Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Communication

First Advisor

Lisa B. Keränen

Second Advisor

Marlia E. Banning

Third Advisor

Robert T. Craig

Abstract

This study offers a rhetorical vision analysis of contemporary environmental discourse using the critical approaches of text-intertext methodology and fantasy theme analysis. More specifically, it considers how the rhetorical strategies of Josh Fox's award-winning environmental documentary film, Gasland, configure the human-nature relationship and position stakeholders as potential agents of environmental change. The film speaks to the environmental risks of and devastation from natural gas development, especially the technology of hydraulic fracturing. The rhetorical artistry of Gasland results from a combination of ancient and modern narrative structures―the mythical "hero's journey" within the context of the American road trip―with roots in Western and American cultural consciousness, which are interwoven with fantasy themes―the apocalyptic narrative, the American Jeremiad, and nature as Eden―that deeply resonate with the socially constituted realities of the modern environmental movement. The film portrays the ideal human-nature relationship as an Eden, humans and nature living in harmony; when humans disregard this balance, as Fox argues the natural gas industry is now doing, the result is an apocalyptic wasteland of illness, desolation, and death. The film urges viewers to "stand up" by learning about this issue and sharing knowledge with others. The film creates a powerful rhetorical vision that is shared by many of its viewers, who form a community around the social reality the film constructs and proceed to act according to its precepts. It also engages the natural gas industry in a strong response that adopts the elements of Fox's vision but creates a mirror image that reverses its characterizations. Fox's rhetorical vision of a stark duality of the hero/villain archetype, however, may constrain political responses to the issue of natural gas development because of the hero narrative's implicit romanticization of the individual and its hierarchical framing. Understanding how rhetorical visions are constructed in such texts is of special significance in the arena of environmental issues, where attitudes and actions can affect the quality of life for humans, nonhumans, and the planet.

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