Rants, Reactions, and other Rhetorics: Genres of the YouTube Vlog Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Werner, Erich Alan
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • Rants, Reactions, and other Rhetorics: Genres of the YouTube Vlog examines the YouTube vlog or "video blog" as a rhetorical mode of address and a portal to the public sphere. Vlogs are technically simple videos in which a person faces a camera and addresses a public viewership briefly, informally, and more or less intimately. This dissertation explores how and why these largely unrehearsed, unedited, and unorganized videos have nonetheless become one of the internet's most magnetic and beloved forms. Through case studies of four vlogging genres (the confession video, the reaction video, the rant video, and the witness video), I identify four sources of vlogging's rhetorical vitality and force: (1) their conversational mode of address, which invites ongoing dialogue with viewers; (2) their ability to relay emotion, especially emotion displayed bodily through facial, vocal, and gestural expression; (3) their ability to broadly spread information of public interest that is being overlooked or ignored by old media; and (4) their many and complex speeds, which afford both immediate public expression and indefinite public archiving. The conclusion explores relationships between vlogging genres and the preexisting genres they remediate. Just as webpages remediate print encyclopedias and newspapers, vlogs remediate earlier genres of speech and emotion display. However, by situating those genres within new performative settings or "ceremonials," remediation endows those genres with new meanings and movements, and opens up new possibilities for social action. Specifically, three affordances of vlogs differentiate them from speech genres they remediate: vlogging's reach, replayability, and modularity. As the technology necessary to vlog becomes more and more inexpensive and ubiquitous, rhetors gain new and wide-reaching access to public spheres. Vlogging's easy modularity makes them open to rapid movements, recontextualizations and the transformations - all of which may be wanted or unwanted, thrilling or chilling. Overall, this dissertation presents vlogging as a powerful rhetorical act as well as an act of extreme bravery. Within the ceremonial of online video sharing, vloggers make themselves vulnerable not only by exposing their private thoughts and emotions to public audiences, but also by exposing themselves to the complex and unpredictable rhetorical ecology of YouTube, by facing the possibilities of harsh criticism and profound connection, of indefinite stagnation and instant virality, of unexpected reach as well as unexpected reappropriation.
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  • In Copyright
  • Jack, Jordynn
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Graduation year
  • 2012

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