DRAMATISM

BY KENNETH BURKE

Burke picked his way through the ‘motivational jungle” using the tools of philosophy, literature, psychology, economics, linguistics, sociology and communication, (Griffin, 2003).

Burke’s writing shows an intellectual breath and depth that leads admirers to label him a Renaissance man. He prefers to call himself a “gypsy scholar”.

Theories of dramatism and narrative are two closely associated movements that fit well under the interactionist umbrella. Both deal with the meanings assigned to characters playing roles in a sequence of events, (Littlejohn, 1999).

Narrative is characterized by story sequence. (Littlejohn, 1999). Narrative theories focus on the ways people structure reality by telling stories.

DEFINITION OF DRAMATISM: Burke’s favourite word to describe what he sees going on when people open their mouths to communicate.

Dramatism is distinguished by its heavy reliance on theatrical metaphor. The dramaturgists see people as actors on a metaphorical stage playing out roles, (Littlejohn, 1999).

Burke views the individual as a biological and neurological being, distinguished by symbol-using behaviour and the ability to act. People are symbol creating, symbol using, and symbol-misusing animals.

Definition by Howard Kamler: “Any communication is a sharing of stories. Stories are the stuff of communication. And the sharing of them is what transforms persons into communal beings. In trading our stories back and forth for inspection, agreement, disagreement, we are involved in the activity of making ourselves members of a community.”

The use of symbols includes linguistic and non-verbal elements. History itself is a sense of shared history. Language functions as the vehicle for action.

No word is neutral. As a result your attitudes, judgements, and feelings invariably appear in the language you use. Language functions as the vehicle for action.

For Burke, life is not like a drama. Life is a drama.

SONG: “WHERE WERE YOU WHEN THE WORLD STOPPED TURNING?” Alan Jackson

Since his model (not really a theory) was introduced by Burke, thousands of communication scholars have used his perspectives of identification, dramatistic pentad, and guilt-redemption cycle as ways to analyze public address.

·        The negative is the first related source of guilt. Burke believes we are all driven by a sense of guilt, religious, family, organizational, professional and societal. Guilt arises as a result of the discrepancy between the real and the ideal.

·        He believes this sense of guilt strives us toward perfectionism, because people are sensitive to their failings.

·        The principal of hierarchy is the way we seek social order. People structure society in social pyramids or hierarchies, or ratings, competitions, division by class or education, which is all done through the use of symbols.

IDENTIFICATION-WITHOUT IT THERE IS NO PERSUATION

Definition: Identification is the common ground that exists between audience and speaker.

CONSUBSTANTIALITY OR SUBSTANCE - is the ultimate identification. Consubstantiation as a noun means the presence and combination of the body of Christ with the eucharistic (pronounced u-charistic and meaning communion) bread and wine.

Burke uses the theological reference to the oft-quoted Old Testament passage where Ruth pledges solidarity with her mother-in-law, Naomi:

          “…for where you will go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” That is the ultimate identification.

To the extent that a speaker could alter his linguistic strategy to match his hearers’ sophisticated style, they’d think he was “talking sense”.

Definition: Substance, which Burke uses to describe an umbrella term to describe a person’s physical characteristics, talents, occupation, background, personality, beliefs and values. 

Burke believes the greater the overlap between the substance of the speaker and the substance of the listener, the greater the identification.

THE DRAMATISTIC PENTAD

Photocopy chart p. 315 A First Look at Communication Theory

The dramatis tic pentad is the feature of Burke’s writing that has gained the most approval among scholars. The integrated procedure offers five “artistic Cookie cutters’ for the critic to use in slicing human interaction into digestible, bite-sized morsels. The pentad is a method or a tool. It is not a theory, since there are no predictions and no explanations within the pentad to be proven true or false. Usefulness is the only bias for judgement.

The dramatis tic pentad is a tool to analyze how a speaker tries to persuade the audience that his or her view of reality is the same as the audiences. The five-pronged method is a shorthand way to “talk about the speakers talk”.  Burke’s pentad directs the critic’s attention to the five crucial elements.

The dramatic pentad is deceptively similar to the standard journalistic practice of answering who, what, where, when, why, and how in the opening paragraph of a story.

EXAMPLE:  A NEWSPAPER ARTICLE

The pentad offers a way to determine why the speaker selected a given rhetorical strategy to identify with the audience. When a message stresses one element over the over four, it reveals the speaker’s philosophy or worldview.

ACTION consists of purposeful, voluntary behaviours. Here action is seen as performance, or the use of symbols to present a story or a script to interpreters. 

Bush’s 911 Bullhorn Speech

http://www.cnn.com/video/us/2001/09/14/sot.bush.bullhorn.cnn.med.html

ACT: A speech, which features dramatic verbs, demonstrates a commitment to realism. Burke sees the act as the basic concept in dramatism.

SCENE: The description of the scene gives a context of where and when the act was performed. Public speaking always emphasizes the setting and environment. In the process of performance, meanings and actions are produced within a scene, or socio-cultural context.

AGENT: The agent is the person performing the act.

AGENCY: Agency is the means the agent used to deliver the speech.

PURPOSE: The speaker’s purpose is the stated or implied goal of the address. The message shows a desire for unity, or ultimate meaning in life or common concerns.

VIDEO:  XMV 6057501 SEVEN SONGS FOR MALCOLM X

Malcolm X “The Ballot or the Bullet”

Malcolm’s rhetoric was more angry and militant than martin Luther King. Some saw him as more realistic. Malcolm delivered his famous speech “The Ballot or the Bullet” in April 1964, only eleven months before his assassination.

Malcolm urged American blacks to become leaders and open up their own businesses and elect their own leaders.

He claimed that America as a nation promised equality, freedom and dignity for all of its citizens, but excluded American blacks from their deserved birthright.

He was committed to black nationalism and created a strong sense of identification with his audience.

ACT: The speech, “The Ballot or the Bullet”.

SCENE: Malcolm X strategically places his audience within the larger context of American history and the international struggle for human rights.

AGENT: Malcolm X, All African Americans.

AGENCY: Malcolm’s emphasis on the means to achieve his purpose “by whatever means necessary”.

PURPOSE: The achievement of equality, dignity and freedom

His agency-purpose ratio is very high, an indicator of his pragmatic motivation.  The ballot enforces civil rights legislation. The bullet defends blacks from white violence.

The white man ahs enslaved, lynched and oppressed the Africans living on American soil. They must bear the burden of collective guilt.

The Blacks have become the victims.

The white man is the devil.

GUILT-REDEMPTION CYCLE-THE ROOT OF ALL RHETORIC

Burke believes the ultimate motivation for all public speaking is to purge ourselves of a sense of guilt. Guilt is his catchall term to cover every form of tension, anxiety, embarrassment, shame, disgust, and other noxious feelings that Burke believes are intrinsic to the human condition.

I believe it has more to do with a fear of failure, a compulsion to making this world a better world for future generations and for improving your own life and those you relate to on a day-to-day basis.

He emphasis the uniquely human ability to create, use and abuse language.

He believes that only through the use of man-made language does the possibility of choice come into being.

The negative, linguistic pollution of don’t or Thou shall not

Burke also writes extensively about hierarchies, bureaucracies, and other order systems, which rank people. He’s convinced that no matter how high you climb on the performance ladder, you’ll always feel a strong sense of embarrassment at now having done better.

Professional symbol users of society are today’s teachers, lawyers, journalists, artists and advertising copywriters.

The realization of a perfect ten” (Ten Commandments, Bo Derek, an Olympic dive) only intensifies our sense of imperfection.

REDEMTION THROUGH VICTIMAGE

Those who have rejected or never had a religious commitment may be impatient with Burke’s use of theological terms. However, he regards theology as a field that has fine-tuned its use of language through religious themes of guilt and purification.

DEFINTION: Victimage is the process of designating an external enemy as the source of all our ills.

The list of candidates is limited only by our imagination.

Eastern liberals, Muslim fundamentals, the Columbian drug cartel, African Americans, chauvinistic males, the police, rich capitalists, upper middle class Caucasians, The Taliban, the Arab World, Osama Bin Laden

EXAMPLE: Joke “AXIS OF EVIL”

VIDEO CLIP: XMV 575601 RISE AND FALL OF ADOLF HITLER

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Sources:

Griffin, Em. (2003). Theory Communication: A First Look at

Communication. “ Dramatism of Kenneth Burke”. Fifth   Edition. McGraw-Hill. New York. N.Y.

Littlejohn, Stephen. (1999). Theories of Human Communication. Wadsworth Publishing Company. Belmont. CA.

McClish, Glen. (1997). "Instructor's Manual” to Accompany EM Griffin's: A First look at Communication Theory. Third edition. The Mcgraw-Hill Companies Inc.

Wood, T. Julia. (1997). Communication Theories in Action. Wadsworth Publishing Company, USA.

http://www.cnn.com/video/us/2001/09/14/sot.bush.bullhorn.cnn.med.html

“WHERE WERE YOU WHEN THE WORLD STOPPED TURNING?” Alan Jackson, 2002. Arista Records.

VIDEO:  XMV 6057501 SEVEN SONGS FOR MALCOLM X

VIDEO CLIP: XMV 575601 RISE AND FALL OF ADOLF HITLER