Book Cover

Reality Bites

Rhetoric and the Circulation of Truth Claims in U.S. Political Culture

Dana L. Cloud

6 x 9, 226 pp.
Pub Date: February, 2018

Subjects: Rhetoric and Communication
Political Science
American Studies
Cultural Studies

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“Dana Cloud’s marvelous new book … provides just the sort of deep understanding and practical guidance needed for thoughtful and effective political engagement in the Trump era.”—Jason Hannan, Lateral

“Cloud’s argument is elegant and direct, utilizing critical theory with an emphasis on its Marxist roots that underscores that confronting the social construction of reality is not a first step towards nihilism.… Overall, Cloud’s book represents an important contribution for scholars of communication—especially in media studies, argumentation, rhetoric of science, social movement studies, political communication, and cultural studies—while raising further questions for investigation.… Cloud’s book helps advance the conversation beyond a simple view of true/false, for what ails our politics now goes so much deeper.” —Paul Elliott Johnson, Quarterly Journal of Speech

Reality Bites offers a new way to examine and enter into important public/political debates in a postfact age. Importantly, the book is accessible and works as a handbook for activists, scholars, and citizens who want to be engaged in public debates in a meaningful and effective manner.” —Mary Triece, author of Protest and Popular Culture and On the Picket Line

“The book makes a timely appearance at the intersection of rhetoric, social politics, and academic theorizing. It is encouraging to see a clearheaded account of how different standpoints might be extended or dislodged by rhetorical reframing. Arguing that practices of ‘fact-checking’ are often superficial responses to deeply embedded assumptions, Cloud uses a variety of cases to pose the challenge of preserving accountability while acknowledging the complex, situated specificity of anyone’s beliefs. For those at different points on the political or intellectual spectrum, it offers insights into why heartfelt affirmations so often go out as ships passing in the night.” —John Lyne, University of Pittsburgh

Fake news, alternative facts, post truth—terms all too familiar to anyone in U.S. political culture and concepts at the core of Dana L. Cloud’s new book, Reality Bites, which explores truth claims in contemporary political rhetoric in the face of widespread skepticism regarding the utility, ethics, and viability of an empirical standard for political truths. Cloud observes how appeals to truth often assume—mistakenly—that it is a matter of simple representation of facts. However, since neither fact-checking nor “truthiness” can respond meaningfully to this problem, she argues for a rhetorical realism—the idea that communicators can bring knowledge from particular perspectives and experiences into the domain of common sense.

Through a series of case studies—including the PolitiFact fact-checking project, the Planned Parenthood “selling baby parts” scandal, the Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden cases, Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos, the rhetoric of Thomas Paine and the American Revolution, and the Black Lives Matter movement—Cloud advocates for the usefulness of narrative, myth, embodiment, affect, and spectacle in creating accountability in contemporary U.S. political rhetoric. If dominant reality “bites”—in being oppressive and exploitative—it is time, Cloud argues, for those in the reality-based community to “bite back.”

Dana L. Cloud is Professor in the Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies at Syracuse University. She is a longtime activist for social justice and the author of We Are the Union: Democratic Unionism and Dissent at Boeing and Control and Consolation in American Politics and Culture: Rhetorics of Therapy.


Preface: Facing Reality in the Trump Era 
Introduction: Toward a Rhetorical Realism          
Limits of the Reality-Based Community        
Problems with Rhetorical Relativism 
Toward a Rhetoric of Belief   

Chapter One: Rhetorical Realism, or, Theory in the Real World  
Realism’s Bad Rap: Structuralism, Poststructuralism, and Postmodernism   
Theory and Reality     
Rhetoric as a Resource for a Critical Realism       
The Rhetorical Study of Science: The Idea of Mediation       
Mediation in Public Spheres  
Marxism as a Resource for Rhetorical Realism          
Conclusion: Mediation, Standpoint, Fidelity  

Chapter Two: Toward a Spectacular Struggle, or, on the Power of the Big Five 
Affect and Emotion    
Narrative and Myth    
Spectacle and Celebrity          
What About Humor?  
Two Problems by way of Conclusion

Chapter Three: Pants On Fire! On the Rhetoric of Fact-Checking in U.S. Political Culture        
The Explosion of Fact-Checking        
The Complexity of Falsehood
A Quantitative Mode of Propaganda: An Example    
Alternative Critical Approaches         
Frame-Checking the Abortion Video Controversy    
Fact-Checkers’ Responses     
Alternative Framing Strategies           
Conclusion: Frame-Checking as Perspective and Method

Chapter Four: Framing Whistleblowers—Secret Agents and Queer Failure        
News Narratives and Media Framing
Framing Edward Snowden    
Framing Chelsea Manning     
Conclusion: Manning’s Queer Failure           

Chapter Five: Cosmos and the Big Five Bang     
Ordering the Cosmos 
Cosmos and the Big Five       
Nuclear Contradictions           
An Excursus on Rhetorical and Scientific Education 
Cosmic Pedagogy      

Chapter Six: From Thomas Paine to #BlackLivesMatter, The Tasks of Making Revolutionary Common Sense      
Common Sense: New Form, New Vision     
Paine and the Big Five
The Paine of our Time: Public Intellectuals, #BlackLivesMatter, and Social Revolution
Conclusion: The Revolutionary Intervention of Common Sense       

Conclusion: The Fact of Our Crisis         

Glossary of Key Terms    


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