Fame Speaks to Power: The Dissenting Voices of William Sloane Coffin and Mavis Leno

By Margaret Cavin Hambrick.

Published by The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Cultural Studies

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

My work weaves together religious and popular culture traditions to inspire a greater conversation about the human project of creating rhetorical spaces for social engagement. Understanding celebrity as a genre of self-presentation, particularly in the visual media, is commonplace today. Viewing celebrity as a cultural formation that serves a social function in our society is also common in critical practice. It is certainly no surprise then, given the importance of the visual persona in media contexts, that strategies used to create a sports or entertainment star are much the same as those employed to create a political ‘star.’ And further, these strategies could be used to create a social protest ‘star.’ I will argue that William Sloane Coffin and Mavis Leno successfully embody the celebrity persona, but go further by balancing this with a prophetic message – a hybrid construct that may prove integral to a successful campaign to persuade a visual media culture about social change issues. William Sloane Coffin’s influence on his times has been linked to the rise and fall of American religious and political liberalism. Coffin was the liberal equivalent to Billy Graham and from the 1970’s on, the successor to Martin Luther King, Jr. He is one of the most famous American dissenters of the 20th century. Mavis Leno is the chair of the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan and has been one of the most outspoken rhetors on its behalf. My analysis uses as foundation their speeches, media interviews, and personal interviews I have had with both of them.

Keywords: Rhetoric, Dissent, Prophetic Rhetoric, Celebrity Rhetoric, William Sloane Coffin, Mavis Leno

The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Cultural Studies, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp.1-11. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 147.221KB).

Margaret Cavin Hambrick

Professor & Chair of Department of Communication and Philosophy, School of Arts & Sciences, Florida Gulf Coast University, Fort Myers, Florida, USA

Margaret Hambrick is a professor and Chair of Department of Communication and Philosophy at Florida Gulf Coast University. She has published articles in Peace & Change and book essays in which she has examined the dissent rhetoric of various activists such as William Sloane Coffin, Jr., Mavis Leno, Sis Levin, Helen Caldicott, Glenn Smiley, Greg Dell, and Elise Boulding. In addition, she has published an essay titled, "Out of the Wilderness into the Spotlight: Celebrity and Radical Prophecy in the Obama Presidential Campaign," in Race 2008: Critical Reflections on an Historic Campaign, edited by Myra Mendible, published by Brown Walker Press.