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PWR 2CWC: The Rise of the Guru: Rhetorics of Genius and the Gurification of the Internet

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Banner stating "You are the universe" and other positive statements

Catalog Number: PWR 2CWC

Instructor: Cassie Wright

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP)

Prerequisite: PWR1, ESF, ITALIC 95W, or equivalent

Course Feature: WR-2 requirement

Perhaps no other figure personifies rhetoric better than a guru. The Sanskrit origin of the word guru means “weighty or grave,” and connotations of one being wise and enlightened. In the past, a guru’s currency stemmed in part from their rarity: gurus were few in number,  old in age, and hard to access. Nowadays, though, gurus abound. One might even argue that we are living in the “Golden Age” of the guru, thanks in part to the internet which has democratized the guru with platforms like Youtube, where we can “like,” “subscribe,” and “follow” people who offer promises of enlightenment. From Yoga with Adrienne to PewDiePie, people are increasingly turning to the internet to get their daily dose of nirvana from young gurus who mesh influencer culture with the gurunet in compelling ways. Why is this happening? How did this happen? And what makes these gurus similar or different from the gurus of the past?

In a moment where content is king, in this class we explore rhetorical techniques of persuasion for writing and communication, learning to develop and reflect on our own communication styles as we research those of some of the internet’s most influential gurus. We take a critical look at what some are calling the Golden Age of the Guru, exploring from whence and why this era came, who are some of its biggest players, and what are some of the social consequences, good and bad, of the gurification of the internet? At its core, this class unpacks the ultimate rhetorical question - what makes someone persuasive? What’s so compelling about a given guru: Is it their body  language, theri voice, their ideas, their content, their commodities? Or is there something else entirely going on?

Examples of Research Topics

Some topics that students might explore include (but are not limited to) the role of Hannah Nicole Jones and the 1619 project; the social influence on youth of Youtubers like Mr.Beast; the misinformation or good marketing techniques of fitness and health gurus; or the rising role of the Intellectual Dark Web and its “new” public intellectuals.

PWR 2 Assignment Sequence                                                                           

Research Proposal

(5-minute live oral presentation; written text of 900-1200 words; reflective memo of 250 words): Students propose a guru to research this quarter and develop lines of inquiry that explore the appeal of said guru and their point of influence, be it around religion, spirituality, health, social justice, body positivity, etc. to a given constituency.

Written Research-Based Argument

(3000-3600 words; 10-12 pages; reflective memo of 250 words): Students write an essay that answers their questions about their guru and their points of influence, using secondary research and possibly primary research, including interviews, surveys, etc.

Research Presentation

(10-minute live oral presentation with appropriate multimedia support; reflective memo of 250 words): Students give a live presentation in which they narrate the backstory story of their guru and explain their rhetorical brand and its techniques.

Genre/Modes assignment

(2-3 minute "minicast"): Inspired by one of our source texts, the new BBC podcast series The New Gurus, students create a mini podcast that synthesizes their research on their guru. The goal is to help public audiences understand what makes their guru so captivating.