Journal of Contemporary Rhetoric
A Peer Reviewed Journal of Current Event Analysis

Current Issue: Volume 6, Issue 1/2

Updated August 5, 2016


Empathizer-in-Chief: The Promotion and Performance of Empathy in the Speeches of Barack Obama
Eric Leake

Empathy has been a hallmark of Barack Obama’s rhetoric, from his initial run for president to recent speeches in South Carolina and in support of prison reform. In this essay I argue that Obama does more than attempt to present himself as a relatable empathizer who understands mainstream America, as previous politicians have done. I demonstrate instead through the analysis of key speeches that Obama actively promotes and performs empathy as a means of understanding and as a civic value, especially in his use of personal stories and the recognition of context and history. I conclude with a consideration of the power of empathic rhetoric for how it creates expectations of feeling and accountability. These expectations also open it to necessary critique. Key Words: accountability, empathy, “I feel your pain,” narrative, Obama, political rhetoric.

Coming Out as a Transgender Advocate: Laverne Cox, Intersectional Rhetoric, and Intersectionality
Andre Favors

In this essay, the author frames the public discourse of transgender performer and advocate Laverne Cox in terms of both its use of an intersectional perspective and the use of intersectional rhetoric. This analysis bridges these two approaches to illustrate that Cox has successfully shifted public discourse in terms of trans and queer issues, but also is able to build a broader coalition while doing so. As a performer, Cox’s work has complicated her advocacy work. However, Cox has built a successful approach that embraces both intersectional rhetoric and an intersectional perspective. Key Words: intersectionality, Laverne Cox, Netflix, transgender advocacy, queer of color rhetoric(s).

The Rhetoric of Race, Culture, and Identity: Rachel Dolezal as Co-Cultural Group Member
Mark P. Orbe

This essay analyzes the rhetoric of Rachel Dolezal, a biologically white woman who embraces a black cultural identity. Drawing from various mass-mediated texts, I draw on existing research on passing and co-cultural theory to provide insight into the rhetoric of race, culture, and identity surrounding the series of unfolding events of the summer of 2015 when Dolezal was “outed” as a white woman. Specifically, I argue that from her perspective, Dolezal understood her position in African American communities as one of cultural outsider which prompted various co-cultural communication orientations and practices geared toward specific preferred outcomes, namely accommodation and ultimately total assimilation. The essay concludes with a discussion on how Dolezal’s rheto-ric provides an excellent opportunity to explore issues of race, culture, and identity – an important element of the field of communication’s civic calling to use their expertise to engage important socio-cultural issues. Keywords: co-cultural theory, passing, post-racial, Rachel Dolezal, racial identity.

Audible Optics: Popular Music as a Public Relations Resource in Political Campaigns
Michael Warren Tumolo

This essay addresses how music is used by political campaigns as a strategic rhetorical tactic that I label audible optics. Audible optics are a variation of political “optics,” which are public relations practices designed to make a client’s cause appear in a positive light without attending to their substantive positions or character. This argument proceeds in two stages. The first section offers a theoretical framework dealing with issues of representation and iconicity that bear upon the explicit use of music by political campaigns. The second section offers a discussion of celebrity politics on stage. Keywords: Celebrity Politics, Iconicity, Lanham Act, Political Campaigns, Popular Music, Public Relations Optics.