PLENARY PAPER ABSTRACTS

Karrin Vasby Anderson
Colorado State University
“Eloquence in a Parodic Age”

Nearly thirty years ago, Kathleen Hall Jamieson traced the transformation of political rhetoric from speechmaking to sound bite, chronicling the influence of the televisual form on public oratory and noting the ways in which the stylistic demands of television suited the skills of Ronald Reagan. The intervening years have produced another shift in political discourse. Parody is encroaching upon the polity.  Ushered in by the ascendance of Jon Stewart’s parodic take on political news, this new campaign culture features John Oliver as a next-century Edward R. Murrow, Saturday Night Live as the parodic proving ground for presidential prospects, and a digital demos shaped by satirical memes and viral videos. The 2016 presidential campaign even produced parodic presidential frontrunner Donald J. Trump. An absurd exaggeration of the ideal candidate type constructed by Fox News and the Koch brothers, Trump illustrates the ways in which parody (and its cousins, paralipsis and parrhesia) is reconstituting political rhetoric. This presentation will examine eloquence in a parodic age.

Samantha Senda-Cook
Creighton University
“A Place Ballet of Resistance”

In Omaha, as in other cities across the United States, urban agriculture is increasingly being positioned as an answer to problems that community members encounter. For example, urban farms can be sites of empowerment and resistance against industrial, global farming systems and food insecurity. Rhetorical critics have shown how places serve rhetorical functions such as memorializing and identity development. However, what has had little attention is the contact between physical elements such as bodies and places themselves. In cultural geography, the concept of a place ballet acknowledges these interactions and provides a framework for critiquing them as not only constitutive forces but also with the capacity for resistance. Given the power of place and bodies, place ballets function simultaneously as agents of resistance and as evidence for claims about how resistance works. When they do so, a place ballet of resistance, which I define as an ensemble of rhetorical practices and place performances that produces alternative enactments of society, develops. I argue that urban agriculture composes a place ballet of resistance by capitalizing on belonging, negotiating the intersections of privilege, and articulating a mundane form of resistance by deploying the vectors of disruption, time, and reproducibility in everyday life.

Kristan Poirot
Texas A & M University
“Traditions of (Miss) Remembering:
Place, Personae, and Purpose in Black Freedom Commemorative Contexts”

Women have yet to consistently emerge as agents of history in American public memory practices and environments, and this “woman problem” seems particularly pronounced in commemorations of black freedom movements of the 1950s and 60s.  Arguably, the paucity of women in “civil rights” museums and memorials is an inheritance of the “Great Man” perspective that has pervaded contemporary historiography for some time.  In this presentation, I explore the “Great Man” perspective of public memory as a rhetorical tradition that emboldens the very textual practices on which it relies. More specifically, I examine a variety of heritage tourist sites, museums, and memorials devoted to black freedom movements, postulating the ways that place (location of sites and the place-ness constructed therein), personae, and purpose (of the constructed environments and the remembered goals of movements) function as textual strategies that constitute the context of black freedom memory and the conditions through which women are so easily forgotten.

J. David Cisneros
University of Illinois
“Arts and Affects of the Political: Migration, Mobility, and Social Movement” 

This presentation examines the artistic advocacy of undocumented immigrant activists, in particular, the “Migration is Beautiful” image and campaign. In this image, migration is symbolized through the colorful illustration of a monarch butterfly, a North American species famous for its yearly seasonal migration from Mexico to Canada and back again. Beginning as a form of activism developed by West Coast artist-activists (such as the group CultureStrike), “Migration is Beautiful” quickly went viral. The image was reproduced and appropriated in a number of contexts, including on signs, murals, clothing, blogs, and as part of a number of direct actions by undocumented immigrant activists; it was also adapted and modified in a number of different ways, including with new slogans and changes to the butterfly image. As a result, “Migration is Beautiful” was heralded by news media as the “rebranding” of the “immigration reform movement.” In this presentation I explore the ways in which the “Migration is Beautiful” image and its appropriations by immigrant activists challenge assemblages of citizenship and borders and provoke a “redistribution of the sensible” about immigration. The “Migration is Beautiful” image foregrounds a view of the autonomy of migration and human mobility and affirms the dignity and creative power of the figure of the migrant. Furthermore, I use the “Migration is Beautiful” image and campaign to reconsider the physical and material connotations of social movement (e.g., the role of the body, affect, and physical mobility). Rather than position movement as a pre-constituted social body that deploys discourse (“phenomenon”) or collapsing movement to the realm of ideological change (“the movement of meaning”), the presentation considers social movement as the fact of and the rhetorical process whereby social forces of mobility, motion, and emotion are harnessed and unleashed.

Jiyeon Kang
University of Iowa
“Captivated by Shared Grievances:
The Image Vernacular of South Korea’s 2008 Internet Protests”

In 2008, the South Korean government resumed importation of U.S. beef, which had halted five years earlier after concerns about “mad cow disease” (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, BSE). The decision roused cyberspace over fear of the fatal disease, and images of the “mad cow” spread online – in criticism of the beef import itself and in proposals for street protests. These viral images soon grew in meaning to convey larger public grievances regarding the government’s new neoliberal policies, such as the Free Trade Agreement that enabled beef import and the privatization of education and medical insurance. This captivation with the image of madness enthymematically points to a shared but underarticulated feeling of vulnerability to the fatal disease and to neoliberal policies in general. In the Internet environment, public captivation with an image indicates nascent vernacular knowledge and judgment, but without conformance to existing political norms.

Kelly Happe
University of Georgia
“Speech, Biopolitics, and the Possibility of Address”

Rhetorical scholars have for some time considered how the concept of biopolitics might productively compel us to rethink what we mean by speech, agency, power, and context. This paper engages rhetoric’s response to and uptake of biopolitics scholarship, paying particular attention to the possibility of address in the context of state power, ideology, and the seemingly totalizing effect of neoliberal logics. Specifically, the paper will advance an understanding of rhetoric as that which allows us to confront the limits of representation, rethink the relationship between the body and address, and consider different forms and modes of the political.

Isaac West
Vanderbilt University
“Netflix and Judge: Fragmentation, Popular Culture, and Making a Murderer

Michael McGee’s canonical essay, “Text, Context, and the Fragmentation of Contemporary Culture,” continues to circulate as a basis for the rhetorical criticism of fragments. This quasi-method of rhetorical analysis affords critics multiple agencies, including the opportunity to attend to more than one single, discernable text and to account for the critic’s ethical responsibilities as a rhetorician in how they performatively produce themselves and their archives. In this citation of McGee’s work, often what has been forgotten or excised is the context of the essay itself, particularly the last and longest section of the essay wherein McGee ruminates on the fragmentation of contemporary culture. In light of the durability of this essay and the conference theme, this talk revisits McGee’s fragmentation thesis to reassess it against a contemporary media practice, what we might think of as a literal in situ rhetorical practice of binge-watching television. More specifically, we will engage Making a Murderer in some of its complexity as a fragmented text swirling about in multiple contexts of contemporary culture to think through the continued importance of McGee’s fragmentation thesis. Accordingly, we will revise McGee’s notion of fragmentation to account for current conditions of cultural possibilities, including how the recirculation of common texts works against this felt sense of fragmentation. Along the way, we will consider, for example, the following questions: (1) Why Steven Avery’s case and why now? (2) How and why does binge watching a documentary series matter in the production of our understandings of the law? (3) How does an investment in particular institutions of the law work against feelings of fragmentation?

Sara L. McKinnon
University of Wisconsin
“Necropolitical States: Transnational Imaginations of Violent Mexico”

Since the mid-2000s US mediated and political discourse about Mexico has consolidated around widely circulating images of the country as rampant with narco-violence, out-of-control sicarios and gangs, mass graves, brutal killings, and people on the move out of the country for safety elsewhere. Mexico, in total, is constructed as precarious—a state of violence and precarity where nary a person is safe. The message to publics is that voyage to the country to the south means taking the risk that one might also die. This essay examines the political economic motivations of this precarious rhetoric. Examining US popular discourse about US-Mexico relations alongside congressional hearings since the 1970s, and Mexican political discourse about violence in the country, I trace the development and contemporary intensification of this imagination of Mexico as a violent and precarious state. Engaging theories of precarity and necropolitics together, which both typically focus on the livability of particular subjects and groups, this essay considers what happens with the object of precarity and death is an entire nation-state. As Tanisha Fazal astutely observes in her book State Death, the survivability of states is often presumed in theorizing about geopolitics and state power, and yet they do die, rather frequently. This essay takes up Fazal’s concept to theorize what it means when the precarity imagined in public discourse is toward an entire state. I am not so much interested in the actual death of states, but rather the rhetorical construction of entire states as precarious and the attending aspiration or desire to wish a state dead. Using rhetorical theorizing of state sovereignty, geopolitics and foreign affairs as a starting point (Charland; Demo; Gorsevski; Hartnett; Reidner; Wander; Wang; Winkler; Wingard), I suggest that the imaginaries produced by states about states reveal important information about the political economy of anxieties and struggles for global political power between states.