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Celebrity Influence Subverted in I am Second: An Invitation to Understanding



The power of celebrity influence and religion are examined in the context of invitational rhetoric. The focus of this study is the I am Second (IaS) website, which subverts celebrity, creating conditions favorable to invitational rhetoric, a form of communication grounded in feminist theory. Cluster criticism of celebrity testimonies on the site reveals an incongruity of text and setting that aligns the site with the Christian message and fosters invitational rhetoric’s conditions of safety, value, and freedom. The authors conclude that IaS challenges traditional Christian evangelistic rhetoric. Analysis included three celebrity features from the site: Anne Rice, Bailee Madison, & Tony Dungy.
Volume 1 Issue 3: Summer 2022 Artifact Analysis
Issue Contents
Editor’s Note iii
Original Peer-Reviewed Articles:
Southern Folk Preaching: Suggesting the Existence 1
of a Genre through Comparison of the Sermons of
“Uncle Bud” Robinson and Fred Craddock
Abram Book
Celebrity Influence Subverted in I am Second: An 27
Invitation to Understanding
Shannon Bates, Ijeoma Eze, Laura L Groves,
Stephen D. Perry
Look Back to Look Forward: Sensemaking and 51
the Making of Sense in Severn Cullis-Suzuki’s 1992
Address to the United Nations Earth Summit
Joseph W. Sowers
Cover Art by Jamie Higdon
Celebrity Influence Subverted in
I am Second: An Invitation to
By Shannon Bates Collin College
Ijeoma Eze Independent Scholar
Laura L. Groves Independent Scholar
Stephen D. Perry Regent University
The power of celebrity influence and religion are examined in the
context of invitational rhetoric. The focus of this study is the
I am
Second (IaS)
website, which subverts celebrity, creating conditions
favorable to invitational rhetoric, a form of communication
grounded in feminist theory. Cluster criticism of celebrity
testimonies on the site reveals an incongruity of text and setting
that aligns the site with the Christian message and fosters
invitational rhetoric’s conditions of safety, value, and freedom. The
authors conclude that
challenges traditional Christian
evangelistic rhetoric
Analysis included three celebrity features
from the site: Anne Rice, Bailee Madison, & Tony Dungy.
When a celebrity talks about religion, people listen.
Consider Tom Cruise and Scientology, Martin Sheen and
Catholicism, Richard Gere and Buddhism, or Madonna and
Kabbalah. Recently, Britney Spears, Jennifer Garner, and Morgan
Shannon Bates, Ph.D., is Professor of Speech at Collin College in Frisco, Texas.
Her research interests include instructional communication and religious
Ijeoma Eze, Ph.D., is the primary social media director at East Banks
Communications. Her research interests include millennial African American
women and social media communication.
Additional Author Bios in Appendix
© All Authors 2022 [CC BY-SA 4.0]
Vol. 1, Issue 3
Freeman have all made headlines when they mentioned God or the
church in interviews promoting projects. The use of celebrity in
conjunction with religion usually emphasizes the power of
celebrity, but when a religious message is offered by a celebrity in
a setting where celebrity identities are de-emphasized, the power
balance shifts. This subversion of celebrity sets the stage for
invitational rhetoric, a form of communication grounded in
feminist theory. Proposed by Foss and Griffin in 1995, invitational
rhetoric extends an invitation to understanding because the rhetor
presents a differing perspective, his or her view of the world,
realizing that change may or may not be an outcome; the emphasis
is invitation, although a change of mind can occur. In addition,
invitational rhetoric intentionally creates an environment that
fosters safety, value, and freedom. The
I am Second
) website,
the focus of this study, features video vignettes of celebrities
talking about their Christian faith; all de-emphasize their celebrity
and end with the line “I am Second” because they are putting God
first. Hutchings’s (2012) analysis of this site asserts that its
narratives “cut through the structures of organized religion” (p. 75);
this study extends Hutchings’s work by demonstrating how
subversion of celebrity reflects the principles of invitational
rhetoric, shifting the balance of power from rhetor to audience,
underscoring the nature and message of the Christian faith.
I am Second Website
’s stated vision is to “lift up Christ so that He might
draw the people of his city to Jesus” (“Who We Are,” n.d., para. 1).
Norm Miller, Chairman of Dallas-based Interstate Batteries, had a
desire to provide people with spiritual content that would help them
“discover their purpose in life” (“About”, n.d., para.
5). Collaborating with the creative leaders at a not-for-profit
Christian evangelistic group called e3 Partners, Miller created,
produced, and distributed online content about the Christian faith,
creating the not-for-profit
I am Second
) organization. Founded
on December 2, 2008,
is now an international movement.
According to the
website, the ultimate goal of the movement is
strengthening the Christian faith by helping people of all walks of
life discover their purpose, hope, peace, and fulfillment in being
second to God. Although the emphasis is on celebrities’ video
uses these videos as a springboard to establish
Artifact Analysis
discussion groups, story sharing, special events, and to engage in
social networking.
The candid and open nature of
is reflected in other
features of the site. Both online and community
groups are for anyone who wants to discuss the daily struggles of
life, enabling those who use the site to unite and interact. Those
featured in videos posted on the site, also known as “Seconds,”
share their inspirational stories, concluding these vignettes with the
statement that they are “second” to God. Some of the issues
addressed in these videos include abuse, forgiveness, pride, racism,
and success, all under the umbrella of “I am second.” The site
offers a perspective that establishes the primacy of God in the
Seconds’ lives, regardless of the trials they have encountered. From
the naming of the site to its uniform appearance, celebrity is
deflected as God is elevated.
Followers of the
movement, both individual Christians
and churches, are able to stay connected by registering through the
website and receiving updated content, group discussion topics,
and emails about current events.
followers are also encouraged
to volunteer at special events, sign up for international expeditions,
and share personal stories through social networks.
creates and
shares content with the hope of increasing Christian evangelistic
efforts around the world through outreach and missions.
The Evangelical Nature of Christianity
’s concept of propagating the faith is an idea that can be
traced back to the time of Christ. The words of the Bible hold great
authority in the life of the Christian. The Great Commission, an
essential tenet of Christianity recorded in the gospel of Matthew,
includes Christ’s instructions to his followers: “Therefore go and
make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the
Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to
obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28: 19-20, New
International Version). These verses serve as a catalyst for
evangelical Christians as they strive to spread their faith.
Central to the purpose of the Bible and the evangelical
efforts surrounding it is the sharing of the story of redemption
through Jesus Christ as the means of salvation. Ridderbos et al.
(1972) write that the focus of the Bible is the historical person Jesus
Vol. 1, Issue 3
Christ, through whom a person can be converted to Christianity
and “saved”; this is the crux of the Christian faith.
The term
used to label this dissemination of
the Christian faith, is employed in so many ways and so many
arenas (politics, sociology, psychology, etc.) that it is best to
specify its meaning. Its ubiquitous nature even prompted
to publish an article in 2015 on the word “evangelical,”
reporting that the term took hold “during the Great Awakening, a
series of revivals…led by fiery preachers such as Jonathan
Edwards and George Whitfield. Due to their influence,
became a synonym for
or a fervent
expression of Christianity marked by an emphasis on converting
outsiders” (Merritt, para. 8). The
site creates a different context
within which to consider religion, one where celebrities (and
others) set their fame aside to share their true identity as Seconds,
offering their personal perspective on faith. This site merits
examination as a unique reflection of invitational rhetoric in the
context of faith.
The Use of Narrative in Christianity
’s use of narrative to tell the story of faith in each
celebrity’s life is rooted in a long, much-examined tradition. The
power of story in the history of Christianity has not been a
neglected topic; after all, the Bible is a book of stories. Bert (2008)
maintains that the narrative elements included in the Gospel of
Mark lend it “authoritative power unavailable to theology and
philosophy” (p. 161). As Hutchings (2012) remarks, “Subsequent
Christian tradition has continued to cherish the sharing of stories,
writing and rewriting lives of saints, martyrs, sinners, and true
believers and using them to teach and inspire” (p. 71). While the
mode of storytelling has changed (from oral to written to digital
communication) the purpose of the Christian narrative has largely
stayed the same: to offer a personal account of one’s encounter
with Jesus Christ, inviting the hearer/reader to contemplate his or
her own relationship with Christ.
The Christian testimony is a recognizable form of public
discourse mainly because people are storytellers; that is, we exist
in a narrative paradigm. Walter Fisher, in his seminal work
Communication as Narration
, outlines key elements in the
narrative paradigm. Fisher (1987) defines narrative as “symbolic
actionswords and/or deedsthat have sequence and meaning for
Artifact Analysis
those who live, create, or interpret them” (p. 59).
embodies this
paradigm as each speaker recalls actions that have had meaning for
them, offering these narratives to the viewer.
The present analysis of
is only one of many contexts in
which Christian conversion narratives have been explored. Rolston
(2011) examines another context, echoing Fisher’s assertions of
meaningful recollection as he writes that “…prisoners or former
prisoners frequently employ the tropes and rhetoric of conversion,
or reproduce the conversion narrative to describe their prison
experiences” (p. 104). Steiner (2009) renames Burke’s notion of a
representative anecdote a “faithful witness” and argues that
Christians should bring their distinct worldview, which is “moral
yet marred by sin,” into public and cultural discourse. He writes
that the Christian worldview is a storyline that would enable “a
genuinely democratic culture in which human relationships, truth,
and dreams of a better world are pursued with the best combination
of passion, conviction, humility, critical thinking and sober self-
reflection” (p. 313). In Hutchings’s (2012) examination of the
“celebrity-oriented faith narrative” of
I am Second,
he catalogs an
attempt to bring that worldview that is “moral yet marred by sin”
into the public discourse of the Internet. He concludes that the
testimonies found on the
I am Second
website are
“theologically…located within the evangelical testimony tradition”
(p. 84), and despite being highly controlled by the filmmakers, they
use personal stories to “cut through the structures of organized
religion” (p. 75). We agree, but contend that
stories are
distinguished by an incongruous celebrity subversion that
underscores their theological underpinnings while creating an
environment conducive to invitational rhetoric.
Historical Context for Celebrity
The notion of celebrity predates the rise and proliferation
of mass media. Garland (2010) writes “that most if not all of what
characterizes [celebrity] as such was already in place at least 2,000
years ago, albeit not to the same intense degree” (p. 484). The
“intense,” current celebrity culture finds its origin in the 1700s. As
Marcus (2015) maintains, “Celebrity and fandom have existed since
at least the 18th century as ways of apportioning status” (p. 1).
The academic approach to the history of celebrity tends to
focus on the changing nature of celebrity and how
contemporaneous media platforms facilitate and give meaning to
Vol. 1, Issue 3
the notion of celebrity. Marcus (2019) proposes a new theory
involving celebrities, media, and publics, suggesting a stability of
sorts in the history of celebrity. “Celebrity culture exists only when
publics, media producers, and well-known individuals engage with
one another” (p. 217). This interplay and interdependence create the
conditions for celebrity and how it is used.
A subset of celebrity inquiry is the use of the famous to
endorse products and services. Today’s ubiquitous celebrity
endorsement of products and services has its genesis in the story of
Josiah Wedgwood and Wedgwood China. In 1765 Wedgwood was
given permission by Queen Charlotte to call himself “Potter to Her
Majesty.” Two centuries later, celebrity endorsement became an
integral part of popular culture: Think “Mean” Joe Greene’s
endorsement of Coca-Cola, Bill Cosby and Jell-O, Britney Spears
and Pepsi, or Michael Jordan and Nike. The subversion of celebrity
found on the
site provides a stark contrast to Marcus’s (2019)
assertion that celebrity “apportion[s] status” (p. 1).
The Power of Celebrity and Religion Today
The pairing of celebrity and religion often examines those
who are famous because of their religion, exposing power of the
combination of religion and celebrity. In an investigation into the
news of Pope John Paul II’s death, Brown (2009) concluded that his
advocacy on social issues regarding the protection of life connected
people to the issue even after his death. Similarly, the late Cardinal
Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, a “celebrated religious hero in South
Korea,” sparked a public discussion of important issues through
extensive media coverage upon his death (Bae et al., 2011, p.
62). The Cardinal “donated his eyes to two people who had a visual
handicap,” prompting a positive public attitude toward organ
donation (p. 62). The influence of both of these visible religious
leaders evinces not only the significance of the alliance of religion
and celebrity, but the power of celebrity in promoting prosocial
behavior. The church of scientology actively recruits celebrities
because they understand the influence they wield in a celebrity-
obsessed culture. Of course, the effects of celebrity endorsements
are reported to be moderated by the level of credibility the public
places on the celebrity (Spaulding & Formentin, 2017). The effects
of celebrity may also differ with different types of presentation.
Petrof (2015) asserts that the mediated religious narrative should
remain ambivalent; he advocates the indirect content of text,
Artifact Analysis
pointing out that vagueness of language, ambiguity of writing, and
possibility of doubt provides space for an individual to see religion
in a new light.
Invitational Rhetoric: An Invitation to Understanding
Foss and Griffin (1995) assert that traditional rhetoric
esteems change, and that change tends to dominate others;
therefore, traditional rhetoric reflects a patriarchal bias. In an
attempt to draw attention to non-patriarchal forms of
communication, Foss and Griffin have proposed invitational
rhetoric, grounded in the feminist principles of equality, value, and
self-determination. Its purpose is “to offer an invitation to
understanding” through two communication modes: “the offering
of perspectives and the creation of the external conditions of safety,
value, and freedom” (p. 2). Both of these modes are evident in the
testimonies on the
I am Second
The presentation of invitational rhetoric differs from
traditional rhetoric in that it is articulated not through persuasive
argument but through offering “to give [it] full expression and to
invite [its] careful consideration by the participants” (Foss &
Griffin, 1995, p. 7). Support for one’s positions is not advocated nor
is acceptance necessarily sought; instead, “offering” is seen as a
gift of what a rhetor knows, understands, or has experienced. A
rhetor’s story is simply offered as one perspective. Rather than the
traditional persuasive method of amassing evidence in support of
an idea, invitational rhetoric “provides explanations for the sources
of…ideas,” acknowledging and building on the work of others (p.
8). Offering may take a nonverbal form as symbolic choices reveal
perspectiveclothing, space, setting may not be designed to
influence others toward change, but they may have that effect.
Offering may also take the form of re-sourcement, “a response
made by a rhetor according to a framework, assumptions, or
principles other than those suggested in the precipitating message”
(p. 9). In re-sourcement, a rhetor “draws energy from a new
sourcea source other than the individual or system that provided
the initial frame for the issue” (p. 9). This re-sourcement requires a
disengagement from the original framework and the creation of a
new response.
The second communication mode employed by
invitational rhetoric is the creation of an environment in which
audience’s perspectives can be considered. Three conditions must
Vol. 1, Issue 3
be fulfilled between rhetor and audience: safety, value, and
freedom. When a safe context is established through rhetoric, the
rhetor eschews any attempt to degrade or disparage the audience or
their beliefs, and fear is absent from the environment. Value is
present when audience members’ “identities are not forced upon or
chosen for them by rhetors” and rhetors “reason from the
standpoint of others” (Foss & Griffin, 1995, pp. 11, 12). Freedom
(the power to choose) is seen in an environment where “rhetors’
ideas are…not privileged over those of an audience” (p. 12), and
perspectives are offered as a way to widen the audience’s choices.
In invitational rhetoric, freedom of choice is such that “the
audience’s lack of acceptance of or adherence to the perspective
articulated by the rhetor truly makes no difference to the rhetor” (p.
12). The value, safety, and freedom inherent in
’s site stem from
a subversion of celebrity that makes its invitational offering
Method of Analysis: Cluster Criticism
In an effort to identify key themes that underlie the rhetoric
three video vignettes from the site will be analyzed using
cluster criticism. Cluster criticism, a type of rhetorical criticism,
was created by Kenneth Burke (1969) who defined rhetoric as “the
use of words by human agents to form attitudes or to induce action
in other human agents” (Burke, 1969, p. 41). While rhetorical
criticism focuses on general effects of rhetoric, cluster criticism
examines how writer’s or speaker’s “attitudes about controversial
issues help shape persuasive rhetorical strategies” (Burke, 1937, p.
15). In this analysis, cluster criticism is used to reveal the external
conditions of invitational rhetoric. Using cluster criticism to
analyze the rhetoric of
not only reveals the existence of
clustering around key terms that “illuminate[s] the meaning the
rhetor has for those key terms” (p. 20), but also reveals the
invitational nature of the videos’ rhetoric.
Cluster criticism examines the relationship between
elements of a rhetor’s worldview by analyzing specific keywords.
Foss (2009) writes that “the meanings that key symbols have for a
rhetor are discovered by charting symbols that cluster around those
key symbols in an artifact” (p. 65). The three main steps a critic
takes to analyze an artifact are: (1) identify key terms; (2) chart
related clusters from the key term; and (3) examine and compare
clusters from the artifact (p. 66-68). The central idea of a text or
Artifact Analysis
artifact is explained through the associational clusters, which
clarify the rhetor’s meaning in relation to his or her environment
(Foss, 2009). Key terms can be identified through frequency or by
intensity and can imply part of a central argument or an ultimate
commitment; they also may convey depth of feeling (Burke, 1937).
Clustering terms must be physically close, connected, or offer
cause/effect relationship to the key terms. The purpose of selecting
and understanding key terms is to consider the attitudes and
positions of the speaker(s) which can best describe “how and why
some speakers or groups believe they have more or less power than
others to influence or control public discourse” (Burke, 1937, p. 24).
This analysis shows a destabilization of power as celebrity is
subverted; the invitational offering of perspectives creates an
atmosphere of safety, equality, and freedom that is
“nonhierarchical, nonjudgmental, [and] non-adversarial” (Foss &
Griffin, 1995, p. 5).
Especially pertinent to this analysis of
, Schrader (2016)
has extended the traditional Burkean cluster criticism in an analysis
of the performative elements of a musical theatre text. Schrader’s
analysis, which examines script and other artifacts related to the
, reveals that the acting, scenery, and props work
together to communicate a cohesive message.
, which shares a
performative nature with musical theater, communicates themes
that emerge not only from the celebrity’s words but also from the
performative aspects of the video. Schrader (2016) notes that cluster
criticism, although beneficial in an analysis of public address, is
lacking when used to analyze non-public address texts such as
films, TV shows, music, and theatre. Schrader’s research extends
traditional cluster criticism, analyzing the musical as a living
product and examining the verbal and visual elements. In the
current analysis, associational cluster and key terms yielded an
analysis of the three rhetors’ verbal offerings which was
underscored by the performative elements.
Researchers combed the site, endeavoring to choose videos
that were representative and diverse in terms of gender, age,
ethnicity, source of celebrity, and message emphasized by the
testimony. It should be noted that there are more than one hundred
videos available on the site. The three celebrity videos analyzed in
the current investigation are representative, but not reductive; each
rhetor represents a different aspect of society and celebrity,
differing in age and accomplishment. A “god term” or key concept
Vol. 1, Issue 3
of “incongruity” emerged; close reading of the three rhetors’
videos revealed key terms that cluster around the key concept of
incongruity. These grand cluster themes were examined in relation
to both the “god term” / key concept and to the principles of
invitational rhetoric.
Grand Cluster Themes
website displays incongruity both thematically and
visually, leading to a cohesive message that is compatible with
invitational rhetoric. Thematically, the very concept of celebrity is
subverted by assigning the status of second to celebrities, those
individuals that culture would normally elevate. Their testimonies
take on an added air of incongruence as the celebrities speak of loss
and disappointment in the context of an uplifting
faith. Performative aspects of the videos (e.g. props and scenery)
lack distinguishing Christian symbolsstained glass, crosses, or
fish symbols. This, combined with the lack of formulaic,
patterned, or liturgical prayers, establish a safe atmosphere, devoid
of hierarchical expectation. Although the site embraces the tenets
of biblical Christianity
; rhetorically, its message is proclaimed
visually and thematically in the words of the celebrities. The
theme of incongruity is exposed through the black and white color
scheme, which belies the glitz and glamour often associated with
professional athletes and Hollywood superstars. The aesthetics of
this site reflect biblical Christianity without depending upon
traditional images and icons.
The incongruous nature of this site is underscored by a
detailed examination of its performative aspects. Each testimony is
delivered in an identical setting with the same lighting and
seating. Celebrities are dressed in black tops and jeans or dark
pants, with no distinguishing props or accessories. For example,
Tony Dungy, Super Bowl champion and pro football head coach, is
dressed in black shirt and pants, seated in a bright white armchair
with a white light overhead that is sometimes in the camera shot.
The background is black. His dark brown skin of his arms and face
is nearly the only thing that diverges from the deep blacks and
bright whites, with the exception of a partially metallic watch and
what may be a deep navy blue wristband that is almost
Artifact Analysis
indistinguishable from black. Bailee Madison, a young actress, is
interviewed in a similar setting: black outfit, black background
sitting in a white chair, and an overhead light. Every so often, the
camera pans out to reveal her youthful gestures, her smile, and the
simplicity of her behavior. Rather than highlight the individuality
of each celebrity, underscoring the talents and works for which
they are known as one would expect,
chooses to make each
testimony appear virtually the same. In labeling the celebrities
“Second,” the videos emphasize their humility. The site also uses
incongruity to subvert celebrity through the absence of images that
celebrities use to establish their brand and strengthen their appeal.
The mediated religious narrative has remained ambivalent.
Petrof’s (2015) assertions concerning ambivalence and the indirect
content of text open the possibility of doubt, which can provide
space for an individual to see religion in a new light. The
performative incongruity communicates equality, laying a
foundation for invitational rhetoric.
Each of the celebrities is positioned in a mundane,
everyday setting. As a result, the audience perceives evidence that
needs no artifice for justificationin
’s case, no best-selling
book titles are highlighted, no winning sports team logos are
featured, and no blockbuster movie titles are emphasized. As
celebrity is de-emphasized and an unexpected everyman nature is
promoted, invitational rhetoric’s foundational aspects of safety,
equality, and freedom are evident.
clearly puts celebrities
second, subverting their celebrity; at the same time, we hear a story
that has not been shared publiclywe catch a glimpse into their
private lives. The humility of the everyman appearance and
testimony is not the common offering of a celebrity. Dungy, for
instance, “boasts” about his failures and notes that “how you
respond to failure, how you respond to disappointment says a lot
more than how you deal in successes.” This humility is
complemented on the site by a lack of high-pressure tactics and
overt appeals to repeat a formulaic prayer leading to salvation.
Their absence signals a type of offering uncommon to
evangelism. Even questions and answers for those who wish to
seek further are unobtrusively displayed as offerings. This use of
invitational rhetoric is notable, especially when displayed with
such an uncommon, incongruous, and humble reflection of
Vol. 1, Issue 3
’s use of incongruity not only lays a foundation for
invitational rhetoric, but it correlates with the message of
Christianity. The use of incongruity in theme, content, and visuals
on this site correlates with the Christian message of a savior who
came into the world unexpectedly. Christians point to Jesus’s low
status at birth, his insignificant geographic location, and his lack of
military prowess as evidence that Jesus Christ possessed a different
kind of power: “So powerless that he could not save himself, Jesus
was dying to save others and to embrace the whole world”
(Guinness, 2015, pp. 72, 73).
weaves this theme throughout the
site. The incongruity of Christ’s life and mission is mirrored by the
appearance of a plain-clothed celebrity, unadorned visuals, and
textual content that is unanticipated by the viewer.
The techniques of
are, in some ways, not new as they
align with the message of traditional Christianity. The site’s
method of explicating religious meaning mirrors a centuries-old
method of examining these ideas, tying it closely to the tenets of
traditional Christian belief. Markos (2003) explains the method used
by the medieval church that is reflected on this site
During the
Middle Ages, “nearly every verse of Scripture was believed to
work on four separate levels: the literal (or historical), the
allegorical (or typological), the tropological (or moral), and the
anagogical (or mystical)” (p. 125). Markos writes that this is an
aesthetic in which the message comes alive. The message of
works in the same four ways: The literal or historical level is each
celebrity’s story. The allegorical level shows that when an
individual accepts God, the deity becomes more important than
anything in that person’s life. The tropological implication from
this is that God, greater than man, deserves first place. The
anagogical association predicts the sovereignty and divinity of God
in the continuing life of the celebrity and, ultimately, in
heaven. The four levels used on the site are not only reminiscent of
a traditionally Christian method, but they also recall the message
this site offersthat faith is an antidote for the incongruity of life.
As celebrity testimonies on the site offer experiences with
loss, disappointment, and the common ongoing tension all
individuals feel in similar situations, the collective incongruity of
life is referenced. In a culture of achievement, progress, and one-
upmanship, these celebrities offer a perspective of humility, peace,
and contentment in the context of the unexpected nature of their
faith. The perspective
offers remains closely aligned with
Artifact Analysis
biblical Christianity, which deals with the tension between the
immediate and the ultimate. The site displays incongruity
thematically, through rhetoric and performative elements, leading
to a cohesive message offered through nonhierarchical,
nonjudgmental perspectives.
Cluster Criticism
Testimony of Anne Rice: Key Terms
Analysis of best-selling author Anne Rice’s testimony on the
website revealed several key terms and the clusters that
surround them. Rice’s testimony carries a theme of incongruity and
revolves around several key terms that craft the narrative. Rice
repeats the words “accident” and “whim” early in her testimony,
followed by the words “world” and “universe.” As the tenor of the
interview changes, Rice uses the words “grief” and “loss”
repeatedly. References to “world” and “universe” are interspersed
throughout and recur at the end. The repetition of these three sets of
terms provides continuity to her testimony.
Accident / Whim.
Rice, best-selling author of
Vampire Chronicles,
grounds her testimony in her childhood
memories of a church that made her feel safe. She sees her Gothic
writings as an unconventional step toward God. Although she calls
her first novel an “accident” and a “whim,” she expresses their
importance in her life. Rice says that the Gothic
led her to write about “everything that mattered to
[her].” She continues to emphasize the unexpected role that faith
played, recognizing now that the loss of faith and a sense of good
and evil “found their way into that novel,” creating “a very
important accident” as she could “talk about what was [her]
Rice’s delivery is generally very even, but vocal intensity
was noted as Rice spoke of her first novel as an “important
accident” that was a “fantasy framework in which she could talk
about her reality.” This, along with the words “accident” and
“whim,” direct attention once again to the concept that the
unexpected has yielded something incongruous to her
Vol. 1, Issue 3
understanding--something greater than Rice anticipated or
planned. The concept of personal humility is communicated as
Rice is seen as one not in control of life’s events; she is, in fact,
willing to relinquish control to the God to whom she is second. Her
humility adds to the condition of safety required for invitational
rhetoric as it removes hierarchical expectations.
Grief / Loss. Despite her fame and material success, Rice
describes her feelings as she walked away from God, using the key
terms “grief” and “loss” clustered around the word “desperation.”
She repeats, “I felt desperate. I felt desperate,” followed by “I also
immediately felt a terrible grief. I felt a grief for the loss of
faith.” Rice often sat still in the chair but gestured emphatically on
occasion, as she did when speaking of “grief” and “loss.” She
explains that her vampire novels “tell pretty much the same story of
the grief and loss and suffering, and a kind of revolt against the
darkness of a life without God.” Noting the unexpected nature of
these novelshow loss that ultimately led her to peaceshe
briefly mentions the loss of a daughter.
“Grief” and “loss” appear in conjunction with the word
“dissatisfaction” several times. Rice connects her grief and loss
with desperation and dissatisfaction, repeating “38 years. 38 years,”
as she references the years she was a “Christ-haunted person” and
“Christ-haunted atheist.” As she explores the incongruity of her
atheism and the faith of her childhood, Rice’s gestures indicate
intensity. In her family, Rice explained, “You had to have some
sort of inner life that was burning inside of you.” Rice gestures for
emphasis again as she describes the grief at being “…cut off from
God…I couldn’t really believe in God again as I had as a
child.” As she willingly separated from God, one would presume
Rice achieved independence and a feeling of satisfaction, but she
speaks plainly, gesturing at the incongruity of the situation as that
freedom only brought “…increasing dissatisfaction with a world in
which salvation is not a possibility.” The fact that Rice admits that
her choices did not yield the satisfaction she was sure this personal
independence would bring once again emphasizes a sense of
humility, echoing invitational rhetoric’s conditions of safety and
World / Universe. As Rice uses the words “world” and
“universe,” she references the incongruity in her journey from
“God’s universe” (in her childhood) as a place “we were privileged
to be part of” to a life where she willingly chose to forsake God. In
Artifact Analysis
childhood, she would not have believed that she would ever “walk
away from God,” but her desperation to know the “wide world,”
“the modern world,” led to a desire for freedom. This move toward
freedom, however, brought an unexpected dissatisfaction that she
states “was simple. I really believed in God. Not only did I believe
in him, but I loved him and I wasn’t admitting it.” As Rice gestures
for emphasis here, she shows passion at her current understanding
of her then unacknowledged belief.
Once Rice returned to God, the incongruity of her beliefs
and writings clashed, and she felt that her writing must
change. She admits that the vampire was a metaphor for her of
“the outcast, the person in a godless world,” and she “was no
longer in a godless world.” As Rice returns to “world” as a key
term, she describes the world as one in which God takes action on
man’s behalf as God “made…redeemed…embraced…[and] loves”
man. The humility of her testimony surfaces as she acknowledges
the power of God’s action on her behalf rather than her own
individual achievement. Just as her words cluster around
“accident” and “whim” in the beginning of her testimony, pointing
to things of greater meaning than she could understand at that
moment, Rice’s ultimate sense of God’s world is coupled with an
incongruous sense of surrender that brings not defeat but
reconciliation, humility, and peace. Rice offers this perspective as
her own experience as a seeker on equal terms with the viewer.
Testimony of Tony Dungy: Key Terms
A former head coach of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers
and the Indianapolis Colts and current NFL broadcaster, Tony
Dungy offers his perspective on life's disappointments as he recalls
his efforts surrounding an elusive Super Bowl win. Eventually,
after 12 years as a head coach in the NFL, Dungy finally
accomplished his coaching goal of a Super Bowl victory with the
Colts in 2007, but the road to the victory was full of
disappointments. In an attempt to establish parity with his
audience, Dungy does not wear his Super Bowl ring or wear any
clothing associated with any NFL franchise in his video. This
cluster criticism will analyze the frequency and intensity of three
terms that cluster around the theme of incongruity in his
narrative. The key terms are “team,” “win / victory,” and
Vol. 1, Issue 3
Team. Early in the narrative Dungy uses the term “team”
in a way that elevates his Christian faith above winning, which is
the ultimate goal in football. As Dungy discusses interviewing for
head coaching jobs, he explains that he knew what owners and
managers wanted to hear; they expected a coach who would
“demand perfection” and be emotional. In response, Dungy stated
the unexpected: “I believe I am going to deliver you a
championship, but no, the team is not going to be the most
important thing.” Dungy states clearly here that as significant as
the team is, there is something even more significant. This is an
unexpected statement for an NFL coach, as downgrading the
significance of the team is not usually equated with a championship
season. Some may see this as incompatible with NFL celebrity,
while Dungy places it squarely in line with his faith.
Win / Victory. As Dungy uses the words "win" and
"victory," he offers a perspective that is incongruent with common
expectations of professional sports. The first idea clustered around
the term “win” is the notion that the teams Dungy coaches will
never win the Super Bowl. Dungy notes that critics of his teams’
chances stated that they were “never going to win one.” Dungy
himself wondered if he would ever win the championship. Second,
Dungy uses the phrase “win-win” in an unexpected way: he is not
referring to a victory on the field. He recalls saying in an interview
with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that he believes he will lead the
team to a Super Bowl championship, but that he wants to do it
correctly. He characterizes this as a “win-win” situation, one that
makes the community and the families of the players proud. His
emphasis here is on not making himself proud; he deflects that,
putting the reactions of others first. The "win-win" situation he
characterizes here is not congruent with the general expectation in
professional sports. Dungy’s use of “win-win” is unanticipated;
most would assume it would be applied to a victory on the field,
while Dungy uses it to signal a different kind of success. His
offering of an unexpected perspective, cloaked in subverted
celebrity, is invitational in nature.
The term “win” is always used by Dungy within the
context of a game, but he uses the term “victory”
uncharacteristically-- to denote spiritual triumphs. After the Colts’
win the Super Bowl, the team wants to pray and Dungy’s words
Artifact Analysis
allude to spiritual triumph as he recalls that “we want[ed] to honor
the Lord in this victory, and we did that.” “Honoring the Lord,” as
Dungy puts it, may be at odds with the type of reaction fans would
expect from the athletes at such a momentous victory. Dungy
concludes his narrative with a statement that may be less than
invitational in its content, but his unassuming and soft-spoken
manner still harken to an invitational stance. He says that if we (as
viewers) invite Christ to come into our lives, he will “guide us to
that victory, that ultimate victory.” The use of the term “win”
when referring to football but “victory” when referring to life with
Christ is Dungy’s way of separating the two types of success—the
two are not equal, another illustration of incongruity. In Dungy’s
perspective, salvation is more important than any earthly victory.
Disappointed / Disappointments.
offers Dungy’s
narrative under the term “disappointment,” a term that Dungy uses
five times in his testimony, two of which are particularly
noteworthy. First, one use of “disappointments” is quite
intense. Dungy states that being fired from Tampa Bay due to the
lack of a Super Bowl championship “was one of the biggest
disappointments” of his life. Dungy is not an expressive, emotional
speaker, so one is forced to rely more on his words than his tone in
order to identify intensity. This disappointment took Dungy in an
unexpected direction. Disappointment signals a standard, a goal
(in this case a championship) that is not fulfilled; life diverges from
what was hoped for and what is. In Dungy’s narrative this signals
an ongoing tension, an incongruity between the immediate and the
ultimate; he resolves this tension through his faith, offering this
statement: “I think you can glorify the Lord in every
circumstance… How you deal with disappointment says a lot more
than how you deal with success.” Dungy’s offering shows how he
deals with the disappointment of the present in light of his faith in
the eternal.
Dungy's perspective shows an acceptance of life's
incongruities. When he refers to "disappointments," Dungy states
that he may have to "be okay" with never winning a championship.
Even though he suffered through five years of "bitter
disappointments," he states that football is not the most important
thing in life. Many may view this as incompatible with being a
head coach in the NFL. Dungy’s perspective is that a life of faith
as one of humility, and a large part of that is making God the most
important thing in life. Dungy accepts that incongruity, that
Vol. 1, Issue 3
tension between the immediate and the ultimate, with the help of
Testimony of Bailee Madison: Key Terms
Bailee Madison is a child actress best known for her roles
in the movies
Just Go With It
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,
and the
TV show
Once Upon a Time
. In her interview with
is asked a series of off-camera questions about her relationship
with God and her personal life.
Her message deals with the
importance of family, the understanding that an individual’s
purpose is bigger than the individual, and the awareness that God,
who she needs, is a source of protection. Unlike Rice and Dungy,
Madison uses more traditional rhetoric than invitational rhetoric.
Madison’s traditional rhetoric is clear as she mentions her
upbringing, yet her perspective is offered in such a way as to imply
safety, freedom and equality when she shares about her
relationship with God. Madison does not necessarily insist or force
her perspective on her audience but instead allows her audience the
freedom to accept and reject her perspective.
Madison clearly concludes by stating, “If you have God in
your life, if you just look to your Heavenly Fatherdespite
struggles and hard times—He is always watching over you.” Her
perspective clearly includes God as a place of safety. Ultimately,
her narrative depicts her as seeking guidance from God for her
purpose in life and to make a difference for others. Despite her
acting successes, she is humbled as she recognizes God is watching
her and has control in her struggles. Although Madison is a child
whose testimony is simple, she offers a perspective in which she
seems to understand why she is second and God is first.
This cluster criticism describes some key words that
Madison not only uses frequently, but with intensity. The key terms
are “humble,” “chose/chose,” and “nerves/nervous.”
Humble. The word “humble”
is used through Bailee
Madison’s entire story. The word is mentioned about four times
with emphasis on her own name. The clustering terms around
humble include “Bailee,” “stay,” “God,” “follow,” and
“remember.” These words, considered together, signal a sense of
spiritual fellowship and a hierarchical positioning of God that
seems incongruent with celebrity and fame. The first use of the
word provides a more propositional use of rhetoric when she states
Artifact Analysis
that her mother always told her that “when you’re done with that
movie, you have to stay humble, Bailee.” For her, humble is
“being true to oneself” or not becoming arrogant. She views the
word “humble” as synonymous with who she is as she continues to
repeat the words “Bailee” and “humble,” serving as a reminder that
her purpose in life is beyond her. She reframes or re-sources her
original purpose to understand that her true purpose can only be
“accomplished through God.”
offers Madison’s story as a
“young actress humbled,” grounded in the purpose she “believes
God has for her.” This unconventional presentation of a
celebrityone grounded in humilitydefies the expectation one
usually has for a contemporary actress. Subverting her celebrity
status brings Madison closer to her audience, creating a sense of
equality common to invitational rhetoric.
Nerves/Nervous. As Madison uses the word
“nerves/nervous,” there’s a smile and acceptance yet submission to
God’s guidance in everything she pursues, especially when she
takes on a new acting role. She sets the tone of her storytelling by
referencing how she has learned to overcome her nervousness. The
clustering terms around nerves/nervous includes “I don’t,” “God,”
“away,” and “feel.” Just a few minutes into the video, she uses the
exact phrase “let your words come through me” after expressing
she does not normally get nervous. Her confidence and trust in God
is central to her success because “He [God] knows what’s best.”
This is another example of humility that reflects invitational
Chose / Chosen. Madison uses the words “chose” and
to signify God’s purpose for her. By using these words,
she humbly leaves behind her own desires and purpose. The
clustering terms around “chose” and “chosen” include “show,”
“give,” “no worries,” “commit,” “hope,” “faith,” and “happy.” The
clustering terms represent her life’s purpose, accepting her God-
given purpose, and being able to accept a changed purpose.
Madison questioned “why things happened” and “why things were
taken away,” but she also connects “chosen” with an understanding
and “acceptance of God’s choice.” The word “chosen” also offers
her perspective of the safety she finds in being “chosen’ as she
accepts God’s choice for her. The unexpected in Madison’s life,
those things which were inexplicable or were taken away, are
rectified as she speaks of accepting God’s choice and moves to the
use of words like “hope,” “faith,” and “happy.”
Vol. 1, Issue 3
The terms “chose” and “chosen” are used repeatedly to
describe Madison’s career path and the productions she has taken
part in. She states, “It’s not about me, it’s about God. God chose for
me to do this, and he can choose for me to stop right now.” As she
states that she would later understand that God knows what’s best
for her, she establishes how she is second, for submitting her life’s
purpose to God is crucial. She expresses an understanding that
“God choosing” her for anything serves a much bigger purpose
than she might choose on her own. Madison emphasizes the
importance of God in first place in her life as she states, “God is
watching what you are doing, and it is nice for God to say I am
very, very happy with what you just did.” Madison believes that
her happiness is not incongruous with accepting and doing God’s
will. Doing so, even in the midst of disappointment or the
unexpected, yields, as Madison expresses, “faith” and “hope.”
Madison’s youthful expression of faith underscores the
diversity included on the site. Race and gender diversity, as well as
the various sources of celebrity (literature, athletics, and
entertainment) may be considered another aspect of incongruity:
people who would not normally be featured together are showcased
side-by-side on
, all proclaiming second place to God. In each
case, the subversion of celebrity adds to the theme of incongruity,
effectively lowering the status of celebrities and creating
conditions compatible with invitational rhetoric.
This study has sought to analyze the celebrity video
vignettes featured on the
I am Second
website through the lens of
invitational rhetoric. We conclude that
creates conditions of
safety, value, and freedom as it offers perspectives through
celebrity testimonies. Its subversion of celebrity collaborates with
these aspects of invitational rhetoric to shift the balance of power
from the rhetor to the audience and to affirm the nature of the
message of the Christian faith.
Invitational rhetoric, born out of feminist scholarship,
seeks to steer clear of a patriarchal sense of persuasion. Cluster
criticism of the interviews on
shows that the rhetoric of the site
does not dominate the audience and, therefore, is non-
patriarchal. This is notable as traditional evangelical Christianity
has been accused of being patriarchal in doctrine, practice, and
evangelistic efforts. Although there is no evidence the founders of
Artifact Analysis
intentionally employed the principles of Foss’s theory of
invitational rhetoric, the site undermines a perspective that claims
that Christian evangelism must be rooted in persuasion. Instead, by
using an invitational style, the
testimonies present the Christian
narrative as an offering through individuals’ perspectives. This
affirms the role of invitational rhetoric for religious
communicators, along with more traditional approaches.
Although this analysis shows that invitational rhetoric is
used on the site, the authors acknowledge that there are aspects of
invitational rhetoric that do not neatly apply to
. Foss and
Griffin (1995) define freedom as the audience’s freedom to decide,
not to be dominated. In discussing their notion of freedom, the
authors write that in invitational rhetoric “the audience’s lack of
acceptance of or adherence to the perspective articulated by the
rhetor truly makes no difference to the rhetor” (p. 12). This clearly
is not the case for
as its mission is “to inspire people of all
kinds to live for God and for others.” The site also states that “I am
Second is designed to help people discover their purpose in life.”
It clearly matters to the
organization (and one would assume
those featured on the site) whether or not their testimonies achieve
that goal. Still,
does not employ the persuasive tactics often
associated with Christian rhetoric, making it more invitational in
nature than other Christian video projects. For example, a video
series featuring Kirk Cameron called “The Way of the Master”
encourages viewers to approach strangers on the street with the
gospel. On the
site, messages about conversion traditionally
reflected in phrases like “a decision for Christ” or “the sinner’s
prayer” are replaced with seeker-friendly options such as “More
Info” and the ability to browse by films, topics, and life questions.
In addition, this analysis does not show that all testimonies on the
site are invitational in content; Bailee Madison’s testimony may
lean a bit toward traditional rhetoric but the site balances this with a
consistent non-verbal form of offering as clothing, setting, and
lighting are unified to de-emphasize celebrity and place the rhetor
on a more level playing field with the audience.
The nature and message of the Christian faith has been
subject to mistreatment throughout the ages, but the perspective
offers correlates with the Christian message of a servant
savior, one who, as Guinness (2015) wrote, was “so powerless he
Vol. 1, Issue 3
could not save himself…[but died] to save others and to embrace
the whole world” (pp. 72, 73.)
’s use of incongruity in theme,
content, and visuals correlates with the message of Christianity as
it fosters invitational rhetoric’s conditions of equality, safety, and
freedom. The incongruity of Christ’s life and mission is reflected
as the viewer sees a plain-clothed celebrity and sparse visuals and
hears rhetoric that is uncommon to traditional evangelical
This study only begins to unveil the relationship between
celebrity and religion. Future research in this area would pivot to
audience engagement.
has a comment section and message
boards, and the site encourages small groups to make use of the site
and its videos. Audience impressions of the deflection of celebrity,
the lack of traditional conversion methods, and the perception these
create in the minds of the audience regarding Christianity are all
areas that are ripe for future study. Additionally, it would be
helpful to discover if the principles of invitational rhetoric are
present in these small group outlets, or if audiences return to
traditional persuasive methods.
Our study illustrates the incongruity of a celebrity
minimizing their status in a world that elevates the famous. Unlike
typical celebrity endorsements, this study shows that a subversion
of celebrity can have impact. It may be that this de-emphasis of
status is a form of celebrity that requires further examination in
scholarly studies of celebrity.
Celebrity brings with it power; the subversion of that
power in the communication of religion calls into question some
traditional means of rhetoric. While invitational rhetoric does not
serve communication well in every instance, its value in the
offering of perspectives in a multi-voiced, postmodern culture is
clear. Hutchings (2012) wrote that
I am Second
’s narratives “cut
through the structures of organized religion” (p. 75); this study
shows that it may also have begun to challenge the structures of
organized religion’s rhetoric, raising questions about the place of
power in religious communication.
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Who We Are -
I am Second
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Vol. 1, Issue 3
Additional Author Bios:
Laura L. Groves is an AP instructor and the English Dept. Chair at Westminster
Academy in Florida. She is assistant editor for the
Journal of Christian Teaching
Her research interests include rhetoric and religious communication.
Stephen D. Perry, Ph.D. is Chair of the Department of Communication
Studies at Regent University. His research interests emphasize media,
religion, government, and history. He is Publisher and Executive Editor of
Epistelogic. ORCID ID: 0000-0002-4320-392X.
To Cite this Article:
Bates, S., Eze, I., Groves, L. L. & Perry S. D. (2022). Celebrity influence
subverted in
I am Second
: An invitation to understanding.
Analysis, 1
(3), 27-50.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
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