Previous Research Guide

Let's Hear It for the Boy: The Rhetoric of Bromance

Term: 
Spg 2012

In 1823 James Fenimore Cooper inaugurated his Leatherstocking tales and introduced America to two of its most enduring characters: Natty Bumppo, the frontiersman, and Chingachgook, his American Indian companion. For Cooper the friendship between these two men would come to embody the central complexities of early American life, raising questions about democracy, our national identity, the role of women, and the relationship between settler and native, man and nature. This course will examine the way the "bromance" has found expression in different milieux over the last two centuries. Why does bromance so often become the site of political and cultural anxiety? What rhetorical strategies have artists used to depict male companionship and how do these strategies reflect larger social tensions? Is there such a thing as a female bromance e.g. Bridesmaids)? What are the problems and possibilities associated with the bromance?

To facilitate classroom discussion and provide context for research we will consider a range of materials. Though in the beginning students will focus primarily on fictional representations —from Twain's Huck and Jim to Kerouac's Dean and Sal to Lethal Weapon's Danny Glover and Mel Gibson —increasingly they will analyze the way the media has shaped and bestowed meaning on "real life" bromances throughout history. Partnerships such as George W. Bush and Tony Blair's, John Stockton and Karl Malone's, and Kanye West and Jay-Z's will all be under discussion.

Section: 
PWR 1
Instructor: 
Frank

Anything You Can Get Away With: The Rhetoric of What Counts as Art

Term: 
Spg 2012

The contemporary art market has not just remained vibrant through the recent economic downturn. It's grown explosively from 1973 to the present—and become increasingly global along the way. Asian countries are developing art fairs and auction houses based on Western models, and the 89 countries exhibiting in the most recent Venice Biennale included Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan. But what is it that everyone is so excited about? What are we responding to when we call something "a work of art" today? How does a work like Andy Warhol's collection of reproduced Brillo soap pad boxes stake its claim to be "art"?

"Art," Marshall McLuhan wrote in 1967, "is anything you can get away with." Is such a motto as inclusive as it sounds? Or do modern attempts to open up what counts as art in terms of media and content end up narrowing the field in other ways? Does McLuhan imply that only the subversive counts as art? Controversy exploded in 1989 when Andres Serrano's Piss Christ, a photograph of a crucifix submerged in the artist's urine, received U.S. government arts funding. Today—years later—protesters still raid and vandalize Serrano's exhibitions as his work travels the world. Other critics bristle at the "obscenity" not of art, but of the price tags attached to it. Protesters in Occupy Museums, a splinter group of the Occupy Wall Street movement, denounced our "absolute equation of art with capital" outside New York's New Museum this October, and chanted, "Art is for everyone!" Should what we call "art" be above commerce? Or does the market play a productive role in helping us determine what counts as art? To approach such questions, you'll examine the rhetoric deployed in writing on art from challenging thinkers like McLuhan, John Dewey, and Michel Foucault, and will also delve into works of art with fascinating histories and rhetorics of their own.

Section: 
PWR 1
Instructor: 
Johnson

Communicating the College Experience

Term: 
Spg 2012

You just went through it: the college admission process. And you made your choice: Stanford. But what influenced this decision? Was it the glossy viewbook? All of those personalized letters from the Stanford community? Or perhaps the tour guide with a wealth of Stanford knowledge and the amazing ability to talk and walk backwards at the same time? More importantly, how were you influenced? The viewbook, the letters, and the tour guide are all forms of rhetoric: the art of strategically using communication to persuade an audience.

This course focuses on the college experience as a way of studying rhetoric, research, and writing. We will begin by analyzing the process you just completed: college admissions. What rhetorical strategies do colleges use to vie for your attention? How did you sort through all of that information and make your final decision? We'll also look at examples of rhetoric from Stanford's own community to explore the kinds of arguments the University makes about itself. For instance, how does Stanford utilize the Web and other media forms to market itself to the outside world? We will then take a step back to look at the much larger discourse that surrounds higher education in the twenty-first century. In recent years, countless newspaper articles, TV broadcasts, and scholarly publications have declared that America's higher education system is in crisis. Skyrocketing tuition costs are leading to a dramatic increase in student debt, athletic scandals have broken out at several universities, and the growing commercialization of higher education threatens to undermine the core values of our academic institutions. Using the research of educators, cultural critics, and students, we will examine various attempts to identify the problems that allegedly plague our post-secondary education system and debate if and how we can fix them.

Section: 
PWR 1
Instructor: 
Bilsky

Rhetoric of Failure

Term: 
Spg 2012

Every way of doing things entails a way of failing. Napoleon died in exile because of his insane ambition; people all over the place feel like failures because they never tried anything. Wile E. Coyote fails loudly, and Charlie Brown fails quietly. Enron collapsed because of massive fraud, MySpace collapsed because of massive incompetence, and everything collapsed in 2008 for reasons too massive to understand. The Boston Red Sox spent decades as romantic favorites, but the Los Angeles Clippers are just a pathetic joke. Thomas Edison saw failure as a crucial part of the inventive process, but of course plenty of inventors never get past the prototypes. And sometimes it isn't even clear what counts as failure—Bush might seem like the worst President in generations, unless you ask the millions who hate Obama.

In this course we will attempt to understand what we talk about when we talk about failure. The stories, the fascination, and especially the rhetoric that surround failure suggest answers to some provocative questions. How do we decide who or what has failed? How do we learn from the many failures who have gone before us? As we try and figure out what to do with our lives, how do we decide whether to risk, say, the probable joblessness of trying to be a rock star vs. the possible emptiness of a 9-to-5? And finally, how do we cope when we realize that we have failed? And looking particularly at our writing and academic performance, how do we decide who or what has failed, and how do we learn from the many failures who have gone before us?

Like all PWR classes, this one is mostly about developing skills in writing and rhetoric. To that end, we will examine these questions about failure within the structure of three writing assignments, which will guide our discussions and class activities. Readings will provide a starting point for considering both the method of each assignment and possible topics you can use for your work.

Section: 
PWR 1
Instructor: 
Porter

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