Chicago during the World’s Columbian Exhibition:

Up to our own day American history has been in large degree the history of colonization
of the Great West. The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the
advance of American settlement westward, explain American development. (p. 31)

But it was another figure of that time, William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody, who popular-
ized the story of the frontier. Born in Iowa territory in 1846, William Cody was many
things—a frontiersman, civilian scout, Pony Express rider, and hunting guide. He did not
become a well-known public figure, however, until the early 1870s when pulp novelist Ned
Buntline transformed Cody into the legendary hero, Buffalo Bill. The dime novel press was
a key force in fostering national and international interest in the West (Kasson, 2000, p.
201), and “more dime store novels were written about ‘Buffalo Bill’ than any other western
character” (Sorg, 1998, p. xiii). Had Buffalo Bill remained merely a colorful character in
dime novel fiction, then the history of the West may have been remembered very differ-
ently than it was for much of the twentieth century.

But Cody was an entrepreneur. Recognizing the public’s appetite for narratives of
Western settlement, especially those involving clashes with Indian “savages,” he embraced
the image of Buffalo Bill and “re-created himself as a walking icon” (White, 1994, p. 11). In
1883, Cody launched a carnivalesque arena show known as Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, which
blended his life experiences with the exploits of his mythic alter ego, Buffalo Bill, into a
master narrative of the frontier. “Fact” and “fiction” became indistinguishable (Slotkin,
1992, pp. 81–82). Although the images of the frontier it presented were highly selective,
dramatized, and romanticized, “the Wild West . . . seemed like an invitation into living his-
tory” (Buffalo Bill Museum, 1995, p. 31). A renowned storyteller and showman, Cody “never
referred to his Wild West as a show” (White, 1994, p. 7), and audiences in the United States
and Europe saw the Wild West as a serious attempt to tell the history of the West (Slotkin,
1992, pp. 67–68). By the time it ended its run in 1913, “Buffalo Bill was the most famous
American of his time” (Tompkins, 1992, p. 179) and he “typified the Wild West to more peo-
ple in more parts of the world than any other person” (Lamar, 1977, p. 230).

In telling the story of the frontier, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West “defined the quintessential
American hero” (Buffalo Bill Museum, 1995, p. 28) and brought “the essence of the American
West to the world” (Treasures, 1992, p. 8). With its dramatic images of untamed lands and

From Western Journal of Communication 69, no. 2 (2005): 85–108. Used by permission of Taylor and Francis and
the authors.

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cowboy heroes, frontier mythology is distinctly Anglo and “American” in character, for as
Will Wright (2001) asserts, the White “cowboy represents the American idea, not just Ameri-
can history” (p. 2). Over the past half century, both the stories of the frontier and the key sites
in which those stories are told have changed, but the frontier myth has remained a vital part
of U.S. national identity (Wright, p. 10). To gain a richer understanding of how the frontier
myth is constructed in contemporary U.S. culture, we turn to the Buffalo Bill Historical Cen-
ter (BBHC) and more particularly the Buffalo Bill Museum (BBM). The BBM is, we believe,
especially well suited for examining memory, myth, and their intersection, both because of
its significance as a museum of Western history and its particular connection to Buffalo Bill.

It is difficult to contest the importance of the BBHC as a key site in the construction of
public memory regarding the “Old West.” Composed of five internationally acclaimed
museums (The Buffalo Bill Museum, Whitney Gallery of Western Art, The Plains Indian
Museum, The Cody Firearms Museum, and The Draper Museum of Natural History), the
Center encompasses over 300,000 square feet, making it the largest history and art museum
between Minneapolis and the West Coast. Once described by author James Michener as
“The Smithsonian of the West” (Buffalo Bill Historical Center, 2001, p. 4), the BBHC “is
widely regarded as this country’s finest western museum” (Visitor’s guide). Although the
whole complex certainly deserves analysis, the Center’s size and complexity constrain
what can be adequately addressed in one journal paper. More importantly, Buffalo Bill and
the museum dedicated to his life provide the authorial voice for the entire Center and acti-
vate the central narrative of the frontier in constructing a national identity. Therefore, our
analysis focuses on only the Buffalo Bill Museum, which establishes the narrative form of
the Center and addresses many of the rhetorical issues raised by the BBHC as a whole.
Based on its rhetorical invitations to collective memory and national identity, we argue that
the Buffalo Bill Museum privileges images of Whiteness and masculinity, while using the
props, films, and posters of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West to carnivalize the violent conflicts
between Anglo Americans and Native Americans.

In order to illustrate this claim, we first briefly outline the history of the museum itself.
We then chart the material and symbolic ways that history museums function as rhetorical
invitations to collective memory and national identity. Third, we move to an analysis of the
Buffalo Bill Museum and to the specific ways it privileges Whiteness and masculinity, and
carnivalizes the violent colonization of the West. Finally, we reflect upon what an analysis
of the BBM suggests, not only about the construction of a particular nationalized myth, but
also about the roles that White masculinity and carnivalized violence play in that myth.

The Building of the Buffalo Bill Museum
Although we do not wish to perpetuate an intentional fallacy, briefly tracing the his-

tory of the Buffalo Bill Museum and Buffalo Bill Historical Center can help clarify the ideo-
logical and economic forces that shaped the construction and function of the museum. The
Buffalo Bill Museum started as little more than a local institution. Housed in a small log
building designed as a replica of William Cody’s TE ranch house (just outside of Cody,
Wyoming), the museum was an odd collection of Buffalo Bill and Western memorabilia,
taxidermied animals, historic firearms, the putative scalp of Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hair,
and a display of locally produced art (Nicholas, 2002, p. 449).

From the very beginning, however, the founders of the museum had national aspira-
tions. By 1924, sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (an heir to significant fortunes) had
purchased better land for the museum (adjacent to the original Buffalo Bill Museum and

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site of the current complex), built a Buffalo Bill memorial sculpture (The Scout), and trans-
ported it to Cody using her own money (Bartlett, 1992, pp. 46–53). Her initial gift was val-
ued at $50,000. However, this gift was dwarfed by the support of William Robertson Coe,
who became the institution’s most important Eastern supporter (Bartlett, 1992, pp. 117–
118). Born and raised in England, Coe believed that Americans took their traditions for
granted (Nicholas, 2002, p. 450). Coe focused his attention and considerable financial
resources to educate Americans in these traditions, and he saw the Buffalo Bill Museum as
a powerful site for this pedagogy. Located in the heart of Wyoming, a state that Coe
believed was still “fresh with the pioneer spirit” (quoted in Nicholas, 2002, p. 452), the Buf-
falo Bill Museum could “tell the deep cultural stories about the West” (Nicolas, 2002, p.
459). Further funding for building the Buffalo Bill Museum itself came through the sale of
Buffalo Bill commemorative rifles built by Winchester, which was owned at the time by
John Olin. On the market in the late 1960s, the rifles were priced at $129.95 with $5.00 per
rifle going to the BBM. Revenue from the sales of the rifles totaled approximately $825,000,
enough to build the BBM wing of the Center.1

This short history of the funding and the building of the Buffalo Bill Museum raises
three important issues. First, by the late 1950s and 1960s, the BBM was designed as an edu-
cational institution, a purpose that is reflected today in the institution’s mission statement:
“The Buffalo Bill Historical Center is a museum that educates the public by advancing
knowledge about the American West through acquiring, preserving, exhibiting and inter-
preting collections” (J. Hedderman, personal communication, March 8, 2004). Second, sup-
porters’ interests in the museum were primarily national, not local, in scope. The museum
was designed to attract audiences from across the nation, and the representations in the
museum narrate a story of national significance.2 Finally, the museum’s location in Wyo-
ming was and is crucial both to its pedagogical mission and its growth into a nationally
recognized institution (Nicholas, 2002, pp. 439, 449). As Bartlett (1992) asserts, “the Histori-
cal Center is devoted to the history of the American West, and perhaps no other region in
the United States is still so untarnished by modern times, still so genuinely western” (p. 4).
The BBHC also interacts with other major sites of memory including Mount Rushmore and
the uncompleted Crazy Horse Memorial. Like the BBHC, these memorials draw on and
reinforce a discourse of heroism as modes narrating, or, in the case of the Crazy Horse
Memorial, resisting the story of the nation (Blair & Michael, 2004). The Buffalo Bill
Museum, then, serves as a pedagogical site, working to teach its visitors about the Old
West and in so doing inculcating a particular vision not only of “the West” but also of what
it means to be American. As a social and educational institution, the museum offers, in
Benson and Anderson’s (1989) terms, constructed and thus structured invitations to mean-
ing (p. 3). The purpose of this paper is to explore these structured invitations.3 We turn now
to the ways by which museums create these invitations.

History Museums, Public Memory, and National Identity
History museums are a popular way for U.S. Americans to engage the past, and more

importantly, they are perceived by the public to be the most trustworthy source of informa-
tion about the past (Rosenzweig & Thelen, 1998, p. 21). In interviews conducted by Rosen-
zweig and Thelen (1998), individuals expressed a belief that history museums provide
relatively unmediated access to the past—a judgment that does not appear to vary by sex,
ethnicity, or class (p. 21). The artifacts, images, and narratives of the museum are under-
stood to be “real” and thus reliable markers of the past. Finally, museum visitors feel par-

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ticularly connected to the past when visiting museums (Rosenzweig & Thelen, pp. 19–21).
As pedagogical institutions, then, history museums are compelling sites.

The perceived truthfulness of history museums, as well as their size, scope, and com-
plexity, pose unique challenges for rhetorical critics (Armada, 1998, p. 235). However, such
critics, who have increasingly turned their attention to the material spaces of memory
(Blair & Michael, 1999; Blair, Jeppeson, & Pucci, 1991; Dickinson, 1997; Gallagher, 1995,
1999; Hasian, 2004; Katriel, 1994), are well positioned to understand the suasory force of his-
tory museums. Rhetorical critics bring an understanding of the interaction between texts
and audiences to these sites. Historians have the tools to argue about the factual accuracy
of museums (Loewen, 1999), art critics and art historians can evaluate artifacts in the
appropriate aesthetic contexts (Dubin, 1999; Fryd, 1992), and scholars in American Studies
are equipped to trace the political and economic forces in creating museums (Nicholas,
2002). Scholars of rhetoric, by contrast, consistently point to the ways that museums make
claims on audiences (Armada, 1998; Gallagher, 1995, 1999). Rhetoric’s concern with textual
invitations therefore turns our attention to the ways material sites engage audiences in com-
pelling historical narratives. Since our focus is on these material expressions, our aim in
this section is to identify the three primary rhetorical practices of history museums: collect-
ing, exhibiting, and (re)presenting.

First and foremost, museums engage in the practice of collecting. Exhibit curators

seek, locate, archive, preserve, and ultimately legitimate certain artifacts (both material and
discursive) and not others (Gaither, 1992, p. 61). Since museums “constantly select and dis-
card from the limitless realm of material memory” (Crane, 2000, p. 9), the appeal to mem-
ory is always selective, incomplete, and partial. To be collected means to be valued, and, in
the case of museums, it means to be valued institutionally (Kavanagh, 1996, p. 6; Zelizer,
1995, p. 224). The BBM’s collection of domestic artifacts from Cody’s family life as well as
its collection of Wild West artifacts selectively values certain elements of Cody’s history,
namely his status as a born Westerner and as an author of Western history. However,
through exclusion, the practice of collecting also erases elements of Cody’s life and the his-
tory of the West. History museums are, therefore, sites of both remembering and forgetting
(Kavanagh, p. 6). In functioning as sites of forgetting, museums have the potential to
cleanse, absolve, or relieve visitors of painful, conflictual histories. Traditionally, history
museums have collected primarily material artifacts, which, unlike oral discourse, anchor
the transient character of memory (Blair, 1999, pp. 30–50; Nora, 1989, p. 13; Zelizer, p. 232).
Objects are not simply representations of the past, they are concrete fragments of the past,
and thus they solidify memory, asserting that this particular past really happened; objects
stand as embodied testaments to a particular memory (Rosenzweig & Thelen, 1998, p. 21).
It is vital, therefore, that critics attend to the materiality of museums, and to the precise
ways that visitors experience and interact with tangible artifacts.

In addition to collecting, museums are engaged in the practice of exhibiting—of situat-

ing, locating, and (re)contextualizing artifacts in actual spaces. “Space has always helped
define the boundaries of memory” (Zelizer, 1995, p. 223), and the spatial location of the
museum as well as the placement of objects and testimonials within the museum work to ori-
ent visitors toward the past in particular ways (Hutton, 1993, p. 78). First is the matter of site
specificity, which deals with the relation between the site of the gallery and the space uncon-

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fined by the gallery. Museums are fashioned by the contents and materials of their physical
locations, be they industrial or “natural” (Suderburg, 2000, p. 4), and thus it matters where
memory is activated. Museums are constitutive elements in a larger landscape, a landscape
that, as Blair and Michael (1999) argue, offers “rules for reading” the museum and offers spe-
cific subject positions for visitors (pp. 58–59). As we have already suggested, the BBM’s loca-
tion in Wyoming is central both to its existence and to its pedagogical force. Upon entering
the museum, visitors are already prepared to learn the lessons of the conquering of the West.

A second concern with exhibition is that of installation, which refers to the practice of
placing an artifact in the “neutral” void of a gallery or museum. In removing an artifact
from its original context, the placement of artifacts within a museum necessarily alters their
meanings (Armada, 1998, p. 236; Maleuvre, 1999, p. 1). In a museum, an artifact’s meaning
is shaped by how the visitor arrives at it, by how movement through the museum is orga-
nized and directed (Bennett, 1995, pp. 180–186), and by the associations and dissociations
fostered by juxtaposition with and proximity to other artifacts (Crane, 2000, p. 4; Suder-
burg, 2000, p. 5). As our analysis of the BBM suggests, the order of the exhibition creates a
certain epistemology of the site, providing visitors with reading strategies to help decode
the meanings as they move through the space. Regardless of how the visitors begin their
visit in the BBM, they experience artifacts of Buffalo Bill’s “real” life first. Visitors necessar-
ily attend to Buffalo Bill’s career as a showman only after learning that Buffalo Bill was a
“real hero,” and that this personal history served as the foundation in creating the Wild
West. The ordering of the museum, then, asserts that the story Buffalo Bill tells in his Wild
West, and, by extension, the story the BBM tells, is but a telling of the way it really was.

(Re)presenting constitutes the third key practice of museums. Through their various

modes of display, museum curators and designers interpret artifacts and render them
meaningful. The (re)presentational strategies of museums vary greatly from curiosity cabi-
nets and life-size, dioramic environments to automated voice-overs and televisual presen-
tations. The placards, curator ’s notes, brochures, and exhibit catalogues scattered
throughout museums further shape the meanings of the artifacts on display. Historically,
the display of artifacts in museums has been about separation, spectacle, and surveillance,
as visitors have “gazed” at artifacts that are preserved and protected behind rope barriers
and glass walls (Bennett, 1995, pp. 59–86). Increasingly, however, museums seeking to fos-
ter “lived experience” with artifacts have featured fully immersive, interactive environ-
ments. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, for example,
seeks to “encourage its visitors to reflect upon the moral and spiritual questions raised by
the events of the Holocaust as well as their own responsibilities as citizens of a democracy”
(Mission statement) by having visitors adopt the personas of Holocaust victims and survi-
vors as they move through the museum. Using simulated environments, modern museums
often claim to deliver visitors a more “authentic” experience of history.

Through the intersecting practices of collecting, exhibiting, and (re)presenting, his-
tory museums construct a story of the past—a story that is, above all, about “identities of
people in the present” (Armada, 1998, p. 235), about “defining who people are and how
they should act” (Karp, 1994, p. 4). As key civic and public institutions, argue Appadurai
and Breckenridge (1992), “museums . . . represent national identities both at home and
abroad [and] . . . serve as ways in which national and international publics learn about
themselves and others” (p. 44). Museums of Western history—drawing on the centrality of
the West to define America and utilizing the rhetorical power of history museums more

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generally—are among the most important sites in constructing, disseminating, and main-
taining national identity, as well as in reminding us what it means to be “American.”
Understanding how history museums promote “social unity” (Bodnar, 1992, p. 13) even as
they struggle to be sensitive to and reflexive about our cultural differences is the task of
the next section.

Whiteness, Masculinity, and the
Carnivalization of Violence in the Buffalo Bill Museum

Our analysis of the BBM is based on two weekend-long visits, one in 2002 and one in
2003. The three of us spent well over 20 hours each in the BBHC, devoting much of that
time to our exploration of the BBM. During our time in the museums, we took photographs
of the exhibits, collected documents provided by the institution, visited the on-site
archives, and took extensive notes of our observations about the space and the ways the
space was used by visitors. We have drawn on e-mail and phone conversations with Josie
Hedderman, an administrator of the BBHC, as well as utilized Richard Bartlett’s (1992)
book From Cody to the World published by the BBHC, the BBHC website, and the Center’s
pamphlets for background information about the institution. In what follows we employ
first person narrative of our first visit in portions of our analysis to emphasize the ways
traveling to and through the museum influences the rhetorical force of the site.

Cody, Wyoming, and the BBHC are located near the center of the 10,000 square miles
that compose the Big Horn Basin. For most visitors, travel to the BBHC takes a significant
commitment of time and effort. Indeed, our own initial trip conditioned our experience of
the Center. We first traveled to the Buffalo Bill Museum from Fort Collins, Colorado, in
April of 2002. After seven hours of travel by car, we found ourselves in the middle of Wyo-
ming and deep in the heart of the West. The farther northwest we journeyed along State
Route 120, the fewer signs of “civilization” we encountered. By the time we had passed
through two consecutive towns with populations of 10, the landscape appeared to us as
vast, barren, and uninterrupted (Figure 1). Encompassing nearly 98,000 square miles, Wyo-
ming is geographically the ninth largest state in the country (Profile of general ) but has the
smallest population of any U.S. state. Surrounded on all sides by open range, the partially
clouded sky stretched a seemingly endless distance in every direction. In describing her
own response to this landscape Jane Tompkins (1992) writes:

It is environment inimical to human beings, where a person is exposed, the sun beats
down, and there is no place to hide. But the negations of the physical setting—no shel-
ter, no water, no rest, no comfort—are also its siren song. Be brave, be strong enough to
endure this, it says, and you will become like this—hard, austere, sublime. (p. 71)

Like Tompkins’ response to the Wyoming plains, our understanding of this landscape as
“the West” is already culturally informed. For over 100 years, Wyoming has served as a
central symbol in thinking about the West. In the late nineteenth century, painters and nov-
elists like Fredric Remington and Owen Wister declared Wyoming the “last stronghold of
Anglo-Saxon America” (Nicholas, 2002, p. 439). These images articulate powerfully with
the larger “Myth of the Frontier,” which asserts:

the conquest of the wilderness and the subjugation or displacement of the Native
Americans who originally inhabited it have been the means to our achievement of a
national identity, a democratic polity, an ever-expanding economy, and a phenomenally
dynamic and “progressive” civilization. (Slotkin, 1992, p. 10)

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In the late nineteenth century, Buffalo Bill, Wyoming’s most famous resident, became the
ideal embodiment of the frontier hero (Slotkin, pp. 75–76). However, Cody’s death did not
mark the end of this myth. Indeed, the myth is replayed throughout the twentieth century,
and as we will see, serves as a motivating narrative structure of the BBM. The repetition of
the myth in movies, novels, and political discourse structures our experience of traveling to
Cody and the museum.

On our first visit to the Center during the last weekend of April 2002, it was bitterly
cold and snow was falling lightly. As we approached the complex, we noticed a large
bronze statue of a horse and rider flanking the Center on an adjoining hill. Closer inspec-
tion revealed that the impressive 12 ft. 5 in. sculpture was of Buffalo Bill Cody (Figure 2),
posed in “his historic role as a scout, bending down to read the trail while signaling with
his rifle” (Treasures, 1992, p. 13). The location of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s Buffalo
Bill—The Scout allows its heroic figure to survey the adjacent valley and mountain range.
The statue captures what, at some level, visitors already know—that they are in cowboy
country, in Buffalo Bill’s territory, which he austerely oversees with his gaze and gun. We
wanted to study the statue more closely, but the cold was unbearable and we proceeded
quickly to the Center’s entrance. There, a second, and yet very different, statue of Buffalo
Bill greeted us (Figure 3). With gun draped casually at his side, Cody tips his hat as if wel-
coming visitors into his home. Although the BBHC houses five “separate” museums, the
statues of Cody outside the Center are the first and most obvious of many signs that the
story visitors will hear is Cody’s to tell. He is both its narrator and chief protagonist.

Having been introduced to the institution’s narrator, we entered the BBHC. The space
immediately inside the Center, like the landscape that surrounds it, is expansive and airy.
After paying our $15 admission fee, we found ourselves standing in the center of the “Ori-

Figure 1

Photographs in Figures 1–8 by Brian L. Ott.

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Figure 2

Figure 3

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entation Gallery,” facing a family of bison grazing on tall range grass (Figure 4). The taxi-
dermied animals are made to appear “natural,” to conceal any human activity and agency
in their preservation. As the sole artifact in the Orientation Gallery, the bison perform an
important orienting function. They serve to “naturalize” the story that is just now begin-
ning to unfold, to guarantee that the people and events visitors will learn about were sim-
ply colorful features of the landscape and inevitable stages in the natural “development” of
the West. Father, mother, and calf affirm a “natural” history of the West, one of life cycles,
seasonal change, and uncorrupted states. The bison obscure the fact that art, whether taxi-
dermied or classical, “is not [only] nature but nature existing by and for humans” (Maleu-
vre, 1999, p. 214). In the accompanying placard, culture is further subordinated to nature,
“The West is a land of symbols: the cowboy, the warrior of the plains, the horse and the six
shooter. But perhaps no more representative symbol of the West exists than the American
bison, commonly known as the buffalo.” This installation functions mythically to trans-
form, as Barthes (1972) argues, “history into nature” (p. 129). The bison, already coded as
natural, are stripped of their historical importance as sustenance for Plains Indians and,
just as tellingly, are stripped of the history of their violent demise. To dispel any remaining
doubt left open by the image of the installation, the placard discursively transforms the
bison from their place in historical conflicts into nothing more (or less) than a “symbol of
the West.”

As symbolically important as the buffalo are, even more important is Buffalo Bill and
the museum dedicated to his/story. The Buffalo Bill Museum is brightly lit with incandes-
cent and florescent fixtures recessed in the ceiling and the displays. Its space functions rhe-
torically, like Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, “[to] put the epic western experience into an orderly
narrative.” The museum is divided into four parts, the Cody Family Room, Local History
Room, Wild West Room, and Young Buffalo Bill. That these four “independent” exhibits

Figure 4

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work to tell a coherent, well-ordered story is evident from the outset. Upon entering the
museum, visitors are greeted by a large image of Buffalo Bill in full vaquero stage outfit,
sharing his story with eight captivated children huddled on his lap and at his feet (Figure
5). This same image introduces the BBM in the Treasures from Our West (1992) catalogue (p.
9) sold at the gift shop, and a nearly identical image graces the cover of the Center’s Visitor’s
Guide. The poster of Buffalo Bill suggests visually what the accompanying placard confirms
discursively—that the story is Cody’s to tell. “Buffalo Bill,” the placard reads, “is perhaps
best remembered as a storyteller. The story he told—through his life and his show—was
heard by millions in America and abroad. To many of the children and grandchildren of
those who saw him, Buffalo Bill is the Wild West” (italics original). In subtly shifting from
his role as narrator (“as a storyteller”) to his role as participant, as real life Western figure
(“through his life and show”), the placard lends credence and authenticity to Cody’s his-
tory.4 Moreover, the closing phrase (“Buffalo Bill is the Wild West”) functions synecdochi-
cally to suggest that Cody’s story is not simply a history, but the history of the West.

The first exhibit, the Cody Family Room, exercises a similar authorizing function. It
showcases an array of furniture and personal items from Cody’s home in North Platte,
Nebraska. The various artifacts from Cody’s home materially document his life on the
frontier and guarantee that his story of the West is grounded in lived experience. The loca-
tion of this exhibit prior to the Wild West Room is significant as it frames how visitors come
to the showman stage of his life. The spatial layout symbolically suggests that Cody is a
Westerner first and that his life as a Westerner is the basis for the (hi)story told in his Wild
West “show.”

In addition to grounding history in lived experience, the Family Room is important
because of its definition of family. By unreflectively exhibiting Cody’s home as an arche-
typal example of “frontier life,” the family room naturalizes Whiteness as the invisible cen-

Figure 5

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ter of that life. As there is an entire museum at the BBHC dedicated to the “cultural
backgrounds, traditions, values, and histories” of the Plains Indians (Visitor’s Guide), it is
tempting to dismiss this critique. Locating the culture of the Plains Indians in a separate
museum, apart from a generic history of the frontier, however, is precisely the installation
practice that decenters the American Indian. The Plains Indian Museum claims to reflect a
particular set of cultural experiences, while the Buffalo Bill Museum—although utterly
silent about its White ethnic bias—claims, according to the membership brochure, to repre-
sent the “culture of the Western frontier” (We’re Making History). This exclusion of Native
Americans from the narrative of Anglo American history is typical of Western histories
(Lake, 1991, pp. 124–125; Morris & Wander, 1990, pp. 165–166). Indeed, with the frontier
myth, Native Americans serve as the “savage” opposite to Anglo Americans’ “civilization”
and culture (Slotkin, 1992, pp. 14–16).

Situated between the Cody Family Room exhibit and the Wild West exhibit is the Local
History Room. On our visit, this room was filled with a collection of contemporary “West-
ern” furniture created by local artisans and furniture makers. The spatial movement
through these three exhibits, then, follows a past, present, past temporal structure. The
interruption of the past by the present did not seem odd to any of us as we moved through
the BBM, and none of us commented on it during our visit. The West of the present seemed
to “fit right in line” with the West of the past—its bulky, rustic, natural all-wood furniture
indicating the same strength and ruggedness of character suggested by the artifacts in the
Cody Family Room. The movement from past to present to past again is virtually seamless
and suggests that the qualities embodied in the artifacts of the Local History Room are a
product of place, not time. The West, visitors are told, is timeless, and its unchanging land-
scape promises a certain (stereo)type of hero.5 Judging by the accompanying surnames, the
furniture in the Local History Room was created exclusively by artisans of European
descent and reflects a collecting practice that, once again, treats White ethnic identity as the
invisible norm in Western culture. The exhibit’s relative location in the Buffalo Bill
Museum as well as its unreflective treatment of White culture as Western culture extends
and confirms the story of Western life introduced by the Cody Family Room—a story that
begins with and is centered on White Western settlement. The Native American is, thus far,
altogether absent from the museum’s history of the frontier. Beginning the story when and
as it does functions rhetorically to reaffirm “settlement” myths by treating the land as unoc-
cupied and untamed prior to the arrival of (White) frontiersmen. The Plains Indians come
onto the scene only after museum visitors are introduced to typical (read as White and
patriarchal) frontier life, and even then they are represented not as an indigenous people
but as one of the “novelties” and “challenges” faced by early settlers.

Since the stated purpose of the Buffalo Bill Museum is “to interpret his [Cody’s] story
in the context of the history and myth of the American West,” and since “Indians were
vital” in Cody’s own “master narrative of the West,” it is worth noting that the first and
only images of American Indians that visitors encounter in the BBM are in the third exhibit,
the Wild West Room. The relegation of Native Americans to the Wild West exhibit suggests
that, for the museum, they are peripheral to the history of the American frontier and con-
structs them primarily as objects of spectacle and entertainment, as an exoticized ethnic
Other. The representation of cowboys and Indians in the Wild West exhibit is intriguing
because it perpetuates many of the same stereotypes and images as Buffalo Bill’s Wild
West, even as it carnivalizes the show’s foundational trope—that of Indian/White vio-
lence.6 To better understand this partial homology, it is necessary to examine the exhibit’s
collection and display of artifacts and contrast them with the images and discourses from

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Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. The Wild West Room is composed of three types of museum arti-
facts: costumes and props from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, a short video of historical footage
from the show, and a collection of promotional posters for it.

The Wild West exhibit features an impressive array of costumes and props from Buf-
falo Bill’s actual Wild West (which itself claimed to be presenting the actual history of the
West). Visitors are invited to peruse show-related items such as costumes, saddles, and fire-
arms. Accompanied by short identifying placards and photographs of Cody in costume
(Figure 6), the artifacts in this portion of the exhibit are largely decontextualized. The
fringed and beaded buckskin shirts and broad Stetson hats reproduce the (stereo)typical
image of the cowboy found widely in popular culture. By tapping into popular images of
the cowboy—images that were shaped significantly by Cody’s theatrical attire—the cos-
tumes serve to affirm Cody’s authenticity as a cowboy (Kasson, 2000, p. 40). Completing
the familiar image of the cowboy is a collection of firearms from the show, including Wil-
liam “Doc” Carver’s Colt .45 revolver and Annie Oakley’s Winchester .32 rifle.7 Absent
from the exhibit and its history of the frontier is any discussion or analysis of the role fire-
arms played in the slaughter of the buffalo or in the violent conflicts between American
Indians and Whites. Instead, the firearms gesture to the sharp-shooting skills of individu-
als like Doc Carver and Annie Oakley, reducing guns to objects of play and aesthetics.

Among the most impressive artifacts from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West is the stagecoach
(Figure 7) purchased by Cody from the Cheyenne and Black Hills stage line in 1883 to por-
tray Indian stagecoach raids. In Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, the “Attack on the Stagecoach”
was one of the many popular skits that told of Indian aggression, White female victimiza-
tion, and male heroism (White, 1994, p. 27), but the museum does not comment on the
political implications of how the stagecoach was used in the show. In failing to contextual-

Figure 6

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ize its artifacts or to problematize the Wild West’s version of history, the Wild West exhibit
perpetuates the show’s stereotypical image of the cowboy, while repressing the violence
that was a central feature of the show. The Wild West exhibit draws, then, on the narrative
of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West as its founding story, while the Wild West itself is a founding
narrative of the West that continues to haunt U.S. imagination, a narrative simply rein-
forced by the museum itself (Slotkin, 1992, pp. 81–82).

The only components of the Wild West exhibit in which Indian/White violence is
explicitly (re)presented are the Wild West film and promotional posters for the show. In
both instances, the images of violence are sparse and heavily coded as “entertainment.”
The video is a short, black-and-white film of actual footage from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. It
plays continuously on a small television monitor situated in front of several rows of cush-
ioned benches inside a mock arena canopy. The canopy bears a striking resemblance to the
large image of a Wild West “tent” in a nearby display case and furnishes the space with a
carnival atmosphere. The images are grainy and unsteady, giving the film a nostalgic, but
clumsy, feel. Thus, the footage of an Indian-led attack on a stagecoach and the passengers’
eventual rescue by Buffalo Bill is almost humorous. The image does not, by contemporary
standards, seem particularly violent or realistic, and the assemblage of the performers,
both “cowboys and Indians,” at the end of the film reminds viewers of its fictional nature.

Several of the promotional posters for the show also depict clashes between Native
Americans and Whites, but the depictions are cartoonish in style and do not invite serious
reflection on the actual violence that characterized westward expansion. Promotional post-
ers for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West are the most prevalent artifacts in the Wild West exhibit, and
in some cases, fill an entire wall (Figure 8), but there is no explanation in the museum of

Figure 7

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what relation the images in the posters bear to history and myth. With no discourse to con-
textualize the images in the posters, visitors learn more about advertising of the time than
about Indian/White relations. In fact, the sole placard dedicated to Wild West posters
focuses on the role of posters in nineteenth-century advertising and the process of stone
lithography used to print them. The placard structures the visual images into a story of
progress both of technology and of advertising. The slim possibilities for oppositional read-
ings of the White/Native American relationships are displaced into the realm of “enter-
tainment” and into a discourse of technological and economic development.

The artifacts, video, and posters in the Wild West exhibit operate as simulacra. They
are images that materially testify only to another set of images (that is, Buffalo Bill’s Wild
West) for which there is no historical referent. But with no reflection on Buffalo Bill’s his-
tory of the frontier as told through his Wild West, the engulfing presence of genuine, tangi-
ble, precious, historical artifacts fosters the appearance of “real” history. The near endless
photographs of Buffalo Bill, along with the meticulous preservation and thus celebration of
his clothing, riding equipment, and firearms, obscures the fact that “Buffalo Bill” is himself
a fictional, popularly manufactured image of the cowboy. So, by the time visitors reach the
final exhibit in the Buffalo Bill Museum, Buffalo Bill seems more real than William Cody
and it matters not that Cody’s experiences as a Pony Express Rider and Civil War private in
the Seventh Kansas Volunteer Cavalry are detailed in an exhibit titled “Young Buffalo Bill.”
Although the experiences and events recounted in this exhibit precede Cody’s creation of
the Wild West arena show, the Young Buffalo Bill exhibit temporally follows the Wild West
exhibit in the museum. As visitors near the exit of the BBM, this historical reversal func-
tions to remind them that Buffalo Bill was not simply a showman, but that he was also a
genuine Western hero.8 It is here, for instance, that visitors learn Cody was awarded the
Congressional Medal of Honor for valor.

Figure 8

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There is a sense in which the Cody Family Room and Young Buffalo Bill function for
the BBM in the same way as “real” artifacts of the West functioned in Buffalo Bill’s Wild
West. In both cases, the authenticity of the artifacts in these exhibits asserts the authenticity
of Buffalo Bill as hero and narrator of the West. Both the Wild West and contemporary his-
tory museums, including the BBM, garner their trustworthiness in similar ways. Visitors
are positioned as though they are in the presence of the “real” and unmediated elements of
the past (Rosenzweig & Thelen, 1998, p. 21). The “authenticity” of the BBM, however, is
even more complex than that of the Wild West. For here the artifacts from Cody’s youth
and from his life as a showman are accorded the same kind of historical authenticity. The
stagecoach on exhibit is the “real” stagecoach from the “real” show, a show that claimed
reality based in part on the fact the stagecoach had a pre-show life as a “real” stagecoach.
Visitors, then, engage in both a history of the West and history of the representation of the
West, a representation that relied on the authenticity of its props and its hero as justifica-
tion. The props—already accorded authenticity by Buffalo Bill at the turn of the twentieth
century—are given a double authenticity in the museum: they are, at once, authentic mark-
ers of the real West and authentic props of the Wild West.

These multiplying levels of authenticity and simulacra cover profound absences.
Much of Cody’s life story is not told in this exhibit or the museum, such as his reputation as
an “Indian slayer” beginning at the age of 11 (Carter, 2000, pp. 30–32; Croft-Cooke & Mead-
more, 1952, p. 120; Lamar, 1977, p. 230; Nash, 1992, p. 80; Russell, 1960, pp. 214–235) or his