An assessment of Jimmy Swaggart's responses to ABC's WBRZ documentary from the perspective of the "rhetorical situation".
AuthorCox, Ervin Samuel.
AdvisorEwbank, Henry L.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractJimmy Swaggart's ordeal in 1983 provides the focus for this research. WBRZ's documentary and Swaggart's interview, hour-long video, and full-page newspaper replies are examined from the perspective of Lloyd Bitzer's "Rhetorical Situation." The degree to which Swaggart's responses were "fitting" is determined and insights regarding Bitzer's theory are provided. Reporter John Camp's program, "Give Me That Big Time Religion," was aired in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Thursday, May 19, 1983. Analysis of this documentary reveals that Swaggart stood charged with "Being in Business for the Money;" "Being Corrupt;" "Being a Manipulator;" "Being Too Political;" and "Being Big-Time Rather Than Old-Time Religion." Examination of Swaggart's replies corroborates that he perceived these charges to be exigencies he must address. Swaggart's discourses demonstrate that the perception of his "Being Anti-Catholic" also needed resolution. Bitzer's criteria for assessment of the appropriateness of Swaggart's replies include: the existence of genuine exigencies; the presence of a capable audience; reliance upon embedded constraints and interests; and the function of the discourse as a means or motivation for actual or probable alteration. This study concludes that Swaggart provided his audience with generalized explanations which would make sense. However, when specific replies to particular charges are assessed, Swaggart did not fare so well. In particular, Swaggart inadequately addressed the issues of his family getting rich, his accountability regarding the Children's Fund, that he often is corrupt, and that he manipulates others for money. Furthermore, this paper argues that Bitzer's "Rhetorical Situation" does not reveal more about the critic than the rhetoric; that meaning can be discovered as well as created; that rhetoric can be an effect not just a cause; and, that ethical responsibility of a rhetor is not removed due to the compulsion of "situation." Suggestions for future research include: examination of the discussion and debate concerning televangelism using Bitzer's approach; Swaggart's situation in 1983 as an ideal test case for the genre of apologia; and, a comparison of Swaggart's 1983 ordeal with that in 1988.