Volume 7, Issue 1
The first one hundred days of President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, controversial policies and executive orders sparked national protests and dialogue on race, racism and institutional racism. It has also stimulated conversation on the role and place of racist iconography and artifacts in the nation at a time when racial attacks and tensions are mounting. Using the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia (JCM) at Ferris State University as a case-study, this paper analyzes one way that racist images and artifacts are being used to create a more honest record of public memory that centers matters of race and culture within broader American cultural and historical memory of the Jim Crow period and in creating rhetorical spaces of dialogue that inspire social change. JCM is examined here as a counter-museum and open resource to the public that encourages visitor participation and dialogic analysis through a moral lens that challenges dominant discourses from the Trump administration and sites of public memory that employ either symbolic annihilation or trivialization/deflection as their main rhetorical strategies in depicting the legacy of America’s racial past. Key Words: Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, African Americans, racist artifacts, Donald Trump, David Pilgrim, rubbish theory, Repetition and difference theory.
Volume 6, Issue 3/4
Recent rhetorical scholarship has focused on the definition of civility and the relationships among civility, freedom of speech, and academic freedom, with some scholars claiming that calls for civility always squelch academic freedom. Taking up the case of a student organization at a university campus as an exemplar, this article argues that in some contexts at least, we might fruitfully understand civility as a condition for academic freedom and freedom of speech rather than an obstacle to such freedom. Key Words: academic freedom, campus climate, civility, freedom of speech, student organizations.
Over the last several months, businessperson Donald Trump has taken the lead in the Republican primary race. His flamboyant personality and unusually aggressive speech has drawn much attention and criticism. Journalists and academics have posited that Trump’s rhetoric is that of a demagogue. This essay catalogues the existing definitions of demagoguery, examines how Trump’s rhetoric may qualify, and outlines some ways in which demagogues may function differently in a digital world. Key Words: digital demagogue, election, rhetoric, scapegoat, xenophobia.
This essay analyzes advertisements for financial planning firms who offer their services to guide citizens to financial security. It examines the relationship between the compulsion to invest and our understanding of citizenship in the 21st century. It argues that financial planning ads emphasize a mode of citizenship best characterized by the ideograph . To understand citizenship, this essay analyzes three ad campaigns: E*TRADE’s famous commercials starring a baby recommending the company, Fidelity’s “Turn Here” ads, and Prudential Financial’s “Bring Your Challenges” ads starring Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert. It argues that the advertisements construct a representative picture of citizenship by casting financial planning as a mark of good citizenship. In doing so, the ads interpellate the citizen as both an independent “entrepreneur of himself or herself” and a financial infant — a novice helplessly dependent on the advisor for the right kind of help to construct a financial plan that will offer the greatest reward. Key Words: Advertisements, Citizenship, Financial Planning, Ideographs, Investment, Rhetoric.
This essay examines the public controversy that has followed Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit or kneel during the national anthem, which is played before National Football League games. We examine public statements made by Kaepernick, and various rhetors who have defended him, arguing that two compelling defense strategies are present. Drawing from the genre of apologia, or speeches of defense, we argue that Kaepernick seeks to transcend his protest and focus on systemic racism and violence against people of color. Meanwhile, external defenders of Kaepernick seek to differentiate his protest from charges that he is unpatriotic. These efforts argue that Kaepernick has the right to protest, but avoid engagement with the content of the protest. Finally, we consider implications for rhetorical entanglements with Kaepernick’s protest to argue that most responses, ultimately, serve to reinforce the status quo. Key Words: Apologia, #blacklivesmatter, Colin Kaepernick, Image Restoration, National Anthem, NFL, Patriotism, Protest.
This article takes as its point of departure the paradox between increased optimism among Black Americans and continued socioeconomic stagnation among the same group. A 2010 poll conducted by Pew Research Center revealed that Blacks were more optimistic about their opportunities and progress as a group than socioeconomic data warrant. Black optimism has been attributed to the “Obama effect,” the view that the election of President Barack Obama in 2008 provided Black Americans with a sense that success is possible for Blacks in America. As recent as 2015 this optimism was as reported by The Atlantic and Brookings Institute as still in effect. In this article, I argue that the Obama effect is insufficient to explain paradoxical Black optimism. To explore the effect of Obama’s rhetoric on public opinion and Black optimism, especially among young Americans, I use critical discourse analysis to explore rhetorical messages of colorblindness and individualism in three of Obama’s speeches from 2008, 2012, and 2013. I conclude that the phenomenon of paradoxical Black optimism is correlated with elite Black discourse, as exemplified in Obama’s rhetoric during the three addresses. Key Words: African Americans, Barack Obama, Black Americans, Black Optimism, Critical Discourse Analysis, Elite Discourse, Socioeconomic Inequality.
In this article, I investigate the rhetoric of Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (RAND) licensing agreements, which are used to share patented technologies. RAND agreements are an essential part of the so-called “Patent War” that took place between Microsoft, Google, and Motorola Mobility from 2010 to 2015. I view the rhetoric surrounding the RAND-related aspects of this conflict through two theoretical lenses: Charles Taylor’s concept of the social imaginary and Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca’s notion of rhetorical communion. Ultimately, I argue that the sides in this conflict use radically different rhetorical concepts to shape their discourse surrounding RAND agreements. These differences suggest different approaches to technological innovation. Microsoft’s use of social imaginaries suggests a view of innovation as collaboration among firms, while Google’s creation of rhetorical communion (especially through the device of allusion) depicts a view of innovation that is much more rooted in the notion of the inspired author. Key Words: Charles Taylor, Google, Intellectual Property, Licensing Agreements, Microsoft, Motorola, Patent Wars, Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca.
In this article, the author reflects on founding the Journal of Contemporary Rhetoric, its origins as part of the Alabama Communication Association, and his role as editor of the journal for six years. After considering some of the defining moments of the journal, the author considers how this past may shape the future of the journal as it moves on to the new editor. Key Words: association history, autoethnography, journal publishing, open access.
Volume 6, Issue 1/2
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.
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).
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.
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.
Volume 5, Issue 3/4
In 2013, Edward Snowden briefly sought refuge in Hong Kong after leaking classified information from the NSA. Linking Snowden’s act with their own local demands for democracy and civic rights, Hongkongers took to the street in support of Snowden and to condemn oppressive state governments—including mainland China. Snowden’s pres-ence, in other words, allowed Hongkongers to not only represent themselves as defenders of transnational of human rights, but also afforded them the legitimacy to argue against China’s oppressive policies that damage local politi-cal interests. This article analyzes protest signs and slogans from Hong Kong, and juxtaposes those artifacts with responses from the Chinese state government. Keywords: China, Citizenship, Edward Snowden, Hong Kong, Human Rights, Protest.
Special Issue on Rhetoric and Race, edited by Andre E. Johnson.
This essay provides an introduction to a special issue of Journal of Contemporary Rhetoric on rhetoric and race. This introduction provides a brief overview of the essays and provides some context for the issue. Keywords: Black Lives Matter (movement), race, religion, rhetoric
Three simple words: Black. Lives. Matters. They have come to define a generation as the struggle against persistent violence and unmitigated racial terror. Visible across the nation, from mass demonstrations to social media timelines, Black Lives Matter as a rally cry exists alongside of daily evidence to the contrary. Images of protests wearing black lives matters shirts or hashtag protests appear alongside further proof of a nation’s disregard for black life. Coined by Aliza Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, the mantra “Black Lives Matter” encapsulates the precarious position of black America in our supposedly post-racial movement. Representing a movement, a rhetorical signpost marking the persistence of racial violence, a challenge to white privilege, a sense of community, and an articulation of this generation’s “freedom dream,” “Black Lives Matter” is a complex articulation of our current moment. This paper takes up the meaning and significance of “Black Lives Matters,” arguing that it simultaneously embodies a Black Existentialism, which demands voice and autonomy in an “othering,” while at the time demands the basic rights of citizenship and humanity. Pushing back against the hegemony of Black nihilism within the 1980s and 1990s, “Black Lives Matters” imagines a future that exists apart and beyond white supremacy. Keywords: Activism; Black Existentialism; Black Love; #BlackLivesMatter; Freedom Dreams; Michael Brown; Nihilism; Trayvon Martin
The social media campaign #BlackLivesMatter presents an ideology counter to the historical and contemporary framing of African Americans that strips them of social value. The hashtag attempts to alter the epistemic paradigm that exists in American discursive and material actions by drawing attention to the habitual violence against Blacks in America while infusing a positive message about the individual and communal worth of Black lives. Black citizens are not aggressive, criminal, or inconvenient in the rhetorical construction of #BlackLivesMatter; Black lives should be celebrated and protected. Although multiple counter movements have arisen in an effort to invalidate the social critiques #BlackLivesMatter present, they are not successful. The hashtag teaches auditors the Black persons have a positive presence, that violence against the Black body is news, that white privilege exists, and that colorblind rhetoric does not help bring about equality or justice. Keywords: #BlackLivesMatter, Epistemology, Movement, Social Media, Violence
#BlackLivesMatter was created following the acquittal of the man who killed Trayvon Martin; the movement’s call to action is against the “virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society.” Shortly after #BlackLivesMatter became a nationally recognized symbol, it was re-configured, co-opted, and/or replaced by some with the more inclusive and racially neutral alternative, #AllLivesMatter. This analysis utilizes the core elements associated with a critical race theoretical frame to argue that #AllLivesMatter is akin with larger rhetorical devices — like the notion of a color-blind society — that are used to promote post-racism, something that was not possible with other political slogans during earlier civil rights struggles. Keywords: #AllLivesMatter, #BlackLivesMatter, colorblindness, critical race theory, post-racial, race, white privilege
In the weeks following the death of Trayvon Martin, millions of people of all races and ages took to the streets and online to participate in the protests, “I am Trayvon Martin” and “Million Hoodie March.” These protests centered on issues of racial profiling and the non-arrest of George Zimmerman. In support of Martin, many protestors donned hoodies, made signs, rallied and marched, or protested with solidarity images on social media networks. In this essay, I examine how protestors identified with Martin and how race, as an identity category, functions in these different forms of protest rhetoric. There can be multiple readings of these protests, including the hoodie as a powerful symbol for social change. This analysis acknowledges such a reading, but ultimately argues that the rhetoric employed by the protestors does not represent unanimity/collectivity towards social change. The hoodie can be viewed as a potent symbol of protest, especially when worn by people who have or are at greater risk of experiencing racial injustice, especially profiling. However, when worn by white protestors, the wearing of the hoodie inadvertently provides a counter-productive rhetoric that diverts attention away from conversations of social change. I argue that by white protestors wearing hoodies, it unknowingly mocks and extends the notion of white privilege. Thus, these protests that began by Black Americans to further reiterate racial injustices are now largely embedded in unintentional colorblind ideologies. Keywords: Critical Memory, Incivility, Protest Rhetoric, Race, Symbols, Trayvon Martin, Whiteness
On three occasions in his political career to date, Barack Obama has been called to address crisis in the form of racial unrest: during the 2008 presidential campaign in a speech titled “A More Perfect Union,” in 2013 following the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, and after the 2014 grand jury decision in the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri. While most scholars credit Obama with an inclusive rhetorical strategy that ties Americans to shared values, analysis of Obama’s three racial moment speeches reveals his preference to contextualize race paradoxically, thus creating a type of disunity. In the context of civic controversy, I argue Obama’s use of paradox is fundamentally metaphorical and serves an important pedagogical function, which is to invite citizens to partake in what Michael Mendelson calls controversia, the process whereby speakers present both pro and contra reasoning within one complex argument to establish the grounds for deliberation. While this strategy may have contributed to Obama’s success in “A More Perfect Union” and in the Trayvon Martin speech, news media deemed his response to Michael Brown a failure. The success and failure of each speech, I argue, hinged primarily on the constraints surrounding each speaking occasion and its intended audience. Keywords: Barack Obama, civic controversy, metaphor, paradox, pedagogy
In this essay, I argue that Obama frames the killing of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of George Zimmerman as a national tragedy and worthy of commemoration. In short, Obama articulates to the American people the pain that African Americans felt after the verdict and invites all Americans to mourn. Moreover, I suggest that by framing black pain at the center of this “American tragedy,” Obama invited all Americans to see “blackness” and its pain as part of the American fabric. However, I also argue that part of Obama’s about face had to do with the mounting pressure and protests from the people who took to the streets and social media to not only condemn the verdict, but also call Obama into question. Therefore, I examine the rhetoric of some of the protests and the calls for Obama to “do something.” Keywords: Barack Obama, George Zimmerman, Protest Rhetoric, Race, Racism, Trayvon Martin
This essay explores the relationship between the discourses of religious belonging and health care among African-American women in Memphis, Tennessee who participated in a diabetes intervention program at a faith-based community health provider. It focuses especially on their descriptions of how they discovered the importance of self-care, often expressed with the phrase “I can do for me.” I argue that the language and practices of biomedical contexts can work at cross purposes with the goal of encouraging good self-care, but that the insights of narrative medicine and womanist theology represent helpful correctives. This essay draws from womanist theology the concepts of surrogacy and self-love and from narrative medicine a method for cultivating in medical practitioners a capacity to appreciate the perspective of others. The central thesis of this essay, then, is that when we analyze the language of self-care using insights from womanist theology and narrative medicine, we discover the basis for a new way of construing the relationship between health seeker and health care provider that has the potential to disrupt the unconscious bias among health care providers that leads to disparities in treatment for racial and ethnic minorities. Keywords: Health Disparities, Narrative Medicine, Self-Care, Surrogacy, Womanist Theology
This analysis focuses on the Life Always campaign that attacks Black women and deepens reproductive health disparities. Their anti-abortion billboard campaign adds to a body of discourse that stigmatizes Black women as promiscuous, irresponsible, psychologically immature, and murderers. Using critical rhetoric and visual textual analysis, we analyze the campaign alongside Life Always’ website in an effort to illuminate the hidden agenda behind the ads and the ramifications for those ads on the discourse surrounding African American women’s reproductive health disparities. We argue that if Life Always wants to change our nation’s ideologies concerning abortion, creating laws that attack Black women’s wombs is an ineffective and misdirected plan. We must create a new ideology that eliminates the pro-life/pro-choice dichotomy and instead promotes pro-health and reproductive justice. The terms Black and African American are used interchangeably in this study. Keywords: abortion, African American women, health disparities, pro-health, reproductive justice
With all of the national debates about race and racism that discuss the killings of young black men by police officers, the excessive police force used on African American women, the Charleston Church Shooting by a white supremacist, and even our reactions to Bree Newsome removing a confederate flag from a state capitol building; we have heard from political pundits, social activists, religious leaders, some educators, and university administrators, but there is still an important voice that is missing. This article asks the question: where is the womanist critique? When will we hear and recognize a womanist voice in the midst of all the discourse? The article not only seeks to explain why womanist rhetoricians have been missing in action, it will begin to define womanist criticism and offer a womanist critique to the discourse on race and racism. Keywords: Race and Racism, Systemic Racism, Womanism, Womanist Criticism, Womanist Rhetoricians
Volume 5, Issue 1/2
Although autoethnography has been used in other fields, rhetorical scholars have been slow to embrace this methodology. However, a handful of examples of rhetorical criticism demonstrate how embracing the personal experiences of the critic and writing about those experiences can provide the reader with a greater understanding of rhetorical processes. This essay proposes some potential ways to connect rhetorical criticism and autoethnography by focusing on the role of emotion in rhetorical discourse and the role of the critic. The essay concludes with some broad guidelines for writing rhetorical autoethnography. Keywords: Autoethnography, Emotion, Narrative, Rhetoric, Rhetorical Criticism
This essay examines the controversy over the removal of a student newspaper adviser. The author traces the ways that the narrative put forth on social media by the previous adviser was taken up uncritically by other journalists. This case provides a cautionary tale concerning online journalistic practice. Keywords: Autoethnography, College Administration, Journalism, Twitter
In this essay, the author explores the loss of ready access to memory through mnemonics in the aftermath of a fire which destroyed almost all of his possessions. He considers the ways in which physical objects serve as mnemonic devices that trigger memory, how we have trained ourselves to rely on them to index our memory, and how traumatic erasure of them irreversibly alters how we then access memory. Keywords: Autoethnography, Memory, Mnemonics, Trauma
Although academic publishing may seem a solitary exercise, this need not take place in a vacuum. This essay provides an example of one author’s attempt to create an online community through a blog describing her ongoing book project. She describes how individuals resisted her attempts to foster interaction on the site; instead, they interacted individually with the author across various media in a “hub-and-spoke pattern,” rather than with each other. Keywords: Academic Publishing, Autoethnography, Blogging, Constitutive Rhetoric
In this essay, the author describes her experience as a participant in the reality television show Say Yes to the Dress. She delves into the production aspects of the show and her own feelings of identification with the production staff. She also considers the multiple audiences, both present and not present, in applying for, producing, and participating in a reality television show. Keywords: Audience, Autoethnography, Bridal Rituals, Femininity, Reality Television, Wedding Rituals
Volume 4, Issue 3/4
Citizenship is a relationship between strangers who may have little in common beyond a shared geopolitical space. The strength of a citizenry is dependent, in part, on individuals who are able to envision the larger society, imagine themselves as part of it, and act on that sense of imagined connectedness. Media have long been resources for developing that imagination. This essay looks at the media format of video games to understand how the proceduralism in digital technology can function rhetorically by mimicking rituals of civic life and, in the process, commenting on those rituals. Video games use a combination of fictive worlds and concrete rules to argue for what it means to be a good citizen. Keywords: Citizenship, Fictive Worlds, Imagination, Procedural Rhetoric, Video Games
Volume 4, Issue 1/2
As digital technology becomes increasingly ubiquitous, it is necessary to rethink how our devices fundamentally alter the nature of identity. Using Burkean identification, this essay examines digital technology and its effect on the unconscious, argumentation, and public deliberation. I offer digital rhetorical identification as a process of technological unconscious consubstantiality, through which users are provided and believe in information and argument based upon their digital substance. In current digital contexts, the substance of the Internet user has been drastically affected by the use of Internet “cookies.” In tandem with server algorithms, cookies have become our “digital substance,” formed out of personal search history and directed by consumerist aims. Cookies filter information for users based upon previous searches and other details, while operating silently on our machines. Consequently, the online circulation of knowledge serves as an echo chamber of personal desire and opinion rather than giving users diverse perspectives. This effect bleeds into offline rhetorical practices, limiting the circulation of public knowledge and argument. Keywords: Communication Technology, Cookies, Deliberation, Digital Rhetoric, Facebook, Google, Identification.
In the span of a year—from January 2013 to January 2014—public perception of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie shifted from viewing him as a “Boss” and rising GOP leader to a “Bully” and a vindictive politician. This essay explains this shift in approval through the concept of “rogue ethos,” loosely translated as rogue credibility, as it applies to Christie’s rhetorical responses to Hurricane Sandy relief and the George Washington Bridge scandal. I argue that Christie’s rhetoric provided conflicting constructions of his status as a leader. More precisely, Christie framed his response to Sandy relief from a moral standpoint of republican leadership while he framed his bridge scandal response from a personal, and hence selfish, vantage point that contradicted the earlier ethos. These two situations underscore the importance of community values undergirding rogue conduct and help theorize the risks of rogue ethos. Key Words: Chris Christie, rogue, ethos, political rhetoric, value appeals
Volume 3, Issue 3/4
In August 2012, thousands of Americans traveled to their local Chick-fil-A restaurants to participate in the Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day and the National Same Sex Kiss Day, two demonstrations designed to show support and opposition, respectively, to the company’s public endorsement of the “biblical definition of the family unit.” This essay draws upon Richard B. Gregg’s theory of the ego-function to analyze the important persuasive functions the protests served for the participants involved. An analysis of the messages shared among members in the groups’ respective Facebook pages shows that the participants promoted a message of victimage, virtuousness, importance, strength, and unity. The participants in both groups disputed their opponents’ claims that they were “haters” or “bigots,” and instead portrayed themselves as righteous advocates for equality or freedom. The protests, then, not only functioned to show support for or anger at Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A. They also empowered the participants and enhanced the legitimacy and importance of their respective causes. Keywords: Culture Wars, Ego-Function, Gay Rights, Protest Rhetoric, Same-Sex Marriage.
“Fortnight for Freedom” was the first organized campaign directly appealing to Catholic laity that the US Catholic bishops developed since making religious freedom a lynchpin issue in 2012 election year. This essay is a micro-stylistic analysis of two principal rhetorical strategies employed by Archbishop of Baltimore William Lori in his opening homily. The homily’s central goal was to provide a rationale for the Catholic Church’s “Fortnight for Freedom” initiative by arguing for the conflation of religious freedom with personal political freedom, which I demonstrate ultimately failed. First, the archaic diction of “fortnight” reinforced unpopular perceptions of the Church’s Magisterium as antiquated and out of touch with the moral priorities of contemporary American Catholics. Secondly, false analogies in the form of enthymematic allusions erroneously compared opponents of the Health and Human Services’ contraception mandate to Catholic martyrs and President Obama to King Henry VIII. Keywords: Analogy, Archaisms, Fortnight for Freedom, Rhetoric, US Catholic Bishops
Volume 3, Issue 1/2
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is pursuing an unpopular campaign to discipline American nuns who supported the Obama administration’s healthcare initiative. The campaign has boosted the nuns’ popularity and further damaged the Catholic hierarchy’s public image. In response, the bishops have adopted Dorothy Day’s sainthood cause as a means of regaining authority and of criticizing disobedient Catholics safely. The bishops shift the focus from present difficulties to their official role in the making of saints to bolster their authority. To persuade Catholics to support their campaign against birth control they reconfigure Dorothy Day as an exemplar of orthodox belief. Keywords: American Nuns, Bureaucracy, Canonization, Catholic Church, Safe Criticism, HHS Mandate, Prosopopoeia.
In his essay, “The Rhetoric of Civility: Power, Authenticity, and Democracy,” Thomas W. Benson focuses on uncivil communication in the political context. The purpose of the current article is to extend Benson’s characterization of civility and incivility beyond the realm of politics. Specifically, this article focuses on uncivil communication in everyday life and the rhetorical processes that underlie such occurrences. Everyday civil communication is characterized as that which is ethical and based on respect, restraint, and responsibility. Aristotle’s concept of ethos, Habermas’s ideas concerning universal pragmatics and communication competence, and Austin’s and Kaulfield’s characterization and application of speech act theory are used to explain instances of civil and uncivil communication. Everyday incivility is perceived as a serious societal problem that can be harmful to our mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Both civility in politics and civility in everyday life are governed by shared rhetorical norms that serve as guides for appropriate communication-related behavior. However, whereas political incivility tends to be deliberate and strategic, everyday incivility may be accidental and result from confusion about the rhetorical norms that influence perceptions of civility. Keywords: Civility, Communication Competence, Ethics, Ethos, Incivility, Millennials, Respect, Responsibility, Restraint, Rhetorical Norms, Social Media, Speech Acts, Universal Pragmatics.
Volume 2, Issue 3/4
In 2008, Barack Obama revolutionized the digital campaign with Twitter and blogs. Now, in 2012, Twitter is a powerful venue for politicians, and Republican candidate Mitt Romney has used Twitter in an effort to disseminate effective messages to voters. For this study, I analyzed Romney’s tweets. From February 1 to May 31, 2012, his tweets build his credibility (ethos), express his reasoning (logos), and seek to emotionally connect with the audience (pathos), all by adapting to the rhetorical situation. Campaigns can examine and strengthen tweets to build a stronger connection with voters by communicating with them directly. Using Twitter bites rather than sound bites chosen by the media middleman allows politicians to give their readers a firsthand experience that other media cannot accomplish. Keywords: 2012 presidential campaign, Mitt Romney, new media, political rhetoric, social networks, Twitter.
Susan G. Komen for the Cure made the decision in early 2012 to end its longstanding grant funding of Planned Parenthood on the heels of a controversial federal investigation into Planned Parenthood’s spending practices. This decision sparked a heated public debate over the politics of women’s health and highlighted a possible rift in the feminist movement. Komen CEO Nancy Brinker crafted an apologia for the controversy through a series of statements that emphasized Komen’s focus on financial responsibility above all else. In doing so, Brinker employed a postfeminist rhetorical strategy that highlighted the distance between Komen’s goals and those of the larger women’s health movement. Keywords: apologia, breast cancer, cause-related marketing, feminism, image repair, postfeminism, women’s health.
This essay examines the rhetorical constructions of fatherhood of three of the 2012 Republican presidential primary candidates. We analyze how Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum personify fathers, both in the literal and figurative sense. We examine the candidates’ announcement speeches, the messages found on the candidates’ official websites, and the websites of the super PACS who support each candidate. These texts represent the most complete expression of their core identities. First, we evaluate each campaign’s rhetorical construction of the candidate as a literal father. Second, we analyze how each candidate assumes the persona of a metaphorical father to the nation and to future generations of Americans. Finally, we consider the power of fatherhood as a rhetorical strategy in the political sphere and the need to identify and challenge this hegemonic construct. Keywords: fatherhood, masculinity, 2012 Presidential political campaigns, 2012 Republican presidential primaries, rhetorical construction of gender.
Volume 2, Issue 2
Abstract: The United States has long grappled with the question of how to maintain an appropriate combination of religion and politics in the public sphere. The current electoral cycle is no different, as Presidential candidates attempt to negotiate both the political and religious landscapes. This essay introduces a special forum on rhetoric and religion in contemporary politics and touches on some recent instances of how religious differences have played out in the current political environment. Some of the issues discussed include the separation of church and state, Mitt Romney’s membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Rick Santorum’s conception of the “war on religion,” and the controversy over contraceptives at religious institutions and Rush Limbaugh’s attacks on a Georgetown law student. Keywords: Catholicism, Mitt Romney, Mormonism, Religion, Rick Santorum, Rush Limbaugh.
Abstract: Religious affiliation has always played a prominent role in the vetting of US presidential candidates, especially for those seeking the nomination of the Republican Party. Candidates within that party must appeal to fiscal, foreign policy and social conservatives, the last of which contain significant numbers of self-described evangelical Christians. During the 2012 Republican Presidential Primary appeals to these social conservatives became as significant a factor as any other with a Mormon candidate, a Catholic candidate who made his faith a centerpiece of his campaign, and a divorced former Speaker who recently converted to Catholicism. With the race still very much in the air, this former Speaker, Newt Gingrich, came under fire for his prior marriage and just a few days before a pivotal primary in South Carolina his ex-wife taped an interview about his marriage to her which was set to air immediately after the last debate before the election in South Carolina. At the beginning of the debate the moderator, John King of CNN, provided Gingrich an opportunity to discuss the pending interview. His response changed the scope of that primary election, helping vault Gingrich to a significant victory in South Carolina with significant support from formerly hesitant social conservatives. In this essay we examine his response to King’s opening question at the debate through the lens of image restoration theory and argue Gingrich used specific strategies to appeal for support from the social conservatives in that state. Keywords: Apologia, Image Restoration, Newt Gingrich, News Media, 2012 Campaign.
Abstract: This paper examines the impact of Mitt Romney’s religious faith (Mormonism) on his chances of winning the presidency in 2012. Romney was unsuccessful in trying to neutralize the religion factor in 2008. His attempt to address the issue with a speech on his faith had no impact on the issue, and he was out of the race within two months afterwards. For the 2012 Republican primary, Romney took a different approach by ignoring his religious beliefs while addressing other issues. He was aided by a series of flawed primary opponents who unsuccessfully positioned themselves as viable contenders and who also ignored the Mormon issue. Still, Mormonism remains a point of vulnerability for Romney. Even though he was able to clinch the Republican nomination, many Americans still view Mormonism as a cult. Further, six of ten American voters still do not know about his Mormon faith. That factor could eventually hurt him in the November election, but he is also encumbered with other weaknesses that may play a bigger role in the general election. Keywords: Mitt Romney, Mormonism, Religion, Silence.
Abstract: While scholarship of presidential rhetoric fill the landscape of rhetorical criticism, only recently has scholars given much attention to the use of religious rhetoric in presidential discourse. Moreover, while this scholarship is growing, scholars have not paid much attention to the National Prayer Breakfast. In this essay, I examine President Barack Obama’s 2012 National Prayer Breakfast Address as an example of rhetorical theology. I argue that during this address, Obama does more than fulfill a sacred obligation; he constructs a theology that challenges the prevailing public and political theology. Obama’s theology is not systematic, but profoundly rhetorical as he invites his audience to see and do faith differently. It is Obama’s framing of faith, grounded in religious values, that allows him to offer his policies—not as liberal ideology, but ones grounded in the faith. Keywords: Barack Obama, National Prayer Breakfast, Presidential Rhetoric, Theology.
Volume 2, Issue 1
Abstract: This paper argues that self-deprecation can be a strategy of image restoration. While image restoration is conceptualized as a goal-directed activity that seeks to maintain a favorable image, it would seem paradoxical that an individual would engage in a rhetorical practice directed at admonishing the self with humor. However, many politicians including Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and most recently, Rick Perry, have engaged in self-deprecation in response to their face. Consequently, it is imperative to recognize the rhetorical force of self-deprecation as an image restoration strategy. Keywords: Humor, Image, Rick Perry, Self-Depreciation.
Abstract: This article examines the commodification of Linda McMahon, former CEO of World Wrestling Entertain-ment (WWE), in her 2010 campaign for the U.S. Senate in Connecticut. Much campaign discourse, including print media coverage and texts from both the candidate’s critics and allies, drew attention to McMahon’s wrestling background and constructed her experience in negative ways. Moreover, these multiple sources of discourse commodified McMahon as an actual and symbolic product of WWE. In addition, rhetoric produced by the campaign and WWE further promoted McMahon as a commodity “for sale” and marketed by the company in the context of the election. Through an examination of various forms of campaign discourse, this essay examines McMahon as a commodity of the WWE cipher. In a literal sense, this essay examines McMahon as a product of the WWE cipher alongside an assortment of commodities such as action figures, video games, t-shirts, and DVDs. In addition, this essay discusses McMahon as a symbolic product similar to concepts and ideals marketed by WWE, such as sex and violence. Keywords: Cipher, Commodification, Politics, Wrestling, WWE.
Volume 1, Issue 2
Abstract: Ever since President Obama took office in 2009, there has been an underlying debate amongst politicians, pundits, and policymakers over America’s exceptionalist nature. American exceptionalism is one of the foundational myths of U.S. identity. While analyses of Barack Obama’s views on American exceptionalism are quite prominent, there has been little discussion of conservative rhetorical constructions of this important myth. In this essay, I seek to fill this gap by mapping prominent American conservatives’ rhetorical voice on American exceptionalism. Keywords: American Exceptionalism, Conservative Rhetoric, Jeremiad.
Abstract: This essay addresses a recent critique of historical rhetorical scholarship and then argues for the use of history as a foundation for contemporary rhetorical scholarship. This essay offers an attitude towards history as a rhetorical perspective. Reflections on history from scholars including Friedrich Nietzsche, Maurice Halbwachs, Hayden White, and Walter Lippmann are used to indicate how historical narrative is required for relevant and timely scholarship, rhetorical or not. Keywords: History, Rhetorical Criticism.
Abstract: Shortly after his inauguration, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker pushed for legislation to eliminate most collective bargaining rights of public workers (with the exception of firefighters and law enforcement) in Wisconsin. Walker argued that the move was needed to fix a budget crisis, even calling the legislation a “Budget Repair Bill,” but his opponents believed it was a union-busting effort. In his public discourse, Walker continually denied that the legislation was about unions. Refusing to negotiate with public unions and State Assembly Democrats, Walker instead appealed directly to the public, even going national with his speeches and interviews. An analysis of his discourse reveals that he used emotionally-charged appeals disguised as appeals to reason. First, he crafted a scapegoat for Wisconsin’s alleged budget problems: public workers. He further attempted to create divisions among different professions of public workers (teachers and firefighters, for instance) and between public union workers and other Wisconsin residents. Finally, he issued threats of mass lay-offs and firings if Assembly Democrats failed to allow a vote on the bill. Ultimately, Walker’s strategies disallow even discussion about a legitimate public policy question: what role should unions play in the public sector? Keywords: Collective Bargaining, Crisis Framing, Divide-and-Conquer, Labor Unions, Public Employees, Scapegoating, Scott Walker
Volume 1, Issue 1
Abstract: Rhetorical scholarship, if it is to remain relevant, must be actively applied to current events. This essay proposes an alternate mode of scholarship, one that takes advantage of the online medium and integrates the speed of journalism with the rigors of scholarly analysis. Such a mode of scholarship dissemination is not meant to replace the current journal system; rather it serves a different end—that of providing scholarship to the public as a whole. I argue that scholarly analysis of current events will enrich the dialogue that is already taking place in the public sphere and help citizens to more fully take part in democratic practice.
Abstract: Political communication in the United States leaves a great deal to be desired in terms of compromise, rationality, and humility. Rather than lessening the difficulties, the era of 24-hour news makes matters worse by offering punditry in place of commentary while highlighting the issues that divide us rather than those that bring us together. Tensions came to a boiling point during the 2010 mid-term elections, which included overt racist and public violence. In this context, Comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert created a satirical public rally, the “Rally for Sanity and/or Fear,” to draw attention to and provoke a meaningful response to the increasingly troubling political arena. To explain how the Stewart/Colbert rally functions as a form of social critique, we draw on the work of the ancient Cynic philosophers and on rhetorical theorist Kenneth Burke’s approach towards comedy. Keywords: Comedy, Satire, Cynics, Diogenes, Kenneth Burke, Jon Stewart, Steven Colbert, Daily Show.
Abstract: Political crisis and conflict routinely produce rude talk and accusations of incivility. Civility and incivility are communicative, rhetorical practices. As such, they are always situational and contestable. Keywords: Civility, Democracy, Sarah Palin.
Abstract: The current political landscape seems rife with partisanship and toxic rhetoric. Although this is certainly nothing new, there has been an increase in rhetoric that suggests that citizens take up arms against the government. In the wake of the shooting at a political rally held by Representative Gabrielle Giffords, the media began asking whether violent rhetoric could lead to violent acts and politicians began to call for greater civility in political discourse. This essay examines the rhetoric of Sarah Palin and Sharron Angle to explore the rhetorical implications of a worldview that deeply distrusts the government and considers armed insurrection as an appropriate corrective to a government run amok. Keywords: Civility, Sarah Palin, Second Amendment, Sharron Angle, Tea Party, Violent Rhetoric.