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Persuasion through people: The rhetorical categories of documentary subjects in Michael Moore’s films


Michael Moore’s documentaries have been central to the development of the contemporary political documentary and have served as an instrument of political activism or, as some argue, even propaganda. Delving into the underlying mechanisms, in this article, I examine the ways in which documentary subjects are persuasively deployed in Moore’s documentaries. An analysis combining close reading, qualitative content analysis, and rhetorical analysis points to key rhetorical categories of documentary subjects. These subjects’ embodiment of six main rhetorical categories displays a correlation with Aristotle’s cornerstones of rhetoric: ethos, logos, and pathos. Further, the categories demonstrate how moral emotions are utilised in constructing the ethos of documentary subjects. In addition, the article addresses the significance of identification in Moore’s persuasive rhetoric. This research participates in deconstructing the mechanics of persuasive mediated communication and contributes to outlining a theory of audiovisual rhetoric.