Media Literacy: Theory, Power, Identity

Media Literacy: Theory, Power, Identity

Course Description and Goals
Our collective task this semester is to develop skills for critiquing media images and messages.  To examine media from a critical perspective is to question why things are the way they are and how they came and continue to be as such. In this class we will look at media texts and practices as historical, constructed, and political.  We will ask and try to answer tough and pressing questions including:

  • How have media texts and practices contributed to my sense of who I am and how I think about my social world?
  • How powerful is the media? What’s the relationship between media representations and existing social inequalities?
  • How have media images and messages changed over time, and how have these changes helped to shape our contemporary media culture?

Your job this semester: to articulate your own critical arguments about the political and social significance of particular media texts and practices. This work will require students to question much of what we might normally take for granted about the media, our culture, our democracy and, ultimately, ourselves.  Our collective probe into the meanings of media images and messages will be a pleasurable, challenging, and sometimes uncomfortable investigation into the politics of our everyday lives.

Required Work (100 points total/ fixed grading scale)

  • Attendance (10 points): This is a discussion-based, student question-driven course.  Therefore, I expect all of you to: 1) attend class regularly and 2) come prepared to engage our readings with thoughtful questions and comments.  Failing to attend and/or adequately prepare for class will ultimately hurt both your attendance and participation score. I will take attendance on 10 days throughout the semester.  Attendance days will NOT be announced ahead of time.  If you are present on an attendance day, you will receive 1 point towards your final score.  Participation (15 points): Your participation score will be determined by two factors: 1) your personal contributions to our collective work in the classroom (5 points); and 2) your individual performance during Concept Discussions (10 points/ 5 points each).
  • Reading Response Assignments (10 points):  Early on in the semester, you will turn in 5 Reading Response Assignments worth 2 points each.  These are designed to help you engage critically and effectively with difficult yet important course readings.  Reading Response Assignments will be assessed on effort and thoughtfulness and are due at the beginning of class. Your answers may be handwritten or typed.  I will not accept late Reading Response Assignments.
  • Advertising Analysis (oral, in class presentation) (10 points): All students will present a formal 4-minute critical analysis of an advertisement to the class.
  • Précis (10 points):  During the second half of the semester, each student will produce one 1-2-page (single-spaced, 1-inch margins) précis of a course reading.
  • Television Critique (25 points): Students will undertake one major writing project this semester: a 4-5-page (double-spaced, 1-inch margins) critical analysis of a television program.  You will turn in a rough draft on April 23rd worth 10 points towards your final score on this assignment. Drafts must be full length and will be evaluated primarily on effort. Final drafts are due on the last day of class, May 7th.
  • Final Exam (20 points): There will be a comprehensive, qualitative final take-home exam due at the end of our scheduled final exam period.

A Note About Grading:
I grade hard. I demand a lot from students in my class.  There’s no easy A to be had here. However, I am generous and give final grades of A- and A to those students who come to class every day, stay up on the readings, turn in assignments on time, show marked improvements in their critical abilities throughout the semester, demonstrate to me that they are genuinely wrestling with course materials, and contribute regularly in meaningful ways to our collective work in this class.

Rules of Engagement

Come to class and don’t be late.
Turn off your cell phones before class begins.
Help out your classmates.  Be generous with your insights and knowledge.
Be kind and respectful.
Ask questions. Bring your own problems and examples to class.
Come to class prepared with readings in hand. Be responsible, and work hard.
All written work must be handed in on time, carefully proofread for spelling and grammatical errors, and meet all the project guidelines. Papers 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 Schedule (subject to change)

Unit I.  The Media Literacy Toolbox: Critical Concepts

Week 1 Introduction: Being Critical
1/20    Course, class introductions
1/22    Hall, “The Work of Representation” pp. 15-41, Reading Response Assignment #1

Week 2 Discourse and Subjects
1/27    Hall, “The Work of Representation” pp. 41-64  Reading Response Assignment #2
1/29    Nealon and Giroux, “Subjectivity” and “Ideology” Reading Response Assignment #3

Week 3 Signs and Ideology in Advertising
2/3    Williamson, “Introduction” and “A Currency of Signs” Reading Response Assignment #4
2/5    Williamson, “Signs Address Somebody”

Week 4  Commodities and Culture
2/10    Paterson, “Logo or No Logo? The Poetics and Politics of Branding”
Reading Response Assignment #5
2/12    Adorno and Horkheimer, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception”
Meehan, “’Holy Commodity Fetish, Batman!’: The Political Economy of a Commercial Intertext”

Week 5 Advertising Analyses
2/17    Concept Discussion #1
2/19    Oral Presentations

Week 6 Advertising Analyses, Oral Presentations, cont.

Unit II. The Politics of Media Representations

Week 7 Representing/Regulating Bodies
3/3    Bordo, “The Body and the Reproduction of Femininity”
3/5    Miller,  “Metrosexuality: See the Bright Light of Commodification Shine!”

Week 8 Media, Patriarchy, and Female Agency

3/10    Douglas, “I am Woman, Hear Me Roar” and “Rise of the Bionic Bimbo”
3/12    McRobbie, “Top Girls?”


Week 10 Signifying Blackness
3/24    Stabile, “Criminalizing Black Culture”
3/26    Mukherjee, “The Ghetto Fabulous Aesthetic in Contemporary Black Culture”

Week 11 The Commodification of Difference

3/31    hooks, “Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance”
4/2    Banet-Weiser, “Consuming Race on Nickelodeon”

Unit III. Identity and Power in Contemporary Media Culture

Week 11Network Television and the New Economy
4/7    Becker, “Gay-Themed Television and the Slumpy Class: The Affordable, Multicultural Politics of the Gay Nineties”
4/9    Ouellette and Hay, “Makeover TV: Labors of Reinvention”

Week 12 Knowledge, Power, and Media Convergence
4/14     Jenkins, “Spoiling Survivor”
4/16    Andrejevic, “iMedia: The Case of Interactive TV”

Week 13
4/21    Concept Discussion #2
4/23    Television Critique Draft Due.  Peer Writing Workshop.

Week 14 Case Study, to be determined by the class

Week 15 Case Study, to be determined by the class
5/7     Last day of class. Television Critique Final Draft Due.

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