Writing 20: Understanding the Rhetoric of Media Culture

Full Title: Writing 20: Understanding the Rhetoric of Media Culture: Reading Signs, Rescuing Identities

Term Offered: Winter 2019
Timeslot: 2
Prerequisite: None.
Dist: ART.
Instructor: Wendy Piper.

Course Description

The purpose of this course will be to enable students to identify, analyze, and engage the rhetorical strategies used by media culture. We’ll begin where Marxist cultural criticism begins: with a recognition that works of art cannot be separated from capital, or class status, and therefore with ideology. In a modern market economy, works of art become mechanical images in order to create need and sell product. Under a post-Fordist, or digital, economy, the proliferation of images creates a virtual world that replaces the physical world and drives consumer desire. Through the methodology of rhetorical analysis, students will learn to interrogate the language of cultural narratives. Questions we’ll ask include: how does the narrative frame the consumer and her desire? What need is being addressed? What needs might be left out, or masked? In an era of advanced capitalism, where the global economy depends upon relations between nations, what does the narrative omit in order to sustain those relations? For instance, what do we know about the actual conditions of labor that produce our goods? As we work through our inquiry, we’ll consider the place of the individual within the culture industry. Is there a possibility for agency and informed action?  Readings for the course will include Marxist literary and cultural theory and feminist philosophy, and students will view popular and documentary film and read short fiction. Assignments will include an essay of rhetorical analysis, a midterm exam on theoretical and critical frameworks, and a researched argument, offering a case study of a media campaign. Oral presentations of the research and argument of students’ final essays will also be required.

Learning Outcomes

The main goal of this course is to help you identify and analyze the persuasive techniques used by media texts in order to be able to challenge them.  As we work toward this goal, you should become better writers and speakers. Below are capabilities that the course will help you develop.

  • Come to see media texts as cultural narratives.
  • Be able to “unpack” the arguments of visual media.
  • Use theory to analyze the culture industry.
  • Recognize the symbiotic relationship between the global economy and corporate, cultural narratives.
  • Understand the concept of hegemony in relation to consumer need.
  • Adopt a critical perspective toward media culture that will enable agency and activism.