This provides an opportunity to interact with course material and your own experience, while also bringing in popular culture. Through a critical rhetorical analysis of Beyonce’s video Formation, you are putting theory into practice. The assignment also has a social component, requiring you to watch the film with someone else. If this piece is not feasible, then you can ask someone to watch it from their home and share the questions with them. Perhaps using Skype, What’sApp, or FaceTime you can still have some “face time” with your partner.
Directions for Students:
Screen the Formation video (linked here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDZJPJV__bQ) with someone that has never seen it before. The screening will be done through the lens of cultural analysis. The article by Raymond provides an overview of the importance to study “culture” and how it allows us to “unpack” the video and its significance within a larger context. The video itself is explicit in its use of social justice rhetoric, but it is also a reflection of a much larger discourse. The questions below break down the elements of a cultural analysis: genre, context, structure/form, discursive features, ideology, and issues of representation.
Ask each other the questions, and jot down the answers. Write a 500 word reflection that provides a detailed overview of the conversation, as well as your reactions.
• Williams, R. (1998). The Analysis of Culture. In Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader. Pp. 28-56. Ed. John Storey. Athens: GA. The University of Georgia Press. https://www.amherst.edu/media/view/88660/original/Williams+-+The+Analysis+of+Culture.pdf
• Kevin Michael DeLuca and Jennifer Peeples, “From Public Sphere to Public Screen: Democracy, Activism, and the ‘Violence’ of Seattle” (2002) http://tanyarodrigue.com/SSUENL110/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/DeLuca-Seattle.pdf
Laying the Groundwork:
As a methodological approach, critical rhetorical analysis focuses on examining a text (not exclusively a written text) to uncover intricacies in a variety of areas. The researcher is expected to unpack not just what the text is communicating, but also what is the backdrop, the context, the types of audiences (intended and unintended), how does the text engage with power, and what are the discursive functions used by the author/s. In this case, we are looking at a widely-shared video created by a musical artist. In a subsequent assignment, you will break out this tool set and examine a specific piece of rhetoric from your current organization.
As Deluca and Peeples discuss, communication can be thought of in terms of screens. They argue that activists engage in social protest through the production of rhetoric in the public sphere, which in turn functions as a screen by which they (and their audience) understand the social injustice they wish to alleviate or eliminate. Deluca and Peeples provide a useful framework to think through how rhetoric shapes public discourse, and how individuals make sense of their role in either perpetuating or interrupting injustice vis-a-vis political rhetoric.
Williams, in an earlier article that pre-dates Deluca and Peeples, breaks down the components of examine culture through cultural analysis. Cultural analysis specifically focuses on rhetoric and how the public perceives that communication. His article provides a clear overview of the method, and offers a map of what the components the researcher should be identifying.
In this assignment, you will bridge the method from Williams through a detailed discussion about Beyonce’s Formation video. You will also engage with a friend/co-worker to ensure the assignment generates conversation (possibly even debate) that you in turn can reflect upon.
Questions to consider (both you and your partner) while viewing the film:
• What genre does the object belong to (e.g., in film, this could be a Western, a musical, a documentary, and so on)?
• How does the genre impact the way you experience the text?
• How does it fulfill or deviate from the expectations of the genre? (E.g., if a Western, are there clear heroes and villains, as in a traditional John Wayne movie, or are the characters more ambiguous)?
• How does it create a genre of social justice?
• What are the significant social, cultural, and/or political-economic contexts within which this ‘object’ (the Formation video) has been produced?
• Who produced it, how was it produced, and for whom or to what end (or as a response to what)?
• What kind of story is told?
• What happens, and to whom?
• Who is the subject or active ‘agent’?
• How is the story told? And from whose perspective?
• What is the structure of the narrative – i.e., how could its ‘skeleton’ be portrayed? (E.g., a common narrative structure follows the following form: Equilibrium; Disruption by the appearance of an opposing force or problem; Search/quest addressing the conflict; Restoration of (previous or new) equilibrium.)
• What recurrent images and textual tropes are emphasized (i.e. recurrent ideas & devices, figures of speech, metaphors, equations, metonymies i.e. part standing in for whole, etc.)?
• What meanings are created through the combination or juxtaposition of elements (e.g. words, images, sound, narrative structure, etc.)?
• What are the ‘oppositions’ that structure the text – e.g., how do basic dualisms (good/bad, male/female, white/black, rich/poor, et al.) map onto each other – which ‘goes with’ which (according to the movie or text)?
• What is said and what is left unsaid?
• What do the images make us think about? (Often images are used to stand in for ideas)
Ideology and power:
• How are power relations and political agency represented?
• Are certain people/groups shown to be passive and others active, and, if so, is this presented in a critical light, or does it appear ‘natural’ and unchangeable?
• What dilemmas or problems are the characters faced with, and are the underlying structural causes highlighted or are these left unquestioned or unaddressed?
Representation of cultural and other differences: How are the following represented:
• Gender and gender relations?
• ‘Race’ and race relations?
• Socioeconomic class?
• Ethnicity and cultural identity?
• Sexuality and sexual orientation?
• Normalcy and deviance?
• Nonhuman nature (animals, specific landscapes and places) and human-nature relations?
• What is represented as ‘natural’ and/or ‘unnatural’?
• What capacities for action are portrayed, and how are they distributed between different actors?
Additional to reflect on in your paper:
• How does the lens of cultural analysis allow you to interrogate other dimensions of the video?
• Did the conversation reveal more about the film than you had thought prior to doing the activity?
• Can you compare this video to others done by different artists?
• Do you think music is a medium for social justice work? Why/ why not?