Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Committee Chair

Williams, Bronwyn T.


Television programs--Social aspects; Mobile computing--Social aspects; Social networks--Computer network resources


Digital rhetoric creates opportunities for examining rhetoric as it evolves daily. This evolution may be described in terms of network circulation and immediate opportunities for publishing and creating. This project analyzes mobile applications and live feeds used during television broadcasts, where rhetoric is closely tied to the work of identifying with another point of view. Producers and designers of dual-screen applications prompt us to answer how we would act if we assumed the role of protagonist and saw the world through her or his eyes. These questions support the idea that identification is not just a relative of empathy or a way to engage emotionally with the text but also a way to approach problems and sharpen observation. From this dissertation’s findings we may reconsider the work of seeing and perspectival shifting as part of a sophisticated procedure of reflexive role play and public intellectualism. In addition, the analysis provides information about how mobile devices and second screens work to support consensus and a preferred reading (viewing) of popular narratives and group performances, thereby calling into careful consideration how we use such devices to influence others. Finally, the dissertation’s work helps us understand new forms of viral communication and the velocity (Ridolfo and DeVoss) at which they are transmitted. Consequently, we may approach textual artifacts as “living documents” and consider how such “living” properties may change our perceptions of authorship and composing. In Chapter One, “My Watch Begins: Complex Narrative, Transmedia, and Point of View,” I begin by offering an overview of my methodological approach to these applications. I situate the work of identification on mobile devices within the larger conversation surrounding transmedia and how it encourages viewers to participate in contemporary television narratives. This section provides explanations of how the terms procedural rhetoric (as introduced first by Ian Bogost), prosopopoiea (from ancient rhetoric), and point of view (from narrative theory) will function in this project, with most of the attention given to procedural and rhetorical studies of the various programs and websites associated with audience writings. This chapter also calls attention to the difference between empathy and perspective shifting. An example from contemporary culture that helps illustrate this difference and provides space for conversation is the viral blog post “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother.” This editorial, written in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, features identification techniques used as persuasive tools but does so in a problematic way that might be better handled with a nuanced and careful study of how identification operates in other settings. Central to this project are questions addressing how we discuss and document the acts of viewing/seeing/looking, and in what ways the process of seeing from multiple perspectives is currently being lauded in society and the academy. In Chapter Two, “If You See Something, Say Something: Syncing Audience Viewing and Response,” I reveal two opening examples that illustrate these premises: one from a Walking Dead advertisement that features the protagonist’s eye and one from a Department of Homeland Security ad-“If You See Something, Say Something.” These examples dovetail into a specific analysis of syncing devices, or dual screen viewing experiences, and the actual rhetoric accompanying the requests to see from multiple perspectives (“If you were Rick, you would ___”). I also call attention to shows where the act of identifying with the protagonist raises questions about the limitations of perspectives. To be specific, I suggest that the white middle-class male is the paradigm of identification exercises for shows that encourage participation from viewers. Examples from television suggest that women and minorities are less likely to be the characters with whom we align our interests; therefore, I argue we should interrogate this trend and think reflexively about the act of identifying. In Chapter Three, “Choreographing Conversation through Tagging, Tokens, and Reblogs,” I argue that analysis of audience reactions via live feeds and blogging platforms shows that textual artifacts, through increased circulation, promote a certain form of identification through consensus. This consensus reveals the tendency of viewers to gravitate toward preferred readings (viewings) of narratives and to identify with characters closely resembling themselves. By constituting viewers in a rhetoric specific to each fictional world, producers encourage identification and help secure appropriate and largely positive viewer behaviors through conversations online. Specifically, digital activities like “checking in” to a show and writing with specific hashtags become markers of narrative involvement. Producers, in turn, engage in reciprocal action by promoting or displaying fan activity on their own feeds, thereby sponsoring the work of the audience. While such activity often leads to conformity, I argue that these moments of group consensus may act as springboards for future conversation about other perspectives and narrative outcomes. In Chapter Four, “Texts as Bodies, Bodies as Texts: Tumblr Role Play and the Rhetorical Practices of Identification,” the rhetorical analysis of these online sites and mobile applications then leads to questions of how we perceive embodiment during identification. In this section I look closely at the writing found on the microblogging site Tumblr, where viewers of television narrative engage in role playing their favorite protagonists and creating dialogue with fellow role players. This practice, operating outside the jurisdiction of producer-designed apps, reveals new patterns of the work of identification. With attention to the ideas of Katherine Hayles and Deleuze and Guattari, we may reconsider how text, once circulated, acts as an extension of and a replacement for the physical body. Still, the work of these bloggers demonstrates that identification is still a personal investment that refers to and gives credit to the person behind the computer screen. This chapter reveals a productive tension between the embodied author’s work and the nature of writing as it moves through networks. In my conclusion I explain how these applications and online tools have implications for the writing classroom. Students are frequently told that good writers and thinkers must see a problem or an issue from multiple perspectives. This project focuses intensely on the work of shifting perspectives and how those perspectives are represented in writing. Its implications for teaching productive source integration and research may be applied to the first-year writing classroom but also the graduate class curriculum, where novice scholars learn to extend, oppose, and ally themselves with the scholars who have come before them.