Media Criticism

course description & goals
In this course we will explore a variety of approaches to media criticism, including textual, institutional/industrial, and audience-oriented approaches. First, we’ll consider media as a  primarily textual phenomenon, concentrating on how to interpret popular media images. Second, we’ll examine how popular media images are crafted and circulated by media institutions, paying careful attention to the industrial logics and conditions that circumscribe media production. Finally, we’ll approach media from the vantage point of the audience; we’ll think about what audiences do with media and how media intersects with everyday life.

Throughout the semester, we’ll cultivate a broad and multi-faceted critical perspective on popular media.  Together we’ll develop a media criticism toolbox, as we wrestle with key concepts in media studies and think through the social and political consequences of media texts and institutions. This critical perspective will require us to challenge many of the assumptions we may hold about media, its place in society, as well as our own engagement with it.  Your goal this semester is to become a critical media scholar. Students will put the critical perspective we develop into practice by producing their own piece of media criticism.

succeeding in this course
This course will be at once fun and hard.  On the one hand, much of our work this semester will be pleasurable. We’ll be learning about popular media, developing tools for making sense of the images we encounter in our daily lives.  We’ll watch lots of clips and draw from our own experiences with popular media. On the other hand, this class will ask students to think in new ways about media, to grasp and apply difficult concepts, to draw connections across readings, and to articulate their own critical arguments and conclusions about popular media. Readings will be challenging. Assignments will be demanding, and my expectations will be high. Here are some hints for doing well in this course:

Come to class everyday with readings in-hand, completed, and carefully considered.
Ask questions. If you’re thinking them, chances are others are too.
Pick a research topic early in the semester, and come see me often as you develop your research plan and critical arguments.
Keep a reading journal. Make notes of important concepts, ideas, and passages that you find useful and illuminating.
Take full advantage of our writing workshop days. We’ll devote ample class time to student paper writing. Come prepared with your ideas and reading journal.
Put your new knowledge to work in your everyday life. Develop your critical perspective by applying our readings as you watch media. Bring your observations and insights to class to share.

All assigned course readings must be completed by the Monday of the week they are assigned (or by the first class meeting of the week).
All written work must be submitted in hard copy, double-spaced with 1 inch margins in Times font, and carefully proofread for spelling and grammatical errors.
Late assignments will be penalized the equivalent of one letter grade for each class period they are late. I will not grant extensions except in the case of a real and documented emergency. Extensions must be cleared before the due date for the assignment. class reading schedule (subject to change)

Week 1 8/27: Course & Class Introductions

media texts & images

Week 2 8/30-9/3: Signs
Judith Williamson, Decoding Advertisements “Introduction” and “A Currency of Signs”
Week 3 9/6-9/10: Subjects
Judith Williamson, Decoding Advertisements “Signs Address Somebody”
Week 4 9/13-9/17: Ideology
John Fiske, “The Codes of Television”
Mimi White, “Ideological Analysis and Television”
Week 5 9/20-9/24: Genre & Form
Steve Neale, “Questions of Genre”
Thomas Doherty, “The Rom-Com Genre and the Shopping Gene”
Deborah Moddelmog, “Can Romantic Comedy be Gay? Hollywood Romance, Citizenship, and the Same-Sex Marriage Panic”
Week 6 9/27-10/1: Advertising Analyses
Week 7 10/4-10/8: Advertising Analyses

–fall break–

media industries & institutions

Week 8 10/13-10/15: The Culture Industry
Eileen Meehan, Why TV is Not Our Fault (excerpt)
Toby Miller, Global Hollywood 2 (excerpt)
Week 9 10/18-10/22: Mobilizing the Audience

Joseph Turow, “Signaling Divisions”
Sarah Banet-Weiser, “The Nickelodeon Brand: Buying and Selling the Audience”
Joseph Tompkins, “What’s the Deal with Soundtrack Albums?: Metal Music and the Customized Aesthetics of Contemporary Horror”

Week 10 10/25-10/29 Writing Workshops. Paper Proposals due 10/29.

Week 1111/1-11/5: Cultures of Media Production I

Justin Wyatt, “A Critical Re-definition: The Concept of High Concept” and
Henry Jenkins, “Searching for the Origami Unicorn”
Week 12 11/8-11/12: Cultures of Media Production II
Laura Grindstaff, “Trash, Class, and Cultural Hierarchy”
John Caldwell, “Convergence Television”

media audiences & everyday life

Week 13 11/15-11/19: Audiences & Fans/Meaning & Affect
Stuart Hall, “Encoding/Decoding”
Lawrence Grossberg, “Is There A Fan in the House? The Affective Sensibility of Fandom”
Week 14 11/22 Paper Drafts due 11/22. Peer Reviews.

–thanksgiving break–

Week 15 11/29-12/3: Consumption, Identity & Making Do
Valerie Walkerdine, “Little Girls as Heroines and Stars” and “Girls Watching Films at Home”
Elizabeth Chin, “The Shadow of Whiteness” and “Anthropologist Takes Inner-City Children on Shopping Sprees”
Week 16 12/6-12/8: Research Presentations

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