Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Nathan Atkinson

Second Advisor

Michael Lane Bruner

Third Advisor

Ted Friedman

Fourth Advisor

Claire Sisco King


This dissertation project provides a methodological contribution to the field of critical rhetoric by positioning narrative theory as a powerful yet underutilized tool for examining the power dynamic between producer and consumer in a participatory media context. Drawing on theories of author and audience from rhetorical narratology, this study shows how producers of media texts provide rhetorical cues to audiences that allow them to reassert their power in the form of creative authority vis-à-vis consumers. The genre of professional wrestling serves as an ideal text for examining such power dynamics, as WWE has adapted to changing fan participatory behaviors throughout its sixty-year history. Focusing on pivotal moments in which WWE altered its narrative address to its audience in order to reassert its control over the production process, this study demonstrates the utility of narrative theory for understanding how creative authority shows power at work in media texts. Further, this study situates rhetorical narratology in conversation with theories of rhetorical persona, scholarship on subcultures, and the discursive construction of the “people.” In so doing, I show how a nuanced understanding of author and audience augments critical rhetorical scholarship’s focus on power. Finally, by applying narrative theory as a method for both close textual analysis of single texts as well as a tool for piecing together a critical text from narrative fragments, I also address questions of the role of the text in rhetorical criticism and the role of authorship in an era when audiences exert influence on media texts as they are produced.