Studies: Comp/Rhet/Language

The Rhetoric of Popular Culture

This course will ask you to critically evaluate the “rhetorical work” of popular culture in US mass media, especially that in print, on television, on the world wide web, and in interactive media like video games–as a way to understand how politics, information, entertainment, and social values are thoroughly intertwined and how they get (re)constructed and (re)produced in contemporary society.

You will investigate the persuasive functions of  “the culture industries” by reading and responding to both academic and popular-press theories of media, rhetoric, and pop culture. You will also examine artifacts of popular culture itself vis-à-vis a range of films, webtexts (including memes, podcasts, and social media platforms), games, and television productions, analyzing and evaluating them for their social, political, and entertainment functions. Finally, you will not only analyze and critique media that is made for mass consumption, but you will also attempt to intervene in the production and circulation of such media as academics and as citizens through a range of direct and indirect communications with the makers of culture.

Assignments will include a series of short, informal essays in response to the readings, a (potentially collaborative) presentation, a more formal academic essay (the “term paper”), and a small take-home exam.

Readings for the course will be made available via PDF, so there will be little to no cost. These will include some theoretical works from rhetoric scholars such as Barry Brummett and from the Frankfurt and Birmingham schools of Cultural Studies, as well as essays by popular culture and media theorists such as Sut Jhally, Andi Ziesler, and John Storey.  You will also be asked to view and/or play a variety of pop culture productions (like games, TV shows, and films).