Everybody loves Chris Rock! He is loved and admired for his small film roles and even more for his hilarious and successful work as a standup comic. The irony of this statement, is that we will actually be focusing on his hit television series “Everybody Hates Chris”, in which he executive produced and narrated himself. The show was a hit series which focused on Chris Rock’s troubled life as a teenager in his small neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant (Bed-stuy), in New York City. The common theme expressed throughout the show are the disadvantages and struggles that Chris and his family faced due to being low-income minorities in America. My goal here is to effectively analyze the way that Chris rock chose to express this theme throughout different episodes of the first season. I will be analyzing the show using the rhetorical criticism methods discussed in Readings in Rhetorical Criticism, edited by Carl R. Burgchardt of Colorado State University. The purpose of rhetorical criticism, according to Herbert Wicheln’s, is to “focus on discovering and appreciating how speakers adapt their ideas to particular audiences” (Burgchardt, 2010, p. 1). We will take a look here through different rhetorical criticism lenses to see how affective Chris Rock was at conveying his message to his intended audience(s).
The first method I will be applying to the show is the Rhetorical Situation. I chose to begin with this method because it will give a brief background of the show which will allow for the audience to better understand the series and will better be able to follow along with the methods to follow. The rhetorical situation “provides the basis for persuasive interactions” (Burgchardt, 2010, p. 1), basically, it explains the authors’ purpose of the text. This method is composed of 3 different parts, which are: Exigence, Audience, and Constraints/Opportunities.
The exigence refers to the reason for the show; Why was it created? As stated earlier, the show was designed to show the troubled life of the teenage comedian Chris Rock. He intends to relive everything that he went through on an everyday basis and puts it in a humorous way so that everyone can watch and enjoy it. Which leads us to the audience; I believe that this show can be watched by anyone and can be enjoyed because of its comical aspects. In particular, Chris Rocks target audience is most likely low/middle class minority families because this group can most relate to his problems. The show not only focuses on the problems of Chris, but also the struggles of his Mother, Father, young brother, and younger sister. Therefore, all members of the low/middle class families can relate to the show.
The opportunities/constraints are created by real world situations that either allows for or restricts the text to speak about and/or relate too. This show definitely has and uses its opportunity to expose racial problems that occur in these lower class neighborhoods. In this first episode, the family moves to a new neighborhood because the father has accepted a new job offer and was able to purchase a home in a better but still low-income neighborhood. The neighborhood is predominately black, but Chris’s parents decided to bus him to a private school in a better neighborhood which is predominately filled with white upper class students. His parents selected this school because it a better education opportunity for Chris than the neighborhood public school. At this school, Chris is faced with constraints due to being the only black person at the school. He has a hard time fitting in, he is immediately harassed and shunned out by the other students at the school. From day one, he is aware that this new school is going to be a problem for him due to discrimination.
Our country is always faced discrimination and poverty issues. An opportunity that this show has is to help to bring some of these issues to light. The show subtly makes people aware of these issues, but in a way that everyone can still enjoy the show because of its humorous aspects. This is also a great aspect of the rhetorical situation method, it allows for us to take a look at exactly what the show is doing for the audience, and I think it was a great idea for the author to raise awareness in this manner.
Watch Link Below
First Day of School Fight
One thing that is commonly over looked when taking a look at the audience, is the one that is non-present, but little do people know this group is typically excluded for a reason. The third persona was a theory created by Philip Wander and is used to identify the absent audience. He states that writers all have an intended audience and also a purposefully excluded audience due to socio-political issues. “Socio-political issues are issues that involve social and political factors. When the two overlap something is considered to be ‘socio-political.’” (Wander, 85). There are four main steps to follow when applying the third persona method to a passage. Step one, is to examine the rhetorical situation and answer, what are the historical and/or political contexts of this specific era? What is the occasion that called for this text? What topics could the author not touch in this context? What might specific opportunities might he have had in this situation? Step two, answer who was the implied audience and give evidence to support it. Step three, answer the questions; who was the absent audience? Why did the author leave this specific group of people out? Was it intentional or unintentional? Step four, take a look at the rhetorical situation, what are the political ramifications of leaving this audience out? What might happen as a result of the absent audience hearing/seeing this text?
(Chris Rock & “Chris” Tyler James Williams)
Step 1: You may refer back to the previous method for a more detailed explanation of Chris Rock’s rhetorical situation. A quick summary of the rhetorical situation, once again, is that the show was designed to show the struggles that the author, Chris Rock, faced while growing up as a teenager in Brooklyn, New York, in the 1980’s. The setting being in Brooklyn, which was a predominantly lower class, African American community alone provided Chris with numerous problems while growing up. Then, Chris being forced to attend a private school across town, where he is the only black person in the school created even more of an unfortunate situation for him. In this era, it is known that there was a lot of racial hatred and tension between whites and blacks within the country, which has to do with the political context of this specific era. Throughout the show, Chris’ troubles all seem to revolve around racial problems and/or his family’s lack/need for money.
Step 2: Also, when applying the Rhetorical Situation method earlier, we had established that the implied audience here is low/middle class African American families; but, to be more specific, I believe the age range is from preteen to mid age adults. I am confident that this is the intended audience because these are the people that would be most able to relate to the characters from the show. The show follows and shows the struggles from each member of his immediate family whose ages range from 8 years old to early 40’s. The show had originally aired on the United Paramount Network (UPN) in 2005 which would become the CW in 2006. At first, the show was not a hit, in fact, the show’s airtime was moved to the “Friday Death Slot” because of it’s declining viewers. Eventually, the show would be accepted and aired on a new station, BET, and the show’s success rate boomed. The fact the show was forced onto BET, which is a black entertainment channel, also indicates the intended audience. The lack of success on UPN was due to the the show being released to the wrong audience, and although the BET channel may be enjoyed by all, it was created specifically for the entertainment of black viewers; Chris Rock was aware of this and made a great decision when choosing to transfer stations to air his show.
Step 3: Throughout the show, the author tends to only focus on the relations and problems between Chris’ family and/or other black or white characters. This show purposefully excludes other races and also may be not be relatable to the elderly and also, young children. This is intentional because the purpose of the show was to show the encounters of Chris Rock’s teenage life. These groups were excluded because they did not play a big role at this stage of his life. He was predominantly faced with only black and white cultures, and he could only tell the stories from which he personally witnessed.
Step 4: As a result of other races, ages, or cultures viewing the show, I believe they may possibly still enjoy the show, but not with as much of a personal connection that the intended audience may have. This is a comical show, which gives it the opportunity to be enjoyed by all, but the deeper context within the show may not be understood by all. I believe the lack of success that the show had with it’s original network goes to show the results of people watching the show without a personal connection. Without personal connection in some way, it can be hard for an audience to engage into the text, thus resulting in them being purposefully left out as the absent audience.
Before applying this next method, I will need to give you a brief synopsis of the episode it’s being applied too. The episode being critiqued here is titled, “Everybody Hates The Babysitter”, and it was full of conflict for every member of Chris’s family. Chris, being the oldest of the three children, is always being held responsible for looking over his younger siblings when his parents are busy. He hates this responsibility, but it is just one of the duties that typically comes with being the eldest child. In this episode, Julius (Chris’s father) plans on taking his wife Rochelle (Chris’s mother) out for a date night; which would turn out to be a disaster of a night. Before going out, they would have to hire a babysitter to watch the kids because Chris is only trusted to monitor them during the day;
therefore, they would need a reliable adult to watch over them late night. Chris was very excited to be relieved of the responsibility and wanted to just relax and hangout with his younger brother while watching the basketball game, but the babysitter would turn out to be very irresponsible as she left them unattended multiple times throughout the night. Yvette (The Babysitter) brought her own family drama to their residents and she even burnt all of their food by forgetting it in the oven. Yvette’s irresponsibility resulted in Chris having to watch over his siblings because she absent for the majority of the night, also Chris would have to solve and deal with all of the her drama that she brought into the house, as well as his own. Chris covered for the Yvette the entire night, but eventually became too flustered with the her and told his parents everything that happened when they returned home.
We can use Berkes’ Pentad to analyze Chris’s true motive for “snitching” on the babysitter and revealing everything that happened in the house to his parents. The Pentad was designed to find the motive in a situation, and to find the motive you may compare each of the five sections, which are: Act (what?), Scene (where?), Agent (who?), Agency (how?), and Purpose (why?) (Turnage, p.142). By taking a look at each component, one should be able to make sense of the author’s use of rhetoric, but in this instance we will be specifically focusing only on the purpose and the agent because I feel that they are the most relevant to reveal the motive in the situation.
(Click on “Purpose” for link to a scene from the episode)
Purpose: Chris’s night, as usual turned out to be a disaster, as nothing seemed to pan out the way he would have liked it. This is all due to the fact that the baby sitter did a terrible job, which forced him to take upon her responsibilities and put aside his wishes for the night. He really wants his parents to enjoy their time out, which is why he chose to cover for the babysitter rather than revealing her to his parents earlier in the night.
He covered for her all night and even told his parents that everything was fine when they had initially returned home and asked how it went. It wasn’t until they paid the sitter and offered to utilize her services another night when Chris flipped; he realized he could not handle another night with the irresponsible sitter and instantly blurted out the truth of the night to his parents. Afterwards, he was glad that he told the truth and could avoid her coming back to babysit again.
Agent: The agent in this situation is Chris. Chris is a troubled teen who constantly finds hisself in unfortunate situations. When situations go wrong around him, he seems to always receive the blame, which would explain his reasoning for not telling his parents about the sitter sooner. It always seems that no matter what decision Chris makes, whether he was in the right or wrong, the story never unfolds in his favor. For example, he chose to hide the night’s drama from his parents, which resulted in them offering to hire her again; but if he would’ve called earlier and ruined his parents’ date, then his father would have been angry with him for not being able to handle it. Chris literally can never win in any situation and I feel that is something very important to know about his character.
The relationship between the purpose and the agent definitely help the audience to understand Chris’ motive in the situation. Although each of the 5 sections could have been used to reveal this motive, I felt that the purpose and the agent were the most relevant. It is pretty obvious that the motive here was to avoid a future headache from the irresponsible babysitter, and to make it so that she would not return. I believe the author did a great job allowing us to see the 5 sections of the Pentad, which would in return allow us to easily uncover the motive.
How this episode ties back to the theme of race/class are that the problems that occur are due to lack of wealth. The only reason that the irresponsible babysitter was hired was because she cheap, affordable, and quick. If money was not so scarce, then Julius and Rochelle would have been able to find a more appropriate baby sitter through a professional agency, and that could have prevented these problems. We can dig even deeper to say that a babysitter may not have even been needed if it wasn’t for lack of wealth. Rochelle was unhappy in her relationship because she is rarely taken on dates, but the reason that this is, is because that “date” money is usually used on the children and other necessities for living. It is rare for the family to have extra money laying around for unnecessary spending, and if this was not an issue, then she may not have had the sudden urge to be treated by her husband that night. This episode and criticism method are a great example of how Chris’s struggles still result back to the main theme.
While on the topic, I figured, what a better time to apply the method of critical rhetoric; specifically, the section that focuses on the socio-economic status within the text. As made very clear by now, race and class each plays a major role when trying to understand the life of Chris and his family. Within every single episode, problems of the family always tend to revolve around being either their status as a black minority, their lack of income within the household, problems within their lower class neighborhood, or maybe even a combination between the three. In this analysis, we will try to understand how the author uses race and class to give us a better understanding of Chris’s teenage years.
Almost daily, Chris is teased and scrutinized and school due to his race. He is the only black student at his school, and this results to him being stereotyped and bullied constantly. Resulting back to the episode, Everybody Hates Basketball, Chris was bullied at school until he was believed to be the new star of the school’s team. Nobody had seen him play basketball, but because he was black, he was pushed to join to the team and become the face of it. Once the stereotype was proven to be untrue, Chris lost his “cool” statue and resumed back to being bullied by the other kids. Caruso (Chris’s Bully), has even went to the extent of calling Chris a nigger on multiple occasions. These are just a few example of the problems that Chris faces due to his race. Watch following clip to view examples. (May watch full clip for a good laugh, but only the first 45 seconds and about 3:42-end of clip will pertain to this specific passage)
According to the Critical Rhetoric Powerpoint, the working class has a few norms attached to it, which are: little to no wealth, some stability with a steady income, “blue collar” jobs, and often a high value for family. Chris’s family is a perfect example of a working class family. They have some stability with Julius (Father) working two jobs and picking up any and all overtime hours he can get; he has the only income in the family which is just barely enough to provide food and pay for bills. He works labor jobs with long hours at minimum wage which keeps him very busy and tired during the week.
When attempting to understand the show, it is essential to be aware of Chris’s race and his family’s economic status. Each has such a major impact on his daily life and also a background factor in each of his troubles. I believe he is using his own life to make people aware of the problems that all people who share his race and status may face. Although the show only follows his life, these problems are relatable by many other lower working class families, and to those who may not relate, they are being made aware of these struggles.
As we all know, gender roles have been present and practiced throughout history. Especially in a traditional family setting, there are typical norms that each member of the family must play. For example, it is a norm for the Husband or Father to be the primary bread-winner of the household; meanwhile, the wife/mother figure would be a stay at home spouse and take care of the housing duties, such as: cooking, cleaning, etc. It is more common nowadays for the roles to be switched, but still can be seen as weird or untraditional. A female having more financial success may force the male to feel or even be viewed as weak or emasculate.
In Everybody Hates Chris, there are definitely some typical gender norms being followed between Julius and Rochelle (Chris’s Parents).
An easy way to break down the power of the male is to measuring him to the five characteristics of hegemonic masculinity; these characteristics include: frontiersman, control/force, heterosexuality, occupational achievement, and patriarchal hierarchy. First, we will review some of the norms of the male in the household, then we will follow by applying a couple of the characteristics to give a better understanding of his role.
Julius – Throughout the duration of the show, he is the hardest working member in the family. He works two jobs too be able to support his wife and three children. He works crazy hours, therefore, all he wants to do in his free time is relax and sleep. He knows that this is his role in the family and accepts that. Because he works so hard for the money he earns, he also likes to live very cheap; he understands that by being smart about his spending, he won’t have to work as hard to be able to afford living expenses. He, in opposition to his wife, understands and values money and does not like to spend loosely.
After reviewing some of Julius’s norms within his household, we will now apply two of the characteristics I feel are most helpful to understanding his Character. We will look at his occupational achievements, as well as his control/force at home.
As previously stated, Julius pays the bills around the house. He works hard day and and day out to earn his money and play his role in the family. This directly shows you his occupational achievements. Because of this, Julius ultimately has the final say say-so in all big decisions around the house. Not all problems are brought to his attention, but when his assistance is needed on big problems in the home, his final vote is what matters. This also directly relates to his control/force. His occupational achievements are what grants him his control of the household. Although Rochelle, is the voice of the decisions made, the whole family is aware that Julius is head honcho.
Funny Clip- Julius’ Cheapness
Rochelle – Has temporary jobs/gigs from time to time but tends to quit when things do not go her way because she is aware that her husband can support the family solely. Her daily life consists of getting the kids ready for school, feed the family for breakfast and dinner, keep the house clean, and to take care of other small chores and errands that need to be done. Although she does not get up to go make money everyday, her role in the family is not easy. She works just as hard as Julius, but in a very different way. Her role is to make her husband’s life easier when he is not working. She makes it so that he is rarely faced with other troubles besides being able to pay for the cost of living. Her biggest problem, which does make Julius’s life harder from time to time, is the fact that she is terrible with money. She doesn’t value money because she is not the one who has to work for it. She gets bored by being a stay at home mother sometimes, but she accepts her role and makes sure to have all of her duties done before her husband returns from work.
Rochelle Quitting Jobs (Short Clip)
These gender roles presented and constantly being brought to attention throughout the show help us to better understand Chris’s life at home. The purpose of the show is to show us the hardships that Chris and his families faced during his teen life, so enlightening us about his life at home helps the audience to understand that purpose. Also, Chris Rock presents his family problems in a comical manner once again which makes it much more enjoyable for the viewer as well.
The final episode of the show that we will critique is episode 18 of season one, “Everybody Hates Corleone”. For the episode, once again we will be focusing on critical rhetoric, but this time the focal point will be the episode’s story elements; the story elements have five key elements to look at in the “text”, which are: Characters, Conflicts, Plot, Theme, and Scene. If the audience is able to clearly identify each element of the story, then they should also be able to fully understand the concept of the episode or “text”.
Characters: Who was present in the story?
The important characters in this episode are Chris and Julius. Although, many other characters are present throughout the duration of the episode, the main story line here definitely revolves around these two.
Conflicts: This element of the story is simply asking, What conflicts or problems are present?
Chris and Julius are the main characters here, but each is having their own personal conflict. Chris’s problem in this episode is that he has become completely fed up with his troubles at his high school. His has reaching his breaking point with bad luck and bullies at the school and has decided that he no longer wants to attend. He begs his parent’s to transfer to the neighborhood high school because he is positive that things will change for the better, but his request was denied.
(Clip is a compilation of a lot of the bullying that led up to Chris’s breaking point)
Julius’s problem here is that he just got hired to a new job that would pay him more than his other two jobs combined. He accepts his new job at a fish warehouse and he is happy with the new pay. The conflict occurs when he returns home from his first day of work and brings the smell of the fish with him. His family, especially Rochelle (his wife), is very upset with the foul smell and complains non-stop about it.
Plot: The plot focuses on what happens and how the story unfolds. Basically, it answers what happens as a result of the conflict.
Chris does not agree with his parents’ decision that staying at Corleone High School is the best decision for him, and since they will not help him, he decides to take measures into his own hands. He decides to get himself expelled so that he would be forced to leave. He eventually would get himself into trouble, but his punishment only resulted in a suspension rather than an expulsion. After his parents re-discussed Chris’s attendance at Corleone, they agreed to let him leave. Chris was ecstatic, but as soon as he reached the front door at his new school, he had encountered his new bullies. In the end, Chris had decided that if he was to get bullied, he might as well do it while receiving a better education, so he transferred back to Corleone High.
Julius is aware that his new smell is causing discomfort from his family back home, but he decides that keeping the job is in his best interest because of the salary it offers. The family tries to accommodate for his smell by wrapping up all of the furniture in plastic wrap and also by keeping the house lit with incents at all times. After all of these measures fail, the family gets fed up and locks Julius out of the house until he agrees to wash away the smell and go back to his old jobs. After a quick debate, Julius obliges and returns back to his old jobs.
Theme: The theme attempts to find the take away message from the text. What is the lesson being learned?
Each character, Chris and Julius, had their own life lessons to take away from these conflicts. I believe that the message to be learned from Chris is that life is full of struggles and can even be unfair, but you must learn to face these problems head on; running from your problems is not the answer, there will be conflict everywhere that you go.
I believe that the message to be learned from Julius’s conflict is that money is not always what is most important. There are other needs that need to be met in a household rather than just money. Julius was so satisfied with the income that he was receiving, that he suppressed the complaints and discomfort of his family members at home. He felt that the money was most important until he realized the true dissatisfaction that it brought to his home
Scene: The entirety of the episode only had three different locations present. It showed the problems that Chris faced in the halls of Corleone High School, and his new high school in his neighborhood whose name is unannounced. The last setting is the family residence, this is where Julius brought home his foul smell, and also where Chris begged his parents to leave Corleone.
Each story elements helps to set up of up the theme of the episode. Each of the factors included allowed for the audience to learn these take away messages that both Chris and Julius were forced to learn. Not only does the factors help to set up the theme of the show, but it also helps the audience to stay in tune with the overall plot of the show; which is, to show the troubles that Chris and his family had to face in Chris’s teenage years.
There are lots of different methods to choose from when analyzing different texts. Each of the different methods allows for the audience to focus on different aspects of the film, which results in us learning something new about the author’s use of rhetoric. I feel like each of the methods that I chose were great because each was able to teach us something new and different from the others. The methods that I feel worked the best were the rhetorical situation, the third persona, and socio-economic status section of critical rhetoric The rhetorical situation method was a great method because it gives us a solid background of the show. It allows for us to learn what the show is going to being about and also provided us with an insight of the author’s purpose of the show; possibly, the best thing about the method is that it makes us focus on what real world issues or situations relate to the film.
The third persona was a great method as well, its biggest contribution to the audience is that it can bring to our attention the group of people who may not understand or relate to the text, and why the author chose not to include them. Lastly, the critical rhetoric (SES) section worked very well with this show because it related directly with the theme. This method was able to go into more depth and provide direct examples of the chosen theme of the show. All of the methods worked well in their own way, but these were the select few that I feel were most beneficial to the audience when analyzing this specific text.
After applying all of these criticism methods to our text, Everybody Hates Chris. We can now analyze how effective Chris Rock was at spreading his message to his audience. I believe that the criticism methods allowed for us to see that Chris Rock did a great job of sticking to his theme and making his struggles as a teenager relatable to his intended audience. I also feel strongly that he did a great job of formatting his show so that he could make the problems of his race and class aware and noticeable by a larger audience than just the intended one. Also, the success of the show is evidence of his great work as well. I don’t think I that I could ever think of a better way to convey this theme to his audience than his use of humor. I really enjoyed how these methods were able to break down the series and show us how Chris Rock expressed his theme piece-by-piece. Overall, it was a great choice of theme and even better choices in methods of delivery.
Burgchardt, C. R., & Jones, H. A. (2017). Readings in rhetorical criticism (4th ed.). State College, PA: Strata Publishing, Inc.
Jones, H. Critical Rhetoric [Power Point Slides]
Turnage, A. K. (2009). Scene, Act, and the Tragic Frame in the Duke Rape Case. Southern Communication Journal, 74(2), 141-156. Retrieved February 8, 2017, from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10417940802335946
Wander, P. (1983). The Ideological Turn in Modern Criticism. Central States Speech Journal, 34, 1-18.