Doctoral Candidate, Writer, Teacher, and Cancer Survivor
The foundation of my research into American cancer rhetoric is built upon my personal experience with cancer. At 23, I was diagnosed with a rare form of kidney cancer - renal cell chromophobe carcinoma - and learned that cancer is never confined beneath the flesh.
Rather, I found cancer to be a profoundly rhetorical experience, at once wrapped in collective constructions of identity, stigma, ideology, and constantly communicated with others via multimodal channels.
My experience then helped construct the argument at the foundation of my research: rhetorics of cancer in America largely function in the service of maintaining the status quo.
In my dissertation, I argue that American cancer rhetoric is an expansive multimodal rhetorical formation that functions through constitutive means to create a veil of faux unity, a fabled and romanticized cancer community, that obfuscates, erases, silences, and justifies disparities in cancer care.
From the metaphors we use in talking about cancer, to the pink ribbons we adorn to our clothes for "support" and "awareness," I am exploring how these rhetorics appeal to us not through traditional persuasive means, but rather through identification and ideology.
In addition to cancer and health rhetoric, my research interests include: (1) multimodal and digital rhetorics of the American presidency, particularly within presidential museums and other post-presidential contexts, (2) resistance and anti-racist rhetorics in public address and popular culture, and (3) historical and contemporary American political discourse with a developing focus on neo-fascist rhetoric.
My approach to teaching is guided by the principle of fostering a “critical humanity.” That is, from assignment creation and syllabus construction to facilitating classroom discussion and delivering lectures, I am guided by pedagogical practices that simultaneously center a student’s humanity while also helping them to step into the role of a critical citizen that actively engages the communicative world around them.
To effectively enact this guiding principle, I apply teaching strategies from three themes I believe to be crucial to success in higher education: demystification, application, and comprehension. That is, I first strive to demystify academia by “breaking down” academic reading and writing. Second, I build assignments and structure classroom discussions to help students practically apply course material to their everyday lives. And, third, I efficiently incorporate technology to enhance student comprehension.
I stress to my students that I care significantly more that they internalize course concepts and develop their critical analytical skills for use after the semester ends – and less about their ephemeral memorization of material to simply pass an exam.
Guided by my principle of fostering a “critical humanity,” I place my students and their lives outside my classroom at the center of my pedagogy. My enduring hope is for students to leave my classroom as burgeoning critical citizens, meaningfully engaging the communicative world around them to, little by little, challenge the ways those in power wield communication for their benefit.
My Latest Projects
Life on the Mythic MAGA Frontier: Understanding MAGA Dehumanization Through a "Made-for-Reality-Television" Frontier Mythology
In this essay, I argue that Make America Great Again (MAGA) rhetorics are steeped within the American mythos of the frontier, stealthily providing the movement’s faithful with the justification to continue to traffic in dehumanizing rhetoric and in the pursuit of dehumanizing policies. Importantly, however, I contend that a “made-for-reality-television” form of American frontier mythology deriving from History’s “man v. nature” reality television lineup (Ice Road Truckers, Swamp People, and Appalachian Outlaws) informs the MAGA retelling of the American frontier myth. This rhetoric helps to: (1) relocate the setting of American politics to the mythic “swamp” and recasts relevant political characters accordingly, (2) further the fascistic framework that is already replete with mythic imagery of America (and “the West”) as “civilized” and those outside as “uncivilized,” (3) position Trump as the heroic frontiersman tasked with protecting the civilized, white inhabitants of America, and (4) provide the a priori justification for MAGA-sanctioned extrajudicial violence.
The remarkable congruity between the MAGA retelling of the American frontier and these reality-television shows is particularly salient within the realms of rhetorical style, aesthetics, and ideology. Most notably, however, there is also an enduring resemblance in how violence is rhetorically structured – in both MAGA rhetorics (succinctly demonstrated in the "alt-right" political cartoon featured above) and in the “man v. nature” genre of reality television, the American Frontier Myth helps to actively encourage, justify, and “carnivalize” (Dickinson, Ott, and Aoki) violence towards those the myth helps dehumanize.
"Prayer Warriors Needed!" The Warrior-Priest Archetypal Metaphor in American Cancer & COVID Rhetorics
In this essay, I argue that the presence of the warrior-priest archetypal metaphor in American cancer and COVID-19 rhetorics functions as an obfuscating agent of ideology, operating to maintain the hegemony of capitalism in our healthcare system. Indeed, through the fusion of religious and martial metaphors in the form of "prayer warriors" or "through Christ, you shall conquer this disease" laden discourse, the warrior-priest archetype emerges to misplace agency, divert attention, and justify capitalistic systems of power in American healthcare.
Using case studies from r/HermanCainAward and “viral” cancer stories, I demonstrate how, exactly, the warrior-priest accomplishes these ideological goals.
The use of this archetype is a but a drug, a fleeting dose of affect mixed with Divine Providence, commandeered by powerful capitalist interests in American healthcare to distract from the material and bodily consequences of our for-profit system.
I utilize this essay’s conclusion as a reflective space, first contemplating my findings as a former cancer patient and then discussing the efficacy of two potential correctives to the warrior-priest archetypal metaphor in American cancer and COVID discourses.