Rhetoric is Powerful: It Controls You, Me, and Literally Everyone Else Immersed in Pop Culture

There is power in everything that we read. The consumption of all forms of media is something that each of us do daily, most of us without even realizing it. However, I rarely find myself sitting down to think about how much power the ideas that I see, listen to, or read hold over my personal sense of being. After reading, “The Rhetorical Power of Popular Culture: Considering Mediated Texts” by Deanna D. Sellnow, my eyes have been opened to the vast extent of how much control the media has over our society as a whole. Therefore, it is so important that we study how audiences respond to messages put out in all forms of media. The chapter begins by introducing the Media Ecology Theory, which dives into how media and communication affect human perception. This theory suggests that media “infuses every act and action in society, fixes our perceptions and organizes our experiences, and ties the world together into a global village.” Sellnow argues that the medium by which media is delivered to audiences is more important than the messages themselves. At first, this made little sense to me until Sellnow provided an example involving a cell phone. When a notification pops up on our cell phone, we pay attention to it. However, we respond with less urgency than we would if our cell phone runs out of battery or loses internet connection. When our mediums of media fail us or respond in unexpected ways, we as a society become frustrated and unable to carry on without attempting to troubleshoot the issue. Although the message delivered by the media may affect our conscious state, the medium affects our unconscious state. We may have to think about a certain topic or question that we Google, but typing something into Google itself has become second nature for today’s generation. Furthermore, we get frustrated when the results from our Google search are not fast enough or what we hoped to find. This feeling of frustration can be linked to media logic, which is “the degree to which users tend to take the medium and its social uses for granted and, thus, fail to realize how it influences us to believe and behave about what is normal, good, desirable, and so forth.” 

Media logic plays a major role in shaping our beliefs. I know that I commonly take all of the information that I have instant access to for granted and am completely blinded to the ways in which the information that I consume molds how I live my life. Growing up, I remember that I used to try to dress like the actresses on Disney Channel or prank my siblings the way that I saw on TV. My behavior was shaped by what I saw. This molding can be explained by Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory. This theory focuses on observation, imitation, and modeling. In order to follow through with this theory, an individual must 1) be paying attention to what they see, 2) remember what they have seen, 3) able to replicate that person’s actions or behaviors, and 4) motivated to imitate whatever they have observed. This theory can be directly attributed to college students throughout their time on campus. If a person watches a lot of movies and TV shows that focus on the party culture of college(such as Blue Mountain State or Spring Breakers), that individual will more than likely remember these behaviors and possibly attempt to replicate them throughout their time on campus. The Social Cognitive Theory lies hand-in-hand with the Cultivation Theory, which states that repeated exposure to certain behaviors publicized through various media forms can shape a person’s reality. 

On the surface, all of the communication theories referenced by Sellnow did not seem applicable to everyday situations. However, when combined with real-life examples in the text, I was amazed at how these theories actually play out in my own life. Does exposing ourselves to media create beliefs or cause certain behaviors to occur in individuals? Sellnow argues no, that television, novels, and other forms of media only serve to reinforce or maintain these pre-existing thoughts and behaviors. However, I disagree with this point. Rhetoric used in mediated texts can influence us to act a certain way, dress a certain way, or even think a certain way that we did not prior to exposure. It all relates back to the Social Cognitive Theory. If we, as a society, feel as though we relate to a character or group publicized in the media, we can begin to mold our actions into what we have seen publicized. Rhetoric in pop culture (through commodification, realism, intimacy, etc.) is incredibly influential. Therefore, it is vital that we do not take for granted the research that has been done by social scientists on this topic and continue to dive deeper into the how’s and why’s beyond why these tactics have created such a hold on our society both mentally and socially.

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