The Rhetorical Power of Popular Culture: Considering Mediated Texts


Deanna D. Sellnow

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    I dedicate this revision to all those impacted by the 2016 Pulse shootings in Orlando, Florida—victims, family, friends, and the entire Orlando community. I am so proud to live in a city where love prevails over violence and hate. Let us turn this tragic nightmare into an opportunity for renewal and growth, as examples of what it means to love and respect all of our neighbors as ourselves. As always, to God be the glory!


    When I wrote the first edition of The Rhetorical Power of Popular Culture: Considering Mediated Texts, it was a calling. I had been teaching the course for several years and the book was something I had to get out of my head and heart and onto paper. I am thankful for the folks at SAGE who placed their trust in me to offer something of use to my colleagues around the country who teach similar courses. My goal then was to teach readers to think critically about arguments posed in popular culture entertainment media texts using methods of contemporary rhetorical theory and criticism. That remains my goal today. I was pleased to be offered an opportunity to produce a second edition and now a third. It is humbling to realize people appreciate what I offer in these pages. Thank you.

    Beginning with the second edition, however, technology affordances and new media have been exploding exponentially. Throughout the third edition, I have made a conscious effort to acknowledge the new challenges and opportunities that come with these advances while remaining true to my original goal. To clarify, when I wrote the first edition, we might have watched major events like the Academy Awards or the president’s State of the Union Address and recorded them on our digital video recorders (DVRs) to watch later. Today, we are linked to the world through our smartphones, tablets, laptops, smartwatches, and so on, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. How many of you reading this right now sleep with your smartphone at your bedside? Do you pick it up to check e-mail, Facebook, or texts when you are awake in the middle of the night? Do you binge watch television programs from an entire season over the course of a weekend? Many people do. Thus, the pervasive power of mediated texts may, in fact, be more influential today than ever before.

    I remain convinced that mediated popular culture texts, especially those couched in the form of entertainment, are still particularly powerful in influencing our taken-for-granted beliefs and behaviors about how things ought to be or, perhaps, just are, as well as what is normal and abnormal or desirable and undesirable.

    So my goal was and still is to offer a book that anyone—whether a communication major, a college student, or a layperson—can make sense of and can then use the theories contained herein to examine underlying messages about taken-for-granted beliefs and behaviors couched in mediated popular culture texts. This time, however, I made a deliberate attempt to also acknowledge how new media are changing the way we interact with these texts and the arguments embedded within them.

    The next sections highlight what’s new to this edition and how previous features have been updated to resonate with readers today.

    New to This Edition
    • In addition to retaining student essays from the previous edition (e.g., Weeds, The Help, The Hunger Games, Boys Don’t Cry, Modern Family, Firefly), I have added new student sample essays on, for example, Game of Thrones, the Deadheads, The Devil Wears Prada, and Nickel Creek’s “The Lighthouse’s Tale.”
    • I have expanded coverage of the rhetorical theories that ground the rhetorical perspectives in each chapter.
    • New examples (e.g., traditional entertainment media, social media, advertisements) are integrated throughout the chapters.
    • Updated statistics and references to contemporary sources are provided throughout the chapters.
    Features Retained and Updated in This Edition
    Applying What You’ve Learned, Questioning Your Ethics, and Challenge Features

    I continue to believe that it is crucial to provide readers with opportunities to apply concepts to their own life experiences and the popular culture texts with which they are most familiar. This is why I sprinkle “Applying What You’ve Learned” questions throughout every chapter. We all retain material better when we can apply it to our own lives. Similarly, I integrate “Questioning Your Ethics” questions throughout the chapters to challenge readers to consider what they would do regarding the ethics of various practices. Would they engage in such behaviors? If so or if not, why? Finally, at the end of each chapter, I pose a challenge to view a particular mediated text using the rhetorical perspective described in the chapter. In doing so, readers have an opportunity to make each abstract theory concrete by using it to examine a relevant mediated popular culture text before moving on to learn about another perspective.

    Appendix: Writing a Popular Culture Rhetorical Essay

    In the appendix, I propose a means by which to prepare a rhetorical analysis essay that could be submitted to a journal for publication and I provide an approach for transforming it into a presentation for an academic conference. My goal in doing so is to provide readers with a systematic approach for getting their analyses out of their heads and onto paper in order to share them with larger audiences. Although the approach I describe for writing an essay and then converting it into a presentation is by no means the only way, it is certainly one model for doing so.

    Contemporary Examples, Extended Examples, and Sample Student Essays

    Examples are crucial to succeed in making abstract theoretical concepts accessible to readers. I did not want to write a book that only a niche population could understand. Through a variety of examples from television shows (e.g., Modern Family, Shameless, Superstore, Game of Thrones, Black-ish, Newsroom, Downton Abbey, Weeds, Girls), music (e.g., Nickel Creek, Papa Roach, Eminem, Dixie Chicks, Nine Inch Nails, Taylor Swift, Metallica), films (e.g., Soul Surfer, It’s a Wonderful Life, Harry Potter, Life Is Beautiful, The Help, Silver Linings Playbook, The Matrix), advertisements (e.g., for Red Zone, Pond’s, Samuel Adams, Budweiser Beer, MasterCard, Jared, Ray-Ban), and comics or cartoons (e.g., Dennis the Menace, A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Simpsons, Family Guy, Archer), readers should clearly see the relevance of these theories for understanding how mediated popular culture texts influence us to believe and behave through covert strategies about what we take for granted as normal and desirable.

    Step-by-Step How to Conduct an Analysis Sections for Each Theory Presented

    Here my goal is to assist readers as they examine texts of their own choosing via description, interpretation, and evaluation. I believe that by helping readers walk through the systematic analysis process for each perspective applied directly to texts relevant to them, the way they experience mediated popular culture texts will be forever changed. Although they might continue to enjoy mediated popular culture texts, my hope is that readers will no longer do so without understanding what and how such texts are also proposing in terms of arguments about what is normal (and not) and desirable (and not).

    Glossary of Key Terms

    Although many books offer key terms, I believe doing so is crucial in this book because I want readers to be able to deconstruct academic jargon rather than be confounded by it. Thus, I use jargon of the field and deconstruct it by defining it clearly within each chapter and providing a comprehensive glossary of key terms at the end of the book.

    I don’t pretend to know all the answers. But I do want to share with my readers the strategies I have learned that help me understand what and how mediated popular culture texts communicate and persuade.

    Chapter-by-Chapter Revisions

    Chapter 1: This chapter continues to focus on defining popular culture and mediated popular culture as well as providing a rationale for studying it. What is new to this edition are contemporary examples from entertainment and social media, as well as updated statistics and references. I have retained the extended example on A Charlie Brown Christmas based on responses from reviewers, as well as from students in my own courses, that it helps provide a clear overview of the rhetorical perspectives to be covered in more detail throughout the book.

    Chapter 2: I have retained the historical accounting of the evolution of the rhetorical tradition that was new to the second edition. However, I expand it by inserting contemporary texts because they still represent some of these concepts today. I also expand on the Sandy Hook example to also include acts of violence and terrorism across the United States (e.g., Boston, San Bernardino, Orlando, Dallas) and the world (e.g., Belgium, France, Turkey) since then. Doing so provides an opportunity to reflect on and examine both the ongoing nature and increasing number of such acts in the modern world and modern age. I have retained the sample student speech on Newt Gingrich’s 2012 concession speech; however, I interject questions about it that relate to issues in the 2016 presidential campaign as well.

    Chapter 3: I revised this chapter dramatically for the second edition. Thus, for the third edition, I updated examples to include films like The Martian and describe how the creators visited a NASA facility to ensure that the story would have ecological validity. I also discuss robots, as they are becoming more and more popular in daily living today. I retained the sample student essay on The Help because Alfred Cotton does an excellent job of showcasing how a narrative analysis of this entertainment media text can point to larger issues of racism and classism in society.

    Chapter 4: This chapter on dramatism continues to explain Burke’s concepts about the dramatistic life cycle, the order-pollution-guilt-purification-redemption process, cluster analysis, and the Pentad. I added comparative examples of Huggies advertisements to illustrate the order-pollution-guilt-purification-redemption process, as well as two new sample student essays (in addition to the one on Weeds). One new essay focuses on Lady Gaga’s music, persona, and life as a drama according to Burke’s theories. The other focuses on the epic fantasy television series Game of Thrones using a dramatistic lens, arguing ultimately that the end justifies the means for breaking moral rules for living.

    Chapter 5: This chapter, which was new to the second edition, focuses on symbolic convergence theory and fantasy theme analysis written and revised by Dr. Thomas G. Endres from the University of Northern Colorado. As a former doctoral student of the late Ernest Bormann, Dr. Endres does a superb job of clarifying the theory and applying it to both the television program Big Bang Theory and the cult classic Rocky Horror Picture Show. In addition to the sample student essay on the television series Firefly, this chapter includes a new sample student essay on the Grateful Dead’s superfan following, known as the Deadheads, as a rhetorical community that has lived on beyond the life of the band.

    Chapter 6: Although this chapter is titled “A Neo-Marxist Perspective,” its scope also includes representatives of the larger genre of critical studies or critical rhetoric that can fit within it. I illustrate aspects of othering and hegemony, using examples from television programs such as The Biggest Loser, Mike and Molly, and Pretty Wicked, as well as films such as Dances With Wolves, The Ultimate Gift, The Way, and Captain Fantastic. I also offer extended examples from music, such as The Beatles’ Can’t Buy Me Love and Kanye West’s Welcome to Heartbreak. The chapter closes with sample student essays on Modern Family and Sex and the City.

    Chapter 7: This chapter remains focused on multiple feminist perspectives as related to the waves of feminism. I have expanded the discussion of waves of feminism to include a fourth wave, which acknowledges a view that feminism does not refer only to the struggles and oppression of women but, rather, as a call to action for gender equity broadly conceived. As such, I also continue to include a section on queer theory as a way to explore how texts privilege heteronormativity. Moreover, I include examples from advertisements and television shows (e.g., New Girl, Game of Thrones, Girls, Veep), movies (e.g., The Hunger Games, Boys Don’t Cry), music (e.g., Meredith Brooks’s “Bitch,” Martina McBride’s “This One’s for the Girls,” Jamie O’Neal’s “Somebody’s Hero”), and video games (e.g., BioShock, Grand Theft Auto) to illustrate concepts of feminist perspectives throughout the chapter. I end by pointing to published essays on the representations of gay men on television and I include a sample student essay on the popular movie The Hunger Games, focused on Katniss as the hero from a feminist perspective. I have added another sample student essay for this edition focused on the film, The Devil Wears Prada.

    Chapter 8: I am very pleased with the revision of this chapter because it explains how the illusion of life perspective can be applied to examine the role of both musical sound and lyrical content in conveying arguments in music. I continue to open the chapter with a section that distinguishes musical rhetoric from both musical aesthetics and music as communication. I also explain the role of genre in shaping the argument. I include a host of examples throughout the chapter to illustrate aspects of the perspective (e.g., “I Will Survive” as first made popular by Gloria Gaynor, “Loser” as performed by Beck, “I Think About You” by Collin Raye, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by the Band Aid charity group, and “We Are the World” by Live Aid). The chapter closes with a sample student essay examining music from Creed, as well as a new sample student essay on “The Lighthouse’s Tale” by Nickel Creek.

    Chapter 9: As with the music chapter, I begin by distinguishing visual rhetoric from visual art aesthetics. Then I include a new section about the history and nature of visual communication, as well as a discussion of gestalt, semiotics, and cognitive theories, before moving into visual pleasure theory as an example of one psychoanalytical cognitive theory approach to examine visual arguments embedded in mediated popular culture texts. I have also taken care to illustrate how the theory has been expanded to include visual images of women, men, race, and multiple sexualities. I have also added visual figures to illustrate concepts throughout the chapter, as well as social media examples such as emoticons, emojis, acronyms, and massive multiplayer online games (MMOGs). I have retained the sample student essay on Boys Don’t Cry that closes this chapter, because it reveals rhetorical strategies inviting viewers to embrace transgendered sexuality as appropriate rather than deviant. I have added questions to consider regarding the evolution of ideology regarding transgender and transgender issues since the film was first released.

    Chapter 10: This chapter remains focused on media-centered perspectives but is expanded to intentionally acknowledge the important role of new media and research conducted about it today. I have expanded the theoretical discussion to include media ecology theory to include contemporary research suggesting that polymedia helps understand new relationships between the social and the technological. I also offer examples of robot technology, MMOGs, and games and apps such as McWorld, Grand Theft Auto, and Pokémon Go. I have retained the sample student essay focused on realism and intimacy conveyed in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. However, I add some questions pointing to contemporary phenomena, such as the Harry Potter attraction at Universal Studies, as it may embellish the author’s analysis.


    I thank the SAGE team for keeping me on task when I, like so many, can become distracted by other obligations in my life. Doing so is a tall order. I also thank those individuals teaching courses with my book who shared student essays for this edition, as well as those reviewing and providing suggestions to make this third edition even stronger than the first two. Finally, I thank all who guided my hand in writing this book. I am forever grateful for being allowed to serve as the conduit for getting these ideas from the “Ivory Towers of the academy” to its readers. Thank you!

    SAGE Publishing gratefully acknowledges the following reviewers for their kindassistance:

    Third Edition

    Marcy Chvasta, California State University, Stanislaus; Mandy Macklin, California State University Northridge; Terri Russ, St. Mary’s College; George Simons, JAMK University of Applied Sciences.

    Second Edition

    Mary Elizabeth Bezanson, University of Minnesota, Morris; Valerie L. Guyant, University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire; Randy Harris, University of Waterloo; Agnieszka Kampka, Warsaw University of Life Sciences; Steven Listopad, Jamestown College; and LaChrystal D. Ricke, Sam Houston State University.

    First Edition

    Bernardo Alexander Attias, California State University, Northridge; Christine Harold, University of Washington; Richard K. Olsen, Jr., University of North Carolina at Wilmington; John Pauly, Marquette University; Kendall R. Phillips, Syracuse University; Pravin A. Rodrigues, Ashland University; Raymond I. Schuck, Bowling Green State University; Roger Stahl, University of Georgia; Mark Allan Steiner, Christopher Newport University; and Kathleen Vidoloff, University of Kentucky.

  • Appendix: Writing a Popular Culture Rhetorical Essay

    One goal in writing this book has been to provide you with some tools to become a critical consumer of the messages sent through mediated popular culture texts. A second goal is to provide you with an organizational tool for sharing your discoveries with others. The primary means by which communication scholars do so is by writing critical essays we present at academic conferences and publish in academic journals. This appendix offers one step-by-step approach for researching and writing an essay that could be submitted to an academic journal and then describes guidelines for converting it into an academic presentation that could be shared at a professional conference.

    Collecting Research and Examining Your Text

    Although it probably goes without saying, before you can begin to write the essay, you must (1) select an artifact to examine as a text and formulate a research question, (2) identify a rhetorical perspective that will help answer the research question, and (3) analyze the artifact via the description, interpretation, and evaluation process we’ve talked about in the preceding chapters. Before writing the essay, you will also need to (4) review existing literature about the rhetorical situation (e.g., author, occasion, artifact, exigence, constraints) to build an argument for the artifact as a text worthy of analysis and for your analysis of it as extending what is already known. And you will need to (5) review existing literature about the rhetorical perspective and similar applications of it to build an argument for how your analysis might extend that theory.

    In each of the previous chapters, we discussed how to select a text and formulate a research question. Recall that you might start by finding an artifact to be examined as your text. That is, you find something intriguing about the artifact that leads you to believe something more is being communicated about how we ought to believe and behave than what is being told in the surface message. Or, you might start with the question. If you are particularly compelled by violence on television, for instance, you might formulate your question about violence on television and then apply it to a particular program or programs. Or, you might start with both the artifact and the question. When watching a particular program, commercial, or movie, for example, you might really notice something being said about the roles and rules for men and women in society as I did when I stumbled upon a particular episode of Jerry Springer showing three lesbian strippers pole dancing, kissing, and spreading whipped cream on each other, while the audience, composed mostly of 18- to 26-year-old males, chanted and cheered them on.

    Second, select a rhetorical perspective that seems appropriate for answering your research question. I saw the Jerry Springer episode while running on a treadmill at the gym. Because I had forgotten to bring my earbuds, I ended up keying in on the arguments being made visually. Thus, I might select a visual perspective (e.g., visual pleasure theory) for my analysis. When it comes to writing the essay, you will ultimately need to defend why you’ve chosen the perspective, the major tenets of it, and conclusions drawn in other analyses that examined similar artifacts. You should also review works by those who originated the perspective if possible. Essentially, you will need to make a compelling case for choosing the perspective you did to examine the artifact and answer your research question.

    After examining your text by describing, interpreting, and evaluating it based on the rhetorical perspective you chose for doing so, you need to complete a review of the literature. First, collect evidence to support your argument that both (1) the text and (2) the social issue or problem embedded in your research question are worthy of analysis. In other words, collect research about the rhetorical situation. Why is the text you’ve chosen worth examining? Perhaps it is widely listened to or viewed by a certain target audience. Perhaps it has received critical acclaim. Perhaps its creator is significant in some way. Also, what issue or problem does your analysis of the text address, and why is that issue or problem important? In the Jerry Springer analysis, I might look for evidence to support the value of the text in Nielsen ratings, viewership demographic characteristics, and Emmy award results. I might look for evidence to support the issue or problem in statistics related to degradation of women as objects ranging from self-esteem to violence and rape.

    You will also review the literature to build a case for how your analysis will extend what is known about this particular text and similar artifacts as well as the rhetorical perspective itself. In my Jerry Springer analysis, I might look for existing publications that examine other entertainment media generally as well as similar television talk shows, and the Jerry Springer show specifically, and the conclusions drawn in them. I would also want to find literature that examines the social issue or problem from a feminist perspective. Doing so helps make a case as to where and how the analysis will extend what is already known about mediated popular culture texts related to the issue or problem as well as the utility of the rhetorical perspective chosen to do so.

    Writing Your Essay

    Like any essay, your popular culture rhetorical criticism consists of an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Although many of the elements in each are similar across genres, there are some unique components in the rhetorical criticism genre. Moreover, while length can vary depending on the artifact(s) selected, most academic essays range from about 18 to 25 pages including references (typed and double-spaced).

    The Introduction

    Although there is no set rule for length, typically you should accomplish your introduction in about four to six pages. As with any good paper, the first thing to do is capture the interest of your audience by establishing relevance. You can achieve this by addressing the rhetorical situation. You might focus on the significance of the artifact; the significance of the social issue, belief, or behavior it addresses; and the significance of your particular study as it extends existing research.

    One major means for establishing relevance has to do with making a case for the artifact. Perhaps your selected text has won awards, or smashed box office records, or garnered a great deal of public interest. Perhaps it introduced some new concept to the industry. Or perhaps it managed to address a taboo topic with integrity… or without integrity for that matter. One of my students, for example, examined the program South Park, establishing its significance in terms of the social commentary of each episode in addition to the Emmys its creators had won. Another student established significance for her analysis of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by noting that almost 60 percent of children ages 6 to 17 have read at least one book in the series. She also pointed to the success of the first Harry Potter movie, the predicted success of the one she chose to examine, and the awards the books had achieved.

    Another aspect you must address to establish relevance is the social issue, problem, or taken-for-granted belief or behavior your analysis will address. This is typically linked to the rhetorical perspective you’ve chosen for analysis. In a student paper about the film The Life of David Gale, for example, the writers focused on the controversial debate about whether capital punishment is justified. Their analysis was grounded in a dramatistic perspective, which would help address this issue. Another paper about the television program Cougar Town focused on taken-for-granted roles and rules for women in terms of appearance and behavior. The author’s analysis was grounded in a feminist perspective. Still another examined the Monopoly board game as it sends underlying messages regarding our taken-for-granted beliefs about wealth and power grounded in a neo-Marxist perspective.

    Next, you need to ground your analysis as it extends existing research. Here is where you talk about similar studies that have been conducted so the reader can begin to see how your analysis will teach him or her something more than what has already been studied on the topic of, for instance, feminist messages in films, or messages of justification for breaking society’s rules for living, or visual communication or music as rhetoric.

    Finally, conclude your introduction by stating your research question(s). If your introduction is organized in the way prescribed here, you will have built an argument for accepting your text and research question as worthy of study.

    The Body

    The body consists of (1) an explanation of your rhetorical perspective and the procedure you followed in your analysis as well as (2) the analysis itself. Again, although there exists no set-in-stone page limit here, typically the body will be approximately 10 to 12 pages long.

    In terms of the rhetorical perspective, you need to explain what it is, who has helped shape it, and what it helps reveal as a method of analysis. You will likely draw on your literature review to develop this section. You also need to clarify why you’ve chosen it as a means by which to answer your specific research question. That is, why will this approach be useful for your analysis in particular? In this section, you also need to operationalize the rhetorical perspective. That is, you need to explain in detail the steps you followed in conducting your analysis. The explanation of procedures assures the reader that you did, in fact, conduct a systematic analysis grounded in rhetorical method and not just build a case for your opinion.

    In the actual analysis portion of the body of your essay, you offer your description and interpretation of the text. In other words, who are the characters, what is going on, what is being said (verbally and nonverbally), and what does it mean? Interpret its meaning according to the rhetorical perspective you’ve chosen. In my Jerry Springer example, I would describe and interpret the visual images and behaviors of Springer, the strippers, and the audience members via the visual pleasure elements of the male gaze based on narcissism, fetishism, and voyeurism.

    The Conclusion

    The conclusions section is typically about three to five pages long. Sometimes, this section is titled Discussion; however, rhetoricians commonly avoid that term, which is used extensively in quantitative studies. You will want to focus on conclusions, implications, and suggestions for future research.

    In your conclusions, you essentially answer the research question or questions you’ve posed. Moreover, however, you must tie each conclusion to existing research. In other words, articulate how each conclusion teaches us something beyond what we already know from existing research. A conclusion might confirm, contradict, or further clarify the conclusions of some studies. If so, make that link for the reader. A conclusion might also take the field a step further in terms of understanding how a particular rhetorical perspective functions. This is often referred to as extending theory. The important point with your conclusions is to tie them to existing research so readers see how your study, in fact, offers something new to the field.

    In your implications, answer the so-what question you identified in the evaluation portion of your analysis. How might these messages impact various target audiences related to the social issue or taken-for-granted belief or behavior you focus on? What should be done and by whom as a result of the conclusions you’ve discovered? Does the artifact call into question or offer a solution to an existing social issue or problem? If so, what ought to be done next and why? Or does the artifact perpetuate a taken-for-granted belief or behavior that is somehow problematic? If so, what ought to be done next and why? These implications are speculative, but the intent is to foster critical thinking about taken-for-granted beliefs and behaviors about everyday life in the minds of readers so as to help them, too, become critical consumers of such messages couched in mediated popular culture texts.

    Finally, end with a paragraph or two that suggests future research questions emerging from your analysis. What else should be examined using this rhetorical perspective, why, and how? Should this artifact be examined using a different rhetorical perspective, why, and how? You want to leave the reader wanting more and, perhaps, even wanting to conduct some similar study him- or herself. Your goal is not to offer your essay as an end in and of itself. Rather, your goal is to stimulate critical thinking and future research ideas in the minds of readers.

    Presenting Your Essay

    One of the most common mistakes made by scholars when they present their essays at professional conferences is to merely read them or even just sections of them aloud in front of the audience. Although one would hope that scholars in the field of communication would not rely on this approach, all too often we do. This is unfortunate given the fact that our discipline is responsible for teaching effective public speaking skills and reading aloud in front of an audience is not touted as most effective. The one exception is when a speaker can make listeners believe he or she is not merely reading from a manuscript. That said, this section offers one approach for transforming your essay into a format appropriate for an effective conference presentation.

    Typically, you are allotted about 12 minutes for your oral presentation. Sometimes you’ll be allotted as many as 15 minutes, but 10 to 12 is the norm for most academic papers in the communication field. This means you’ll need to condense your 18- to 25-page paper into something that makes a compelling point succinctly. Remember, if some audience members want to read the paper, they certainly can. Your presentation should focus on highlighting key conclusions and, hopefully, fostering interest to pick up the paper at the end of the session. The following paragraphs provide guidelines for doing so in terms of your introduction, body, and conclusion.

    The Introduction

    The introduction should take only about one to three minutes. Hence, each of the elements in your introduction needs to be stated in only one or two sentences. Begin, as always, with an attention catcher. You might share a juicy quotation from the television program or movie you’ve analyzed or a snippet from a song you’ve examined. The important point here, though, is to keep it short. Then, briefly mention the social issue, problem, or taken-for-granted belief or behavior you’ll focus on and its significance in society. In a presentation a colleague and I did on the Friends essay, for instance, we talked about the prevalence of eating disorders among women in the United States today. We did so because the analysis focused on the thinning of Hollywood as role models for women. Be sure to cite sources. Then, mention the artifact and why it’s worthy of study. You need to do so in only one or two sentences. Then, state the research question(s) and the rhetorical perspective you selected and why. This may take a few sentences; however, here is where so many young scholars make a big mistake. By that, I mean they share their entire literature review including their review of the rhetorical perspective and use up their allotted 10 to 12 minutes before they ever get to the conclusions. Ultimately, the moderator stops them before they ever share what listeners really want to hear. Finally, offer as a preview the main things you looked for to answer the research question. These are essentially derived from your conclusions.

    The Body

    Aim for eight to ten minutes in the body of your presentation. Begin by stating how many conclusions you found. Then, the main points for the body of your presentation are actually your conclusions. That is, for main point one, state what you found in conclusion number one. Then, to support the conclusion, tie it to the research question(s) and to the literature review so listeners can hear how it extends what we already know. Finally, share a snippet (audio, visual, or audiovisual) from the artifact to help listeners “see” or “hear” what you mean. Then, move on to main point two, which is conclusion number two, and do the same thing. Although using your conclusions as main points might feel odd while you’re preparing the presentation, listeners will be interested in what you have to say and, more importantly, won’t get bored as they always do when someone reads the paper to them.

    The Conclusion

    The conclusion is very short, only one to two minutes. Begin by restating the answer to your research question in one sentence or two at the most. Then pose implications. Recall these are the answers to your so-what question. Tie the conclusions to the real-world issues, to taken-for-granted beliefs and behaviors, or to everyday problems. Remember that you are speculating here to foster critical thinking. You need not say much, just a couple of juicy ideas. For similar reasons, offer one or two suggestions for future research that arise from your study. Finally, offer a clincher that ties directly back to your attention catcher. Maybe you’ll share another snippet from the television program, film, or song. Maybe you’ll pose a new question related to the point made in the attention catcher. The key here is to tie the clincher back to the attention catcher. Doing so will make your presentation memorable in a positive way.


    In this appendix, we focused on taking what you learn from your analyses of mediated popular culture texts to a larger audience. We offered a systematic plan for collecting appropriate research, for writing your essay, and for transforming it into an effective oral presentation at professional conferences. Certainly, becoming an educated critical consumer of the underlying popular culture messages in mediated texts is important. It can be even more rewarding, however, to share your findings effectively with others.

    At this point, I challenge you to open the door to taking your analyses to broader audiences. Select one of the challenges or assignments you did during this course, and convert it into an essay worthy of review for possible publication in an academic journal or presentation at a professional conference. Once you start, I suspect you’ll continue to pursue the journey. Good luck!


    absolute standards:

    confirm that the story is obviously well crafted compared to general societal expectations for quality


    the rule-breaking behavior or action occurring in the drama; one of the five elements of human drama

    active event:

    expresses an action of some sort; one of two items required for the mediated text to be a narrative

    actual time:

    one-dimensional succession of moments (e.g., minutes, hours, days, weeks)


    tools, means, and techniques employed to accomplish the act


    character(s) engaged in rule-breaking behavior


    groups of associated symbols that reinforce opposites (points of conflict) or what versus what

    amplification and reduction:

    what is shown and not shown on a television program, film, Internet website, video game, and so forth


    villain in a drama


    character roles that receivers are led to disassociate with or not be like


    rhetorical canon focused on the organizational structure of a message


    a sign or series of signs that is socially grounded, and its meaning is widely shared by some identifiable community or cultural group

    artistic proofs:

    used internally by a speaker to create means of support via logos, or appeals to logical argument; ethos, or appeals to the speaker’s character; and pathos, or appeals to emotion and their apparent effect on the audience

    bond of intimacy:

    created when a viewer begins to feel he or she really knows the celebrity or character even though the celebrity or character does not know the viewer


    categories of rhetoric used to evaluate a text; the five canons are (1) invention, (2) arrangement, (3) style, (4) delivery, and (5) memory

    causal relations:

    cause-and-effect relationship by human action, accident, or forces of nature

    chaining out:

    dynamic process of circulating, revising, and elaborating on a theme or group of themes

    closeness-of-fit standard:

    asks how well an individual theme works within the larger rhetorical vision


    “seeing” an object or image as complete even when it is not


    groups of associated symbols that suggest what goes with what

    cognitive theory:

    focuses on what is going on in our minds when we view an image or object and how that affects our perception


    the degree to which the story hangs together

    comic fool:

    when the guilty party is absolved of guilt because someone or something else is to blame and the error is portrayed as inevitable or as a common human failing

    comic lyrics:

    focused on determination to beat the odds; failure is not an option


    advertisements blending with programming

    common fate:

    our tendency to mentally group objects that appear to be going in the same direction

    comparative standard:

    looks at the quality of story compared to other stories competing for the same audience

    congruent interaction:

    the emotional meanings of music and lyrics reinforce one another


    transpires when comic lyrics are combined with intensity musical patterns or tragic lyrics are combined with release musical patterns

    consciousness creating:

    the creation of a shared symbolic reality that did not previously exist

    consciousness raising:

    where those who already share an existing vision attempt to attract and indoctrinate newcomers

    consciousness sustaining:

    retelling the fantasy to keep everyone from losing sight of the shared story line


    identifying with other people and society


    our tendency to desire a smooth continuation of perceived movement

    critical rhetoric:

    orientation that encompasses a number of perspectives that examine how texts “create and sustain the social practices which control the dominated” (McKerrow, 1989, p. 92; Chapter 6)

    cultivation effect:

    cumulative persuasive effect on receivers caused by a bombardment of similar messages across texts targeted to a particular group

    cultivation theory:

    suggests that cumulative exposure to violence (and other behaviors) on television, the Internet, and video games has significant long-term effects regarding what the everyday real world is like

    cultural feminist perspective:

    promotes as valuable the socialized skills, activities, behaviors, and viewpoints that have traditionally been defined as feminine and, thus, trivialized


    shared stories lose their power and dim in the face of better alternatives


    rhetorical canon focused on the speaker’s use of voice and body


    terministic screens preventing us from thinking or doing certain things

    devil terms:

    terministic screens that cluster together around a theme that is regarded by the dominant social order as bad, wrong, or undesirable

    discursive symbols:

    units (e.g., words and numbers) with fixed associations

    dramatic illusion:

    forward-looking story into the unresolved virtual future

    dramatis personae:

    characters who populate a drama


    the study of human motivation by viewing events as dramas

    dramatistic perspective:

    method of rhetorical criticism focused on how human beings make sense of the world and act through dramas

    economic metaphor:

    includes anything (e.g., images, language, objects, events, practices) that signifies (sheds light on) something about the culture’s ideas, norms, values, and practices regarding wealth and empowerment


    the final phase of the analysis in which the critic must consider what happened or did not happen as a result of the speech


    terministic screens that grant “permission” for thinking or doing certain things


    principles about what is right and wrong, moral and immoral, fair and unfair


    perceived speaker credibility, competence, and character


    reason the speech needs to be given

    fantasy theme:

    a basic unit of communication, like a joke, analogy, metaphor, wordplay, pun, double entendre, figure of speech, or anecdote that, when shared with others, constitutes the base of social reality

    fantasy theme analysis (FTA):

    the tool or methodology that rhetoricians use to identify, understand, and interpret converged symbols

    fantasy theme artistry:

    the rhetorical skill and communication competence of the storyteller

    fantasy type:

    “a stock scenario repeated again and again by the same characters or by similar characters” (Bormann, 1985, p. 7; Chapter 5)


    anyone (male or female) whose beliefs and actions challenge hegemony by respecting and valuing both men and women who embrace and enact multiple gender styles and sexualities

    feminist perspective:

    analyzes what are conveyed as “appropriate” and “desirable” as well as “inappropriate” and “undesirable” roles and rules for men and women


    a perspective that situates the study of masculinity within the framework of gender and power


    pleasure derived from openly looking at an object that is in itself satisfying


    the degree to which the values offered in a story ring true with what we regard as truthful and humane

    first-wave feminism:

    primary goal was to secure for women the right to vote

    flat characters:

    predictable; not deviating from preconceived norms of the status quo

    founding fantasy:

    a narrative tale about the inception of a group

    fourth-wave feminism:

    honors a standpoint that feminism does not refer only to the struggles and oppression of women but, rather, embraces a call to action for gender equity broadly conceived and an end to oppression of any and all marginalized groups


    how often clusters of terministic screens appear


    socioculturally constructed traits of masculinity and femininity

    gestalt theory:

    focused on how our brains group individual items based on what seems to go together and what does not

    glass ceiling:

    a situation where women are not promoted when they are qualified just because they are women

    God terms:

    terministic screens that cluster together to reinforce a worldview embraced by the dominant social order


    any feeling of tension or unease within a person


    privileging of a dominant group’s ideology over that of other groups


    privileging of heterosexuality and an alignment among biological sex, sexuality, gender identity, and gender roles

    hidden agenda:

    ulterior motive of alleged adherents within the vision


    when something or someone is a symbol of the thing it represents


    when something or someone functions as an icon


    pictures that resemble ideas


    a cultural group’s perceptions about the way things are and assumptions about the way they ought to be

    illusion of life:

    how lyrics and music function together to persuade

    illusion of life perspective:

    focuses on how lyrics and music function together to persuade

    inartistic proofs:

    external means of support such as facts, statistics, and personal examples found in books, journal articles, research reports, or interviews

    incongruent interaction:

    the emotional meanings of the music and lyrics contradict one another


    when a sign is associated with something else

    inflected oppositional reading:

    a text whose messages merely bend hegemony rather than reject it outright


    how forcefully the clusters of terministic screens are portrayed

    intensity patterns:

    feelings of tension

    Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD):

    excessive computer use that interferes with daily life


    occurs when a text leads one to identify with certain roles


    the blending of texts in ways that make it difficult if not impossible to separate them from prior texts, context, and any other utterances that surround them


    characters are perceived as real people with real feelings, norms, and values


    rhetorical canon focused on the major ideas and lines of argument in the speech via artistic and inartistic proofs

    liberal feminist perspective:

    focuses primarily on providing opportunities for the inclusion of women in traditionally male-dominated areas

    live model:

    an actual person demonstrating a behavior


    logical arguments based on evidence and reasoning

    lyrical ascription:

    integrating examples and stories from popular culture to which members of a target audience will likely relate


    timing of the speech

    male gaze:

    describes the way in which viewers (both male and female) look at the people presented and represented in visual images by identifying with the male actor(s)

    Marxist feminist perspective:

    primary goal is to ensure economic equality for women

    masculine hegemony:

    describes gender and power inequities that account for multiple masculinities and how hegemonic structures oppress all forms other than heterosexual masculinity

    master analogues:

    three types of deep structure frameworks rhetorical visions tend to adhere to: righteous, social, or pragmatic

    media-centered perspectives:

    explain how both old and new media function uniquely to influence how we believe and behave

    media ecology theory:

    focuses on how media and communication processes affect human perception, understanding, beliefs, and behaviors

    media effects:

    causal and correlation effects of watching a particular television program, viewing an advertisement or series of advertisements, and so on

    media effects research:

    uses social science methods to examine audience responses to media messages

    media logic:

    focuses on the degree to which users tend to take the medium and its social uses for granted and, thus, fail to realize how it influences us to believe and behave

    mediated popular culture:

    popular culture experienced through media channels (e.g., movies, television, songs, comic strips, and advertisements) that may influence us to believe and behave in certain ways

    mediated popular culture text:

    subset of the broad range of popular culture texts delivered through media channels


    extension of media logic that accounts for new media and new areas of application


    rhetorical canon focused on strategies that make the message positively memorable days, weeks, and even years later

    metonymic signs:

    associated with something else and, thus, serve to represent that something else

    mirror stage:

    symbolizes an ongoing sexual relationship we have with body image

    mnemonic devices:

    strategies employed to translate information into a form that aids retention


    roles receivers are led to identify with or be like


    value-laden ideological argument a story proposes directly or indirectly and intentionally or unintentionally about how we ought to or ought not to believe or behave


    the actor confesses guilt and asks for forgiveness; actor is sometimes absolved of guilt


    offered as a justification for rule-breaking behavior that is generalizable to humankind

    music as communication:

    refers to the individual, unique meanings each of us might attach to music

    music perspectives:

    explain how musical sounds (with or without lyrics) function rhetorically

    musical aesthetics:

    appreciation and evaluation of musical form or design

    musical ascription:

    imitating a musical sound that appeals to a particular target audience

    musical genre:

    generally recognized category of music

    musical rhetoric:

    persuasive arguments conveyed through musical artifacts that reinforce or challenge a taken-for-granted belief or behavior


    perceived difference or alienation from others


    excessive self-love based on one’s self-image as a result of mirror stage experiences


    defined by Fisher (1987) as the “symbolic actions—words and/or deeds—that have sequence and meaning for those who live, create, or interpret them” (p. 58; Chapter 3).

    narrative paradigm:

    a conceptual framework that places narration and storytelling at the core of all human communication

    narrative perspective:

    a rhetorical method for understanding the underlying moral of the story argued in a text

    narrative rationality:

    our assessment of the value-laden ideological argument proposed in a story


    mediates the events and, as such, offers an interpretation of the events and characters for the audience as the audience observes them

    neo-Aristotelian approach:

    the first formal rhetorical criticism method for examining public speeches

    neo-Aristotelian perspective:

    analyzes verbal messages by considering the context, audience, and the five classical canons of rhetoric

    neo-Marxist materialism:

    posits that all ideas, rules, laws, norms, customs, and social practices of a given society come to be based on real, concrete, observable objects, conditions, and practices related to material possessions and wealth

    neo-Marxist perspective:

    exposes that material conditions and economic practices shape the dominant ideology about who “ought to be” and “ought not to be” empowered

    new media:

    all forms of digital media accessed from the Internet and satellite via computers and various handheld devices


    fear of being out of mobile phone contact

    nonartistic proofs:

    support appeals not invented by the speaker

    nondiscursive rhetoric:

    the study of how nondiscursive symbol systems function as persuasion regarding taken-for-granted beliefs and behaviors

    nondiscursive symbols:

    all symbols beyond the realm of words and numbers humans use to create meaning

    occluded, preferred readings:

    status quo hegemony couched within a seemingly alternative worldview

    old media:

    print media (e.g., newspapers, magazines) and traditional electronic media (e.g., television, radio)

    oppositional readings:

    a text that challenges the dominant ideology with regard to taken-for-granted beliefs about empowerment


    when people adhere to the expected norms of a social order


    devaluing consequence of hegemony that portrays those not in the empowered group as different from and as them


    a conceptual framework for understanding the world around us

    paradigmatic signs:

    gain meaning as they fit with or in contrast to other signs


    nonverbal vocal cues (including silence) that accompany words

    parasocial relationship:

    a perception by a viewer of “knowing” a character as in a face-to-face relationship

    parasocial relationship theory:

    describes one-sided relationships where one party knows a great deal about the other party, but not vice versa


    emotions stirred in the audience by the speaker


    the structuring of society around family units where the male is the authority figure and is responsible for the welfare of his family members and the community


    the five elements of human drama (act, actors, agency, scene, and purpose)


    pictures that resemble what they signify


    provides the action of the narrative

    poetic illusion:

    backward-looking or resolved story reflecting on the virtual past


    when an individual rejects the hierarchy of the social order in some way


    the “new relationship between the social and the technological” which goes beyond considering each medium individually the message (Morrison, 2006, p. 169)

    popular culture:

    the everyday objects, actions, and events that influence people to believe and behave in certain ways

    popular culture text:

    composed of an interrelated set of signs and artifacts that all contribute to the same rhetorical argument

    pragmatic master analogue:

    values “expediency, utility, efficiency, parsimony, simplicity, practicality, cost effectiveness, and whatever it takes to get the job done” (Cragan & Shields, 1995, p. 42; Chapter 5)

    preferred reading:

    reinforces the status quo ideology about empowerment by promoting taken-for-granted assumptions as common sense


    refers to how viewers often get to know the characters personally as they watch them privately in the comfort of their own homes


    hero in a drama


    our tendency to associate objects that are or appear to be close to each other and the tendency to notice things that are or appear to be close to us

    psychoanalytic theories:

    focus primarily on how the mind, psyche, human subjectivity, sexuality, and the unconscious are constructed in rhetorical texts


    absolution of guilt


    explanation for why the agent(s) engaged in the rule-breaking behavior

    queer theory:

    examines sexual identities and activities that hegemony labels as normal and deviant

    radical feminist perspective:

    assumes that inequities and oppression stem from how the system creates men and women differently (subject and object gender identities) and the value placed on them

    rational-world paradigm:

    a framework that assumes people are rational beings who make decisions based on logical arguments, evidence, and reasoning


    pairings among Pentad elements


    ideological arguments about empowerment couched beneath the surface of texts


    refers to how believable the characters and their encounters are perceived to be


    temporary rebirth into the social order of society

    release patterns:

    feelings of relief from tensions


    messages designed to influence people, a.k.a. persuasive communication

    rhetorical argument:

    a message sent through text that either reinforces or challenges a taken-for-granted belief or behavior about what is “appropriate” or “inappropriate,” “desirable” or “undesirable,” “good” or “bad”

    rhetorical criticism:

    the systematic analysis of an argument about the “way things are” or the “way things ought to be” conveyed in a text through signs as artifacts

    rhetorical perspective:

    a lens through which you look to magnify the underlying messages that have to do with the question you are asking

    rhetorical vision:

    shared ideology of a group

    rhetorical vision life cycle:

    five stages within which rhetorical visions exist

    rhetorical vision reality link:

    evidence of the senses that provide authentication for a vision

    righteous master analogue:

    “stresses the correct way of doing things with its concerns about right and wrong, proper and improper, superior and inferior, moral and immoral, and just and unjust” (Cragan & Shields, 1995, p. 42; Chapter 5)

    round characters:

    unpredictable; deviate from the preconceived norms of the status quo

    sanctioning agent:

    the legitimizing force that guides a narrative


    an attempt to absolve guilt by blaming someone or something else


    location and situation where the act takes place


    the love of or pleasurable (i.e., sexually arousing) looking

    second-wave feminism:

    primary goal was and is equal rights and opportunities for women and men


    mental picture of one’s self based on mirror stage experiences


    the relationship among a sign, which represents an object (referent), and a meaning (interpretation) attached to it


    the study of signs


    where the action takes place


    biological traits of women and men

    shared group consciousness:

    proof of a rhetorical community and audience buy-in


    something that makes you think of something else


    our tendency to group together things that look similar (e.g., color, shape, size)


    not heeding the rules of the social order

    site of struggle:

    occurs when the text reinforces or calls into question some taken-for-granted ideology about “the way things are” or “ought to be”

    social learning theory:

    focuses on how we learn to believe and behave based on observation, imitation, and modeling

    social master analogues:

    storylines focusing on friendship, trust, camaraderie, brotherhood or sisterhood, and being humane


    group of traveling professional public speaking experts during the Classical period of ancient Greece and Rome


    understanding of the world as shaped by where one is situated within it based on class, gender, race, sexual identity, and so on

    stative event:

    an expression of a state or condition; one of two items required for the mediated text to be a narrative

    strategic ambiguity:

    making a claim using language that avoids specifics


    rhetorical canon focused on language choices

    subject positions:

    economic metaphors embodied in roles of the characters in a text

    subverted oppositional reading:

    a text whose messages reject hegemony outright

    symbolic convergence theory (SCT):

    reveals a shared reality used by a particular community to make sense of the world around them

    symbolic cue:

    “cryptic allusions to common symbolic ground” (Bormann, 1985, p. 6; Chapter 5)

    symbolic model:

    a person demonstrating a behavior through a medium such as television, film, the Internet, video games, and so forth


    when a sign leads us to think of something else merely by convention


    our mind’s desire to perceive objects into an even number of symmetrical parts

    synecdochal signs:

    a part or piece of something that serves to stand in for the whole

    syntagmatic signs:

    gain their meaning from the signs that surround them in a static visual or by signs that come before and after them sequentially in a moving visual

    target audience:

    the group of people whom the sender is attempting to persuade


    describes the endless ways in which technology dominates our thinking and behaviors today


    the ways in which word clusters are ultimately completed

    terministic screens:

    verbal and nonverbal symbols that represent a particular worldview


    the end of the life-cycle process


    an organizing concept for understanding the impact of technology on society


    any set of interrelated signs and artifacts that contribute to a unified message

    third-wave feminism:

    primary goals are not only women’s issues but also a variety of standpoints

    tragic hero:

    when the rule-breaking action is portrayed as someone or something else’s fault, but the rhetor still must be punished in order to reenter society

    tragic lyrics:

    focused on self-consummation, hopelessness, and coping with fate


    justification based on following a higher calling


    justification based on blaming someone or something else

    virtual experience:

    emotional stance conveyed via lyrics

    virtual time:

    emotional content conveyed via music

    visual art aesthetics:

    devoted to the creation and appreciation of art

    visual communication:

    focuses on how images and objects convey meaning

    visual culture:

    denotes the countless ways in which visuals are inextricably embedded in social life

    visual language:

    form-related usage rules-related things such as color, layout, texture, sequencing, imagery, and style, as well as animation and sound in some cases

    visual literacy:

    the set of skills required to “effectively find, interpret, evaluate, use, and create images and visual media” (Hattwig et al., 2011; Chapter 9)

    visual perspectives:

    explain the unique ways in which visuals communicate messages nondiscursively

    visual pleasure theory:

    focuses on how visual images in media encourage viewers to look pleasurably at female images via a male gaze

    visual rhetoric:

    focuses expressly on how visuals communicate meanings that reinforce or challenge taken-for-granted ideological beliefs and behaviors


    instances where people gain pleasure from looking at others engaged in sexual, sordid, or scandalous acts without them knowing it

    About the Author

    Deanna D. Sellnow is a professor of strategic communication in the Nicholson School of Communication at the University of Central Florida. She conducts research in two major areas. The first focuses on strategic instructional communication in a variety of contexts (e.g., classrooms, risk and crisis, and health). The second focuses on rhetorical studies of popular culture. She has conducted funded research for the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Her work is published in refereed national and international journals, as well as several books. She has presented her work across the United States and in many countries around the world, including Canada, China, Denmark, Egypt, England, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Senegal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, and Vietnam. She and her husband, Tim, have a daughter (Debbie), son (Rick), son-in-law (Scott), and grandson (Lincoln).

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