Michelle Hart

Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Sandra J. Berkowitz

Second Committee Member

Eric E. Peterson

Third Committee Member

Laura A. Lindenfeld


The purpose of this analysis is to interrogate the discourse of the film Bowling for Columbine in order to understand how a critical documentary film about the United States directed toward the United States is able to function and/or create change using rhetorical and filmic strategies. As such, this study asks two questions: what strategies are used in the film to make its argument and in what ways does the film engage the audience in a discussion about the nature of the United States? These questions seek to analyze the strategies used such as language, storytelling, persuasion, and direction/editing, and to evaluate how the film attempts to change the belifes and behaviors of its potential audiences. As a rhetorical criticism, the analysis employs ideological criticism through ideographic analysis as identified by McGee (1980) and enacted by Cloud (1998). I argue that three ideographs -- fear, freedom, and protection emerge from the film as the ideological frameworks of the film but that these ideographs do not serve the goal of filmmaker Michael Moore. Conclusions drawn from the analysis find that although the film did meet its intent to start discussion among its audience members, the discussion started was about the issues related to the ideological conflicts over issues addressed in the film rather than the discussion Moore wanted to start about a fourth ideograph, that of reevaluating what it means to be an American. The study is unique in its approach to film as discourse and serves as a case study for new ways of employing visual ideographic analysis in that the visual is not a still photo or 3-dimensional object, but a series of moving images. Further, the use of filmic vocabulary in a rhetorical criticism blends the two approaches and creates a unique method with which to analyze the ideographs in the film. Recommendation for future research include looking at more filmic discourse pertaining to gun control and the gun control movement in the United States in that it may offer a more thorough depiction of how gun culture is view and used in the United States. Research findings conclude that popular culture as a vehicle for significant rhetorical arguments is not only indicative of the power that popular culture has, it offers a new avenue for not only rhetorical scholarship, but for those lost in terms of how to get their message our there to be heard.