Rhetoric 152AC

Rhetoric 152 AC: “Race and Order in the New Republic”

Course Description- Fall 2017






This course meets the public discourse requirement in the Department of Rhetoric. Through the examination of various media, from texts to film, and audio media, we will explore the connection of narrative to discourse in American culture. We will start with the question of what is American popular culture, and whether there is a discernable cultural identity in our society. If so, is there a connection to the issue of race in American history that is deeply imbedded in our cultural identity?

Jane Smiley in a Harper’s article in 1996 wrote the following regarding the role race plays in American society. She was commenting on what she perceived were the shortcomings of Samuel Clemen’s Huckleberry Finn:

“…Americans always think racism is a feeling, and they reject it or they embrace it. To most Americans, it seems more honorable and nicer to reject it, so they do, but they almost invariably fail to understand that how they feel means very little to black Americans, who understand racism as a way of structuring American culture,…”

What does it mean to suggest that race could be viewed as a way to “structure” our culture, and is there evidence to support such a contention? In the attempt to make sense of this question, I will propose a connection between the concept of “cultural trauma” or collective trauma, and our popular cultural identity, its formation, and how that connection relates to contemporary popular culture in America. We will start with readings on culture and the theory of cultural trauma, to provide a context. Then we will move to historical and cultural narratives beginning with James Fennimore Cooper’s The Pioneers; America’s first popular and iconic fictional work. By using this historical romance novel as a guide to interpret issues underlying early American cultural identity, the class will view the development of American society and culture as a “formal problem.” That is, the novel poses a symbolic and thematic problem involving the three principal racial groups in early North America (i.e., the Native Americans, the European-Americans, and the African-Americans). They are symbolically structured into a theme of social and political order in the new nation that discloses unresolved issues in the nation’s founding and modernity. All subsequent readings in the class will be viewed in the context of that formal problem and Cooper’s solution—the patriarchal American Western. There will be an emphasis on what the symbolism of the American Western reveals about our society and culture. Ante-bellum readings will be matched with more contemporary cultural artifacts and symbolism in film clips and documentary media. This class is focused around the discussion of course materials so preparation for class and reading materials in advance is required. Readings include original texts in American literature and letters (e.g. My Bondage, My Freedom by Frederick Douglass, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Huckleberry Finn by Samuel Clemens, along with readings from D.H. Lawrence, William Carlos Willliams, the New York Review of Books, etc.). There will also be historical articles, theoretical material, and criticism collected in a course reader that will assist in analyzing both American history and the source materials we will be using. Film clips (ranging from the “Big Bang Theory” to Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing”, James Cameron’s “Avatar” and “Terminator II”, to Sixty Minutes and the PBS “The American Experience”) will supplement formal reading material in each class.

There will be a take-home midterm essay, an essay/project making use of course materials and themes, and a take-home essay final exam. Attendance, participation in discussions, and office hour visits are part of course grading. Early in the semester, there will be a mandatory Friday night pot-luck dinner and/or film gathering. I will provide you with dates in the syllabus.

Classes begin with film clips and may involve student presentation of reading materials before we break into a full discussion. We will be open to all perspectives, no matter how controversial or widely shared. But we will be respectful of one another, and speak in language not aimed at individuals or personalities, but at issues. Required Texts:

James Fennimore Cooper, The Pioneers;

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick;

Frederick Douglas, My Bondage, My Freedom;

Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn;

Course Reader from Copy Central on Bancroft Way that includes excerpts from Joel Martin’s Sacred Revolt, and other materials.

Sample Syllabus: Fall 2017

Week/Title Date Materials Film Clips
Week No. 1


Dilemma: In search of American Identity



Wed 8-23-17





The course makes a connection between public discourse, narrative and American culture.  The role of trauma and victimization in America based on the history of early migration to North America and how it may have shaped American identity. Com. Disk/Disk No. 128 Batman Begins- Symbolic search for American Identity; Com. Disk/Disk No. 92 King Kong-2005 01-03 Outcasts, wilderness, fear, savagery.
Week No. 2


A Nation of victims?  Immigraton & Trauma




Mon 8-28-17


Trauma and culture: Jeffrey Alexander, ”Toward a Theory of Cultural Trauma” and Neil Smelser, “Psychological and Cultural Trauma”; Reader; “When Immigration is Trauma”, Rose-Marie Perez Foster, “American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 2001”, pp. 153-159; Reader; “Healing the Hurt”; prepared by Drexel University School of Public Health and School of Medicene, 2009; Reader Disk No. 300 Interpreting the “Godfather” [loss of the American Dream], Commercial Disk American Psycho [appearance vs. reality]; Disk No. 336 CNN-J.D. Vance, “Hillbilly Elegy”
Week No. 2


European Americans as Strangers in a New World


 Wed 8-30-17


Excerpt from Unnatural Selection, Mara Hvistendahl [pp. 197-215; “The Bachelor”] Excerpt from The Fatal Environment, Richard Slotkin in Reader Disk 300 “Boy Culture and Bullying”; Manhood 1-3; [what constitutes American manhood?]  Disk No. 259 Jerry West [success vs. low self-esteem]; Disk No. 3—Pres. Trump and Women
Week No. 3




Mon 9-04-17


 Labor Day  University Holiday
Week No. 3

European Americans as Strangers in a New World

Wed 9-06-17 Lee Clark Mitchell, Westerns, in the Reader; D. H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature; excerpt from Six Guns & Society pp. 138-139, 152-153;  in the Reader;


Com. Disk “High Noon” [The Western]; Disk No. 181 “Diehard” Disk No. 01 “Terminator II” [myth of the self-made man-making virtue out of despair—discuss in conjunction with Lawrence]; Disk No. 446 “Gunfight at the OK Corral”
Week No. 4


European Americans as Strangers in a New World





Mon 9-11-17





James Fenimore Cooper, The Pioneers, (Chap 1-12)


Com. Disk Robin Hood; Com. Disk Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers; [hold Thur. night Sept. 14 for potluck/film 5-9 p.m. in Rm. 7415 Dwinelle] Com. Disk “Not for Ourselves Alone”; Disk No. 446 [Nos. 13, 14,15, and 16]
Week No. 4


Cooper as National Myth Maker




Wed 9-13-17



James Fenimore Cooper, The Pioneers, (Chap 13-22 and 23-35); excerpt Richard Slotkin, Regeneration Through Violence in the Reader


Com. Disk Casablanca; Disk No. 32 Do the Right Thing [‘rhetoric of opposites’ in another form] The Western as America’s cultural methodology; Disk No. 301 CNN “Talk Radio”
Week No. 5


Native Americans as Strangers in Moneir Home Land


 Mon 9-18-17


James Fenimore Cooper, The Pioneers, (Chap 36-41)


Commercial Disk: A & E’s “Hollywood:  An Empire of Their Own” [using art to create reality]; Disk 314 “Film as Narrative”;
Week No. 5


Native Americans as Strangers in Moneir Home Land


 Wed 9-20-17



Joel Martin, from Sacred Revolt pp. 1-69 Reader; Audio Story: Ray Allen, NBA Star on Embracing Others, Bcourse Folder No. 9


Commercial Disk “Last Stand at Little Big Horn” The American Experience; Disk No. 446 Last Stand Anniversary; Disk No. 272 Big Bang Theory-Gift Giving; Disk No. 445 Gift Exchange in America
Week No. 6


Native Americans as Strangers in Moneir Home Land


 Mon 9-25-17  

Joel Martin, from Sacred Revolt pp. 69-113 Reader



Disk No. 259 Pine Ridge-Lakota Stories; Disk No. Disk No. 92:  American Bio [dispossession of Native American]; Disk No. 102 “Conquest of Hawaii”

Midterm distributed

Week No. 6


Native Americans as Strangers in their Home Land

Wed 9-27-17


Native America and the myth of American Exceptionalism; contrasting reciprocity and balance to concentration camps: “Inside America’s Concentration Camps” and “Hitler’s Inspiration-Native American Holocaust”; Reader

 Gift Giving & Praxis and the Busk/Discussion of Sacred Revolt—versus cultural trauma

Disk No. 195 “Invasion” [fear losing identity]; “Images of Native Americans”; Disk No. 195, 192 “Homeland” [Penobscot Nation]
Week No. 7


From Native American to Native Son




Mon 10-02-17




“Incorporation” Reader;  

Com. Disk Walt Disney’s Pocahontas [chapters 14-15 on the disk; romantic racialism]; Com. Disk, Disk No. 247 Avatar [wish fulfillment]

Week No. 7


Reciprocity vs. Cultural Trauma


Wed 10-04-17


“Removal” Reader Disk No. 28 “Whose Land is it Anyway”
Week No. 8


Africans as Strangers in a Strange Land

Mon 10-09-17  

Frederick Douglas, My Bondage, My Freedom (Chap 1-7); “Family Matters” (New Yorker); Reader




Disk No. 75 “Amistad” (triangular trade); Disk No. 175 “1776” [slavery]; Disk No. 244 Ken Burns “Civil War”-Slavery



Week No. 8


Africans as Strangers in a Strange Land

Wed 10-11-17


Frederick Douglas, My Bondage, My Freedom (Chap 8, 12-13, 15-17; Winthrop Jordan, White Over Black, pp. 128-141 Reader; Disk No. 239 “Birth of a Nation” Disk No. 139; Disk No. 139 “Eyes on the Prize”-02 Emmitt Till


Week No. 9


Africans as Strangers in a Strange Land



Mon 10-16-17


Frederick Douglas, My Bondage, My Freedom (Chap 18, 20-25);  

Disk No. 29 Unforgiveable Blackness [Intro];



Week No. 9


Africans as Strangers in a Strange Land


Wed 10-18-17


 “Envisioning Race” pp. 27-40 from Photography on the Color Line, Reader; “Invisible Black America” N.Y. Rev. of Books, March 10, 2011. Reader; Audio Story: “Ants Among Elephants”-Caste in India; Bcourse Folder No. 17 Disk No. 139 “Eyes on the Prize”-03 ”Bus Boycott
Week No. 10


The Analysis


Mon 10-23-17



“White Nationalism: ‘Free Soil’ and the Ideal of Racial Homogeneity”) pp. 97-129 and 130-164; Reader and Frederickson, The Black Image in the White Mind (“Uncle Tom and the Anglo-Saxons: Romantic Racialism in the North”


Disk No. 131 The Green Mile [Magic Negro-white redemption]; Disk No. 176 “The magic Negro” News Com. Disk Sister Act; Disk No. 71 Flower Drum Song [Chop Suey]


Week No. 10


Wed 10-25-17



Excerpt-Huckleberry Finn As Idol and Target, pp.17-39; Reader; Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn, Chap 1-15


Disk No. 12 Mark Twain No. 1-Intro; No. 2 and No. 3 [a man divided, and a man in limbo]

Paper Assignment

Week No. 11


In Search of Middle Ground



Mon 10-30-17



Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn, Chap 17-31


Disk No. 446 Stephen Colbert as Mark Twain; Disk No. 19 Enemy Mine [in search of social reconciliation]
Week No. 11


In Search of Middle Ground



Wed 11-01-17


Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn, Chap 32-42;  

Film clip Disk No. 12 Mark Twain No. 7 [The genius of Huckleberry Finn];


Week No. 12


In Search of Middle Ground

 Mon 11-06-17 Between two worlds: Mark Twain  


Disk No. 170 “Ali”  [White Amer. vs. Ali—recall Jack Johnson, Joe Louis]



Week No. 12


In Limbo?

Wed 11-08-17


Fiedler, “Come Back to the Raft Ag’in Huck Honey!  pp. 142-151; “The Male Impersonator”, N.Y. Rev. of Books, June 22, 2017 Reader


Disk No. 3 Gentlemen Prefer Blondes [mirror images: pedestal and denial—recall falling into 3rd Estate]; Disk No. 198; “Rules of Engagement” [male identity in America]; Disk No.  


Week No. 13


Fear of Change and inclusion

Mon 11-13-17 Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap 1-5;  “The Road to Melville”, Vanity Fair, Oct. 20, 2011, Reader Disk No. 167/35/250: Trading Places  [Melville exchanges Queequeg & Ishmael] Com. Disk  “Mississippi Masala”
Week No. 13


In Search of Social Reconciliation


Wed 11-15-17


Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap 7-13, 26-29  
Week No. 14


From Romance to Reality

Mon 11-20-17  


Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap 36, 41, 42, 54; “What Moby Dick Means to Me”, The New Yorker, Nov. 3, 2011, Reader




Disk No. 446 “Losers and Winning” [5-7]; Disk No. 153/176 Lee Atwater; Disk No. 190 Bernie Madoff  [Captain Ahab and obsession with validation]; Disk No.  20; Disk No. 192 “Amer. Kings”


Week No. 14



Wed 11-22-17


Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 64-66, 71-72, 81, 87, 89, 94, 109-110, 115, 123


Disk No. 105: Gone With the Wind (contrast Melvile’s vision with MGM’s); Disk No. 194 “Windsor Castle” [what Americans want]
Week No. 15

Iceberg Dead Ahead

Mon 11-27-17 Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap, 126, 128, 129, 131, 132-135, Epilogue; Com. Disk John Cameron’s Titanic [“iceberg right Ahead”]; Com. Disk End of John Huston’s Moby Disk;
Week No. 15




Wed 11-29-17


Channing, Crisis of Fear “The Fear” pp. 17-93 Invasion From Mars; Disk No. 39: Forbidden Planet; Disk No. 48: The Blob;Invasion of the Body Snatchers [5th columnist pods]; Invasion [remake];
Week No. 15


Review Session

Mon 12-04-17



Managing Trauma in America: The search for a new cultural identity


Disk No. 446 “John McCain” and “Conscience of a Conservative”,  “Mutual Respect”


I have placed a date on the syllabus for potential film night/potluck dinner.  Thursday night September 14 [5pm to 9pn] in Room 7415 Dwinelle Hall.