Communication And Culture | Senior Seminar in Communication & Culture
C401 | 1195 | Robert Ivie


Topic: Enemies and Allies in Democratic Culture
Class Meeting: MW 2:30-3:45 pm

This course, designed for seniors, focuses on the problem of how
democratic culture is constructed and reflected in American
rhetorical practices.

Democracy is central to American identity. It defines the national
sense of purpose and value, but it also symbolizes the nation's
perception of vulnerability and danger. The drama of democratic
politics features opposing images of enemies and allies, both
domestic and foreign, that reflect the challenge and difficulty of
speaking constructively across the identity differences which divide
us from one another (rather than succumbing to the destructive
tendency of blaming, suppressing, scapegoating, and fighting with one
another).

The course will explore conflicted representations of democracy in
public culture -- problematic images that make democracy into an
object of desire and dread, a source of national pride and a symbol
of fragility, a motive for war, something of which we are ultimately
suspicious and distrustful and that ironically we attempt to contain
even as we promote democratization as the key to world peace. Thus,
our attention will turn to problems such as the demonization
of "foreign" others based on race and religion, the repesentation of
democracy as feminine, emotional, and distempered, the fear of
popular protest and demagoguery, the reduction of citizens to
consumers (i.e., of democracy to capitalism), the justification of
nuclearism as a defense against totalitarianism, and democratization
as a current form of global hegemony and domination.

We will discuss a range of rhetorical documents in which these images
of democracy reside and explore ways of resisting the tendency to
reduce the democratic "other" to an object of fear and loathing. The
materials we will examine will include speeches justifying and
protesting recent and past wars, films dramatizing dark images of
domestic demagogues (such as Joseph McCarthy) and threatening images
of foreign cultures and leaders (from World War II propaganda films
against Hitler and Japan to Cold War visions of communist domination
and nuclear holocaust and post-Cold War images of Islamic terrorism),
news reports that discredit popular movements for social justice and
environmentalism by representing them as unruly, etc. Throughout, our
aim, beyond identifying the problem of democratic culture, is to
enrich our understanding of the potential of democratic communication
for managing competing differences constructively and without
exaggerating our fear of the "other."

Besides the weekly reading, viewing, and discussion of contemporary
and historical rhetorical artifacts of American democratic culture,
and selected readings on democratic and rhetorical theory to provide
perspective and a basis for critical analysis, assignments will
include two mid-term essay examinations, a ten-page term paper, and
an oral presentation based on the term paper.