Persuasive Media Analysis: The Circle

Enjoy this interactive analysis of The Circle!

As you click through the slides take the time to read and watch the videos provided. Think about the questions I ask carefully, as they are essential in how you decode & analyze the show for yourself.

Take into account that I decoded this show based on the trailer and intro as if I were a first time viewer (which I am).

If you disagree with any of the ideas brought up through my analysis comment below & lets chat because this show is honestly quite amusing and fun to look into!

What is Popular Culture Facilitation (Storey)

In this work, Storey attempts to explain the several ways that popular culture can ultimately be defined and described. Throughout the chapter he presents multiple ways popular culture can be defined, and why there is difficulty settling on just one definition.

The meaning of the phrase “popular culture” can be contextualized and interpreted in many different depending on the person describing it and their ideologies. Storey begins the chapter by stating that popular culture “is an empty conceptual category” which can be filled using many different ways or ideas since there are so many ways one can interpret what it really means.

The first description Storey presents is that popular culture means “widely favored or well-liked by many people”. This may be the simplest of definitions. This can be measured by things like “number of records sold”. Definitely a more quantitative approach to the phrase, though this description may be too broad. As Storey continues the chapter, he presents more in-depth definitions of pop culture.

Storey’s next example (which I believe to be one of the most relevant) describes popular culture as “culture that is left over after we have decided what is high culture”. This is referring to the more favorable items of a specific culture that are more popularized than other less favorable pieces of culture. A good example would be Japanese culture in the United States, specifically anime and sushi, which are undoubtedly some of the most popular forms of Japanese culture in the west. But these pieces of culture became popular due to it being widely considered as “high culture” or “more favorable” compared to other forms of Japanese culture to a general audience/consumer. Another way he describes this is that popular culture comes from “the people” and is “chosen” by “the people”, which also eliminates the approach that describes popular culture as being imposed onto the people.

Describing popular culture as “mass culture” does infer that the popular culture is imposed onto “the people”. This can also be described as commercial culture in which the culture is mass-produced for mass-consumption. A good example of this would be fast food commercials popularizing fast food in the past, though this approach has become less and less dominant in the present day. This describes a pop culture as formulaic and manipulative while also requiring passivity. This is a more bleak view on pop culture, but as Storey describes, it is not the most dominant definition of pop culture, at least anymore. Another way to describe this would be using hegemony, where a dominant person or group can popularize something easily through winning the consent of the passive or subordinate groups.

An incredibly recent example of something becoming popular culture would be the Netflix documentary series Tiger King, which over the past handful of days has become one of the most discussed and watched pieces of media as of recent. Almost everyone I had talked to after the release of this series has recommended it to me or others, spreading this medium rapidly.

Facilitation – Communities, Identities, and Politics (Barry Brummett)

In this essay, Barry Brummett aims to refine the modern definition of rhetoric without compromising the integrity of the term, but through considering new forms of communication and media. Specifically, he examines political rhetoric through four 21st century changes: imaginary, commodified, local, and dialectic. 

Image is the publicly presented style of a person or group, and is carried in aesthetic materials and narratives. Ever since the development of TV and cinema, image has been the center of politics. Brummett gives the example of the commonly accepted viewpoint that John Kennedy won his election because of his good looks. Now, however, politics play games with images. Rather than being focused on policy and action, political campaigns are based upon rhetoric, statistics, polls, and attacks on image.

“Commodified” refers to the way that politics are reduced to terms of the market. Nearly any kind of struggle is framed as a product of a hurting economy, and the fastest way to better anything is to create jobs and money. This commodification essentially eliminates some of the country’s most pressing issues from discussion, in fear that they might stand in the way of economic growth and capitalism. People see political struggle and social issues as entertainment in their favorite TV shows, but these issues aren’t really addressed.

Political rhetoric is local in the sense that it can present personally engaged material (opposite to the “image” idea previously discussed), yet it creates an illusion of local involvement by discussing personal and domestic issues. For example, the largest news and media companies will mainly cover national news and issues, People sense a disconnect from large, national news and take the issues to a local level. Local protests or signs of support for national issues are often a way that people reduce the most complex issues down to a manageable level, often through some sort of material support. Brummett gives the example of the social struggle over the role of women, which Hillary Clinton embodies, and so supporters of this very large and complex issue simply support her as their way of feeling a part of the bigger women’s rights movement.

The most important aspect of dialectic is structure. This becomes very important in times of change and instability, where people search for structure in political language or ideas that gives them their sense of stability back. This explains why the creation of new ideas often pulls rhetors from the old idea. Brummett claims that many struggles over terminology, such as the term “Muslim terrorist” or the distinction between “terror” and “crime” are dialectic struggles which characterize this century’s political rhetoric.

A recent example of political rhetoric can be found in Donald Trump’s 2016 Presidential Campaign. In this video, Trump announces that he is running for President. He promptly commodifies the entire country, calling it a business and claiming that it can only be made great again by someone who knows how to make business deals. He cites claims that a successful person could never be elected into office but then attempts to reason that he knows he can, and that that attitude is what will get him elected. He is attempting to create his image but fails to use any sound logic or reasoning, yet he sets himself up as a candidate who has nothing in his way. Trump also uses the structure aspect of dialectic in his phrase “Make America Great Again.” Everyone knows that a new president entering office is a change, but the simple us of the word “again” makes his audience think that America was once great, and that he must have a plan because he’ll simply do whatever was done to make it great in the past.

Facilitation: “From Tony Soprano to Hannah Horvath: What Does a TV Show ‘Want’ You to Think of Its Characters?”

In this article written for TIME, James Poniewozik questions the average viewer’s need to sympathize with the protagonist of a TV show, even when their actions are disagreeable. He introduces this idea by examining audience responses to HBO’s Girls, specifically to creator Lena Dunham’s character, Hannah Horvath. Poniewozik writes that many negative reviews of Girls focus on how selfish Horvath is, and criticize the show for expecting the audience to approve of her. However, he argues that Girls’ attitude towards Horvath is more ambiguous than clear approval/disapproval, and suggests said ambiguity to be a source of critical dissent. This comes as no surprise to Poniewozik, as he recognizes that central characters in TV shows are typically made to be liked. Sure, they may have flaws, but shows tend to project a positive attitude towards them.

Another example Poniewozik uses of a lead character with questionable morals is Tony from The Sopranos. This show was, in Poniewozik’s words, the “watershed for TV antiheroes”, because it had a protagonist “whose goals you did not relate to, whom a decent person would, by and large, not cheer for”. Tony is a sociopath, and the show often depicts him doing cruel, selfish things; however, the viewer is also given intimate details about Tony’s life, some of which seem to provide context for his actions. The show doesn’t let the viewer comfortably hate him because, on some level, they understand him.

Much like when Hannah Horvath stole $20 from a maid, many people were very critical of Tony’s actions, and thus panned The Sopranos entirely on the grounds that it wanted you to approve of his crimes. Poniewozik says this response likely came from the assumption mentioned earlier in the article, that the main character is always who the viewer is supposed to root for. He suggests that the intended response is more nuanced than that–just because the viewer understands some of Tony’s motives doesn’t mean they have to praise his behavior. You aren’t supposed to sympathize with him most of the time, and though you may relate to him on various levels of the human experience, you aren’t supposed to be on his side.

Poniewozik writes that this constitutes the basic notion of the “antihero”, a trope which he claims has been extensively retooled and tinkered with over the years. Shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men have their own versions of antiheroes, characters who behave nobly at times, yet continuously incite violence and manipulate others. While Hannah Horvath may not be as morally compromised as Walter White, Poniewozik argues that Girls resembles a “cable antihero drama” in how its characters are depicted. In certain situations, Hannah can be very caring and perceptive, and in others, she lacks the conscience not to steal from a housekeeper. Poniewozik argues that this kind of ambiguous characterization is still new territory for many comedies, as unlikeable characters are often more explicitly readable in funny TV shows. He writes that Girls is less about liking or approving of Hannah, and more about wanting to see her grow.

This idea of wanting to see characters grow reminded me of another HBO show, Six Feet Under. The show follows the lives of the Fisher family, who manage and inhabit a funeral home in Los Angeles. They are extremely dysfunctional, and the viewer is given a detailed view of their grievances with each other and interpersonal fallouts. They hurt each others’ feelings on numerous occasions, and their relationships are fraught with deep conflict. Though they all act on hot tempers, the viewer is aware of each one’s personal trauma, and in very poignant instances, gets to see them bond over it. There’s a payoff that comes with watching them grow closer, and it’s those moments of true connection that keep the viewer invested in their lives. Sure they’re bitter much of the time, but in the end, you want to see them become a happy family.

Dewberry and Conceiving Grizzly Man through the “Powers of the False” Facilitation

Eric Dewberry’s Conceiving Grizzly Man through the “Powers of the False” is about Werner Herzog’s documentary and how it engages in “creative falsification”. Dewberry states that “creative falsification” is “a cinematic concept theorized by Gilles Deleuze in which the filmmaker generates optical images which bond to virtual images (or images that evoke a people’s general past, fantasies, and dreams) to reveal some representation of the truth.”

Dewberry first mentions that film critics expressed unpleasant feelings about the documentary. Some critics complained that Herzog had bad editing, it was too staged, or that he should have let Timothy Treadwell’s photographs and videos speak for themselves. Herzog has been criticized before about previous documentaries and has even admitted to fabricating some of his documentaries.

This is where “creative falsification” comes in. Dewberry expands more about creative falsification and states that it brings out the “real” truth in situations because the actual series of events has the truth represented in discourse. By falsifying some of the story, the “real” truth comes out.

Herzog in the documentary uses other people along with all the footage kept by Treadwell to help portray Treadwell’s thoughts and ideas. Herzog even appears at one point during the documentary when he is listening to the footage that Treadwell had recorded during his attack. Herzog places interviews, pictures, and footage in a certain order to express certain ideals. For example, Herzog includes lots of footage with Treadwell talking about how dangerous it is to be this close to bears and even mentions that Treadwell was mauled to death by a brown bear to create “an intensified drama in the film, so that every close encounter with wild bears leaves the viewers waiting for an attack.”.

The whole concept of “creative falsification” makes me think of the term white lies, small little lies that usually support some sort of idea or story by the person using them. White lies most of the time don’t hinder anyone involved, however it is a form of lying that no one does anything about, People are told multiple white lies a day without realizing it. It can be something as simple as “Hey, have you seen this movie?” or “Hey, have you heard of this song,” or something a little more complicated such as the character of Santa Claus. Many parents will tell their kids Mickey Mouse and Cinderella are real people instead of a storybook characters to keep their imagination alive. .

Furthermore, at Disney World, Disney workers dress up as Disney princesses and other Disney characters to help little kids perceive their favorite storybook characters as real people. Even though Cinderella and Mickey Mouse, do not actually exist; Disney workers will not admit that they do not in the park around children. Disney workers who dress up as Disney princesses are not allowed to say “I dress up as Cinderella” or “I am Cinderella” outside of work; they are supposed to say that “I am friends with Cinderella” to keep the magic alive in the child’s imagination. White lies are helpful to these children in the sense that what they think is real has stayed real from a cartoon movie to a real world castle.