Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


The Logic of Ironic Appropriation: Constitutive Rhetoric in the Stewart/Colbert Universe

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Media and Communication

First Advisor

Michael Butterworth

Second Advisor

Joshua Atkinson (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Clayton Rosati (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Gary Heba (Committee Member)


Scholars have long considered myth to be the driving force of rhetorical constitution. While myth has and remains a key logic that aids rhetoric in the formation of audiences, Roland Barthes argues that myth is a tool best served to produce right-leaning political discourse. As such, the shared logic of myth has encouraged the constitution of audiences that are positioned to act in ways that lead to predetermined judgments of politics and society that reinforce current power structures. Yet, Barthes argues that, despite myth's dominance in discourse, another logic must exist that is better suited for left-leaning political purposes.

Looking at the related paratexts from Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and the entire Stewart/Colbert universe, I argue this universe utilizes such an alternative logic to produce left-leaning constitutive rhetoric. This logic of ironic appropriation serves to hail an audience into being, position that audience toward action, and uses that action to make judgments about the world in which the audience lives. Using the three principles of ironic appropriation—irony, intertextuality, and interactivity—the Stewart/Colbert universe produces texts that encourage individuals to come together into an audience that questions the normalization of incommensurability in discourse and, instead, seeks to find ways to build bridges and increase political activity. Far from producing a cynical audience, the Stewart/Colbert universe uses ironic appropriation to help the audience see democracy as an interactive experience that truly serve the needs of the people when the people are willing to work together.