Jonathan Balzotti – Abstract

Rhetoric, Spectacle, and Mechanized Amusement at the World’s Columbian Exposition

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This essay focuses on the disruptive qualities of public entertainment and public spectacle at the 1893 Columbian exposition. I use my analysis of different fairgoers’ responses to explore the ways public spectacle, even in its most commercialized form, can lead to a rhetorical response from the audience where alternative views of culture are made available. Rather than seeing spectacle as empty theatricality, I argue that in certain cases spectacle may speak more loudly than plot, character, and script. Just as the backdrop for a theatrical dialogue can change the story, also can the spectacle alter the story being told, and, in the process, invite the audience to redefine and altogether change the rhetorical text.

Keywords: Spectacle, Rhetoric, World Exposition, Ferris Wheel, Opsis