Communication Currents

Current Commentary

Communicators Speak

August 1, 2012
General Communication Studies

One of the semi-regular features of Communication Currents is "Communicators Speak," which offers commentary from those in the communication discipline on topics timely and relevant to our audience.  As the August issue is the traditional "back to school" issue, we’re calling attention to the return to the classroom for the fall semester.

As you know, the fall semester of 2012 brings with it one of the most hotly contested Presidential campaigns in recent memory—that between incumbent President Barack Obama and his challenger, former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney.  Given the attention that will be paid to the Presidential and other political campaigns this fall, we’re spotlighting the activities of those in the communication discipline around the various campaigns.

So, we asked readers how they plan to involve their students in the Presidential or other political campaigns this fall.  Here’s what they shared with us….

The 2012 Presidential campaign provides an excellent opportunity for learning about public speaking. Viewing and analyzing the speeches of Presidential candidates is a pragmatic way to help students recognize how professional speakers use public speaking techniques to influence their audiences. Because students learn through direct experience and application of knowledge, I plan to show students segments of each candidate’s campaign speech from the Republican and Democratic conventions.

To begin, I will ask students to analyze these speech segments in light of concepts they are learning, especially in the areas of rhetorical appeals and speech delivery. After learning about rhetorical appeals, students will analyze each candidate’s use of ethos, pathos, and logos to make his persuasive appeal. Through this analysis, students learn how rhetorical appeals can weaken or strengthen the quality of a public speech. After learning about effective delivery, students will evaluate how each candidate uses his voice and body to interact effectively with his audience. Thus, students will evaluate vocal elements, such as: rate, pauses, volume, rhythm, pitch, and fluency, and enunciation. Additionally, students will evaluate how well the candidates use their bodies by analyzing: eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, motivated movement, and attire.

Through this analysis, students learn how delivery can hinder or bolster the effectiveness of a public speech. By integrating the 2012 Presidential campaign into my public speaking class, I will assist students in recognizing the role that rhetorical appeals and effective delivery play in important speeches that will affect the future of the United States.

David H. Kahl, Jr., Ph.D., Penn State Erie, The Behrend College

The High Point University American Dream project is a Nido Qubein School of Communication civic-engagement student driven project that is the basis for the HPU Democracy USA project. Students are examining the achievability of the American Dream by producing an 8-episode reality documentary show, 6 shorts on protest in America and several  “A Day In the Life Of” shorts where they shadow key figures in American politics while at the conventions.

The subjects of our reality documentary episodes are health care, jobs/economy, religion and politics, education, government entitlement, and philanthropy/volunteerism.  Students will travel to both the Republican and Democratic conventions where they will tape the protest pieces and the episode on religion and politics, featuring a panel of distinguished religious leaders from across the religious spectrum.  The episodes will air on U.S. television, on the web and on television in the United Kingdom.

This project received the most prestigious grant given by the university and includes nearly 60 students (graduate and undergraduate) and 20 faculty members. Included disciplines are: Communication (videographers, editors, audio, photojournalists, producers, production managers, web masters, social media, event planners, bloggers, journalists) Political Science, History, Sociology, Survey & Research, Music, Art, Design and Business.  Project deliverables also include artifacts that will be created by design students and auctioned by business students to raise money for scholarships. Business students will also create the marketing materials for program sales and syndication.

This project was conceived and is directed by Professor Carol A. Davis.

Carol A. Davis, J.D., High Point University

I offer a course on MYTHIC RHETORIC OF THE AMERICAN SUPERHERO that has proven very popular with UNT students. Using a Rhetorical perspective and literature from Critical-Cultural Studies, my course explores the American Superhero as a pervasive and persuasive synecdoche for race, class, and gender issues as well as philosophical meditations upon political power, ethical action, and mythic ideology. From a Communication Studies vantage, these popular entertainments powerfully communicate and convey potent values and concerns (both overt and subtle) that also occupy scholarly inquiry.

Although some eyes glaze over when invited to contemplate the conflicting American philosophies of democracy and Nietzschean ethical consequences for redemptive violence, disinterest quickly transforms into enthusiastic engagement when we dress these ideas in capes and masks to slug it out within the popular imaginary!! 

There are many decidedly political issues explored and discussed in the course that students excitedly deliberate, such as: Obama’s varying depictions as Superhero savior and Joker-ized ‘Socialist’ supervillain, the invocation of Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT film as vindication for controversial  ‘Bush Doctrine’ policies (but also as fodder for refutations), international criticism of American foreign policy as naïve superheroic crusades (even as the Bush cabinet ordered printed copies of Der Spiegel because they were flattered by the satirical comparison), and of course the forays of superhero comics into socio-political issues and controversies.   

With the cinematic “Superhero Zeitgeist” dominating summer movie blockbusters, these mythic fantasies continue to resonate with popular audiences even as they tacitly convey existential reflections upon conflicting contemporary ideals, purposes, values, and political policies. Influential graphic novels, read alongside textbooks like The Power of Comics andMyth of the American Superhero to illustrate academic debates and multidisciplinary concepts, include critically-acclaimed storylines such as Green Lantern/Green Arrow’s “Hard-Traveling Heroes,” X-Men Dark Phoenix Saga, The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, Marvels, Kingdom Come, Icon, Batwoman, V For Vendetta, Marvel’s Civil War, and All-Star Superman.

The course is a lot of fun for students, even when half of them have never read a comic book and the ambitious reading materials include 3 books and a reading packet the size of a Dallas phone book!  Star super-scholars from my classes have gone on to present their superhero research at NCA, SSCA, the PCA/ACA conference as well as the infamous San Diego Comic*Con International.  My superhero course has been covered by NPR, the BBC, USA Today, Maxim magazine, CNN Radio's program "Cultural Distortion," and profiled in the local "Denton Time" weekly as well as numerous appearances in the student paper The NT Daily. The course also offers a public blog that attracts national and international interest from eager students and curious comics fans who are fascinated by the scholarly examination of these pop icons. 

imprint.printmag dot com/graphic/comic-con-13/

Shaun Treat, Ph.D.,University of North Texas 

Dan Schill and Rita Kirk (Southern Methodist University) conducted election night dial focus groups of undecided voters for CNN during the 2012 Republican primaries. These focus groups were conducted in New Hampshire, Florida, Ohio, and South Carolina to better understand how likely voters were responding to the candidate speeches and advertisements. Focus group response graphics were shown live on CNN during each candidate's election night speech and the participants were interviewed on air to give their opinions of the campaign messages. Building on a similar study of the 2008 presidential campaign, these focus groups were part of a large research project designed to examine potential effects of campaign debates, advertisements, speeches, and other campaign communication and to incorporate voter voices in the election coverage. This project continues in the fall general election, as Drs. Schill and Kirk will conduct dial focus groups of undecided voters for CNN during the nominating conventions and presidential debates. SMU undergraduate students serve as research assistants and contribute to all aspects of the research project, including recruiting, data collection and analysis, and writing up results.

Daniel Schill, Ph.D., Southern Methodist University