Review: "Rhetoric, Narrative, and Management: Learning from Mad Men" by Ronald Soetaert and Kris Rutten. Reviewed by Martha Sue Karnes

Soetaert, Ronald, and Kris Rutten. "Rhetoric, Narrative, and Management: Learning from Mad Men." Journal of Organizational Change Management, vol. 30, no. 3, 2017, pp. 323–33.

Martha Sue Karnes, Clemson University

Ronald Soetaert and Kris Rutten in "Rhetoric, Narrative, and Management: Learning from Mad Men" use theories from Kenneth Burke and Richard Lanham to analyze Mad Men and discuss advertising and marketing in terms of rhetoric. In particular, the authors use the main character of Mad Men, Don Draper, as a case study for Lanham's homo rhetoricus. The authors use Mad Men due its massive popularity as a television show and its display of the professional and personal life.

The article begins by explaining the concepts from Burke and Lanham that will make up the theoretical backing of the study. The authors draw on Burke's definitions of identification and division, as well as his famous concepts of terministic screens and the principles of selection, reflection, and deflection, calling terministic screens "a vocabulary or a discourse to frame reality" (324). They briefly mention trained incapacities and how they act as "blind spots of human communication" (325). Richard Lanham's economy of attention serves as the major theoretical point of entry for this article, as it "highlights the role of styling and image-making in an economy where branding has become a central principle of marketing and corporate success" (325). This manifests itself in the concept of "stuff" and "fluff," which the authors invoke throughout. Finally, Lanham's concept of homo rhetoricus is discussed at length. The homo rhetoricus, evolving from Burke's homo symbolicus, results when a man or woman is trained in rhetoric. Soetaert and Rutten claim "The rhetorical man/woman is trained to interpret reality as dynamic or narrative and describes him/herself as a role player" (325).

The authors argue for Mad Men as a "revival of rhetoric as a major skill" (326) and offer various examples of rhetorical sophistry at work in the series They use Burke's concepts of identification and terministic screens to display how the show itself acts as an advertisement: "All over the world, people identify with the characters and this identification is the basis for the success of the series... this process shows how identification is based on how symbols can be used to create and perform identity" (327). Draper creates his own identity in order to sell and uses terms to carefully allow people to identify with the product.

Soetaert and Rutten conclude by claiming that Don Draper "becomes a case study of what it means to be a homo rhetoricus (and the entelechy of the concept)" (330). Draper creates the reality around him and is able to sell it to others, as displayed in the example Soetaert and Rutten offer about Draper selling Jaguars. Although Soetaert and Rutten explain the Burkean concepts and theory of Richard Lanham quite well, more examples would help connect all the theories together. While Draper makes sense as a homo rhetoricus, the reader is left to wonder just how the principle of terministic screens funtions in the series. Nevertheless, this article offers a interesting application of Burkean concepts to a popular culture phenomenon.

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