Rhetorical Criticism – Final Reflective Blog Post

The course of the semester has certainly been tumultuous. However, in reference to this course this semester has been one of growth and learning. Engl 301 has give the opportunity to develop my analytical skills and deepen the vocabulary I have available to discuss and explain the cultural impact as well as the rhetorical tools used in pop culture to deepen its impact.

Historically, rhetoric was hemmed in with a definition that limited the scope of rhetoric to verbal expression only. The school of verbal rhetoric is dominated by the ancient Greeks and later on would come to include written rhetoric as well. Both schools of rhetoric focus on strategies, demographics, and perceived major elements of communication in order to best sway an audience to a certain way of thinking. With the rise of visual media in the 20th century a definition of modern rhetoric would include aspects of this new form of media and expanding the field to include the old standards, such as focusing on logos, pathos, and ethos, while also including the impact of things like color theory and rule of thirds film theory. These modern definitions see the rise of multi-modal texts and increased lenses with which to analyze them from. Historically the oration of the rhetoric takes precedent over everything else, whereas in modern rhetorical analysis a multitude of elements could jockey for the top spot in a specific analysis and there’s a chance that two authors could pick the same text and same analytical lens and choose to focus on different aspects to support their argument.

Analyzing multi-modal pop culture artifacts has given a rise to the awareness of the nature and function of rhetoric. This class, in particular the use of students presentations and responses to blog posts has allowed for the ability to grasp a larger understanding of pop culture on the impact of the individual and how they interpret the world. Rachel Poole’s posts on feminism allow for not only a exchange of opinions and ideas in a format that is not only accessible and ensures the attention of the reader but also creates a forum where it is safe to share these ideals. In short The methods in the class with which the material was discussed by the students gave way to a deeper understanding that was both fact and community driven. Serving as both a tool to explain the rhetoric but also as a method to practice the rhetoric learned.

As mentioned above, the fact that the blogs allowed for expressions by the student allowed for a clearer understanding of how rhetoric in pop culture impacts us since it was clearer to see how it impacted others first. From that point it became easier to self reflect and delve deeper into the introspective side of rhetoric and it’s impact. This creates a feedback loop, the deeper self reflection that came from the community in turn created better posts. As the personal posts became better understood and research then the community also became better as analyzing and responding to these rhetorical criticisms, so on and so forth.

This feedback loop of improvement also allowed for better as a analyst. Personally I take great pride in producing a strong analysis of pop culture. However, there are aspects of the analysis that I could personally improve upon. My writing style could use higher clarity with better language geared towards persuasion instead of the analysis making assumptions that the reader already agrees with the paper. Furthermore, the structure of the analysis tends to be weak and could often benefit from further editing to improve readability through organization. Headings were often misused or not used at all this was due to a lack of editing in the writing process.

Moving forward, this has provided a plethora of lenses to learn and understand the science of rhetoric. I think moving forward what I would like to do is to focus on one specific lens, most like the Marxist lens, however, even with focusing on one specific lens as the backbone of analysis it would only be beneficial to combine this lens with the others. An example would be a Marxist analysis of Legally Blonde (2001) while also bringing in a feminist analysis. This merging of two lenses I believe would would expand upon the subject matter deepening the understanding of it under both lenses.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Post #8: Media Centered Perspective of Aliens (1986)

In the late 20th century James Cameron brought about the Alien film franchise. With the lead character Ellen Ripley captivating audiences as the new badass action hero to compare with the likes of Rambo, RoboCop, and John McClane. Alien (1979) was the first time Ellen Ripley hit the big screen and it was a total success at the box office at the time ensnaring both women and men into the theater so that they could see the terrifying new sci-fi film. Alien has also been a huge critical success with it being the film most often written about through the feminist lens by a long mile. Why then is it so important to discuss the second film Aliens (1986)? The answer is because it does everything the first film did but again. This might seem confusing or even a bad idea when it comes to making a movie but this film was just as much a success as the first one even if the staying power of this second film hasn’t reached legendary status like the first film. However, its’ success at its’ release has made something clear. The audiences, at least from 1979 through 1986, wanted a female lead who was portrayed not as a lamp post with lines to read or a body to ogle but instead as a fully fledged, developed, and powerful. Ripley was indeed able to fulfill those desires audiences had and since then has sparked interest in science fiction and stem fields for young women.

 

The difference between Ellen Ripley and her male counterparts would be that Ripley is a woman. However, Cameron when directing the movie did not treat her any differently instead Ripley is portrayed identically to her male counterparts. This clip shows how that is the case. https://youtu.be/LY2wGD6-j0Y

A couple major take aways from this clip would be:

1) Ripley is gearing up to fight the alien by herself.

  • She is leaving two men behind while she does this. Which is both stereotypical of the male action hero to face the final challenge alone but right before she leaves she also gears up not just taking weapons out of the armory but building upon them and setting them up in a way that just makes her more powerful. The dual-gun set up she uses makes sense within the plot of the movie in order to kill the monster but also from an audiences perspective makes her far more enrapturing as an action hero.
  • Ripley’s appearance in this scene, where she is the primary character on screen and really only has to share the screen with the weapons themselves, has her shown sweaty and gross covered in grime and bruises. None of the shots are used to establish her beauty but instead are entirely focused on her functionality as the action hero. Focusing heavily on her hands and what she is doing not how she is looking.

 

This liberal feminist perspective presented in this sequel film became one of the facets of the Alien franchise that has kept it culturally and critically relevant since its’ premier. Aliens (1986) seeks for the audience to view Ripley not as the female action star but as just another action star who is a woman. Ripley breaks into the male dominated action star sector and can slug it out with the best of them. Ripley’s character would pave the way for other women to adopt similar roles in the future. Aliens isn’t a woman’s action movie but an action movie that stars a woman. That is to say this film isn’t marketed towards women but to a general audience and by doing that elevates Ripley’s position from just a hero that women can enjoy to one that can be equal to and surpass those action heroes across pop culture.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post #8: Media Centered Perspective of Aliens (1986)

Post #7: A Liberal Feminist Perspective of Marvel’s “Endgame”

Fist a quick note, this analysis will be limited strictly to the characters who make appearances in Endgame and their actions taken within that movie.

The marvel cinematic universe has dominated pop culture since the release of Iron Man in 2008. With Iron Man as the grandfather of all the heroes that have graced the big screen, followed in quick succession by the other two pillars of the MCU being Captain America and Thor. Missing from this foundation of heroes is any powerful female representation. But that was all 2008 so what about in 2020 are things any better for the inclusion of women superheros in what has been a heavily male dominated culture scene?

In 2019 Avengers: Endgame came to theaters. This served as the cap-stone to the interwoven heroes’ journey that fans had been following for years. In this movie there were great moments of both female solidarity and power. Such as show here: https://youtu.be/L7Y0ucw7bGk

This moment fills the first requirement when conducting a liberal feminist perspective, it has included women in a male dominated space not just as lamp posts but as equals who are integral to the plot. So far so good for the MCU. However, the idea becomes more nuanced as the analysis becomes more detailed. The women shown in the clip are some of the most powerful characters both inside the comics and in the movies. For example, Scarlet Witch in the comics rewrote reality itself because she’s just that damn strong. Captain Marvel in the movies is one of the strongest characters around with the combat prowess to boot. Essentially beating out the big three (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America) in any sort of competition. So again it would seem that the feminist perspective is satisfied. However, despite all their power one has to look at what they actually accomplished withing the plot to decide if this could be truly counted as feminist inclusion.

Starting with Black Widow one of the earliest female characters introduced in the entire MCU, her role through the film is to recruit Hawkeye back to the good guys after he goes and does some depression murder. Then she is the sacrificial lamb that is used to motivate several of the heroes is the final fight against Thanos. Like trying to save all of the universe isn’t enough of a motivator but whatever, she has a purpose but it is definitely not a feminist one. Instead she fulfills the role of murdered lover that is used to finally  make the male hero break his morale code and fight harder to beat the big bad. This trope is as old as time and was definitely seen here.

Following her is Pepper Potts, who generally speaking up until this movie was strictly Tony’s love interest and not even considered a hero. She was turned into the hero “Rescue” with a suit of armor for this movie but beside knocking out some low tier baddies and being in the all female hero shot doesn’t actually do much. Her inclusion in the “power shot” in all honesty was probably a ploy to add more bodies on the screen. She hadn’t been a hero before and had no inclination of becoming one until about 45 minutes earlier in the same movie. Her inclusion is of course welcome but the fact remains she is critically under-developed as a hero within the cinematic universe.

Pepper’s juxtaposition is of course Captain Marvel herself. This character is the only female hero to receive her own solo movie and fully develop her background before Endgame. Remember, despite being a founding member of the Avengers Black Widow is only now getting her own solo movie and it is really just filling the time gap between Infinity War and Endgame. So this origin movie that she has leads directly to her death chronologically. Captain Marvel though has a lot of mileage left to go as a character and the writers have left the universe wide open for her to develop. Within Endgame they even used her to her full extent. Essentially, without her the fight would have been lost from the start. She is the cavalry the Avengers needed to swing the tide into their favor. Captain Marvel is absolutely a feminist icon and should be recognized for that. However, this cannot be said for the rest of her MCU counterparts.

With Captain Marvel being the only female character that is put to use in the plot that does something other than die or look pretty she remains the sole leg this film has to stand on as a piece of feminist art. As the MCU has aged and matured they have begun to incorporate more characters of color as well as women into integral roles. This does not mean we should be content with how things currently sit within the world’s largest movie franchise. The MCU has a long way to go before its’ movies start getting the same praise as classics like Alien (1979) and League of their Own (1992) or even their direct competitors like Wonder Woman (2017). In short, Endgame is a start to what could perhaps be an amazing feminist legacy but one good character does not mean that they can throw the rest off a cliff.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Post #6 Neo-Marxist Perspective of Fight Club

When considering breaking the first rule of the world’s most popular club it has to be for a good reason. A better reason might be found but for today doing a Neo-Marxist analysis of “Fight Club” (1999) directed by David Fincher seems appropriate. The movie, which follows an unnamed narrator (Ed Norton) and the ever charismatic Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) as they delve deep into the sexual and violent world of fight club, which is one they have created for themselves to become fully realized and self-actualized men.

This journey that the characters are traveling down sees Tyler Durden’s mission to destroy the modern world as it has made men soft and unable to achieve anything through the trappings of materialism and polite society. His message is appealing and garners a global underground following that in turn becomes a terrorist network with Durden at the head.

This movie has a lot to say about what it means to be a man and how that image can impact you from the beginning. The hegemony of manliness is explored directly and from the beginning thanks to the support groups that Ed Norton’s character is attending in the beginning to cure his insomnia. This is where a character named Bob is introduced, Bob is a man who is suffering from testicular cancer and was once a well-respected bodybuilder who is feeling emasculated due to his ailment and is no longer in his prime but has let himself go due to it. Here the movie comments on the hegemonic idea of manhood within western culture. Someone who is muscular, stoic, and does not confront his emotional side. The movie proceeds state two things, the first is that the hegemonic idea of manhood as just described is the ideal state of being and that through joining Fight Club you can attain this goal. The second is that the hegemonic ideal that is being supported through the media of 1999 is one of a weak man that should be shunned. This dichotomy is challenged time and time again throughout the movie as Ed Norton’s character struggles to attain the fight clubs ideal version of manliness but his best and most heroic moments are when he embraces his more sensitive side, such as when Bob is brought back to the house dead and Ed Norton has an extremely emotional reaction to his death and even buries him which is strictly against the rules of handling a fallen comrade within Fight Club. This break down of one supported hegemony, that of manliness, is a key part within the story of Fight Club and goes on to impact Ed Norton’s later realization that himself and Tyler Durden are actually the same person. This dual personality of the meek and mild man vs. the suave, sexy, and violent Tyler Durden encapsulates the movie’s commentary about male gender roles.

The film also has another hegemonic block that it wrangles itself with. The consumerism that is ever-present throughout the film is front and center during the dramatic climax of the movie when the goals of Tyler Durden are reached and the financial institutions that are housing everyone’s debt are destroyed globally. The beginning of the film sees Ed Norton in a constant cycle of buying new items for his apartment only to replace them with the next issues new thing. This is only stopped once Tyler Durden, the man who is not beholden to society’s niceties and ideals comes into play and devalues all those things that Ed Norton cares about to the point where he blows it up. Tyler Durden is also shown to live in squalor and doesn’t care for any amenity. This is juxtaposed with Tyler’s seeming success as a person. He wants and needs nothing but is “better off” because of his refusal to take part in the hegemonic consumerism that Norton’s character is. Durden wants everyone to break free of the consumerist bullshit as he calls it in order to be free, hence his plan to violently wipe out all debt owed by the common man. By breaking this hegemony Durden knows that chaos will ensue and people will get hurt and die but through this baptism of fire a stronger world will take its place. Durden wishes to break the standard hegemony with one where survival of the fittest is the rule of law. His approach and handling of the situation is barbaric at best, and evil at worst. The new world order that he wishes to rush in.

Now knowing which hegemonies the movie wishes to support and claim are superior it is clear that Fight Club envisions a world where men, and only men, are seen as superior and reach that ideal state of being. Strong, stoic, and violent. A world that is also devoid of the trappings and debt of money and instead focuses on the raw product or service that one can provide in order to support the violent lifestyles that Durden claims to be better. The movie throws out the safe and comfortable world in favor of one that is wrought with hardships but at least hardships that are of their own doing. Durden fails to realize by dismantling the hegemony this way he opens the world up to a lot more violence than he or anyone else is ready for and the ensuing chaos will rip people apart more than it will tough their skin.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Post #5: The Symbolic Convergence of Bloody Mary

Throughout childhood and even deep into adulthood things that go bump in the night not only captivate and terrify but they have their own language and mythology that surround them. An ancient ritual, a violent and malevolent spirit, and an entire body of language and communication that is used to spook and scare those foolish enough to wake the evil spirit of the bloody Queen. The ritual is as follows, someone in a dark or dimly lit room looks into a mirror and repeats her name three times. This conjures the spirit and now she haunts you for the rest of your, suddenly shortened, life.

The language and symbols that we surround ourselves with concerning bloody marry are usually all the same.  A young woman with a distorted face usually covered in blood appears behind you. In media, similar images are directly invoking that myth and other horror creatures and imagery tend to evoke similar aspects. The uncanny appearance that is usually associated with Bloody Mary has become a horror mainstay. This myth has changed the public discourse and understanding of ghosts and spirits over the years. The myth has evolved over the centuries that it has been around but the fundamentals have always been the same. In fact, the most recent iteration has seen the bloody mary myth evolve to include modern technology with films like “Unfriended”. These similar themes continue to develop how we as people talk about horror and being scared.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Post #4: A Dramatistic Perspective of Shrek

The Ogre-View:

Shrek (2001) follows the titular character on his journey to reclaim his swamp and return to his life of solitude and removed from society. At the very least that is how it starts out. Instead, the motivations for the hero Shrek changes into one of yearning to be loved and accepted. This shift from isolation to a desire for his personality and actions to be justified warrant a dramatistic analysis.

The Scene:

The setting of Shrek’s journey follows across sweeping wilderness but this allows for the bonding moment between Shrek and Fiona. If it were not for the isolation these two characters find themselves in then the two would not have been able to connect. Ultimately what this does is justify Shrek’s behavior and isolationism while endearing him as a character to Fiona and the audience. His distrust of others is broken down and made clear but also juxtaposed thanks to the environment.

Purpose:

The original goal of the quest is to gain the swamp and the freedom of being alone back. However, the journey fundamentally changed Shrek and his new purpose was to save the person who saw him for who he was and not the stereotype that surrounded him. The film’s message that being yourself is key and there is always someone out there who will appreciate you for who you are.

Agency:

Shrek is shown to be a quite capable agent beating up all of Farquad’s knights in a WWE style tournament. In doing so he is shown to be able to accomplish great things on his own with little to no outside help. This agency justifies Shrek’s world view because he does not need to rely on anyone because of that it reinforces his solitude.

The Act:

The act of saving Fiona both from her captivity but also from her marriage to Farquaad rejects Shrek’s original morales and shows his growth as a character to someone who now desires and even needs companionship within his life.

Analysis:

Shrek (2001) starts out with a character who rejects the world because the world has rejected him but slowly through consistent growth and challenges has this world view challenged and it drastically changes him into someone who enters into an emotionally stable place where he can now trust others, have relationships, and be truly happy.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Blog Post #3: Narrative Analysis of “Piper”

The video: https://youtu.be/qAIRXIckfMA follows the little fletching Piper as it overcomes the fear of the ocean and hunger to become one of the best birds on the beach. This video has no spoken word and instead relies on the animator’s artistic choices to evoke emotion out of the bird and into the audience. Piper the bird overcomes a lot in this 4 minute short and steals a place inside the audience’s heart fulfilling the energizing aspect of a narrative perspective. It also transports the audience from the humdrum and complication of their own life into the small but large challenges of a baby bird, Piper being as cute as they also manage to create a sense of identification by harping on the audience’s sense of good and wanting to see something good succeed.

Piper is a small and adorable little bird that the audience immediately latches onto due to Piper’s seeming helplessness in the world that the audience is watching. It is no particular dangerous or imposing but the bird is small and what would be a little ripple on the water to us seems like an insurmountable tsunami to Piper which endears them to our hearts. The ability to watch Piper grow and overcome their fear through nothing but their actions lifts the audience into a joyous state as the underdog that you immediately start rooting for becomes more confident and capable in the eyes of the characters around them as well as to the audience itself.

The narrative’s morale is baked into Piper’s success. Piper learns to hunt for the mollusks by imitating a sand crab and not by following directly in the steps of the other birds around it. Watching Piper overcome the challenges and fears of the ocean is not only satisfying for the audience but includes the lesson that not everyone who is around you can accomplish the same goal the same way and going about things differently can often be advantageous. This message while often repeated and touted especially in the education field was struck upon strong in this short while not feeling overdone. I believe in part that this is due to the lack of dialogue within the short. It leaves more to the imagination of the audience and lets them infer their own values and system into the short without being beat over the head with, a good, but a ubiquitous message. Overall this is a class act in storytelling that accomplishes it’s a message without being heavy-handed or tone-deaf. It is enjoyable to watch, has a clear and strong message, and endears itself to the audience through a cute and adorable bird.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Blog Post #3: Narrative Analysis of “Piper”

Blog Post #2: A Neo-Aristotelian Critique of Chaplin’s Final Speech in “The Great Dictator”

The Great Satirical Speech

Considered among the best movie speeches since the conception of Cinema, Charlie Chaplin’s final speech in “The Great Dictator” is a powerful address that seeks to provide a counter to the rising tide of militarism, fascism, and antisemitism that was at its peak during the films original release of 1940. The speech can be found here for reference: https://youtu.be/J7GY1Xg6X20.

The Rhetorical Situation

Charlie Chaplin, a superstar among the silent film industry, wrote and produced this film that satirized the contemporary global political landscape. The film premiered in 1940 to great acclaim. However, the speech at the end was criticized for being overtly political but modern viewership has latched onto it as a culturally significant and powerful speech that holds relevance into the 21st century.

Demographically the speech is meant for any viewer as Chaplin only distinguishes the common man from the dictators, the greedy, and fascists. The irony is that while the speech is given Chaplin is dressed as a character that directly parodies Adolf Hitler and even stands up on a pulpit to deliver the speech. But the framing of the shot focuses nearly solely on Chaplin and his face without any stress put on the setting which aides the speeches global message.

The Canons

Chaplin opens his speech with the central ideological tennant of peace on Earth and goodwill to all. He offers no inartistic proofs, this speech being solely an emotional appeal to the audience. The use of vivid dialogue to induce mental imagery and the contrast of the language he uses to compare the goodness of people to the cold machinery of violence. This pure emotional approach does limit his effectiveness as the orator but the delivery is so impactful it generally makes up for it.

The arrangement starts by equalizing everyone in his speech. He brings everyone up to the same level both engaging the audience and also supporting his central thesis of all men are good and equal. This transitions into what he is viewing as wrong with the current world, that being the greed of those in charge despite the technology existing to leave no one in want. This is strengthened by a sort of  A then B style he uses to state what is wrong with what is “correct. A solid paragraph is constructed like instead of X we need Y. This lays out his overall philosophy and generally, no one finds its disagreeable seeing as the Y in this construction is usually ideals like compassion and peace. The last major piece of the arrangement comes from the fact that in general, he addresses an audience without any restrictions but he does call out a specific group, soldiers who he urges to lay down their arms and not fight for the dictators and those that would have them die for their own gain.

The style of the speaker uses language that focuses on the idealistic emotional elements of human language that is then juxtaposed with the cold language of machines and money that is devoid of pleasantries, machines which are recognized as useful are conceded as not being used in a moral manner. This constant juxtaposition of natural and moral elements in the speech helps embolden the message of peace as the appropriate end and the goodwill of man overtaking the greed of the dictators. The individual is presented as part of the group, both of which are stated as being ethical and good-natured. This is all to enforce the idea of rejecting the militaristic rhetoric used by the people that Chaplin is satirizing.

His body language mimics that of the newsreels of Hitler’s speeches with the explosions of intense movement followed by smaller gentler moments where the camera zooms in closer to the face and the expression changes from passion to earnest desire to be understood and heeded. Only one image interrupts the speech and that is of a woman on the ground who is acting hurt when he is speaking of the destruction wrought by the greed of the dictators.

The delivery makes it appear that the speech was committed fully to memory, however, as this is a movie production there might have been cues and even overdubs on the final product.

Curtain Call

With the canons in mind, the speech is a tour de force of emotional impact that is expertly delivered and practiced. However, the lack of logical appeals limits the argument and provides no real solution. His argument, while noble, is ultimately based in his ideology and while it serves as a fantastic rallying cry it does little in the way of actually convincing those who disagree to change their opinions. However, it might push the moderates into his corner and away from the other.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Blog Post #2: A Neo-Aristotelian Critique of Chaplin’s Final Speech in “The Great Dictator”

Blog Post #1: Hello world!

Welcome to Rhetorical Criticisms of Pop Culture! I am Glenn Spencer a senior English major at Longwood University with a minor in Rhetoric and Professional Writing. This blog will be using various rhetorical and analytical lenses to deconstruct and critique various types of media that fall into the realm of pop culture with an emphasis on multimodal media. Many of the pop culture artifacts that this blog will discuss shall be curtailed to my individual interests with the occasional foray into subjects that fall outside my particular scope but will be interesting nevertheless. Individuals who are also in the rhetoric field might find this blog interesting in a broad sense and maybe if a post hits upon a specific topic of interest then the audience could be expanded.  This blog is made for Engl 301-01 but the framework of its content might also provide a platform for continued work outside the class.

Posted in Posts For Class | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Blog Post #1: Hello world!