Righting America

A forum for scholarly conversation about Christianity, culture, and politics in the US
Self-Introductions: Sue’s Story | Righting America

by Susan Trollinger

I earned my PhD in Rhetoric and Communication at the University of Pittsburgh. There, I learned how to read texts not only rhetorically but politically. I learned that texts–whether speeches, films, advertisements, television shows–put readers/viewers into ways of being in the world that intersect with power and politics. Fascinated by the conservative turn in American politics in the last quarter of the 20th century, I wrote a dissertation on Third Wave feminism and the ways women were figured to resist and contest the new conservatism.

Later, I turned my attention to the visual rhetoric of tourism, especially tourist sites with a religious theme or connection. For those unfamiliar with visual rhetoric, it is a sub-field within rhetoric and communication, composition, English, and other fields, that explores how images, artifacts, spaces and other aspects of our world beyond text shape our beliefs, values, and ways of being.

In my previous book, Selling the Amish: The Tourism of Nostalgia (Johns Hopkins UP, 2012), I looked at the visual rhetoric of Amish Country tourism in the largest Amish settlement in the world, located in eastern Ohio. I was interested in the apparent contradiction between the ostensive pull to the plain and simple life of the Amish and what Amish Country tourism seems to offer–Victorian-themed inns; gift shops filled with lace, ornate tea pots, and gourmet coffee; and large-scale restaurants featuring hot and cold buffets.  

What I found was that the visual rhetoric of Amish Country tourism invites visitors to put themselves into the story of a place that promises compelling resolutions to modern anxieties about gender, time, technology, and ethnicity. I also found that while Amish Country tourism often reduces important challenges that Amish life poses to to a matter of consumer choice (e.g., buy an Amish-style cookbook and transform your life) it also helps visitors to entertain questions about what it might mean and what it might take to live differently.

As I was working on Selling the Amish, I became interested in Protestant fundamentalism as it was becoming more politically active and rhetorically successful. When Bill and I heard that the Creation Museum was under construction, we started talking about bringing together our areas of expertise and curiosity to examine this museum. We wanted to know what sort of Christian the Creation Museum creates and what that might mean for faith, culture, and politics.

One of the most satisfying aspects of writing this book was writing it with someone who really knows the history of Protestant fundamentalism and who has a keen rhetorical sensibility. Rhetoric is historical, and history is rhetorical. Bringing together our common and different strengths, we tried to put forward a reading of the museum that examines it seriously in all of its facets as a museum that puts forth powerful arguments about science, the Bible, politics, and judgment.