Document Type

Thesis - University Access Only

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department / School



Upon its release, Oliver Stone's controversial film JFK elicited cries from citizens who insisted that our government make public confidential Warren Commission files pertaining to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. That the government ultimately made public some (but not all) of the files following the film's popular success reflects the power films (and filmmakers) possess. With his film, Stone challenges the government by providing an alternative theory to that reached by the Warren Commission. Although many individuals and groups have challenged the Warren Commission Report since its release, the mass public, for the most part, had not responded to the Report with a collective fervor until Stone presented his film. Stone's film raises several rhetorical problems. First, in our era of mass culture, people are more likely to consult quick and often unreliable means of conveying information, such as popular film and television, than to consult more reliable means, such as academic, published texts. Not only does Stone consult texts by popular historians (Jim Garrison and Jim Marrs) and historical records, but he also posits his interpretation of events concerning JFK's assassination. Historians, both popular and academic, do this as well, of course, but Stone intentionally blends fact with fabrication, creating myriad images whose historical accuracy remain difficult for viewers to determine. Second, because film constitutes a popular medium, many viewers, particularly young viewers, will turn to JFK for a quick history lesson and not actually read publications written by historians. Ultimately, a film like JFK can yield both negative results (many will interpret Stone's film as verifiable history) and positive results (the film might generate interest in a historical topic). In this thesis, I explore these rhetorical problems by consulting three bodies of research: 1) contemporary film criticism; 2) classical rhetoric; and 3) cultural criticism. By beginning with contemporary film criticism, I address the issues involved with creating a film that addresses a historical topic as well as how contemporary audiences might analyze and assess a film like JFK. Next, by consulting classical rhetoric, primarily the works of Plato and Aristotle, I address questions regarding the knowability of truth. Then, by consulting the work of cultural critics (Theodor Adorno, for example) who address issues such as the role technology plays in disseminating information to a mass culture, I assess the implications of recreating history on film--especially for a culture deeply immersed in (and perhaps easily persuaded or manipulated by) the technology of celluloid images. Their work, in a sense, updates classical rhetoric by considering the many roles technology plays in conveying information. Finally, in order to illustrate further both the strengths and weaknesses of JFK's persuasive power, I discuss how I use the film in my composition classroom as a lesson in argument.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Kennedy, John F (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963 -- Assassination JFK (Motion picture) Historical films -- History and criticism Rhetoric Motion pictures -- Influence



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University