Addressing “Another” in the Aftermath of School Shootings Using Dance and Rhetoric

Addressing “Another” in the Aftermath of School Shootings Using Dance and Rhetoric

Chelsea K. Magyar (University of Colorado, Boulder, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-5200-1.ch006
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Abstract

This chapter investigates dance and rhetoric as resources for sensemaking and discussing school shootings in their aftermath, such that people might speak to one another empathetically and respond as active agents of change. Inspired by the production process and performance of “Equipment for Living: An Artistic Exploration of School Shootings,” the 2019 dance concert choreographed by the author, community is proposed as an additional resource for addressing and healing from school shootings. Burke's dramatism is paired with his concept of “equipment for living” to discuss dance as an alternative to traditional media, such as print journalism, for addressing “another” in the aftermath of school shootings. Another refers to (1) people conjured in the act of performance, collaborators involved in the production process of media, and audience members invited to participate as active viewers and (2) the problem of rhetorically framing school shootings with the term “another.”
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Introduction

Kyle sprung up forcefully from his desk and raised his fingers in the shape of a gun pointed at the other dancers. A notebook clattered to the ground. The music stopped. The dancers froze. The only sound was Kyle’s shaky breath. He had never cried during rehearsals but something about embodying a school shooter on stage brought him to tears. The scene was shattered by the sound of a gunshot.

Kyle’s experience in the 2019 dance concert, titled “Equipment for Living: An Artistic Exploration of School Shootings,” shows the power of dance for engaging with and acknowledging the heaviness of social issues, such as school shootings. The performance was part of a research study about the rhetoric that print journalism and art used to talk about the Arapahoe High School shooting, which occurred in Centennial, Colorado on Dec., 13, 2013. The shooting resulted in the deaths of Claire Davis, a seventeen-year-old student, and the active harmer, who was also a student at Arapahoe High School. This chapter proposes that dance, rhetoric, and community can be resources for sensemaking and discussing school shootings in their aftermath, such that people might speak to one another empathetically and respond as active agents of change.

The essay compares dance to print journalism as a medium for representing school shootings. Strengths and shortcomings of each medium are discussed to understand how to transform passive media viewers into active agents who respond to school shootings through discussions with one another and efforts to mitigate future violence. The production “Equipment for Living: An Artistic Exploration of School Shootings” was the author’s attempt to overcome passive reception of news media, such as print journalism, with arts-based activism. In the process of producing and performing the piece, conversations with collaborators and audience members revealed dance to be a potent rhetorical form for creating community in the aftermath of school shootings and for initiating discussion and empathy in ways that news media may not be able to do. Kenneth Burke’s dramatism and concept of “equipment for living” were used to analyze dance and print journalism artifacts and to explore how dance and rhetoric can be used to address media viewers and school violence in the aftermath of school shootings.

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Background

Moments of terror, emergency, and helplessness that unfold during a school shooting extend beyond their initial occurrence through narrative. Brummett (1984) highlighted the importance of communication in making sense of crises, such as school violence, by tasking the Burkean rhetorical critic to identify “the modes of discourse enjoying currency in a society and to link discourse to the real situations for which it is symbolic equipment” (p. 161). Thus, the study of representational narratives matters in the context of school shootings because these narratives function as post-crisis discourse that equips individuals to make sense of disturbing situations and to respond. By using dramatistic pentadic analysis to examine news media portrayals of the Arapahoe High School shooting and a dance concert that addressed the increasing and alarming normality of school shootings, this research seeks to discover ways of making sense of school shootings in their aftermath beyond typical news coverage of those events. Dance and intentional rhetoric are explored as tools for encouraging empathy, activism, and community, as well as for understanding more traditional modes of discourse used to represent school shootings, such as print journalism.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Equipment for Living: A Burkean concept referring to the rhetorical resources individuals use to make sense of the world around them.

Arts-Based Activism: The use of creative rhetorical forms such as dance, theatre, writing, etc., to address social issues, such as school shootings.

Community: A gathering of individuals characterized by support, openness, respect, and a sharing of selves.

Denver Post: A Colorado news agency that covered the Arapahoe High School shooting, among other crises and events.

Dramatism: A Burkean framework for rhetorical analysis that traces what happens in a narrative.

Arapahoe High School Shooting: A school shooting that took place in Colorado in 2013, and resulted in the deaths of a student and the shooter.

Passive Media Viewer: A persona individuals adopt when they consume media and return to everyday activity.

Active Agent: A persona individuals adopt when they view media and intentionally respond to improve the situation.

Discussion: Open communication between multiple individuals that leads to new discourse and new narratives about a contested issue and that is characterized by respect, vulnerability, and empathy.

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