Rhetorical Criticism – Final Reflective Blog Post

English 301: Rhetorical Criticism was my second course in my Rhetoric and Professional Writing concentration, following my Technical Writing class with Dr. Lettner-Rust. So, going into this class I did not have much background knowledge on rhetoric except for the little bit I picked up in English 165. However, I found it really intriguing to learn about the various rhetorical perspectives and theories that are used to convey different rhetorical arguments in popular culture. I also personally found the more philosophically profound perspectives more interesting, like Burke’s Dramatistic Perspective and ideas about the human condition. With that being said, the various perspectives we covered have helped me to notice the numerous ways in which popular culture, whether it be a movie, commercial, or speech of some kind, is always making a rhetorical argument to persuade us.

At the beginning of the course, we reviewed some of the history and origins of rhetoric. For instance, we learned that Aristotle is considered the “Father of Rhetoric” and that he was able to define rhetoric in a systematic way. Aristotle also defined the rhetorical triangle, consisting of ethos, pathos, and logos, which must make up any sort of argument in order to engage an audience and make sense logically. Another form of this is the 5 canons of rhetoric which include invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. Aristotle and other sophists originally used the term rhetoric in context to speeches as that was the main form of persuasion in Ancient Greece. They would then use these systematic approaches to rhetoric to teach the wealthy how to deliver speeches better. Although this is how rhetoric was first analyzed and used systematically, Kenneth Burk grew Arstitotle’s theories to extend into perspectives like the Dramatistic Perspective which I utilized in Blog Post #4 and again in Critical Essay #1.

One of the ways the course helped me increase my understanding of rhetoric (although the whole class was just that) was the Media-Centered Perspective. As technology has expanded to television and radio so did the public’s perception of the celebrities and actors. Specifically, the Parasocial Relationship Theory is an interesting way to view how an actor or celebrity can use their relationship with their audience to persuade them to view them as a friend. Thus, leading to social media influencers being sponsored by different companies wanting them to promote their product or service. I explored this concept more in my Critical Essay #2 about Adam Sandler’s influence on his audience for The Wedding Singer and how The Office formed bonds of intimacy with its audience in Blog Post #8. I had previously been aware of the concept of a celebrity influencing the perception of a character or product, but I had never fully grasped it until learning of the media-centered perspective and Parasocial Relationship Theory.

Similarly, I had understood how some commercials and speeches worked to persuade audiences, but I did not necessarily know how ideologies, through hegemonies, worked in rhetoric. Of course, I had previous knowledge of feminism, the patriarchy, the gender binary, and the resulting gender roles. But, I had never learned the proper terms, like hegemony, model, and anti-model used to analyze an artifact through the feminist and neo-Marxist perspectives. I also learned that there are multiple feminist perspectives; the cultural, liberal, and Marxist feminist perspectives which all work to highlight different ways that people who do not identify as cyst white men are oppressed by our society through a given artifact. In Critical Essay #2 and in Blog Post #7, I used the cultural feminist perspective to analyze the rom-com The Wedding Singer. These terms, in particular, will carry throughout the rest of my life as we live in a patriarchal society and I identify as a woman, but it will also serve me well as I continue my college career as an English major.

As a rhetor myself, this course made me realize how my words and various other forms of delivery can effect how well I persuade my audience. For instance, we occasionally had to present our findings from our blog posts in class. This was a direct interaction with an audience while presenting our criticism. In this peer-to-peer setting, and in my blog posts, I generally found it to be the most effective to work with my peers than against them by providing lots of interactive content. In my blog specifically, I chose to include at least a couple of pictures and a video in every one of my posts in order to make things more visually interesting and resonate more with readers. I remember in my presentation of my findings using the dramatistic perspective that someone mentioned they liked how I included pictures and put effort into my blog’s format. Although this was only one small comment, it made me want to continue to include images in my proceeding posts. Learning how my rhetoric can be most effective, however, is something that will continue to grow and change throughout my college and professional career. Rhetorical Criticism allowed me to analyze other works and how they function rhetorically so now I can better understand how I can and do function rhetorically.

After completing English 301, I feel that I have been given many more analysis tools to use in my future English courses as well as in my personal and professional life. Rhetorical Criticism of Popular Culture specifically has helped me to better understand more modern forms of rhetoric, like movies and tv shows, which is important in understanding what we choose to support or not as consumers. For these reasons, I am looking forward to taking more rhetoric and professional writing classes with Dr. Guler and am excited to take the Rhetoric of Apology class with Dr. Lettner-Rust this upcoming fall semester.

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Post #8: Media-Centered Perspective of The Office

The Rhetorical Situation

The Office is an American television series that was filmed from 2005 to 2013 in a mockumentary style to simulate a real documentary of what life is like at an office. The series focuses on the relationship between coworkers at an office that sells paper and how they turn an average, boring workday into something fun. This was generally done by coworkers playing hilarious pranks on one another utilizing the known annoyances of each other. The juxtaposition of hilarious pranks at a boring office creates great comedic situations, like the example below. The overt story, which is not the primary focus of the show, is the story between Jim and Pam which viewers see grow as the show progresses.

Parasocial Relationship Theory

Due to the show’s mockumentary style and form, The Office works to create a parasocial relationship between the show’s characters and its viewers. Parasocial relationships are “… one-sided relationships where one party knows a great deal about the other party, but not vice versa” (Sellnow 276). Here, the relationship is between the various characters in The Office and viewers. The show achieves this through the one-on-one interviews the producers of the mockumentary (I guess these are also characters of the show) insert during situations like the one above. This works to give viewers insight on how each character thinks and what their world view is. Creed, a darker more mysterious character featured in this clip above, claims to have an alternate identity. This information was only given to viewers – not to the other characters. Thus, a bond of intimacy is formed between viewers and the characters as they get to know them better.


As our textbook describes, the parasocial relationships formed because of the style of The Office has made many fans to refer to characters, like Jim, Dwight, and Michael, by their first name as though they personally know them. It has also led many of the actors to be typecasted, or only cast in roles that reflect characteristics of those they had in The Office. For instance, Kevin is probably most well known for spilling the beans, literally. Below is a gif from The Office when Kevin spilled a whole pot of chili. Below this image is a clip from a commercial the actor, Brian Baumgartner, was recently cast in because of his role in The Office.



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Post #7: The Feminist Perspective

The Rhetorical Situation

The Wedding Singer is a 1998 romantic-comedy set in the ’80s starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. In the movie, Sandler plays Robbie Hart, a wedding singer who’s fiance breaks off their engagement at their wedding ceremony. Barrymore is his love interest, Julia, a waitress at a wedding reception hall that Robbie plays at regularly. Julia is engaged to Glen, a hyper-masculine womanizer who she realizes is cheating on her and not someone she wants to spend the rest of her life with. The love story is set in New Jersey in the 1980s with lots of big hair, bright colors, and ’80s music. The writers and director used the setting to create comedic situations, such as the iconic Boy George impersonator, as pictured, that plays alongside Robbie at weddings. Although the movie is recreating the culture of America in the 1980s, it is a sort of parody because the clothes and pop culture references are exaggerated. The film was written by Sandler, his college roommate Tim Herlihy, and directed by Frank Coraci, another friend of Sandler’s. It was also made right after Billy Madison and Happy GilmoreThe Wedding Singer being a rom-com greatly contrasted these two raunchy comedies that Sandler had previously produced.

The video attached above is where Robbie and Julia’s love climaxes and begins its resolution. Julia is with Glen on a flight to Las Vegas where Glen proposed they elope. Billy Idol, a famous ’80s rock star, joins Robbie in chasing Julia and they discover they’re on the same flight as them. This scene has lots of great examples I want to point to for my analysis.

A Cultural Feminist Perspective

In a cultural feminist perspective, there is usually a model, like Robbie, who exhibits admirable traits and an anti-model who exhibits repulsive traits. In the scene above, you can see where a flight attendant discusses her disgust for a passenger that called her “grade A, top-choice, meat” and Robbie recognizes it as what Glen refers to women he finds attractive (0:29). Glen is the anti-model in this movie because he represents hyper-masculinity and how toxic it can be toxic to the people around him, including Julia.

Julia, on the other hand, is representative of American women who are stuck in relationships because of the cultural stigmas around gender. She believes that Glen is a great man because he has lots of money and, thus, is able to provide for her. But, Julia does not love Glen because he constantly objectifies her (as Billy Idol highlights at the beginning of the clip). Glen has used his hyper-masculinity to manipulate Julia into believing that she is the problem in their relationship. The gif to the right shows a comic relief moment the night before Julia’s wedding to Glen where she practices how she will greet people with her new last name. Obviously, she is upset.

In the above scene, Robbie can be seen telling the flight attendants and fellow passengers about his love for Julia. This contrasts the masculine hegemony that has defined the masculine gender identity to deny being in an emotionally vulnerable state by sharing their feelings. He does this again when he sings “Grow Old with You”, a song he wrote about how he imagines a future with Julia. In it, he says “So let me do the dishes in our kitchen sink”, meaning, he does not subscribe to stereotypical gender roles like men like Glen. Julia accepts Robbie’s love, thus, the movie is creating an admirable relationship. Here, and in many other instances in the film, the movie is rationalizing that men accepting their emotions is beneficial and attractive. The movie is, in turn, rationalizing that women’s emotions should not be criticized, but rather normalized as well as promoting the deconstruction of the cultural gender binary.

Potential Implications

The movie grossed $80.2 million in the United States and was later adapted into a musical in 2006 that toured for two non-consecutive years around the nation. The audience for this selected artifact is interesting because Adam Sandler is a well known SNL comedian, or at least when the film was produced, therefore his audience is likely a mix of genders but mainly men because of his generally raunchy humor. However, the romantic comedy genre and costar Drew Barrymore likely drew in a largely female audience as well. The film successfully communicated not only a love story but also a criticism of hyper-masculinity and gender roles.

One could argue that because the main character is Robbie and the movie was written by men, the movie is supporting the gender equality of men rather than women which, in a sense, is growing the implications of the patriarchy and further oppressing women. The rom-com genre, however, leads me to believe this was intended to promote gender equality rather than oppression.


I will most likely analyze this for Critical Essay #2 and go way more in-depth !




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Post# 6: A Neo-Marxist Analysis of Dexter

The Rhetorical Situation

Dexter is a television series categorized as a crime drama that stars Michael C. Hall. Dexter Morgan, the main character of the show, is a sociopathic serial killer who learns to act normal in order to hide his obsession with blood and desire to kill others. He hides under the guise of his day job as a blood splatter analyst for the fictitious Miami Metro Police Department and uses his insider knowledge with the police to cover his trail. What setsDexter apart from other serial killers is his desire to use what he recognizes as an unethical hobby to do good by killing other serial killers and criminals that he discovers through his day job and everyday life. Throughout the series, he refers to himself as a vigilante because he believes that he is helping the people around him by taking criminals off the street. The show aired for a total of 8 seasons from 2006 to 2013 and it is an adaption of the 2004 novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay. The show was very well-liked when it was on air still and a popular meme came out of the show based on the gif above of character James Doakes (please excuse the language). Some examples of the meme spin-offs from this scene are shown below:

The Neo-Marxist Perspective

A Neo-Marxist perspective helps to expose things that “… shape dominant ideology regarding taken-for-granted assumptions about who “ought to be” and “ought not to be” empowered” (Sellnow 135). I chose Dexter because I believe it disagrees with the Neo-Marxist perspective’s goal of showing how egalitarianism would improve society. In Dexter, Dexter Morgan fulfills the role of an anti-model. Meaning, his character exhibits behavior that is widely considering abnormal and undesirable. The model characters, or the ones that exhibit normal, desirable behavior, are almost every other character in the show. I want to specifically focus on one of Dexter’s colleagues, James Doakes. Doakes works in the same department as Dexter and has always had his suspicions that Dexter is hiding something. Doake’s does not stop investigating Dexter until he discovers his sociopathic tendencies. The tension between them represents the hegemony aspect of the artifact, or the dominant ideology that defines social norms. It shows how serial killers like Dexter are being othered by the dominant ideology that murder is not okay (of course there are some exceptions like in self-defense cases). Thus, Dexter hides his desire and only confides in a select few, like his sister, Debra.

Conclusion and Implications

Although Dexter is not an ideal Neo-Marxist perspective artifact, I think it is important to show how egalitarianism, in the world of Dexter, would not benefit the large majority of society. If serial killers like Dexter were a part of the dominant ideology then our society would crumble. In the show’s Wikipedia article, it notes that there were real-life crimes based on what was portrayed in the show when it was still being aired. This show may work in favor of some criminals to show that just because their morals go against the grain of most, that they are not necessarily wrong. Clearly, though, we all have some morals that are universally agreed upon – specifically murder, so this argument is not necessarily valid but could give criminals some leverage.  One could argue that Dexter is an inflected oppositional artifact because Dexter may be considered a good person for only killing bad people. Instead of rejecting hegemony, I believe Dexter works to accept hegemony because I personally believe murder is immoral even if the person you are killing is bad.






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Post #5: A Fantasy Theme Analysis of “More Cowbell”

Rhetorical Situation

The Saturday Night Live skit “More Cowbell” originally aired on April 8, 2000, and has since left its mark on many Americans who continue to use the famous line that the skit is named after, “More Cowbell”. It was written by Will Ferrell and Donnell Campbell and it is currently ranked number 9 in the Rolling Stones’ top ten SNL skits. The skit, linked above, is a mock reenactment of the recording of “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” by Blue Öyster Cult, a well-known rock song. The band, played by Chris Parnell, Jimmy Fallon, Chris Kattan, and Horatio Sanz, are increasingly annoyed by Will Ferrell playing the cowbell. The music producer, played by Christopher Walken, however, demands there be “more cowbell” playing causing a hilarious contrast in opinions and Will Ferrell to become more outrageous at playing such a simplistic instrument. Since first airing, the phrase “more cowbell” has been used when someone feels like they need more of something and they are making a joke of their desperation for more.

A Fantasy Theme Analysis

I am conducting a fantasy theme analysis for this artifact because FTA is “the tool or methodology rhetoricians use to identify, understand, and interpret those converged symbols” (Sellnow 110). Meaning, I am interested in how this SNL skit has left a lasting impression on American pop culture. “More Cowbell” has a fantasy type of a classic SNL skit which generally takes something from pop culture and makes it comedic. SNL skits usually reenact a specific scene or situation and turn it satirical or create a hyperbole of something that is usually minor. In this case, they are taking a subtle cowbell playing in the background a well-known song and emphasizing it. Christopher Walken’s character, the music producer, says at 2:49 “… you’re gonna want that cowbell” because he thinks it is the key to this song’s success. The sanctioning agent for this skit can be attributed to the music producer, played by Christopher Walken, who demands “more cowbell!” because he is the greater force that causes Will Ferrell’s character to act ridiculously. The phrase “more cowbell” is the symbolic cue for this artifact because the phrase is not self-explanatory and only has a comedic meaning for those that have seen the skit. The platform for the skit, Saturday Night Live, I categorize as the social master analogue because it shows popular actors having fun together and forming a brotherhood that results in hilarious skits for the audience, us, to enjoy. As previously stated in the rhetorical situation, “More Cowbell” is ranked number 9 in the Rolling Stones’ top ten SNL skit because it has become a staple phrase in so many American households.


“More Cowbell” is heading towards the end of its rhetorical vision life cycle. Right now, I believe it is either in decline or close to the decline phase because it is twenty years old and media is growing so rapidly in comparison to when the skit originally aired. It is memorialized by the Rolling Stones’ high ranking, so I do not think it will be forgotten any time soon, but I do think it will become lesser and lesser widely known to SNL’s audience and the American public in general.




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Post #4: A Dramatistic Analysis of You Season 1

Image result for you netflix


The Rhetorical Situation and Plot Summary

The 2018 Netflix Original tv show You is based on a novel with the same title by Caroline Kepnes which was originally published in 2014. The show takes place in modern-day New York City (2018), specifically at Mooney’s Bookstore which is run by the protagonist Joe Goldberg. Joe is a charismatic man in his mid 20’s. When he meets a young woman in his bookstore, Guinevere Beck (who goes by Beck), he becomes infatuated by her. HisImage result for joe goldberg cap obsession begins with the socially acceptable behavior of online social media profile stalking, but then it escalates to him watching her outside of her first-floor windows at night in the clever disguise shown. His obsession eventually drives him to murder Beck’s on-again-off-again boyfriend, Benji, and best friend/admirer, Peach. In doing so, he is able to grow closer to Beck and they eventually begin dating and living together.

Why the Dramatistic Perspective is Important

The goal of using the Dramatistic Perspective is to analyze artifacts like You to better understand why someone like Joe who is breaking away from socially acceptable behavior is still considered an overall good or moral person. This is done by using Burke’s philosophy on the human condition to better understand a person’s or character’s motivation(s) which absolve them from guilt.

The Pentad

Kenneth Burke created the Pentad to help us identify and interpret the motivations of a rule-breaking person. In the case of You, the agent is Joe Goldberg – our protagonist – and the act is Joe stalking Beck and killing her friends. Image result for benji glass roomStalking someone and murdering their friends is obviously not considered normal or good behavior. In order to commit these acts, Joe uses a cap and jacket to disguise his identity, his computer to stalk Beck and her friends’ social media profiles, and the basement of his bookstore which conveniently has a climate-controlled book preservation room with a lock; all of which are considered the tools or agency Joe uses. The scene, as previously mentioned in the rhetorical situation, is modern-day New York City but a lot of the acts take place in the basement of Mooney’s Bookstore (as pictured) and at Beck’s apartment where he physically stalks her. The general purpose of doing all of this is to remove obstacles that Joe believes is keeping Beck from falling in love with him.


Burke says that motivation “… argues what makes the rule-breaking behavior justifiable” (Sellnow 82). Based on the pentad and my own interpretation of You, Joe’s motivation for stalking Beck and murdering her friends is to make Beck happy. This type of motivation is categorized by Burke as transcendence because Joe is following a higher calling of making Beck happy. He kills her boyfriend because he was a drug addict working as an entrepreneur for a dead-end company. He kills her best friend because she was preventing Beck’s writing career from launching and she had a lot of blackmail on her. Although Joe is motivated to make Beck happy, he is also motivated to make himself happy by having Beck all to himself. Thus, when he kills Peach, her best friend, his motivation is considered victimage because he staged her suicide to cover up the murder.


Although Joe’s motivation can be considered transcendence and victimage and he is technically absolved of guilt, there is still an uneasiness concerning Joe’s motivation because of the means in which he achieved his goal of being with Beck. This show is also blatantly toxic to society because it shows how someone like Joe, a charismatic, good-looking, white man, can get away with murder and still be rewarded by getting the girl. Although Beck does eventually find out about the murders and the stalking (spoiler), Joe is not caught by the police, at least not yet.

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Post #3: Narrative Analysis of Disney’s Mulan

Image result for mulan 1998Mulan is a 1998 animated film by Disney that was made to retell the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan. In the legend as well as in the movie, Mulan takes her father’s place in the army and saves China from Shun Yu, the Hun’s leader who murders many Chinese families with his army. Disney’s audience is American families, but especially children. Although Mulan’s story involves war, genocide, and gender roles – topics that are not generally discussed with children – Disney is able to present these concepts in a child-sensitive way. Meaning, the parents and other more mature audience members are able to better understand these serious concepts from the movie’s imagery whereas the children just see it as a part of a fun and interesting story. However, one of the reasons for this retelling of Hua Mulan’s story is to have children and parents discuss these tough concepts together. Thus, one of the main constraints of the film is how the animators presented these complicated concepts as well as how they presented a Chinese legend to a predominantly American audience.

The goal of using the narrative perspective analysis, in this case, is to focalize my analysis on the causal relations, the moral, and the overall effect of the film on its audience. More specifically, some of the causal relations include Mulan taking her father’s place in the army, therefore, she must crossdress as a man. Later, Mulan stops Shun Yu from killing the emperor using her skills from training with the Army, therefore, China is saved from being conquered by the Huns. The moral, then, is that women should be allowed equal rights, like being drafted, so that they can have the opportunity to successfully protect their country like Mulan.

Watching a female protagonist like Mulan defy traditional gender roles could potentially instill a new ideology in its younger audience of not allowing others to define your abilities. It may have also shown its more mature audience the importance of inclusion because, as I previously stated, without Mulan’s training in the army she would not have been able to save China.

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Post #2: Neo-Aristotelian Analysis

In an opening speech of a Senate hearing on February 15, 2017, Ashton Kutcher testifies on the importance of the work his company, Thorn, is doing to fight the enslavement and sex trafficking of children. The exigence of this speech is to convince the Senate to help fund Thorn’s efforts in identifying victims to prevent trafficking. Kutcher’s audience is the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee as well as the world because the speech was filmed (a short clip is attached above). Kutcher must overcome the preconceived expectations his audience has of him because he commonly plays the comedic relief in the various movies and tv shows he has acted in. Kutcher also has to overcome the professional setting that can put a barrier between the audience members’ work and personal lives by making his speech personal to each of his listeners.

Ashton Kutcher’s main way of persuasion is his use of pathos in the invention of his argument. He arranged his speech to begin with a joke about internet trolls attacking him that attracts his audience’s attention, then he gets more serious. After explaining that his two days jobs are as the co-founder of Thorn and as a father of two children, Kutcher explains he has a duty as a father to defend his children’s right to the pursuit of happiness. Thus, he is building his argument of protecting children in the Constitutional right to the pursuit of happiness – a credible and widely accepted right. He later gives a personal testimony of what he has seen in his investigations.

In terms of style, Kutcher uses everyday prose and legal terms to describe the cases Thorn investigates. Contrasting this professional language, he uses more so unprofessional terms like ‘internet trolls’ to begin his speech. Kutcher’s rhetorical choice to focus on pathos his duty as a father as well as his imagery and emotional response to recalling a heartbreaking investigation creates a lasting memory in his audience which likely consists of parents or others who have a personal connection to children. His emotional reaction to recalling this investigation adds to his emotional appeal and delivery of his speech.

Overall, Ashton Kutcher’s speech was successful and created a lasting impression on his audience of politicians and those that viewed the video of his speech.  I referenced this CNN article on the event which highlights the alliances Thorn made with Senators like Bob Corker pictured below.

View image on Twitter


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Post #1: About the Author

Hello, my name is Amber Thomas and I am a sophomore English major with a concentration in Rhetoric and Professional Writing at Longwood University. The purpose of this blog is to create an online portfolio of some of my rhetorical criticism I will be conducting for my English 301 course called Rhetorical Criticism of Film, Pop Culture, and Multimodal Texts with Dr. Guler. The only other class I have taken concerning my Professional Writing concentration is Technical Writing with Dr. Lettner-Rust. By studying how rhetoric is used in popular culture, I hope to gain a better understanding of how I can use the different rhetorical appeals in my future career and writings. Some of the things I may be analyzing include speeches, movies, ads, and other artifacts of that nature. More obviously, this blog is for Dr. Guler to make sure I am completing my assignments. On the other hand, future employers of mine may look at this blog as a reference for my ability to analyze texts as well as my ability to navigate this platform, WordPress.

Watch this short video to learn more about the emergence of the study of rhetoric and how it is used to persuade: Rhetoric

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