Student Study Site for Rhetoric in Popular Culture, Third Edition
Barry Brummett

Chapter Resources

Note: Click on each link to expand or collapse content.

Chapter 1: Rhetoric and Popular Culture

Pop Culture Exercises

Click on the "Exercise" links to open the document(s) to use for each exercise.

These two cartoons suggest that we use visible signs both to tell others about who we are and what groups we belong to. Do we also use the signs that other people have about them to figure out which groups or cultures they belong to? If so, how is this a bad thing to do? Does it differ from stereotyping?

NON SEQUITUR © 2000 Wiley Miller. Dist. By UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

BALDO © 2004 Baldo Partnership. Dist. By UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

Web Resource

Think about what makes up the “Goth” culture, what its particular artifacts and signs are, and how they contribute to its overall meaning:

Chapter 2: Rhetoric and the Rhetorical Tradition

Pop Culture Exercises

Click on the "Exercise" links to open the document(s) to use for each exercise.

Exercise 2.1
Political discourse has shifted from lengthy, argument-heavy speeches toward shorter, more narrative-based, more visual forms. Does the disagreement between the father and his children in this cartoon illustrate that shift? Who do you think is right in terms of where political rhetoric is centered today?

BALDO © 2002 Baldo Partnership. Dist. By UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

***

Exercise 2.2
In the second chapter we talk about ways in which traditional texts, which depend on expositional argument, are giving way to less verbal, less expositional texts. This article suggests that politics today is increasingly being struggled over through fashion, which of course is a very different kind of text than was used in political struggles in the nineteenth century. Or is it? Does this article suggest a shift in how important rhetoric is carried out?

Web Resources

Think about how graffiti, or tagging, is a form of communication exemplifying nontraditional texts of popular culture.  Also think about why it may be controversial:

An excellent source for traditional texts to analyze is:

Chapter 3: Rhetorical Methods in Critical Studies

Pop Culture Exercises

Click on the "Exercise" links to open the document(s) to use for each exercise.

Exercise 3.1
In chapter 3 we learned that texts sometimes put signs in conflict with each other, which we discover by asking "what is against what?" Note that in this advertisement there is a very clear "fight" that the ad picks between the top and the bottom halves of the text. Would it be possible to sell the product using meanings in either halves of the text? If so, why did the text pick a fight, why did it go out of its way to create a conflict?

***

Exercise 3.2
Chapter 3 tells us that if we ask "what goes with what" we will see how texts pair signs so as to emphasize certain meanings. In this advertisement the motorcycle has been paired with a certain celebrity. Why this particular celebrity? What meanings does he have that the advertiser wants attached to the product?

***

Exercise 3.3
Chapter 3 talks about transformation signs. What are you looking at in this image? Something has been transformed into something else....why? How does that transformation create meanings that the maker of a product wants so as to sell the product?

***

Exercise 3.4
Sometimes texts arrange signs in conflict, as chapter 3 tells us. Sometimes the question of "what is against what" is addressed when texts position signs as distinct from, if not in conflict with, the reader. Think about the ways in which this advertisement makes certain people or cultures seem "other," different, foreign, or exotic...in other words, not "like us." Does this kind of rhetorical move happen very often? Why would a text want to show you something or someone who is depicted as "not like you"?

***

Exercise 3.5
In Chapter 3 we talk about the absence of some signs as carrying meaning. What is absent from the image in this advertisement that you might ordinarily expect to find? What does it mean that there is an absence, and how does that strengthen the rhetorical appeal of this text?

***

Exercise 3.6

Recently, what are called "viral videos" have become quite popular. These are videos that are not widely broadcast but are instead passed from person to person--the sort of thing your friends or family members email you, tell you that you simply must watch! These sites, and plenty more like them, contain many examples of such videos.  Your task in this exercise is to use ideas from chapter three to answer the question, "Why are these videos so popular?" In answering that question you might consider what forms or patterns underlie these videos; do they seem to be of recurring, familiar types of patterns? Think about the relationship of these videos to context, or to the absence of context--since the videos are passed around from person to person, do they lack a consistent context or is there some other sense of context at work here? What kinds of meanings, broad or narrow, do the videos speak to? Does it matter that the videos are often shared in extremely narrow interactions where one person passes them on to another? Feel free to apply any of the other ideas of this chapter to what you find on these sites.

Web Resources

Explore the idea of intertextuality further:

Chapter 4: Varieties of Rhetorical Criticism, part one

Pop Culture Exercises

Click on the "Exercise" links to open the document(s) to use for each exercise.

EXERCISE 4.1
http://www.bravotv.com/project-runway
A popular show that has been running on the Bravo and Lifetime cable channels is called Project Runway. Over the course of several months, a group of designers compete with their fashions, with losing contestants being eliminated each week. Experiment with the methods in chapter four so as to answer these questions:

Some issues you might consider in answer those questions--and these are issues related to several of the possible methods in the chapter--are these:

In the spring of 2006, Bravo ran another series, "Top Chef," immediately following Project Runway, in which chefs competed to create the tastiest, most attractive dishes. Given what you know about the televisual medium, would you predict that "Top Chef" would be more or less successful than Project Runway?

***

EXERCISE 4.2
In a small group (preferably a diverse one), each member should identify an important cultural component of his or her identity (Korean, Irish, African American, etc.).  Now identify an important current event, a controversial issue or happening that has generated a lot of public discussion.  Have each member of the group say why they think this issue or event might look different or even unique from their cultural perspective.  Also, explore the question whether that issue, or some other current issue, is best or most accurately seen from a particular cultural perspective.

***

EXERCISE 4.3
In a small group, watch a short excerpt from a television program (Youtube is a good source for such clips).  Discuss the different meanings a preferred, negotiated, or subversive reading of the program might find.  Assign members of the group to take such a role and offer up a “reading” of the clip from that perspective.

Web Resources

Think about the ways that famous photographs chain out in culture, carrying meanings forward and influencing how we think about images:

Chapter 5: Varieties of Rhetorical Criticism, part two

Pop Culture Exercises

Click on the "Exercise" links to open the document(s) to use for each exercise.

Exercise 5.1
Chapter 5 tells us that feminist rhetorical criticism looks for texts that depict females as passive, inactive, objects to be acted upon.  Does this advertisement do that, and if so, how?  Can you think of other images that work in the same way?

***

Exercise 5.2
Here's part of a page from a typical local newspaper. Look at the ways in which women are represented. Do you see a consistent theme of "lack" being portrayed here? Is there a similar theme for men? Can you think of other examples of how lack might be used as a textual instrument of patriarchy?

***

Exercise 5.3
Dramatistic/narrative criticism looks at the narrative structure of texts to determine their rhetorical effect. We are used to thinking of narratives as moving in time, so that films, television shows, or music are often thought of as the natural medium for narrative. This advertisement "stands still" so to speak, yet it still has narrative value. How? How is the audience recruited to help in creating the narrative?

***

Exercise 5.4
Chapter 5 talks about the gaze as a major way in which patriarchy is perpetuated....or refused. Think about how the gaze works in this advertisement. Are you looking at the woman or are you looking with her? What are the rhetorical consequences of the way the gaze works here?

Web Resources

Chapter 6: Paradoxes of Personalization: Race Relations in Milwaukee

Web Resources

Study Questions

  1. Of the seven varieties of critical methods, which are used in this chapter? Specifically, what does this study do that enacts the method or methods it claims to use?
  2. What does "personalization" mean in this chapter? How have you used personalization in your own life?
  3. What are the two "paradoxes of personalization" in this study? Do you think they are inevitable results of personalization?
  4. The tragic events described by this criticism occurred several years ago. Update the study by pointing to more recent events which the public understood through personalization. Did the paradoxes occur in these more recent events as well?

Chapter 7: On Gangsta Rap, Written with the Help of the Reader

Web Resources

Study Questions

  1. Of the seven varieties of critical methods, which are used in this chapter? Specifically, what does this study do that enacts the method or methods it claims to use?
  2. What kind of gut reaction or emotional feeling does this study inspire in you? Do some self reflection as to why you feel that way and what it means that you do.
  3. Whatever your reaction to this study, do you think it would it be different if you were of another racial or cultural heritage? Why or why not? What does your answer tell us about the impact of this critique?
  4. This study explicitly asks the reader to help out. Is it unusual in doing so, or do other critiques enlist the reader in making the criticism "work"?

Chapter 8: Simulational Selves, Simulational Culture in Groundhog Day

Web Resources

Study Questions

  1. Of the seven varieties of critical methods, which are used in this chapter? Specifically, what does this study do that enacts the method or methods it claims to use?
  2. To what extent are your own experiences simulational? Does this vary by kind of experience (work, leisure, etc.)?
  3. How much can you get out of a criticism if you have not personally experienced the text that is being critiqued? You may or may not have seen this film. But you are likely not to have experienced the public reactions to the house fires described in Chapter 5. What does a criticism need to do to reach readers who are unfamiliar with the text being studied?
  4. Your reactions to the sixth chapter may depend on your ethnicity. Do your reactions to this chapter depend on your gender? Do they depend as much, or less, or more? What does your answer tell us about how the reader approaches criticism, and what the critic must do to anticipate the reader?

Chapter 9: Media and Representation in Rec. Motorcycles

Web Resources

Study Questions

  1. Of the seven varieties of critical methods, which are used in this chapter? Specifically, what does this study do that enacts the method or methods it claims to use?
  2. What media besides the Internet have similar problems in regards to proving claims and establishing truth? Can you think of some experiences you have had where the medium raises questions of authenticity?
  3. To what extent does this chapter tell us about a simulational culture as did the seventh chapter? Do you agree that simulation is increasingly central to our experiences? Give examples.
  4. What does this chapter teach us about how we present ourselves online? Are there special issues for showing others who we are that come with the Internet?

Chapter 10: Two Homological Critiques