Samantha Senda-Cook, University of UtahAbstract
Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, a financial success in the box office, stirred controversy and conversation among US American publics. Using Kenneth Burke’s pentad, the author demonstrates how Moore situated the act, agent, agency, scene, and purpose in the film’s two major narratives--that of George W. Bush and that of the poverty-stricken people of Flint, Michigan. By naming the dominant term in each pentad, the author argues that Moore relied on the same philosophical school identified by Burke, the mystic perspective, to highlight what Moore constructed as the motivations of the agents of these two pentads. This supported Moore’s thesis of identifying the United States as classist and underlies his attempt to compel audience members to challenge this system. Additionally, the author explores Moore’s use of perspective by incongruity with his employment of the film format and his juxtaposition of the two pentads. Finally, the author contends that scholars should attend to the complexities, as well as the effects, of political entertainment to better understand the strategies of this powerful genre. Key words: Kenneth Burke, pentad, Michael Moore, Fahrenheit 9/11, politics, entertainment, classism, perspective by incongruity.
USING A MICROPHONE AND A BLUE-COLLAR PERSONA, Michael Moore has raised eyebrows, voices, and boiling points; his overtly subjective documentary style of filmmaking caters to a generation immersed in audio/visual stimulation. In the summer 2004, Fahrenheit 9/11 stretched conceptions of politics and entertainment. From a rhetorical standpoint, the mixture of jokes, popular music, story telling, and documentation allowed Moore to involve audience members in ways that politics alone could not. Also, this film managed to criticize George W. Bush, then a presidential candidate, while skirting to Federal Election Commission (FEC) laws concerning political messages. That is not to say that people did not try to prohibit the film’s release since it was so close to the election. However, Moore used every attack as fuel to promote his movie, stating:
I want to thank all the right-wing organizations out there [that] tried to stop this movie either through harassment campaigns, going to the FEC to get our ads removed from television, or the things they said on television. All they have done is give[n] more publicity to the film (qtd. in Coorey & Cock, 2004).
This is one of several controversies that preceded the film. These controversies likely enabled Fahrenheit 9/11 to make a political statement, attract large audiences, and gross $21.8 million in the first weekend of its release (Bowles, 2004).
Besides the monetary impact of the documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11 exemplifies the murky realm of political entertainment. Baym (2005) emphasized that productions that fall into the political entertainment category are not simply what Wilder (2005) called “infotainment,” which implies that both the information and the entertainment aspects lose quality in this format. Instead, “the languages of [news, politics, entertainment, and marketing] have lost their distinctiveness and are being melded into previously unimaginable combinations” (Baym, p. 262). Interrogating these new combinations is essential to understanding not only how audience members use political entertainment, but also the rhetorical strategies producers of it employ (Rockler, 2003).
Previous work has illuminated the rhetorical functions and audience effects of political entertainment. In addition to Fahrenheit 9/11, researchers have engaged The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, The West Wing, and some Saturday Night Live sketches to determine the contributions such programs make to a complex political milieu. The shows tend to fall somewhere between fiction and nonfiction and include pop culture accoutrements, which makes them difficult to dismiss as entertainment and almost impossible to exclude as a political force. Scholars have taken up the task of addressing the so-called “fake news” of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report (e.g., Baym, 2005; Baym, 2007; Borden & Tew, 2007; Jones, 2005; Love, 2007), the fiction of The West Wing (e.g., Holbert, Tschida, Dixon, Cherry, Steuber, & Airne, 2005; Parry-Giles & Parry-Giles, 2002), and the late night jesters of talk shows and Saturday Night Live (e.g., Hollander, 2005; Smith & Voth, 2002).
However, these studies do not provide a complete picture of how political entertainment works rhetorically. They have informed our knowledge of the effects of such programs as well as some of the rhetorical devices they have employed, but not the rhetorical function of constructing the motivations of others. In particular, this research has focused on political entertainment that fabricates all or some of its content. Although critics claimed that Fahrenheit 9/11 strayed from the truth, Moore did not present his work as fictional. He created a version of history. Therefore, while The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Saturday Night Live cast real politicians and real political situations in their productions, they do not claim to adhere to facts of any kind. As a result, examining the motives that Moore created for the “characters” in his film is important.
Rather than focusing on the effects or rhetoric of fictionalized representations, my analysis considers the strategies used by a rhetor who constructed the motivations of real people. Although many journalists speculated about the motives of Moore himself (e.g., Cheney, 2004; Hernandez, 2004; Moore, J., 2004; Nader, n.d.; Parry, 2004; Peterson, 2004), it is more interesting—and more attainable—to examine how Moore represented Bush’s motivations and thus challenged Bush’s characterizations of himself. Moore’s motivations are somewhat obvious. He wanted to end the second Bush’s presidency, as a number of scholars have explained (e.g., Briley, 2005; Holbert & Hansen, 2006; Lawrence, 2005; Levin, 2004; Wilshire, 2005), and respond to what he perceived to be weak journalism in the US, as Conway (2005) and Economou (2004) contended.
The rhetorical strategy of reconstructing Bush’s motives using political entertainment allowed Moore an opportunity to reshape audience interpretations of political turmoil. When rhetors cast the motivations of other people, they give audience members a lens through which they may examine those people. In other words, representing motives has a strong rhetorical function. Analyzing the depictions of motives of politicians and the public in political entertainment will help researchers understand how this effective rhetorical strategy is used to placate audiences, encourage them to laugh at monumental government mistakes, or incite them to challenge oppressive government structures. Thus, employing a tool like Burke’s pentad makes sense for analyzing different kinds of political entertainment.
Rhetorical scholarship is enhanced because the pentad offers a means of analyzing the nuances within the text that create constructions of others’ motivations. In this case, Moore presented two contrasting stories in order to illustrate not only the danger that accompanied the Bush administration and the flaws in the US socio-economic structure, but also to encourage audience members to confront these issues.
I argue that Moore’s version of history, Fahrenheit 9/11, offered two primary stories in order to emphasize the oppressive structure of the US class system. Burke’s pentad functions as a means of determining how Moore represented the motives of Bush and US soldiers in these stories. I answer Rountree’s (2001) call for multipentadic approaches to contemporary texts and use perspective by incongruity, another Burkean concept, to tease out the differences between the purpose-driven agents of these two pentads. Combining these theories provides another tool for political entertainment scholars to use. Examining the broader story lines of political entertainment with an eye for motive and juxtaposition complicates a burgeoning genre of information production.
In this essay, I provide an overview of the pentad and focus specifically on a multipentadic approach. Then, I proffer Fahrenheit 9/11 as a case study to demonstrate the potential impact that the pentad and perspective by incongruity can have on political entertainment analysis when used in conjunction. After I articulate two separate pentads within Moore’s film and discuss the dominant term, purpose, in those pentads, I return to the broader issue of political entertainment.
Pentad Interplay and Perspective by Incongruity
To begin, the pentad has been widely adopted by communication scholars and offers an effective means of critiquing rhetorical strategies. Burke’s (1952) concept of dramatism undergirds a pentadic approach to rhetorical analysis. This critical tool offers a means of investigating a rhetor’s strategic construction of motives—in this case, Moore’s constructions of Bush’s motives as well as the soldiers’ motives. Identifying the five elements of the pentad, the dominant term and ratios in rhetorical situations comprises the critical task, but recent applications of the pentad offer additional manifestations of this critical tool. Specifically, I am interested in multipentadic approaches that highlight the interplay between different constructions of motives in one text.In determining how the rhetor attends to the five elements that comprise the pentad—act, agent, scene, agency, and purpose—and the relationships among these elements, the rhetor’s conceptualization of the motives for action become clear. Burke (1952) identified the five elements that comprise the pentad as: “act (names what took place, in thought or deed), scene (the background of the act, the situation in which it occurred), agent (the person or kind of person that performed the act), agency (what means or instruments he [sic] used), and purpose” (why the agent performed the act) (p. x). Some scholars have used Burke’s pentad as a means to further theory or invent ideas (e.g., Keith, 1979), but most scholars—and indeed Burke himself—argue that the pentad’s primary use lies in critical analysis (e.g., Abrams, 1981; Birdsell, 1987; Bizzell & Herzberg, 2001; Blankenship, Fine, & Davis, 1983; Burgchardt, 2005; Burke, 1978; Brummett, 1994; Foss, 2004; Fox, 2002; Hamlin & Nichols, 1973; Ling, 1970). Specifically, the pentad is necessary in order to make “rounded statements” about motives (Burke, 1952, p. x). Burke stated that the characterization of each element by a rhetor is a construction of the agent’s motives. This enables the rhetor to interpret a situation in a specific way and invite the audience to accept that interpretation. If the rhetor identifies her/himself as the agent, then (s)he has said something about her/his motives. However, if the rhetor chooses to exclude him/herself, as in Fahrenheit 9/11, then (s)he has said something about someone else’s motivations.
Although some pentadic analyses (e.g., Abrams, 1981) have simply identified the five elements in a rhetorical situation, a more complex endeavor involves identifying dominant terms and ratios as well as their corresponding philosophical schools. Burke (1952) claimed that ratios—relationships between pentadic elements—reveal the justifications and motivations that the rhetor supplies to the audience. Fox (2002) explained that the terms themselves do little to advance a critique; however, when shifted and coupled, they reveal what the rhetor stresses and thus what (s)he finds most important in a particular situation. This is the dominant term of the pentad, and it allows for further analysis of the text. Burke suggested that for each dominant term in a pentad, there is a corresponding philosophy. When the scene is emphasized, the rhetor subscribes to materialism; it is idealism when the rhetor features the agent and pragmatism when (s)he focuses on the agency; if the purpose is highlighted, then mysticism is the philosophical system; finally, when the act is stressed, realism is the philosophy. In addition to exposing the perspective of the rhetor, the terms also employ a structure that Rountree (1998) argued links our understandings of all of the terms together.
Likewise, the terms of one pentad affect how we conceptualize other pentads (Rountree, 2001). As such, multipentadic critiques can reveal complex rhetorical strategies that frame how audiences are encouraged to view information within the artifact as well as future situations. Identifying and comparing two pentads—or more—in a single text allows a rhetorician to see how they constrain and enable, undermine and support one another. In identifying two pentads in Senator Edward Kennedy’s speech, Ling (1970) demonstrated not only the insight gained by the dominant terms, but also that gained from a multipentadic approach. Birdsell (1987) countered this approach with a proposal that modifying the elements of the pentad and seeking a common root term “can help explain the interrelationships among various sets of motives” (275). Although this approach seems fruitful for investigating subtle shifts in a pentad, I contend that political entertainment benefits from a multipentadic approach oriented by perspective by incongruity. My research indicates that perspective by incongruity is a useful tool for analyzing media in general and political entertainment in particular. For example, Rockler (2002) explained how this theory can challenge students to overcome the assumption that because a TV program or film is entertaining, it should not be analyzed. As my critique shows, the combination of these two concepts—the pentad and perspective by incongruity—dissects Moore’s strategic constructions and exposes their differing yet complementary parts.
Fahrenheit 9/11 as a Case Study
Fahrenheit 9/11 contributed to an already turbulent political milieu in 2004 (Goodnight, 2005). As is popular with media criticism, scholars have articulated the effects that this film had on audiences’ political knowledge and partisan opinions (e.g., Goodnight, 2005; Stroud, 2005; Toplin, 2006). This focus on effects mirrors a common focus of political entertainment scholars in general (e.g., Hollander, 2005; Young, 2004) and so it makes sense that scholars would seek to understand how Fahrenheit 9/11 affected Republicans’ ambivalence (Holbert & Hansen, 2006), how it affected the political climate and personal sensibilities in 2004 (Toplin, 2006), how Fahrenheit 9/11 did not have the effect it should have because Bush was reelected (Wilshire, 2005), and how selective exposure altered the effects that the film had on audiences (Stroud, 2005). Although Holbert, Hansen, Mortensen, and Caplan (2007) analyzed the filmmaker’s influences, there is a lacuna of criticism that focus on Moore’s construction of characters’ motivations. After I briefly ground Fahrenheit 9/11 in the cultural climate, with regard to both politics and the film itself, I delineate the terms of the two salient pentads and suggest that Moore plays these against one another in order to emphasize the classist oppression in contemporary US American culture.
Grounding Fahrenheit 9/11
Bitzer (1968) suggested that an exigence, in part, generates a rhetorical situation to which a rhetor may feel the need to respond. Although Moore’s oeuvre demonstrates a commitment to challenging class issues, the exigence to which Fahrenheit 9/11 responded began in 2000 when it was clear that George H. W. Bush would be sworn into the office of the president. On January 28, 2003, Bush outlined the danger that would confront the United States (and the world) in the State of the Union address, and he began the war in Iraq. This was the focus of Fahrenheit 9/11. In the following months, the Bush administration pushed for offensive action in Iraq and the United Nations voted against a war (DeYoung & Pincus, 2003; Nichols, 2003; Tyler & Barringer, 2003; Weisman & Barringer, 2003). After nearly four months of speculative reports from Hans Blix and U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq, the president and his advisors made the decision to invade Iraq to find and destroy the weapons of mass destruction. Announcing that the time for diplomacy had passed on March 17, Bush declared that Hussein had two days to give up the illegal weapons (Burns, 2003; Bush, 2003b). On March 19, Bush announced that Saddam Hussein’s forty-eight hours had come to an end, and it was time to “disarm Iraq, free its people, and to defend the world from grave danger” (p. 329). People reacted to Bush’s announcement with varying degrees of concern and/or relief. The US people were at odds with one another, arguing over the legitimacy of the invasion (Clemetson, 2003; Deans, 2003; Sleeth, 2003). Almost a year later, Hussein was caught, but US American soldiers were still in Iraq (Gaurino, 2003). Among Democrats, an anybody-but-Bush mentality emerged and many candidates surfaced (Maggi, 2004; Whoriskey & Rein, 2004). Everyone who perceived a problem had an idea about how to solve it. Thus, Moore saw an opportunity to expose what he construed as Bush’s manipulation of the US American public and to publicize the faults of the US class system.
The estimated gross of Fahrenheit 9/11 in the US alone, nearly $120 million, was certainly a result of timing (Taibbi, 2004; Waxman, 2004). By releasing his film a few months before the presidential election, Moore generated sold-out shows across the United States. Additionally, the months leading up to the release proved that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Although Fahrenheit 9/11 was dogged by controversies that threatened to halt the release and played in only 868 theaters, the film was financially successful. Four major, nationally covered clashes emerged within a month and a half prior to the release of the film. Moore embraced these controversies because he believed that if people knew the truth, his version of the truth anyway, they would take the first steps toward solving the world’s problems. Although Moore’s solution would begin with ousting Bush, it would not end there.
Moore developed two primary tales in Fahrenheit 9/11: that of the upper class and their hunger for wealth, and that of the lower class and their dutiful service to the US government. Moore portrayed the act, agent, agency, scene, and purpose to suit his thesis and his perspective, emphasizing the purpose in each pentad. He edited the film in a way that expressed a stark contrast between the wealthy in Washington and poor in Flint, Michigan. This contrast was made more salient by the similarities between the pentads. In particular, the privileging of purpose in both and the overlapping scenes and acts represented not antithetical perspectives, but rather perspectives interplayed. Thus, he provided the audience with a perspective based on the incongruity of the two pentads as well as the presentation of evidence.
Although Moore is the creator of this artifact, I contend that his explicit involvement ended there. Just as an author of a history book does, Moore shifted the audience’s focus from himself, as storyteller, to the drama of the story itself. Therefore, I do not identify him as a part of either pentad. In seeking to deconstruct the persona that Bush (and the Bush administration) created for him/itself, Moore presented not just the mistakes the administration made, but, more importantly, the calculated efforts to pursue war.
The symbolic choices Moore made and the narrative structure he imposed indicates a mystic philosophical perspective for the first pentad. As the rhetor of this film, Moore offered many narratives within narratives and extensive possibilities for variations in the pentadic identifications; however, I focus on the two major story lines. Fahrenheit 9/11 encouraged the audience to see the four years prefacing the film as follows: The act (attacking Iraq) The scene (post-September 11, 2001) The agent (George W. Bush) The agency (the office of the United States President) The purpose (substantial financial gain and maintenance of power structures)
Act. Moore proffered many different acts that could be identified as the fault of Bush, but the most poignant act is that of attacking Iraq, and this reinforced Moore’s thesis. The other acts, such as dubious business dealings, irresponsible planning, and questionable appointments are either overshadowed by or encompassed within the war in Iraq. Instead of spending a great deal of time exploring the people hurt by these other acts, Moore used them to satirically critique Bush. By devoting such a large portion of the film to the people fighting in Iraq, Moore contrasted the people who make decisions (Bush and his aides) with the people who answer a patriotic call even with limited resources (people in Flint).
From a retaliation perspective, the attack against Iraq did not make sense (as I will explain). However, Moore suggested that the US public had no problem swallowing this because the environment cultivated by the government following the attacks of September 11 allowed the Bush administration to take advantage of pervasive fear.
Scene. According to Moore, creating an atmosphere steeped in panic diverted the attention of the US public from the specifics of a retaliation attack and toward the need for such an attack. Moore argued that the government kept people perpetually terrified and confused by administering nonspecific warnings. By including an interview with congressperson and psychologist Jim McDermott, Moore offered a professional opinion on the actions of the Bush administration during the months following the attacks of September 11. Moore also visually reinforced this memory of the atmosphere by presenting the terrorism alert scale (red = extreme, orange = high, etc.) while McDermott said that the government would raise and lower the levels without providing any specific information.
The filmmaker quoted a few unidentified people from a rural town to illustrate the level of uncertainty and alarm among private citizens: “Never trust nobody you don’t know and even if you do know them, you can’t really trust them then” (M. Moore, 2004). “Sometimes when I see certain people, I think, ‘Oh my goodness, could they be a terrorist?’” (M. Moore, 2004). Then, Moore quoted Tom Ridge, former Secretary of Homeland Security, to exemplify his point; Ridge cautioned, “every family in America should prepare itself for a terrorist attack” (M. Moore, 2004). Moore reinforced this notion by cutting to a commercial for a personal bomb shelter. By focusing on the government, Moore emphasized the administration’s explicit efforts to create a scene of fear rather than one of conciliation.
Agent.The film commenced by recounting the beginning of Bush’s presidency, after which Moore featured members of Bush’s administration (specifically Condolezza Rice, John Ashcroft, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfield, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, and Tom Ridge) preparing for television appearances. Moore also named James R. Bath, George H. W. Bush, Prince Bandar, and a variety of other people directly involved with the Carlyle Group and business relations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Although this multitude of names is provided in Fahrenheit 9/11, one person rose above all others as the central figure. That person was George W. Bush. By establishing a connection between Bush and all the other people in relevant industry and politics, Moore illustrated the web of power that was at Bush’s disposal, attempting to convince the audience that this political Goliath was capable of anything.
From the start, Moore painted an unflattering portrayal of Bush. To begin, the director positioned Bush as a mere simpleton who should not have been in office at all, but progressed to illustrate the power of the Bush family and how Bush could have, but did not, prevent the terrorist attacks of September 11. Moore portrayed Bush’s incompetence and irresponsibility as a leader with a notorious quotation from Bush: “We have an old saying in Texas, ‘fool me once, shame on you . . . .fool me twice, [pause] you aren’t going to fool me again” (M. Moore, 2004). Here, Bush’s inability to articulate a common phrase was supposed to indicate the probability that Bush had other, more serious, faults. Although Moore emphasized Bush’s greed, ineptitude, and unethical connections, Bush would not be an agent capable of this kind of counter-productivity without a key, the key to the White House.
Agency. The primary means by which Bush was able to conduct such dubious activity was the power of the presidency. This office implied the trust of the US American people, and it delivered on that implication. Moore explained that the aforementioned fearful environment that allowed Bush to declare war on Iraq was created by the government, Bush’s government.
It was also Bush’s government that established a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda, although no factual link existed. To illustrate this, Moore edited speeches of Rice, Cheney, Rumsfield, Powell, and Bush to emphasize with what frequency these people mentioned Iraq and Al Qaeda together. Finally, Moore included a quotation from Bush epitomizing his position; Bush stated, “I’m a war president; I make decisions, here in the Oval Office, with war on my mind” (M. Moore, 2004). By including this quote, Moore claimed that Bush and his administration did not exhaust all the means of negotiation preceding the war because from the start Bush wanted to get the United States into a conflict.
Sub-agencies also exist within this film. Some of the sub-agencies, Moore contended, provided the means by which Bush was elected. Moore indicated using interviews with Craig Unger, author of House of Bush, House of Saud, that two significant sources of power are the wealth of the Bush family and money from supporters in corporations and the business dealings with the Saudis; all of these function as powerful capital. The money from these elite sources enabled Bush in many ways. However, I assert that these agencies did not afford Bush the opportunity to serve his purpose by cultivating a sense of fear among US publics like the office of the president did. Furthermore, while this money served as a partial means to an end, more money was an end itself.
Purpose. Moore’s major argument was that attacking Iraq was illogical from even a purely reactionary perspective; attacking Afghanistan, where more Al Qaeda members resided, would make more sense. Moore stressed this point by including an interview with Richard Clarke, the head of counter-terrorism at the time. In this interview, Clarke explained the problems he encountered at the meeting he attended on September 12, 2001 to discuss a response strategy; he commented, “Well, Donald Rumsfield said, when we talked about bombing the Al Qaeda infrastructure in Afghanistan, he said there were no good targets in Afghanistan, let’s bomb Iraq. And we said that Iraq had nothing to do with this and that didn’t make much difference” on Rumsfield’s decision (qtd. in M. Moore, 2004). The rationale provided by Rumsfield, that “there were no good targets in Afghanistan,” was a poor excuse to bomb Iraq. This implied that some other motive for bombing Iraq must have existed.
In a voice-over, Moore explained that the US taxpayers pay Bush’s salary as president, a modest sum when compared to how much the Saudis have invested in companies like the Carlyle Group (on whose board George H. W. Bush sat), Halliburton (the company Dick Cheney ran before becoming the vice president), and Enron (the company that was run by Kenneth Lay, Bush’s most prominent financial supporter in his campaign). Moore estimated that the Saudis have invested $1.4 million over a period of thirty years. Therefore, when every other flight in the United States was grounded, twenty-four members of the Bin Laden family were allowed to leave the country on September 13, 2001. The filmmaker linked the investment amounts with the privileged flights when he commented that “$1.4 million doesn’t just buy a lot of flights out of the country, it buys a lot of love” (M. Moore, 2004). In other words, Moore insinuated that Bush’s loyalty does not lie with the people of the US because the Saudis have so much more to offer. For that reason, prominent members of the Bin Laden family were allowed to fly out of the country while average Arab-Americans were detained without charge or familial notification.
To accentuate his point further, Moore cited the investment money as the explanation of why Bush did not attack Saudi Arabia and why the Saudi Arabian embassy is the most heavily guarded one in Washington D.C. With Congressional support six weeks after September 11, a company called United Defense made a one-day profit of $237 million after the government awarded them a contract to supply the artillery for the war. United Defense is one of the companies that the Carlyle Group owns. At that time, George H. W. Bush as well as Shafe Bin Laden, Osama Bin Laden’s half-brother, sat on the Carlyle Group’s board and both stood to gain substantial sums of money from this government contract as long as the war continued. By illuminating the connections between Bush and Bin Laden, Moore suggested that the president would rather pursue a large-scale war to ensure a constant flow of money for himself and his family than capture the primary criminal architect behind terrorist attacks.
Moore speculated that this greed was the purpose behind refraining from bombing Afghanistan. Many major corporations in the energy field wanted to build a pipeline that would go from the Caspian Sea through Afghanistan and transport natural gas. When the US invaded Afghanistan and appointed Hamed Karzai, who served as an advisor to Unocal, as an interim president, Unocal built the pipeline and both Halliburton and Enron benefited. Finally, Moore depicted these themes visually with maps of Afghanistan and a series of montages that humorously highlight the connections between people. For example, he superimposed the faces of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfield, and Tony Blair over footage of old western characters. These montages offered a twofold purpose: first, they link all the right people together so that the audience will be able to recognize who exactly is involved and second, they provide a kind of mnemonic device so that the audience will remember what they have seen.
Ratios. In this pentad the dominant term as construed by Moore is the purpose—greed. This is contrary to the representation that Bush (2003) (as well as members of the Bush administration) maintained. Despite the power the president wields, he successfully used his addresses to Congress and the nation to privilege scene in his justification for beginning the war in Iraq (e.g., Bush, 2003a, 2003b, 2003c). Specifically, Bush adopted the materialistic perspective and positioned himself as without agency, making the war the only choice he had to respond to the scene. Tonn, Endress, and Diamond (1993) explained that agents who operate within the materialist philosophical school are “seriously constrained by scenic elements” (p. 166). However, in Moore’s telling, Bush is not seriously constrained, but rather compelled by a higher purpose to act. Scholars have critiqued instances of people in power assuming a materialist perspective in order to absolve themselves of wrongdoing. Ling (1970) and Birdsell (1987) both articulated instances in which the rhetor (Edward Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, respectively) adopted a materialist perspective and positioned himself as the victim of the scene in order to avoid blame. Moore challenged this strategy as Bush used it throughout his term.
It is clear that Moore explicitly countered Bush’s description of facts by depicting Bush as driven by a purpose rooted in greed. Therefore, within this pentad, Moore adopted the mystic philosophy, which is illustrated by emphases on Bush’s choice and Bush’s strategic construction of the post-September 11 scene. First, Moore explained how the Bush administration decided to invade Iraq in spite of the lack of rationale. By presenting the invasion as one option of many, Moore reinforced his point that a war in Iraq was Bush’s choice from the beginning. Furthermore, Moore emphasized the calculated choice that Bush made. In other words, in Moore’s depiction, Bush did not invade Iraq simply to demonstrate his power—or for any other agent-driven reason—but rather he chose Iraq for the potential gain in wealth for him and people like him. This defies the rationale supplied by Bush, which consistently pointed to the scene as the cause of the attacks. Second, Moore’s account emphasized how Bush created the scene after the attacks of September 11, 2001 to position an attack of retaliation as a logical act. In cultivating a sense of fear, Bush positioned the country as in need of a solution. Therefore, when he presented one, many of the citizens were ready to accept it. In deliberately confusing and terrifying citizens, Bush was able to control not only the scene, but also the future action that the government took—both functions of the agency, the office of the presidency. With this control, he was able to serve his purpose and accomplish his goal.
In addition to positioning wealth as the purpose behind Bush’s actions, Moore also depicted the Bush family’s wealth as means to gain the White House. In Fahrenheit 9/11, the Bush family’s political influence and wealth, not the votes of the public, facilitated Bush’s rise to power. Moore argued that Bush obtained the office of the president by manipulating the public. Indeed, he opened his film by detailing the dubious start of Bush’s presidency. Even after the troubling election results, Bush gained access to an office that would allow him to make lots of money. This, according to Moore, was the purpose of Bush’s actions. Moore advanced this theory by showing Bush catering to corporate elites and the linkages between the Bush family and the corporations that benefited from the attack on Iraq. Finally, Moore demonstrated that Bush was willing to go to any length to serve his purpose. As Foss (2004) explained, when purpose is the dominant term—as in Moore’s representation of Bush’s motivations—it takes precedence over everything else. Bush’s desire to maintain his wealth overpowered any sense of obligation to the public and soldiers.
This use of the mystic philosophical school framed Bush’s motivations as rooted in his privilege and others’ suffering. Interestingly, Moore adopted the mystic perspective in the second pentad as well. Moore juxtaposed these two pentads by featuring purpose as the dominant term for both, but illustrating that the purpose was not the same for these agents. Moreover, the director overlapped the act and the scene. Whereas the agents of the first pentad declared and cultivated these elements, the agents of the second pentad had to negotiate them. Therefore, although these stories mingle and meet, they end differently.
The Soldiers’ Pentad
Fahrenheit 9/11 provided multiple narratives interacting with one another simultaneously and overlapping to create layers of meaning. All of the stories in Fahrenheit 9/11 contributed to Moore’s thesis, which was that wealthy people with political power waged this war to further oppress poor people and maintain power structures. In highlighting this system and depicting the desperate scene in which soldiers’ families lived, Moore accentuated the power that a sense of duty can hold over people. As opposed to Bush’s pentad, Moore’s featuring of purpose in the soldiers’ case played out quite differently. I identify the features of the second pentad as follows: The act (joining the military) The scene (poverty-stricken Flint, Michigan in a time of war) The agents (poor people) The agency (Marine recruiters) The purpose (combination of patriotic duty and familial obligation)
Act. Moore shifted the focus in the film from Bush and other elites to the people on the ground. The tone of the film changed from mocking to disturbing when the audience was exposed to injured and dead people, explosions, and other bloody footage. To establish the act as joining the military—and not fighting a war or killing people—Moore showed the naïveté of some of the young soldiers and the chaos of the war situation. He depicted a facet of war not shown on military recruitment commercials; he attempted to characterize the killing as atrocious without condemning the people performing it. He did this by taking the audience back to where many of the soldiers come from—in a broad sense, places with high poverty and unemployment rates, but strong family values, places like Flint, Michigan. By resituating the narrative, Moore effectively invited the audience to empathize with people who lived in Flint and joined the military. This act made sense in this context.
Scene. Moore focused his construction of this scene on Flint, Michigan. The filmmaker emphasized the dilapidation of the area by including an interview in which one man explained the similarities between pictures of Iraq on TV and what he sees in Flint. Shots of decrepit houses along with interviews with groups of high school students who all knew someone in Iraq characterized the town. Connecting the lack of jobs in the area and the number of people who join the military supported Moore’s thesis. In addition to the outside scenes, Moore also included elements that communicated families’ commitments to the military. One mother in particular enumerated the members of her family in the military and was shown carefully hanging her American flag outside, a ritual she performed each morning. Interviews and footage like this contextualized the decisions to serve.
The agents from the first pentad (Bush and other elite members of society) deliberately exploit and maintain this type of scene by constructing a metaphysical scene of “a time of war.” Moore presented the Bush pentad first and framed the way the audience viewed the soldiers’ pentad. In doing so, Moore built his pentads so that they depended on one another. In Moore’s depiction, Bush exploited the scene of poverty in that he benefited from the social conditions that oppress other people and maintained it by perpetuating the myth that joining the military is part of some families’ patriotic duty. Therefore, Bush served his purpose by creating a higher purpose for those people who do not have many options to gain community respect. Moreover, Moore claimed that the construction of a metaphysical scene, that is the cultural mindset at the time, contributed to the sense of duty that families felt. He accomplished this by including people like Lila Lipscomb. Her son was killed in Iraq, and she symbolized “common people” in the film. Moore portrayed her as dedicated to the country despite her loss. In explaining her family as a military family, she characterized the metaphysical scene, which was in conversation with the Bush pentad. The members of her family and families like hers are the agents in this pentad.
Agents. Moore cast the people of this pentad as agents with power for a specific purpose. He interviewed the soldiers and their families in their homes where the audience could see the banality of their lives. This contrasted with the Bush pentad because Moore utilized archived footage to characterize the wealthy, powerful people of that story. Also, the interviews Moore conducted with senators, for example, were usually on the street. The interviewees’ desire to get away from Moore served to distance them from the audience as well. As a result, the audience was invited to identify with the families of Flint rather than political elites. Telling the individual service members’ stories played a lead role in this film and in this pentad.
During an interview with Abdul Henderson of the USMC, Moore highlighted the Marine’s experience of his tour in Iraq. Henderson addressed explicitly the classist nature of the war when he insisted adamantly that he would not go back to Iraq even if it meant breaking the law; he stated, “I will not let anyone send me back over there to kill other poor people” (M. Moore, 2004). In this quotation, Henderson positioned himself as a poor person, and implicitly claimed that the wealthy people made decisions about the war while the poor people carried out those decisions. Showing people taking a stand, as in this case, Moore sought to unmask the myth that perpetuates the glorification of military service. Uniquely, he cast impoverished people and took care to demonstrate their patriotism, but then showed their dissent from popular opinion as well. By utilizing such quotations from the soldiers, Moore included evidence from a source traditionally thought of as conservative and attempted to challenge the expectations of the audience and increase his credibility. Curiously, while the filmmaker relied on some of the soldiers to provide their perspectives, he also cast other soldiers as facilitators of the negative situation many citizens who live in poverty face.
Agency. The audience viewed Marine recruiters in Flint, at the mall, vying for the signatures of new people, countering any statement of refusal with a promotion of the financial and personal benefits the Marines can offer. The financial benefits are of particular interest. Here, Moore constructed the motives not only for the wealthy, Bush, and the poor, people of Flint, but also for the recruiters themselves. Moore noted the recruiters were not going to the upscale mall in town; these recruiters were deliberately targeting low-income people for military service. They used the financial benefits as leverage to boost membership and continued to make the military look good and the war appear just. Thus, the Marine recruiters served as a bridge between poverty-stricken residents and military careers. They also reminded the audience of the purpose emphasized in the Bush pentad. For Moore, the money the Marine recruiters offered echoed the motivations of Bush. However, the sum of the military signing bonus is just a pittance compared to the profits made by the investors in the Bush pentad.
Moore implicitly contended that this “pittance” made all the difference to these poor families in Flint. He emphasized the selectivity of the Marines’ actions by showing them concentrating on people who have little access to education and job opportunities. Although no one is forced to join the military, some people are more likely to volunteer when confronted with diminished choices. Furthermore, the Marine recruiters are portrayed as somewhat mindless pawns. Their enthusiasm for signing up new recruits appeared crass when juxtaposed against the death with which families must cope. However, the classist society that exalts militarism in which these recruiters live made their enthusiasm seem natural and the choice to join the military logical.
Purpose. Moore offered the lack of career opportunities as a reason for why more people in poverty join the military, but he also tied in the sense of duty these people feel. In the face of mounting debt, refusing to join the military might eliminate the opportunity to alleviate financial problems. From a practical perspective, fighting for the military seems to be a viable option when no other money is available. Moore illustrated this by connecting poverty and military service through interviews and footage. When people cannot afford to meet their basic needs, they must make a choice to survive and when joining the military will allow them to feed their families, they accept the signing bonus.
In addition to the financial need, people join the military to fulfill the traditions already in place. This country frames military service as the duty of heroes. The pervasive rhetoric in the United States lauds the service of military members, but does not necessarily follow through with financial support. Both the poverty and the sense of duty that people in these families encounter contribute to the desire to join the military. The filmmaker shows the lineage of military service with interviews in people’s houses. Frequently, they recall numerous family members who are serving, have served, will serve, and have died in the service of the United States. In this way, military service becomes a family tradition, and when family members are killed (or injured and unable to work) in the line of duty, the cycle persists.
Including soldiers’ stories showed that these folks had served their purpose by serving their country. This earned them the respect of their fellow community members and also allowed them to justifiably critique the war, by Moore’s reasoning. In the construction of their motives, Moore attempted to demonstrate the concern for doing-the-right-thing that these people felt. For them, in this time of war, joining the military and continuing a family tradition were the right things. In this way, Moore presented this guiding purpose as one nobler than that in Bush’s pentad. Furthermore, Moore implied that if the government was also doing-the-right-thing, these soldiers’ purpose would be fitting.
Ratios. I contend that this second pentad in conjunction with the first advanced Moore’s thesis, but also functioned with its focus on the specific element of purpose and the mystic school. Although trying to survive is certainly a clear purpose, Moore also offered another complex layer to this decision. He illustrated how military service tends to run in families in these communities. Even while Moore sharply criticized the government’s (Bush’s) position and role, he showed respect and admiration for the duty that soldiers perform.
In pairing purpose with act, it is apparent that Moore conceived of the act as a product of the purpose. He claimed that joining the military involved little choice for the people who did it; their position left them with few, if any, other options. Gaining success in these communities meant fulfilling a duty and fighting for the country. In fact, the purpose constituted the scene itself. These people were complacent with the scene because questioning it would imply dissent with the national government. The sense of duty people felt (the family structure and general push for patriotic actions, in this case) necessitated that family members participate and even facilitate the scene. When whole families fight in wars, the career options available become limited and access to education erodes. These conditions shape the people that live in them. Additionally, Moore demonstrated how the purpose of serving one’s country and family developed into community values, and thus controlled the agents. If a higher purpose was guiding the actions of a person, the agency—or means by which the act is done—matters little. However, Moore took care to illustrate how the agency adopted a form that would be respected and perhaps even deferred to in this community. The military recruiters thus became the means by which people began their service, the agency.
By featuring the purpose as the dominant term in this pentad, Moore accomplished two important tasks. First, he essentially excused the actions of the poor people in Flint (and all soldiers implicitly). This is particularly interesting because in the first pentad, focusing on the purpose does not excuse Bush, but rather reinforces the negativity surrounding this president. The nature of the purpose then is significant in Moore’s construction of the agents’ motives. While he viewed the war as wrong, he framed the action of joining the military as a product of unquestioned obedience to community and national values. However, he also showed people who had started to challenge this purpose and the new actions they took. This leads to the second task, which was to motivate the masses with a new purpose. In his juxtaposed critique of Bush and reverence for the soldiers, Moore strategically represented these motives as decidedly different with the goal of inciting audiences to demand a new government. He pointed out the classism that fueled the Bush presidency, but did not question the purpose that guides the poor people in Flint. Moore instead wanted to personalize the abuse of the people’s trust and then encourage them to redirect their loyalty to a better form of government, one that protects and values its citizens. That is why Moore was careful to focus on Bush and not on the broader governmental system.
Although Moore could have depicted the soldiers as victims, he did not. My analysis demonstrates the care Moore took in strategically placing the soldiers and their families as decision-makers. In other words, Moore worked to portray the citizens of Flint as a moral force against the corrupt elite. While they maintained their dedication to the country and the abstract ideals of the country (i.e., freedom, democracy, etc.), they recognized the faults of the governing body. Instead of condemning the soldiers for fighting the war or pitying them for their lack of choice, he encouraged audience members to look to them for inspiration. Such an elevation in status is unique particularly when coupled with Moore’s excusing them of wrong action. Although he illustrated that the agents of both pentads were guided by higher purposes, he did so in complementary and contrasting ways. Moore did not place this pentad in direct opposition to Bush’s pentad, but rather used each to strengthen the argument of the other.
Perspective by Incongruity
Burke’s (1954) concept of perspective by incongruity offers a unique insight into Moore’s framing of different people’s motivations in Fahrenheit 9/11. As my articulation of two salient pentads illustrates, Moore viewed the actors of each pentad as driven by their individual purposes, but depicted them with different complementing terms and thus constructed their motives as different; one had control to carry out a greedy purpose and the other was controlled by a noble yet misguided purpose. Although these pentads are each unique, they are not oppositional. Moore used this incongruous pairing of pentads along with two other acts of incongruity to call attention to the exigence he perceived.
Rhetors use perspective by incongruity to persuade and educate (Blankenship, Murphy, & Rosenwasser, 1974). Whedbee (2001) clarified, “‘Perspective by incongruity’ is a violation of our common sense assumptions about what properly ought to go with what, and it reveals hitherto unsuspected linkages and relationships which our customary language has ignored” (p. 48). When things do not seem to match, people gain a new perspective. Moore practiced perspective by incongruity in three ways to garner his audiences’ attention. First, Moore approached his subject from a humorous angle, which is not a customary strategy for those who discuss politics in general and the Iraq War in particular. As in political cartoons, which arguably could be considered an early print form of political entertainment, Moore utilized the opportunity for humor in the film format to catch his audience off guard. Shultz and Germeroth (1998) argued that much humor is based in contradiction and therefore using humor to make political claims—whether about disability or politics—employs perspective by incongruity. Bostdorff (1987) examined political cartoons using Burke’s perspective by incongruity for that precise reason. The seemingly contradictory mixture of humor and politics creates a powerful message.
Second, Moore relied on the assumptions people have about the government’s role in their lives; that is, they assume that the government will take care of them. United States citizens are supposed to trust the government and believe that the people who run the government have citizens’ best interests in mind, which is why the purpose of serving the government was not the issue that Moore addressed. Moore confronted these presumptions through what Burke (1989) would call “planned incongruity” (274). In showing footage of political leaders preparing to go on camera, Moore attempted to show the wizard behind the curtain. He challenged the audience to view those leaders as real people who are capable of making mistakes both small (e.g., using spit to smooth one’s hair) and large (e.g., going to war for the wrong reasons). While Bush used his cowboy image to cultivate a rough, down-to-business persona and show that he could be a victim of the scene, Moore exploited it to persuade the audience to see members of the Bush administration and Tony Blair as silly spaghetti western characters in full control of the scene itself in the interest of serving a higher purpose (money) at any cost (e.g., human lives).
Additionally, the hegemony of this culture encourages people to adopt an individualist mentality, meaning that if someone is in a bad financial situation, it is her/his own fault. Frequently, films and television programs, particularly news programs, highlight the crimes that poor people commit. Moore countered this common representation by showing the patriotism and sense of duty that the families in Flint had. In contrast, he aligned Bush and those close to him with financial contacts in the Middle East, emphasizing their problematic and unpatriotic interests. Defying audience expectations helped Moore engender two pentads that challenged suppositions of the groups they each featured as the agent, Bush and people in poverty.
Finally, by juxtaposing these two pentads, Moore confronted the audience again about commonly held assumptions that the United States is a country in which everyone has an equal chance to succeed. Moore’s careful construction of the motivations of two contrasting groups of people served to expose the class differences that exist in the US and inspire audiences to action that would yield a government that had concern for its citizens. Formulating others’ motivations to his own end, Moore showed that financial elites perpetuate and exploit class differences and the consequences those differences have for people in poverty. He also showed that ordinary people with a purpose have significant power that is meaningless when in the service of corrupt government officials. Since the purpose of the soldiers was predicated on trust of the government and faith in its ideals, their ability to make change was compromised. However, in holding on to those beliefs but challenging the oppressive structures, they could effect change, Moore argued. Therefore, he attempted to motivate his audience to demand a better, more honest government. After September 11, 2001, Bush—and members of his administration—lobbied for unification. Yet, as my analysis illustrates, Moore would contend that such unification is not possible because of class barriers. Furthermore, Bush, as Moore depicted him, desired a superficial unification to allow him to gloss over the classist nature of war and abuse the trust of the people.
Although the two pentads are decidedly different, they are not antithetical. By framing both with the mystic perspective, Moore contended implicitly that the purpose of an agent’s actions is immensely important. The audience sees this in both of the pentads. However, Moore also pairs the purpose with another term in each pentad to produce a dominant ratio. This strategy emphasized the incongruity of the pentads and made them appear antithetical. In Bush’s pentad, Moore privileged the purpose-agent ratio, and in the soldiers’ pentad, the audience saw the purpose-scene ratio. Although nothing about Bush in particular motivates him to want to go to war, Moore’s representation did stress the importance of Bush as a figurehead for the wealthy class. It was his family and access to the office of president as well as his corporate connections, specifically with energy production, that made him a necessary character. The purpose was the driving influence behind his actions in Moore’s construction.
In contrast, the scene and metaphysical scene of the soldiers’ pentad justified the soldiers’ purpose, and in turn, the purpose further perpetuated the scene and enabled the metaphysical scene. The poverty in Flint provided a rationale for joining the military as a means to gain community respect. Additionally, the metaphysical scene—the time of war—reinforced feelings of duty. The purpose, this sense of duty, allowed the scene, Flint in poverty, to continue because the people were not skilled or educated except in military matters. This familial obligation, the purpose, provided bodies to go to war, facilitating the time of war, the metaphysical scene. Thus, it is the incongruence of the dominant ratios that affords the interplay of pentads instead of a purely oppositional relationship.
Burke (1952) explained that the struggle for dominance between the agent and the scene is one of placing blame. In the case of the scene, it goes to the uncontrollable environment, and in the case of the agent, it goes to a human, capable of change and decision-making. With purpose dominating, the agent is in the service of the purpose and constructs reality with this purpose in mind. Contrarily, the scene remains partially uncontrolled by the agents, but is implicated or necessitated by the purpose of those agents. By this reasoning, the purpose drives the agent, of which the agent is aware, but it also drives the scene, of which the agent is unaware. This allows for the dual constraints of purpose and scene, both of which contribute to a particular sense of unity, that guides the agents’ choices.
These two purposes work together to keep some people in power and others out of it. Moore waited until very close to the end to come around to this point and supplied the audience with some answers to their questions by quoting George Orwell’s 1984, the novel that tells the frightening story of life under the rule of an omnipotent government. Moore spoke over panning shots of poverty-stricken Flint juxtaposed with shots of Bush and his administration:
It is not a matter of whether the war is not real or if it is. Victory is not possible, the war is not meant to be won; it is meant to be continuous. A hierarchical society is only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance. This is the new version of the past and no different past can ever have existed. In principle, the war effort is always planned to keep society on the brink of starvation. The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects and its object is not the victory over either Eurasia or East Asia, but to keep the very structure of society intact. (M. Moore, 2004)
Moore inserted this quotation to illustrate the purpose of each of the pentads. The war financed Bush’s lifestyle because he and his family have money invested in companies that manufacture war machines. Furthermore, poor people volunteering for the military functioned as hierarchy insurance by keeping them in cyclical poverty. Their actions were the result of the pervasive value of patriotism, which produced a sense of a higher purpose. However, because of their service, they create a scene that is problematic for them financially. They sign up for the military as a means to honor their duty; then they are altered in the war (physically or mentally) and cannot work and ultimately produce children in the same situation. This cycle allows Bush and the rest of the ruling class to continue to rule.
After displaying the desolation in parts of Flint, Moore furthered his point by including quotations from many people who comment on the amount of money they expect to make in rebuilding Iraq and benefiting from the Iraqi oil reserves. Youssef Sleiman, a speaker from Iraq Initiative/Harris Corporation, at the Rebuilding Iraq conference declared, “the good news is, whatever the cost, the government will pay you,” in regard to the need for contracted services in Iraq (M. Moore, 2004). Moore featured Bush, the epitome of the wealthy, obviously dressed for a black-tie affair, telling an audience, “Some people call you ‘the elite,’ I call you ‘my base’” (M. Moore, 2004). These quotations invoked the more intentional, classist themes that Moore tried to emphasize.
Moore challenged his audience by using perspective by incongruity within the film and between the pentads. Devising two primary pentads and constructing the motives of others within these pentads gave audience members an opportunity to see the situation, and indeed the United States, as flawed and founded on false assumptions. Moore wanted to connect with the audience through humor and encourage them to question US values. Through the strategic construction of Bush’s and the soldiers’ motivations, Moore demonstrated not only the character of this film, but also the capabilities of political entertainment.
Political entertainment does more than merely inform or entertain, as Baym (2005) asserted. It depends on the combination of both of these to generate a more sophisticated strategy than either a purely informative or an entertaining program could do on its own. As more producers realize the potential of this genre, we can expect to see more programs like Comedy Central’s Lil’ Bush. Many of these programs appear to want to inform not only about political situations, but also about definitions of political savvy. In order to understand the jokes, the audience must understand current political situations. Political entertainment thus constructs the motivations of politicians in specific (sometimes humorous) ways to use perspective by incongruity to critique social institutions, ideologies, and, of course, people’s actions (and perceived motivations). In the same vein, political cartoons have a long history and have enjoyed success over the years (Editors of the Foreign Policy Association, 1975). Contemporary examples of political entertainment serve as an extension of these cartoons. What may have begun as single-panel comical critiques of politics has evolved to complex commentaries that come in a variety of forms. Therefore, studies of the effects of political entertainment, while productive for gauging the political media climate, do not contribute solely to understanding the appeals of political entertainment because such appeals are increasingly more complicated and rhetorically effective. The combination of pentadic analysis and perspective by incongruity works especially well for examples of political entertainment because they allow the critic to interrogate the nuanced relationships between representations of different groups of people in political entertainment. Research indicates that political entertainment is effective at least on a surface level (e.g., Holbert, 2005; Hollander, 2005; Young, 2004). Just as media programs, even if they are fictionalized or satirical characterizations, function to shape our perceptions of gender, race, and class, they also contribute to our understanding of political figures, political ideology, and political acts. In depicting politicians’ motives as well as the motives of the common people, like soldiers, creators of political entertainment frame the way we view future actions as well as current ones and act as powerful rhetorical tools. Indeed, Rountree (2001) calls for more work with pentadic analysis that enables critics to understand how such constructions influence readings of future constructions. Attending to these complex texts is a necessary step because political entertainment can function as activism, a society’s collective emotional release, a retaliation, or a troublesome (or valid yet alternative) source of information. Each of these functions would encourage an audience to engage in different behaviors. For example, Moore is goading his audiences to act toward governmental reform, but a more comical, less socially aware program may encourage complacency since audience members feel satisfied poking fun at incompetent government officials. Ignoring the representations of motivations in political entertainment texts eliminates researchers’ opportunity to understand the why of the effect political entertainment has on populations. A combination of the pentad and perspective by incongruity lends itself to more complete critiques of political entertainment that identify the textual elements comprising an effective piece of rhetoric.
Although Fox’s satirical program, The Half Hour News Hour, has decidedly oppositional (with respect to Moore’s film) political leanings, an analysis focused on perspective by incongruity would produce interesting results given that Fox is a news channel, not a comedy channel or an independent film production company. Examining the characterizations of the motivations of liberals from the conservative creators’ perspective would provide an interesting critique that could be contrasted with Moore’s representations. It would be worthwhile to consider the strategic elements employed to create a conservative answer to liberal efforts to discredit the government by means of comedy. The perspective by incongruity strategy on this show might function quite differently from The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, or Fahrenheit 9/11, yet the strategy itself might be a customary practice in political entertainment.
Moreover, the medium of the piece of political entertainment will certainly add to its overall meaning. That Moore chose a “documentary” as the form for his exposé is significant. Burke (1952) noted that “the concept of the ‘documentary’ as the historiographer’s ideal” is a problematic one because the rhetor may construe facts in many different ways (p. 282). Until Fahrenheit 9/11, many people would have considered the documentary the equivalent of a history book. The pentad, in this case in particular, assists in uncovering the perspective of the rhetor. Therefore, applying the pentad to a source typically considered unbiased has potential to challenge commonly held assumptions about such sources. The Half Hour News Hour again would produce a unique case study since it is featured on a news channel.
My analysis demonstrates that rhetors can create quite different situations and lenses for viewing these situations even when multiple pentads adopt the same philosophical approach. Moore represented this in his film by offering the audience a number of stories. The two I have analyzed here emphasize Moore’s construction of others’ motives as well as the classist dimensions of war, specifically the Iraq War. The filmmaker also encouraged audience members to act on their own behalf. By featuring two sets of people both guided by purposes, Moore offered two examples of how commitment to such purposes, even in the face of sacrifice, can lead to problematic circumstances. Moore achieved his agenda by confronting the assumptions of his audience using perspective by incongruity. I would extend the value of perspective by incongruity beyond Fahrenheit 9/11 to most political entertainment since comedy and contradiction undergird this unique amalgamation of information about politics and entertainment. Fahrenheit 9/11 effectively combined comedy and facts to weave a story that revealed Moore’s penchant for exposing classism in the United States.
*An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 77th Annual Western States Communication Association Convention on February 19, 2006. The ten minute presentation was part of a panel entitled "Representation and Politics" hosted by the Media Studies Interest Group. Additionally, the author would like to thank Carl Burgchardt, Brian Ott, Danielle Endres, Joseph Richards, Clarke Rountree, Sonja Foss and any anonymous reviewers for their guidance and sugggestions.
1.In the second publishing of A Grammar of Motive (1952), Burke added attitude to the pentad. This refers to the quality of the action, not just the purpose or the act itself. However, scholars continue to refer to the pentad and not the hexad (Rountree, 1998) and generally address the attitude of the rhetor in other pentadic elements.
2.The first hullabaloo started when Michael Eisner, CEO of the Walt Disney Co., announced in May that the corporation would not release the film Fahrenheit 9/11 “because of its incendiary tone and content” (qtd. in Waxman, 2004). It ended when Harvey and Bob Weinstein, two movie executives for Miramax, bought the film and released it through Lion’s Gate and IFC Films. On May 24, 2004, the second controversy surfaced when the Cannes Film Festival “end[ed] in controversy” because Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 won the Palme d’Or, or Golden Palm, the top prize of the festival (Stratton, 2004). By June 10, 2004, Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, had publicly expressed his discontent with Moore for not asking permission to adopt his title and change the numbers to 9/11 and spurred controversy number three. With no legal recourse, Moore’s “homage” title remained (Keck, 2004). Finally, shortly after the film’s release, Citizens United, a primarily Republican organization, filed a complaint with the FEC, claiming that, due to the highly political nature of the film, its television advertisements would incriminate Moore and the film’s distributors for using “corporate money to broadcast attack ads about a presidential candidate within 30 days of his party's national convention” (Getter, 2004). Moore countered the grievance with comedy: I am deeply concerned about whether or not the FEC will think I paid Citizens United to raise these issues regarding Fahrenheit 9/11. How else can you explain the millions of dollars of free publicity this right-wing group has given the movie? (Getter, 2004)
3. Establishing such a connection was important for the Bush administration to do because the government determined that Al Qaeda was responsible for the attacks of September 11. Without the link, attacking Iraq would seem illogical.
4. Unocal was contracted to build the pipeline to carry natural gas from the Caspian Sea to Afghanistan and Halliburton won the contract to drill.
5. This is a point that Moore also emphasized in his most recent film, Sicko (2007).
Abrams, J.A. (1981). Plato’s rhetoric as rendered by the pentad. Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 11(1), 24-28.
Baym, G. (2005). The Daily Show: Discursive integration and the reinvention of political journalism. Political Communication, 22, 259-276.
Baym, G. (2007). Representation and the politics of play: Stephen Colbert’s Better Know a District. Political Communication, 24, 359-376.
Birdsell, D. S. (1987). Ronald Reagan on Lebanon and Grenada: Flexibility and interpretation in the application of Kenneth Burke’s pentad. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 73(3), 267-279.
Bitzer, L. F. (1968). The rhetorical situation. Rhetoric and Philosophy, 1(1), 1-14.
Bizzell, P. & Herzberg, B. (2001). The rhetorical tradition: Readings from classical times to the present (2nd ed.). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
Blankenship, J., Murphy, E., & Rosenwasser, M. (1974). Pivotal terms in the early works of Kenneth Burke. Philosophy & Rhetoric, 7(1), 1-24.
Blankenship, J., Fine, M.G., & Davis, L.K. (1983). The 1980 Republican primary debates: The transformation of actor to scene. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 69, 25-36.
Borden, S.L. & Tew, C. (2007). The role of journalist and the performance of journalism: Ethical lessons from “fake” news (seriously). Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 22(4), 300-314.
Bostdorff, D. (1987). Making light of James Watt: A Burkean approach to the form and attitude of political cartoons. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 73, 43-59.
Bowles, S. (2004, June 28). Fahrenheit 9/11 torches box office records. USA Today. Retrieved from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe/.
Briley, R. (2005). Fahrenheit 9/11: Michael Moore heats it up. Michael Moore: Cinematic historian or propagandist?: A Historians Film Committee Panel Presented at the 2005 American Historical Association Meeting. Film & History, 35(2), 7-
Brummett, B. (1994). Rhetoric in popular culture. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Burgchardt, C.R. (2005). Readings in rhetorical criticism (3rd ed.). State College, PA: Strata Publishing, Inc.
Burke, K. (1952). A grammar of motives. New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
Burke, K. (1954). Permanence and change: An anatomy of purpose. Los Altos, Ca: Hermes Publications.
Burke, K. (1978). Questions and answers about the pentad. College Composition and Communication, 29(4), 330-335.
Burke, K. (1989). On symbols and society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Burns, J. F. (2003, March 17). Threats and responses: Baghdad; In Iraqi capital, people prepare as war looms. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe.
Bush, G. W. (2003a, January 28). Address before a joint session of the Congress of the State of the Union. Retrieved from Weekly Compilation of Government Documents, http://www.gpoaccess.gov/wcomp/.
Bush, G. W. (2003b, March 17). Address to the nation on Iraq. Retrieved from Weekly Compilation of Government Documents, http://www.gpoaccess.gov/wcomp/.
Bush, G. W. (2003c, March 19). Address to the nation on Iraq. Retrieved from Weekly Compilation of Government Documents, http://www.gpoaccess.gov/wcomp/.
Cheney, B. (2004, July 28). Government claimed we’d be safer. The Advertiser. Retrieved from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe/.
Christensen, C. (2005). The politics of a political film. Screen Education, 37, 20-24. Clemetson, L. (2003, March 20). A nation at war: US forces at sea; as a war finally erupts, sailors still do the wash. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe.
Conway, L. (2005, Spring). Iraq documentaries fill a press vacuum: “. . . filmmakers have become a source for alternative explanations for the war in Iraq and the news coverage of it, as well as critics of the administration’s policies.” Nieman Reports, 59(1), 106-108.
Coorey, P., & Cock, A. (2004, July 11). Burning Bush. STM. Retrieved from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe/.
Deans, B. (2003, February 28). US intensifies buildup; scoffing at Iraq’s offer to destroy missiles, Bush deploys ships, planes. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe/.
DeYoung, K., & Pincus, W. (2003, March 1). US discounts Iraq move to destroy missiles; U.N. urged to vote on resolution declaring Baghdad in violation on prohibited weapons. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe.
Economou, R. (2004, Fall). Documentaries raise questions journalists should ask themselves: ‘Have they delved deeply enough into issues surrounding the nation’s war on terror and its homeland security?’ Nieman Reports, 58(3), 81-82.
Foreign Policy Association. (1975). A cartoon history of United States Foreign Policy: 1776 – 1976. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.
Foss, S. (2004). Rhetorical criticism: Exploration & practice (3rd ed.). Long Grove, Ill.: Waveland Press, Inc.
Fox, C. (2002). Beyond the “tyranny of the real”: Revisiting Burke’s pentad as research method for professional communication. Technical Communication Quarterly, 11(4), 365-388.
Gaurino, D. (2003, December 15). Saddam captured; US finds ace in the hole. The Boston Globe. Retrieved from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe/.
Getter, L. (2004, June 25). Fahrenheit 9/11 ads could defy election laws, group charges. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe/.
Goodnight, G.T. (2005). The Passion of the Christ meets Fahrenheit 9/11: A study in celebrity advocacy. American Behavioral Scientist, 49(3), 410-435.
Hamlin, W.J., & Nichols, H.J. (1973). The interest value of rhetorical strategies derived from Kenneth Burke’s pentad. Western Speech, 37(2), 97-102.
Hart, R.P. & Daughton, S. (2005). Modern Rhetorical Criticism (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.
Hernandez, E. (2004, July 26). Is Fahrenheit 9/11 a documentary film? or what is a documentary film?. Retrieved from indieWIRE, http://www.indiewire.com.
Holbert, R.L., Tschida, D.A., Dixon, M., Cherry, K., Steuber, K., & Airne, D. (2005). The West Wing and depictions of the American presidency: Expanding the domains of framing in political communication. Communication Quarterly, 53(4), 505-522.
Holbert, R.L., & Hansen, G.J. (2006). Fahrenheit 9-11, need for closure and the priming affective ambivalence: An assessment of intra-affective structures by party identification. Human Communication Research, 32, 109-129.
Holbert, R.L., Hansen, G.J., Mortensen, S., & Caplan, S.E. (2007). An analysis of the relative influences of Fahrenheit 9-11 and presidential debate viewing on shifting confidence in President George W. Bush. Communication Research Reports, 23(3), 209-216.
Hollander, B.A. (2005). Late-night learning: Do entertainment programs increase political knowledge for young viewers? Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 49(4), 402-415.
Hughes, Peter. (2005). Fahrenheit 9/11 and the US election: A case of missed opportunity? Screen Education, 39, 129-134.
Jones, J. (2005). Entertaining politics: New political television and civic culture. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Keck, W. (2004, June 10). Michael Moore’s 9/11 ignites Hollywood night. USA Today. Retrieved from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe/.
Keith, P.M. (1979). Burkeian invention: From pentad to dialectic. Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 9(3), 137-141.
Lawrence, R.G. (2005). Film reviews. Political Communication, 22, 253-257. Levin, J. (2004). Fahrenheit 9/11: Powerful exposé or pulp fiction? Screen Education, 36, 26-32.
Ling, D. A. (1970). A pentadic analysis of Senator Edward Kennedy’s address to the people of Massachusetts, July 25, 1969. Central States Speech Journal, 21, 81-86.
Love, R. (2007). Before Jon Stewart: The truth about fake news. Believe it. Columbia Journalism Review, 45(6), 33-37.
Maggi, L. (2004, March 9). Today’s ballot includes yesterday’s candidates; some dropouts remain in Democratic Primary. Times-Picayune. Retrieved from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe/.
Moore, J. (2004, October 6). Moore accused of bribing students to vote; GOP asks prosecutors to file charges. The Talon News. Retrieved from http://www.talonnews.com.
Moore, M. (Director). (2004). Fahrenheit 9/11 [Motion Picture]. Los Angeles, CA: Lions Gate Films, IFC Films, and The Fellowship Adventure Group.
Moore, M. (Director). (2007). Sicko [Motion Picture]. United State: Dog Eat Dog and The Weinstein Company.
Nader, R. (2004, December 8). Will the real Michael Moore ever re-emerge?. Retrieved from http://www.counterpunch.org/nader12082004.html.
Nichols, B. (2003, March 3). Weekend setbacks complicate US plans for Iraq War. USA Today. Retrieved from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe.
Parry, C. (2004, July 26). Defending truth. Retrieved from SpeakOut.com, http://speakout.com.
Parry-Giles T., & Parry-Giles, S. J. (2002). The West Wing’s prime-time presidentiality: Mimesis and catharsis in a postmodern romance. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 88(2), 209-227.
Peterson, Alan. (Director). (2004). Fahrenhype 9/11 [Motion Picture]. United States: Savage Pictures.
Rockler, N. (2002). Overcoming “it’s just entertainment”: Perspective by incongruity as strategy for media literacy. Journal of Popular Film & Television, 30(1), 16-23. Rockler, N. (2003). Entertainment, the personal, and the political: Therapeutic rhetoric and culture controversies. The Communication Review, 6, 97-115.
Rountree, J. C. III. (1998). Coming to terms with Kenneth Burke’s pentad. American Communication Journal, 1(3), n.p.
Rountree, J. C. III. (2001). Instantiating “The Law” and its Dissents in Korematsu v. United States: A Dramatistic Analysis of Judicial Discourse. Quarterly Journal of Speech 87(1), 1-24.
Shultz, K. & Germeroth, D. (1998). Should we laugh or should we cry? John Callahan’s humor as a tool to change societal attitudes toward disability. The Howard Journal of Communications, 9, 229-244.
Sleeth, P. (2003, March 20). The dawn of the first day. The Oregonian. Retrieved from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe.
Smith C., & Voth, B. (2002). The role of humor in political argument: How “strategery” and “lockboxes” changed a political campaign. Argumentation and Advocacy, 39, 110-129.
Stratton, D. (2004, May 24). Cannes ends in controversy. The Australian. Retrieved from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe/.
Stroud, N. (2005). Where there is smoke, there is fire: Media effects, selective exposure, & Fahrenheit 9/11. Presented at the proceedings of the International Communication Association, 2005 Annual Meeting. New York, New York.
Taibbi, M. (2004, December 3). No more Moore: The DLC joins the witch-hunt. New York Press. Retrieved from www.commondreams.org.
Tonn, M.B., Endress, V.A., & Diamond, J.N. (1993). Hunting and heritage on trial: A dramatistic debate over tragedy, tradition, and territory. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 79, 165-181.
Toplin, R. B. (2006). Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11: How one film divided a nation. Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press.
Tyler, P. E., & Barringer, F. (2003, February 28). Saddam agrees to scrap missiles; Last-minute consent as US pushes hard for U.N. votes. Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Retrieved from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe.
Waxman, S. (2004, June 28). The political Fahrenheit sets record at box office. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe/.
Weisman, S. R., & Barringer, F. (2003, March 10). US still lacks U.N. votes despite heavy lobbying; backing on Iraq resolution proves elusive. Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Retrieved from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe.
Whedbee, K. (2001). Perspective by incongruity in Norman Thomas’s “Some Wrong Roads to Peace.” Western Journal of Communication, 65(1), 45-64.
Whoriskey, P., & Rein, L. (2004, February 10). Democrats in final push For Va. votes; Kerry, Edwards to appear in area on primary day. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe/.
Wilder, C. (2005). Separated at birth: Argument and irony in Hearts and Minds and Fahrenheit 9/11. Atlantic Journal of Communication.
Young, D.G. (2004). Late-night comedy in election 2000: Its influence on candidate trait ratings and the moderating effects of political knowledge and partisanship. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 48(1), 1-22.
"Fahrenheit 9/11's Purpose-Driven Agents: A Multipentadic Approach to Political Entertainment" by Samantha Senda-Cook is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0. Based on a work at www.kbjournal.org.