Rhetorical Analysis of The Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime”

1829 Words 8 Pages
Rhetorical Analysis of The Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime”

Kenneth Burke’s Five Master Terms exist to bring to light the motivation behind, theoretically, any bit of text to which we care to apply them. The beauty of this Pentad is its fundamentality in regards to the motivations humans have in creating words and meaning using the tools of language available. This doesn’t just apply to long-winded theses regarding the nature of dramatistic meaning, though perhaps something like that would be more up Burke’s alley. No, in this case I plan to utilize his methods for a more seemingly mundane example, the motivations behind something as simple as song lyrics.

I say song lyrics are simple, but in this case I am going
…show more content…
Burke says that one of his five terms will often rise to the surface and become a dominant force over the others in any interpretation of a text. While this could be true with “Once in a Lifetime,” I want to begin by addressing a term that is conspicuous in its apparent absence. Of all the terms, Act has the most ambiguous role in this composition, and I believe because of this that it is the most important. The song describes a theoretical situation in which a person, only ever described as the second-person “You,” is suddenly and inexplicably found in a completely ordinary situation that is nonetheless alien to him (or her). The “You” in question – quite arguably the Agent, but more on this later – is always “finding” himself in a situation, “asking” himself what is happening, and eventually “telling” himself that the situation is somehow wrong. Each verse expands upon this theme of finding, asking, and telling to determine a situation, but these are the only Acts committed by the Agent. “And you may ask yourself/How do I work this?” Byrne sings, but his fictional persona never finds out how to work it. “Where does that highway go to?” he asks, yet he never travels down the highway to find out. The identity in question can be seen as constantly standing in questioning thought before the situation without ever aggressively Acting. Burke discusses the scholastic view of Act, which is a ratio he expresses as thus: “essence is to existence

More about Rhetorical Analysis of The Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime”

Open Document