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Rhetoric in Popular Culture
Fifth Edition
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For Elizabeth Duncan Windler and Katharine Duncan Brummett
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Rhetoric in Popular Culture
Fifth Edition
Barry Brummett
The University of Texas at Austin
Los Angeles
London
New Delhi
Singapore
Washington DC
Melbourne
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Copyright © 2018 by SAGE Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by
any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any
information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
FOR INFORMATION:
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Brummett, Barry, 1951- author.
Title: Rhetoric in popular culture / Barry Brummett, The University of Texas at Austin, USA.
Description: Fifth edition. | Thousand Oaks, California : Sage, [2017] | Includes bibliographical references and index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2017021693 | ISBN 9781506315638 (pbk. : alk. paper)
Subjects: LCSH: Rhetoric. | Popular culture. | Rhetorical criticism.
Classification: LCC P301 .B67 2017 | DDC 808—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017021693
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Printed in the United States of America
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
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Brief Contents
1. Preface
2. Acknowledgments
3. Part 1 Theory
1. Chapter 1 Rhetoric and the Rhetorical Tradition
2. Chapter 2 Rhetoric and Popular Culture
3. Chapter 3 Rhetorical Methods in Critical Studies
4. Chapter 4 Varieties of Rhetorical Criticism: INTERVENTIONUnderstanding
5. Chapter 5 Varieties of Rhetorical Criticism: UNDERSTANDINGIntervention
4. Part 2 Application
1. Chapter 6 Paradoxes of Personalization: Race Relations in Milwaukee
2. Chapter 7 Notes from a Texas Gun Show
3. Chapter 8 Simulational Selves, Simulational Culture in Groundhog Day
4. Chapter 9 Jumping Scale in Steampunk: One Gear Makes You Larger, One
Duct Makes You Small
5. Chapter 10 The Bad Resurrection in American Life and Culture
5. Works Cited
6. Suggested Readings
7. Index
8. About the Author
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Detailed Contents
Preface
Acknowledgments
Part 1 Theory
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’s Complaints against the Sophists
Two Legacies We Have Inherited from 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 (and New Realities) Emerge in the Twentieth Century
What Changed in the Twentieth Century and Beyond
Population
Technology
Pluralism
Knowledge
Managing Power Today in Traditional Texts: Neo-Aristotelian
Criticism
Summary and Review
Looking Ahead
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
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Popular Meanings of Culture
Characteristics of Cultures
Cultures Are Highly Complex and Overlapping
Cultures Entail Consciousness, or Ideologies
Cultures Are Experienced through Texts
Managing Power Today in Texts of Popular Culture
Four Characteristics of the Texts of Popular Culture
Summary and Review
Looking Ahead
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
4. Varieties of Rhetorical Criticism: INTERVENTION-Understanding
An Introduction to Critical Perspectives
Methods Focused on Power
Culture-Centered Criticism
Cultures and Their Own Critical Methods
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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
5. Varieties of Rhetorical Criticism: UNDERSTANDING-Intervention
Methods Focused on Self and Society
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 a Grounds for Motives
Terministic Screens
Teleology
Narrative Genres
Comedy and Tragedy
The Pentad
Analysis and Examples
Media-Centered Criticism
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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 2 Application
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
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Stepping Back from the Critique
7. Notes from a Texas Gun Show
Texas and Gun Culture
At the Gun Show
Conclusion
8. Simulational Selves, Simulational Culture in Groundhog Day
Simulation
Simulation and Groundhog Day
Conclusion
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
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
Index
About the Author
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Preface
Welcome to the fifth 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 cuttingedge 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 fourth and fifth editions, primarily in Part II,
the Application sections. Of course, the entire book has been updated in regard to
examples, which must be done in every edition. Regrettably, even these updates may be a
little out of date by the time you see the fifth edition! Beyond that, these major changes
deserve note: Applications in Chapters 7, 9, and 10 are changed from the fourth edition.
Chapter 7, Notes from a Texas Gun Show, uses a culture-centered approach to study an
aspect of gun culture in America: the gun show. In doing so, it also studies a central aspect
of Texas—especially rural and working-class—culture. Because the gun show is such a
visual experience, the chapter also uses a visual rhetoric approach.
Chapter 9, Jumping Scale in Steampunk: One Gear Makes You Larger, One Duct Makes You
Small, studies the recently popular cultural and aesthetic movement of steampunk. It
primarily uses the media-centered and visual rhetoric approach, also giving some attention
to dramatistic/narrative criticism. Both Chapters 7 and 9 are reprints of studies published
by the author elsewhere and are used in this book for the first time. Chapter 10, The Bad
Resurrection in American Life and Culture, is a newly written essay published here for the
first time. It uses the dramatistic/narrative approach and media-centered approach to trace
the recurrence of a narrative theme in a homology that crosses many experiences and texts.
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. 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. I have also not
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attempted to exhaust any topic I have brought up, but instead 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.
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Acknowledgments
I am grateful to the editorial staff of SAGE, especially Karen Omer, who has been
instrumental in bringing this fifth 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 five editions of the book have been more than helpful, and I want to
acknowledge their assistance here.
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:
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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.
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Part One 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.
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1 Rhetoric and the Rhetorical Tradition
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© iStockphoto.com/HAYKIRDI
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 TMZ, 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 programming 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 Abercrombie & Fitch 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.
This book asks you to think about how everyday actions, objects, and experiences affect
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you and others. You are probably already familiar with some of the more serious and
newsworthy consequences of music, television, or films, such as the association of countryand-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 traditions.
There are some well-developed theories available for studying how messages influence
people. These are theories of rhetoric, or 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.
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, beginning on page 41). 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.
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
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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.
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Definitions and the Management of Power
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 symph …
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