Communication Studies, Department of



Aaron M. Duncan, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Communication Studies, Under the Supervision of Professor Ronald Lee. Lincoln, Nebraska: May, 2011
Copyright 2011 Aaron Michael Duncan


This dissertation takes a rhetorical approach in exploring the rise of gambling in America, and in particular the growth of the game of poker, as a means to explore larger changes to America’s collective consciousness. I argue that the collective American conscious has undergone dramatic changes in recent years and an increased acceptance of gambling is reflective of these changes. I establish this claim through the exploration of three cases studies which each employ different media. I examine the depiction of gambling in the wild western frontier, its rise in popularity during the modern age, and its current place in post-modern America. The first case study focuses on John Ford’s classic film My Darling Clementine and gambling’s connection to the Frontier Myth. The second case examines the depiction of poker on television by focusing on ESPN’s coverage of the 2003 World Series of Poker and its use of the myth of the self-made man. The third case study explores the rhetoric of online poker and gambling. I discuss how this rhetoric works to combine elements of the Frontier Myth and the myth of the self-made man. Throughout this study I am employ elements of Fisher’s narrative paradigm, Flood’s view of political myths, and Burke’s analysis of myths to explore the changing discourse of gambling and poker in America. Finally, I discuss the implications resulting from the rise of gambling in American culture and its future in the risk society. I conclude that gambling works to both critique and reinterpret the myth of the American Dream putting greater emphasis on the importance of luck and risk management and deemphasizing the importance of the Protestant ethic as well as social and individual virtue.