Communication, Culture and Rhetoric
What Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About Persuasion
Christopher House, Assistant Professor
What are those Nike sneakers doing to you?
What type of person do you turn into after watching Harry Potter?
Why do you shop at Banana Republic rather than Old Navy?
Knowing rhetorical theories and having rhetorical criticism skills allow us to explore and understand our culture(s) and the culture(s) of others through the critiques of speeches, television programs, music, and films, etc. In learning how to become rhetorical critics, we exercise agency by choosing what we will believe, our attitudes, values, and actions because we realize the extent to which humans are shaped and can be reshaped through communication and thinking about communication.
This course fosters critical reflection on the rhetorical dimensions of everyday artifacts, actions, and events, better known as popular culture, and the ways in which our constant exposure to popular culture shape and inform who we are, who we will be, and what type of world we will live in. In this course students learn how to understand the ways that signs and symbols influence us through a process called rhetoric. Theories of rhetoric (or persuasion) taken up in the course set out to answer such questions as: what is rhetoric, what is popular culture, and how do they affect us?
This course teaches students how to apply innovative methodologies of critical studies to the study of rhetoric. Through a study of, for example, the influence of hip hop music, the film Harry Potter, and hit television shows, The Simpsons, and CSI, students will learn how to deconstruct various communicative messages that are created and disseminated through media. As informed rhetorical critics, students will develop a vocabulary that empowers them to offer both appreciations and critiques of popular culture, while understanding how popular culture affects their sense of self. Additionally, students will engage in rhetorical struggles to recognize how Hunger Games and Call of Duty: War of Worlds video game and other commonplace objects, actions and experiences are really rhetorical battlefields, sites of struggle, among political, economic, and social forces. Students will leave this course equipped with a methodological tool chest and critical terminology to be able to identify rhetoric at work in horror films, their favorite reality TV show, and in arguments in South Park.
Our class format will be lecture, small group discussions, in-class multi-media presentations and field trips to local sites, including Ithaca’s independent movie theater, Cinemapolis, where students will view movies followed by short discussions of course concepts and themes projected on the silver screen.