Cultural approaches to the rhetorical analysis of selected music videos. Karyn Charles Rybacki and Donald Jay Rybacki Northern Michigan University
Music video has gone from being a means of selling more records to a rhetorical form worthy of study in its own right. Videos typically take one of three forms: performance, narrative, and conceptual. While these forms could provide the basis for a content analytic analysis of music videos, the authors of this paper argue that one of a number of cultural approaches to criticism may offer greater insight. It does so by providing brief analyses of six music video using a variety of cultural approaches.
The Social Values Model examines the ways in which society resolves conflicts between basic values through rhetorical activity, either synthesizing or transforming incompatible values. In Bon Jovi's video for "Wanted: Dead or Alive" the band uses the mythos of the Old West to symbolize the tension between individuality and community that exists between artists and their fans. Public Enemy's rap, "By the Time I Get to Arizona" concerns the group's outrage at that state's unwillingness to make Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday a state holiday. Narratives of violence and non-violence are juxtaposed visually in a way that suggests that the white violence against blacks that occurred during the days of the Civil Rights Movement may be replaced with black violence against whites unless things change.
The Jungian Psychological Model is based on examining dream images and archetypes as they reflect the struggle between one's public and private selves. The Eurhythmics video for "Sweet Dreams" is replete with symbols of the conflict between what women must project as part of their public persona as opposed to what their private, shadow self really is. Guns N' Roses video for "November Rain" is staged as an extended dream which turns into a nightmare, the joyous celebration of a wedding that turns into a somber funeral marking the bride's death. Both of these videos speak to the fears that young people have about living up to expectations and confronting failure, rejection, and even abandonment when they do not.
Ideological Models of criticism use a particular world view such as feminism or Marxism as a lens through which rhetorical activity is examined. The Feminist Ideological Model of criticism examines issues of gender equality or inequality, while Marxist critics are concerned with issues of class struggle, dominance, and hegemony. The Divynls video for the song "I Touch Myself" is replete with images that devalue women. Madonna's video for "Material Girl" read from a Marxist perspective suggests she is at least the equal of any man.
This research was originally presented at the 1993 Speech Communication Association national convention in Miami, Florida as part of an all-day seminar on music video.
Transcultural Music Review#4 (1999) ISSN:1697-0101 Cultural approaches to the rhetorical analysis of selected music videos. Karyn Charles Rybacki and Donald Jay Rybacki Northern Michigan University