Jonathan Balzotti

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

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Studies in Visual Arts and Communication – an international journal / December 2016 3(2)


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

Biographical note

Jonathan M. Balzotti, Assistant Professor of English at BYU, scholarly work explores some of the visual and material aspects of classical antiquity, and one of his principle interests lies in the force of oversized objects to inspire admiration in the spectator.

His current research project is a book about the rhetoric of speaking loudly in contemporary dialects, concentrating on interrelations among visual practice, ritual, and politics. The other main focus of his work is on the impact of new and emerging technologies in computer-aided design and the construction of web-based learning environments, particularly simulated visual environments and various learning management systems. His research in this area centers on interface design such as augmented reality (AR), simulated pedagogy, and the potential value of play and application of game design to create new forms of writing instruction and learning.