Containment Rhetoric

What is Containment Rhetoric?

Containment rhetoric aims to neutralize the threat of a real or imagined “other” that in some way is seen as challenging or endangering the status quo. This class examines  containment rhetoric within the context of Cold War American ideology in order to shed light on our current cultural moment, rife with a renewed motivation to enforce conformity. We will focus on varied forms of communication (written, oral, and visual) across varied medias in order to think about the relationship between author, audience, and message.

Here are some of the questions we may be attempting to answer: what about our current cultural moment resembles that of Cold War America? Why are these rhetorical situations similar? What do these similarities uncover about the social and political sphere of American identity politics? Why might Sept. 11th, both as a reality of American vulnerability and devastation and, later, a symbol of American rebirth and strength, serve as a pivotal moment of return to containment rhetoric? I’m looking forward to our investigation of these questions and to the questions we have yet to uncover.

Major Assignments

Rhetorical Analysis (1500-1800 words; 5-6 pages): Here, we’ll study short written, visual, or audio texts to examine how containment ideology is expressed in primary documents. We’ll learn how to analyze rhetorical strategies and to see ourselves as writers and speakers who use these strategies every day. The selections may include an excerpt from a political speech, a trailer of a current videogame, a political cartoon, or an advertisement.

Texts in Conversation (1800-2400 words; 6-8 pages): For this researched analysis of several texts, you will choose sources that comment on containment culture. You will explore how rhetoric is shaped by context: history, popular culture, and commentary by academics who study and argue about these issues. Topics might include how consumerism shaped Cold War ideologies, the imposition of gender binarism and the “traditional” family, us-versus-them ideology, and the mass market as a precursor to the development of a counter culture.

Research-Based Argument (3600-4500 words; 12-15 pages): Here, you will build on your earlier topic and develop a research question that frames your own contribution to the “conversation” you wrote about before. One student might focus on the case of Edward Snowden’s asylum in Russia as having what the New York Times calls a “Cold War Aftertaste.” Others might focus on the relationship between Cold War ideology and changing notions of “family” by investigating media representations of alternative families and how the rhetoric used to discuss family is in some way significantly changing and in some ways still stuck in the Cold War.


Cold War American Culture Post 9/11