Chat with us, powered by LiveChat Throughout the quarter you will be tasked with exploring current events, media, social media, and other forms of pop culture to analyze and document in your pop culture journal (you will | WriteDen

Throughout the quarter you will be tasked with exploring current events, media, social media, and other forms of pop culture to analyze and document in your pop culture journal (you will

Please read pages 83-100


Throughout the quarter you will be tasked with exploring current events, media, social media, and other forms of pop culture to analyze and document in your pop culture journal (you will be posting your journal entry to your peer discussion group on Canvas each week it is due, but it may be helpful to keep this is a running document in your own files to add to each week, then copy and paste from your journal onto Canvas). This will give you an opportunity to make connections between what we are learning about in class related to rhetorical/critical frameworks of inquiry and what you are seeing in the world around you, as well as empowering you to explore topics that particularly interest you. Each week that you are assigned a public life journal entry (see course schedule), you should:

  • (1) describe the context of your example (important parts like what this means relative to the historical context and social world, who, what, when, where, why, how etc.)-you may post a picture or a link if that would be helpful
  • (2) clearly connect it to a particular concept, idea, term, theory, method, etc. we are learning about that week (your book can be a helpful guide here)-be sure to label the concept clearly, describe it, and apply it to your chosen example and
  • (3) include and cite at least one reference for your example below your post/entry.

DISCUSSING | 10 Points

You should respond to at least two of your peers' posts. Think of your responses here as what you would comment on in a face-to-face discussion-i.e., parts you found interesting, additional insights or connections you may make, questions that come up, and always lead with a respectful tone. 


Sixth Edition

Barry Brummett

The University of Texas at Austin

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Preface Acknowledgments Part I Theory

Chapter 1 Rhetoric and the Rhetorical Tradition Chapter 2 Rhetoric and Popular Culture Chapter 3 Rhetorical Methods In Critical Studies Chapter 4 Varieties of Rhetorical Criticism: INTERVENTION-Understanding Chapter 5 Varieties of Rhetorical Criticism: UNDERSTANDING–Intervention

Part II Application Chapter 6 Paradoxes of Personalization: Race Relations in Milwaukee Chapter 7 Notes from a Texas Gun Show Chapter 8 Simulational Selves, Simulational Culture in Groundhog Day Chapter 9 Jumping Scale in Steampunk: One Gear Makes You Larger, One Duct Makes You Small Chapter 10 The Bad Resurrection in American Life and Culture

Works Cited Suggested Readings Index About the Author



Preface Acknowledgments Part I Theory

Chapter 1 Rhetoric and the Rhetorical Tradition Definitions and the Management of Power The Rhetorical Tradition: Ancient Greece

The Rise of the City-States: How Democracy Grew Up With Rhetoric Rhetoric in Athens

Plato and the Sophists Two Legacies of the Greek Rhetorical Tradition

Rhetoric Is Conventionally Equated With Traditional Texts Rhetoric Is Paradoxically Linked to Power Management

Definitions of Rhetoric After Plato Rhetoric in the Eighteenth Century New Theories Emerge in the Twentieth Century

Changes in Culture in the Twentieth Century Population Technology Pluralism Knowledge

Managing Power Today in Traditional Texts: Neo-Aristotelian Criticism Summary and Review Looking Ahead

Chapter 2 Rhetoric and Popular Culture The Rhetoric of Everyday Life The Building Blocks of Culture: Signs

Indexical Meaning Iconic Meaning Symbolic Meaning Complexity of the Three Kinds of Meaning

The Building Blocks of Culture: Artifacts An Action, Event, or Object Perceived as a Unified Whole … Having Widely Shared Meanings … Manifesting Group Identifications to Us

Definitions of Culture Elitist Meanings of Culture Popular Meanings of Culture

Characteristics of Cultures Cultures Are Highly Complex and Overlapping Cultures Entail Consciousness, or Ideologies Cultures Are Experienced Through Texts

Four Characteristics of the Texts of Popular Culture Managing Power Today in Texts of Popular Culture Summary and Review Looking Ahead

Chapter 3 Rhetorical Methods in Critical Studies Texts as Sites of Struggle

Texts Influence Through Meanings Texts Are Sites of Struggle Over Meaning

Three Characteristics of Critical Studies The Critical Character

Attitude Method

Concern Over Power Critical Interventionism

Finding a Text The First Continuum: Type of Text


The Second Continuum: Sources of Meanings Defining a Context

The Third Continuum: Choice of Context The Fourth Continuum: Text–Context Relationship

Intertextuality: When the Context Is Another Text “Inside” the Text

The Fifth Continuum: From Surface to Deep Reading Direct Tactics Implied Strategies Structures

The Text in Context: Metonymy, Power, Judgment Metonymies Empowerment/Disempowerment Judgment

Summary and Review Looking Ahead

Chapter 4 Varieties of Rhetorical Criticism: INTERVENTION-Understanding An Introduction to Critical Perspectives Culture-Centered Criticism

Cultures and Their Own Critical Methods Afrocentricity

Unity and Harmony Orality Signifying Other Tenets

Whiteness as a Kind of Culture: Analysis and Examples Marxist Criticism

Materialism, Bases, and Superstructure Economic Metaphors, Commodities, and Signs Preferred and Oppositional Readings Subject Positions Standpoint Theory

Feminist Criticism Varieties of Feminist Criticism How Do Patriarchal Language and Images Perpetuate Inequality?

Language and Images That Denigrate Silencing Lack

How Can Texts Empower Women? Alternative Rhetorical Forms

Queer Theory Analysis and Examples

Summary and Review Chapter 5 Varieties of Rhetorical Criticism: UNDERSTANDING–Intervention

Psychoanalytic Criticism Making Minds and Selves Desire

Visual Rhetorical Criticism Images as Focal Points of Meaning Attribution Images as Focal Points of Collective Memory and Community Point of View

Methods Focused on Story Dramatistic/Narrative Criticism Language as Grounds for Motives

Terministic Screens Teleology

Narrative Genres Comedy and Tragedy The Pentad Analysis and Examples


Media-Centered Criticism What Is a Medium? Media Logic Characteristics of Television as a Medium

Commodification Realism Intimacy

Analysis and Examples Characteristics of Handheld Devices as a Medium

Connective Power Context Mobility

Characteristics of the Computer and Internet as a Medium Fluidity Speed and Control Dispersal

Analysis and Examples Summary and Review Looking Ahead

Part II Application Chapter 6 Paradoxes of Personalization: Race Relations in Milwaukee

The Problem of Personalization The Scene and Focal Events

Problems in the African American Community Violence Against African Americans The School System White Political Attitudes

Tragedy and Metonymy Metonymizing the Tragedies Metonymy and Paradox

The Paradox of Identification Identification and Race Enabling Identification Forestalling Identification The Persistence of Race

The Paradox of Action: The Public and The Personal Personal Action and Loss of Vision The Paradox in Milwaukee African Americans “In Need of Help”

Some Solutions Reciprocal Personalization Metonymizing Yourself Metonymizing Others Resources for Careful Metonymy

Stepping Back From the Critique Chapter 7 Notes from a Texas Gun Show

Texas and Gun Culture At the Gun Show Conclusion

Chapter 8 Simulational Selves, Simulational Culture in Groundhog Day Simulation Simulation and Groundhog Day Conclusion

Chapter 9 Jumping Scale in Steampunk: One Gear Makes You Larger, One Duct Makes You Small

Steampunk and Jumping Scale The Aesthetic of Steampunk Jumping Scale Down Jumping Scale Up

Conclusion Chapter 10 The Bad Resurrection in American Life and Culture


Cancer Terrorism

The Fast and the Furious Movies Halloween and Friday The 13th Movies Conclusion

Works Cited Suggested Readings

Culture-Centered Criticism Marxist Criticism Feminist Rhetorical Criticism Psychoanalytic Criticism Visual Rhetorical Criticism Dramatistic/Narrative Criticism Media-Centered Criticism

Index About the Author



PREFACE Welcome to the sixth edition of Rhetoric in Popular Culture. Here I want to address instructors who may be considering adopting this volume for their courses. This book brings together two vital scholarly traditions: rhetorical criticism and critical studies. There are several good textbooks, either well established or new, that cover rhetorical criticism from a fairly traditional perspective. They focus on the analysis of discursive, reason-giving texts, such as public speeches. On the other hand, there are several good books of critical studies available. Some of the newer textbooks of critical studies are much improved over their predecessors in covering techniques of Marxist, feminist, and other critical approaches in ways that are accessible to students. But there is a need to apply the growing and cutting-edge methods of critical studies to the study of rhetoric and to link these new approaches to the rhetorical tradition. That is what this book tries to do. It sees critical studies as rhetorical criticism, and it argues that the most exciting form of rhetorical criticism today is found in methods of critical studies.

There have been some changes between the fifth and sixth editions, primarily in Part II, the Application sections. Of course, the entire book has been updated in regard to examples from popular culture, which must be done in every edition. Regrettably, even these updates may be a little out of date by the time you see the sixth edition! Examples such as Tom Brady winning the Superbowl with the Buccaneers instead of the Patriots, the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the Capitol, and an expanded discussion of intertextuality in Chapter 3 are a few to note.

Beyond that, the biggest change has been the addition throughout this edition, in every chapter, of a discussion of issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Those issues were in the ffth edition but are much better developed in this new edition. For instance, there is greatly expanded discussion of empowerment and disempowerment in Chapter 3, and white privilege in Chapter 4. Their development is intended to empower teachers and students to explore how those issues work in their own lives, as influenced by popular culture.

I have consistently refused to “dumb down” this textbook despite the occasional appeal to do so, having faith in the ability of today’s undergraduates to wrestle with challenging ideas that are (I hope) clearly explained. I also have faith in you, the instructor, to carry them through it. My approach has been to give you and your students enough information on any given theory or method to help you launch your teaching, but in no case do I pretend or even want to exhaustively cover a topic so that your own intervention is not needed. I have faith that my teaching colleagues will ably fill in whatever gaps I have left. Any textbook should be the beginning of a discussion, not the whole of the discussion, and surely not the end of it. Theory and method need not be scary, and they must not be something distinct from the lives of ordinary people. If our students do not understand challenging ideas, then we have failed them—or possibly they have failed themselves by not trying.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I am grateful to the editorial staff of SAGE, especially Lily Norton, who has been instrumental in bringing this sixth edition of Rhetoric in Popular Culture to fruition. I also want to thank Rachel Keith for a masterful, helpful, and thoroughly professional job of editing the manuscript.

Reviewers for all six editions of the book have been more than helpful, and I want to acknowledge their assistance here.

In preparation of the sixth edition:

Emma Bloomfield (University of Nevada, Las Vegas)

Bryan Crable (Villanova University)

Susan Mackey-Kallis (Villanova University)

Michael McFarland (Stetson University)

Steven Mellin (University of Missouri, Kansas City)

Sarah Scott (Arkansas State University)

In preparation of the fifth edition:

Cori Brewster (Eastern Oregon University)

Ken Corbit (University of Alabama)

Mindy Fenske (University of South Carolina)

Leslie Hahner (Baylor University)

Matthew Meier (West Chester University)

Matthew Petrunia (Fashion Institute of Technology, SUNY)

Patrick Richey Middle (Tennessee State University)

Anne Marie Todd (San Jose State University)

In preparation of the fourth edition:

Mary Elizabeth Bezanson (University of Minnesota, Morris)

Michael L. Butterworth (Bowling Green State University)

Peter Ehrenhaus (Pacific Lutheran University)

Trischa Goodnow (Oregon State University)

Christine Horton (University of Waterloo)

Kristy Maddux (University of Maryland)

Peter Marston (California State University, Northridge)


Theresa Russell-Loretz (Millersville University)

In preparation of the third edition:

Donathan L. Brown (Texas A&M University)

John Fritch (University of Northern Iowa)

Yvonne Prather (Austin Peay State University)

Roy Schwartzman (University of North Carolina at Greensboro)

Joseph Zompetti (Illinois State University)

In preparation of the second edition:

Paul E. Bender (Ohio Northern University)

Christy Friend (University of South Carolina)

Donna M. Kowal (The College at Brockport, SUNY)

Michael W. McFarland (Stetson University)

Ronald B. Scott (Miami University)

Deanna D. Sellnow (University of Kentucky)

Donna Strickland (University of Missouri–Columbia)

In preparation of the first edition:

Bruce Herzberg (Bentley University)

Tom Hollihan (University of Southern California)

James F. Klummp (University of Maryland, College Park)

John Llewellyn (Wake Forest University)

Skip Rutledge (Point Loma Nazarene University)

Helen Sterk (Calvin College)

Barbie Zelizer (University of Pennsylvania)

I am grateful to all who have profited from reading previous editions of this book and used it in their own work. Finding references to this textbook elsewhere is always a nice reminder that one’s efforts are making a difference. I am grateful to the many students who have used this book in my classes and in classes taught by others. Taking the principles explained here, they have taught me through their insights about popular culture. I hear often that readers of this book see the world differently; I could ask for no higher thanks or praise.



PART I THEORY In Part I, we learn about the history of the practice and theory of persuasion, which is called rhetoric.

We will see why the rhetoric of popular culture is so important today.






1.1 Explain how definitions manage power throughout history

1.2 Describe the Greek rhetorical tradition

1.3 Summarize the debate between Plato and the Sophists

1.4 Describe our legacy of the rhetorical tradition

1.5 Explain how definitions of rhetoric evolve after Plato

1.6 Explain the important developments in the principles of rhetoric during the eighteenth century

1.7 Explain the important developments in the principles of rhetoric during the twentieth century

1.8 Link new cultural changes in the twentieth century to the emergence of new principles of rhetoric

1.9 Summarize the process of Neo-Aristotelian Criticism and explain when it is appropriate to use

Do you know what your blue jeans are doing to you? What kind of person do you turn into when you go to shopping malls? After a day of hard knocks at work or at school, do you use social media to “fight back” or to escape?

If you are like most people, you are probably not in the habit of asking yourself questions like these. We may think of our clothing, favorite kinds of music, favorite websites, or preferred forms of recreation as ways to express ourselves or to have fun. But we may think it a little far-fetched to believe that there is any serious meaning in the NBA, Fortnight, Marvel movies, or Jimmy Fallon, or that our personalities and values are involved in checking out this spring’s new swimsuits.

Although most of us realize that clickbait ads or political commercials are designed to influence us, it may not be clear to us how the regular media content outside and between the advertisements has the same function. A lot of us may feel that we wear our hair in certain styles for aesthetic reasons— because we like it that way. We may not often think that those styles also express certain positions in important social and political battles. We may feel that we consistently shop at Prada or Gucci rather than at Old Navy only for reasons of taste; we might be surprised to hear that our choice has the potential to turn us into different kinds of people.

We will look especially at how popular culture affects our ideas and behaviors about the major categories and divisions around which societies are organized, such as race, gender, class, sexual identity, and so forth. It is one thing to pass laws to empower those previously disempowered, but another thing to create widespread social acceptance and empowerment of the previously marginalized. That empowerment as well as disempowerment lies largely in popular culture.

This book asks you to think about how everyday actions, objects, and experiences affect you and others. You are probably already familiar with some of the more serious and newsworthy consequences of music, television, social media, or films, such as the association of country-and- western music with conservative patriotism or the criticism of certain hip-hop musicians for their use of particular words and images. This book will expand on things you may already be aware of, leading you to see how all of popular culture works to influence the public. You will have noticed that the book has two key terms: rhetoric and popular culture. In this chapter, we will focus on rhetoric and its



There are some well-developed theories available for studying how messages influence people. These are theories of rhetoric, which we may initially understand as persuasion. The word rhetoric has many meanings, and we will examine many of them in this chapter. Many people understand rhetoric to mean the ways in which words influence people. “That’s just a lot of rhetoric,” we say, and by that we mean that it’s just so many empty but persuasive words. In this book, we will work from a different, expanded understanding of what rhetoric means: the ways in which signs influence people.

Has popular culture always been an important site of rhetoric? Not necessarily. To understand why the conjunction of rhetoric and popular culture is especially potent today, we first need to understand the history of rhetorical theory. We will begin with the ancient Greeks and how they thought about and practiced rhetoric. As we move toward our own time, we will come to realize why the focus of rhetorical practice has shifted from great oratory in public speaking in ancient times to music, film, television, and the Internet in our time. The historical review in this chapter will help you to understand why, if you want to influence people far and wide today, you start a viral video rather than preparing a public speech.

Rhetoric has been around for centuries, both as something that people do and as a subject that people study. One thing that is particularly striking about rhetoric is the many different ways in which it has been defined, today and throughout history. In this chapter, we will explore some of those definitions. Students of rhetoric are often frustrated with so many definitions for a term; “Why can’t people just settle on a meaning?” they sometimes ask. To anticipate that frustration, let us first think about what a definition is and about defining as a strategy.



You may have taken courses that were a little frustrating because you learned that key terms have been defined by different authors and in different eras in different ways. You may also have noticed that the ways in which you define certain terms can make a lot of difference; in fact, definitions can be a way of securing power. If you define culture, for instance, as high culture—as ballet and oil paintings and symphony orchestras—that lets you reduce to second-class status everything else, including baseball games, cheeseburgers, reggae music, and hip-hop. This arrangement makes a pretty nice setup for the wealthy and talented people who already control “high culture,” doesn’t it? If “culture” is something that people think of as generally a good thing, then being able to define some things and not others as “culture” is a source of power.

If you study history, you find that certain terms have been defined in many different ways. Throughout history, there have been varying definitions of what it means to be human. Some societies defined humanity by way of race; such a definition empowered people of one race to enslave whole groups of people who did not look like them on the theory that they were not really enslaving humans. In the twentieth century, Adolf Hitler and the Nazis in Germany attempted to define humanity along ethnic lines, portraying German Aryans as the only authentic humans. Through that definition, the Nazis denied that Jews, Romani, and others were fully human. Women have been defined in different ways throughout history, generally in ways that were disempowering (as incomplete or imperfect copies of men, as inferior versions of humanity, as essentially assistants or helpers for men, and so forth). How gender roles are defined has a lot to do with their relative empowerment or disempowerment.

Let’s pause for some quick definitions. The term signs refers to the countless meaningful items, images, and so on that surround us; it will be explained more fully in the next chapter, when we discuss the building blocks of culture, signs. A sign is something that induces you to think about something other than itself—and everything has that potential. The clearest example of a sign is a word; you read the word hat, and you think of something other than— something beyond—the marks on the page that are that sign. There can be nonverbal signs also, such as the American flag, which encourages you to think of something—the United States—beyond the colored cloth that is the sign. There will be more on signs in the next chapter. In this chapter, we will also use the word text, which will also be discussed in more detail in the next chapter, but for now we can think of a text as a message, as a collection of verbal and/or nonverbal signs that create meaning. This book is a text composed of many signs in the form of words and pictures.

There are many terms that can have different definitions, such as terms used in describing families or sexual orientation. But there are also many terms that do not have varying definitions. There are not widely different definitions for carrots, cats, dogs, umbrellas, or walking, for instance. What is the difference? What makes one term have lots of different definitions while other terms seem relatively straightforward? Some words have little to do with power; you will find that these terms do not get defined in very many ways. When power and influence are at stake, the words in which power and influence (or disempowerment) are expressed or embodied will come to have lots of definitions. Settling the definition of carrots will not affect who has control over others, who has freedom to do as they will, who will have to accommodate others, and so forth.


Exercise 1.1

The following exercise, which you can do on your own or in class with the instructions of your teacher, will help you understand what is at stake in the general strategies of definition.

One of the most important ways in which people are defined is in terms of race. Consider these questions:

1. What are the major terms for human races? 2. Are there any disagreements over what to call certain racial groups? Is there lack of

agreement over what to call other groups? 3. What does it mean that certain racial groups seem to be called by only one term, with little

struggle over what to call them? 4. Do different terms of races imply different definitions of people? If so, what does that have

to do with power? Why are those terms struggled over? For example, in the last seventy years, one group of people has “officially” been called Negroes, blacks, Afro-Americans, and African-Americans (and other, “unofficial” terms). Why so many terms? What does each term have to do with empowerment and disempowerment?

People struggle over power; therefore, they struggle over the words that express power. We may take it as a rule that terms that have several different definitions—definitions that are controversial or argued over—are usually terms about important dimensions of human life. Such terms will have something to do with how power is created, shared, or denied. To control words is to control the world. Another example of that control has been the successful work of queer people to “take over” that very word, queer, and turn it from an insult to a proud description of identities.

We have seen how there are disagreements and struggles for power over how the word culture is defined. Now we will see that an even greater disagreement exists over how to define rhetoric. Struggles over how to define rhetoric run through history. It seems, therefore, that there must be some connection between rhetoric and power. This connection was clear from the very beginning of thinking about rhetoric in Western civilization. We are about to take a detour of some length through ancient Greece. The reason for this is that the ways we—both the general public and rhetorical scholars— think about and define rhetoric are grounded in the ways the ancient Greeks thought about rhetoric. When we do rhetoric differently today, we do it differently from Greek practices. The Greek legacy to us includes ideas about the relationship between power and rhetoric as well as about the ways in which popular culture is related to both. Let us see what the Greeks thought rhetoric was all about.



Rhetoric has been studied for centuries throughout the world, although, in this country, we are most influenced by Western traditions of rhetoric that originated in the Mediterranean world. Western civilization has historically thought t


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