Academic journal article Communication Studies

The Rhetoric of "The Body:" Jesse Ventura and Bakhtin's Carnival

Academic journal article Communication Studies

The Rhetoric of "The Body:" Jesse Ventura and Bakhtin's Carnival

Article excerpt

In September, 2002, novelist and journalist Anna Quindlen suggested that family members of those murdered on September 11, 2001, could potentially become effective political leaders. The moral authority endowed upon them by their tragic circumstances, Quindlen argued, would enable them to lead in ways that most currently elected officials never could. Perhaps, after coming to terms with their grief, they could take on greater leadership roles and fill "a vacuum in power in this country, a yearning for authenticity in the vox populi" (p. 80). Though many beliefs and attitudes changed on September 11, 2001, the public's desire for political leaders who truly represent the public and are seen as political "outsiders" was not among them. Indeed, Andrew E. Busch (1997) has traced the history of "outsider" presidential candidates to the early 1870s. He identifies the Prohibitionists, Populists, Barry Goldwater Jimmy Carter, Jesse Jackson, Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan, and Steve Forbes, among others, as outsider candidates. Busch defines an outsider candidate as "one who (1) is outside the corridors of power, in the sense either of holding no office or of residing outside the 'mainstream' or majority of his party, explicitly rejecting the party's leadership and dominant element; (2) serves as the spokesman or representative of a broader group (a political movement) outside the corridors of power; and/or (3) serves as the spokesman or representative of ideas, ideologies, or themes that challenge the dominant element in the party" (p. 2). In the case of third party candidates, such concepts apply within the context of national politics as a whole, rather than as an individual within a particular party.

Though certainly not a new phenomenon, Busch goes on to claim that there was a veritable explosion of "outsiderism" in the 1990s (p. 151), citing the presidential campaigns of Ross Perot, Jerry Brown, Steve Forbes, and David Duke. Busch attributes this explosion to three trends. First, the theme of outsiderism became more useful and therefore more frequently used. Second, outsiderism became more diffuse, as many candidates, legitimately or not, sought to claim outsider status. Third, outsiderism took new forms, when unconnected outsiders found support from organized movements (pp. 152-153). Perhaps the most intriguing and successful outsider campaign of the 1990s arose outside of the presidential nominating system, when Jesse Ventura was elected Governor of Minnesota in 1998. This essay seeks to explore how Ventura marked himself rhetorically as an outsider candidate and conduit for protest against the prevailing political system.

In order to gain insight into Ventura's rhetorical strategies and symbolic action, I turn to Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of the carnival. This essay argues that the carnivalesque images and references in Ventura's discourse and behavior are consistent with his image as a figure outside of the established political structure and associate him with the carnival fool's role as a man of the people protesting against the prevailing political system. Bakhtin's theory is an appropriate theoretical frame for exploring Ventura's rhetoric because of carnival's historical role of protest against the dominant sociopolitical system and its manifestation as a response to alienation from the political elite. I suggest that, when considered in the context of contemporary politics, there is an analogous relationship between the carnivalesque spirit of opposition to the dominant culture and outsiderism's professed opposition to contemporary political culture. As Busch (1997) notes, "alienation [is] the stock-in-trade of the unconnected outsider as a class" (p. 148). Thomas B. Farrell (1989) also observes a link between "the loss of representative public voices" and a new age of carnival (p. 252). Voters embrace an outsider partly to protest "politics as usual," just as people have embraced carnival partly to protest against official institutions. …

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