CMST 241--Rhetoric of Mass
Take shortcuts to the following:
Overview: This course
centers on the relationships between and among mass media,
culture, and consciousness. As major forces through which various
types of information--from politics to economics, from style to
sports--are distributed within contemporary culture, mass media
obviously play a highly influential ideological role. This course
is one attempt to understand that role and to provide critical
skills and ways of reading mass mediated discourses
that will encourage each of us to reflect upon, and problematize, the
"unnoticed" influence of mass media on the contours of
We will not criticize television or other forms of media
in terms of dramatic or aesthetic value (i.e., we are not
training to become the Roger Ebert of the future), nor will we
extensively review the history of any given medium or of its
output. Instead, we will focus on the ways popular mass mediated
output (e.g., television shows, films, music) work to reinforce
our cultural sense of reality and the ways consumers utilize this
output in their everyday lives. Hence, our study will allow us to
investigate the construction of gender, class, ethnicity, and
other social roles as well as the ways particular readings are
valued over others. We will approach our critical task from a
number of interlocking perspectives: mythical, narratival,
ideological, cultural, semiotic, critical, rhetorical, feminist,
etc. As a result of this course, you should not only be able to
criticize mediated discourses from such perspectives, but you
should also be able to translate these arguments into the
"public" arena, writing criticism that could
potentially affect public policy and media output (e.g.,
television programming). Further, your own consumption should
become more productive in a number of ways.
Dies, Gail and Jean M. Humez, eds. (2003). Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Text-Reader, 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Gitlin, Todd. (2002). Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelm Our Lives. New York: Owl Books.
Vande Berg, Leah R., Lawrence Wenner, and Bruce E. Gronbeck, eds. (2004). Critical Approaches to Television, 2nd ed. New York: Houghton
There are also a small number of readings available through electronic
reserve links found in this document.
- Participation (15%): This
consists of your in-class participation and/or your
participation on our class' newsgroup. I
take this element of your evaluation very seriously
(i.e., this is not "a given"). It will be
difficult to earn the full 15% of this portion of your
evaluation, and it has been the case in the past that
some students have earned none of it. Your in-class
participation consists of not only your attendance and
your willingness to take part in class discussions but
also your generosity in carefully listening to what
others have to say. "Talking a lot" is not
important in and of itself; speaking thoughtfully and
being generous are important. Finally, because I realize
that some of you are better at communicating in
"writing" spaces rather than in class, the newsgroup is
meant to provide an alternate (and, for some of you, an
additional) means of participation. You will not be
required to post on the newsgroup in general (although
you will on two or three occasions during the course of
the semester); but you are required to check it on a
daily basis both because it serves as a location of class
discussion and because I will post updates and
assignments on it (read: you are responsible for anything
I post on the newsgroup, whether or not I announce it in
class). I will do my best to make all announcements in
class and on the newsgroup. On a rotating basis, you will
be asked to help lead class discussions. This will be
indicated by your posting on the day's reading for class
on our newsgroup at least one day prior to our class
discussion. Finally, I will provide discussion
evaluations with your "paper two" or midterm exam
Paper (10%): This paper will begin our
investigation of the method and object of the class. In
it, you will answer the question "What purpose
should media criticism serve?"
- Viewing Group (15%): At the
beginning of the course, you will be divided into groups
according to the various interests each of you express (a
particular television show, genre, music, film, etc.).
Groups will meet outside of class to "read"
their chosen cultural text, or series of texts. You
should plan on being together at least half an hour after
each viewing to hold a critical discussion of what you
have seen, read or experienced, basing your discussion on
whatever topics we are then covering in class (I will
provide contours for your discussion each week). Each
group will maintain a journal in which the group's
discussion is recorded. This will not be a
"social" outing although it should be
enjoyable. Instead, it should be seen as a critical
thinking cooperative, an attempt to put critical concepts
into action, to develop a community for critique. At the
end of the semester, each group will turn in their
journal. The journal will include each week's discussion
plus a list of each member who attended each discussion.
I will be more than happy to meet with groups during the
semester. Finally, each group will make a short
presentation at the end of the semester. If your
group is having any internal problems (e.g.,
members who do not attend, an interpersonal conflict),
let me know immediately so that I can intervene when it
might have some affect.
Journal/Book Chapter Analysis (5%): By Nov. 20, you are
required to turn in a 3 page analysis of either a journal article focusing
on media criticism or of one of the chapters of our texts that we are not
reading for class.
Two or Midterm Exam
(25%): At the midpoint in the semester, you will choose
to either take a midterm exam or write a critical
analysis. I will provide the paper assignment (i.e., you
can look at it NOW) and describe the exam early on so
that you will be able to decide which option to prepare
for. In short, the paper will be from 5-8 pages long, and
the exam will consist of in-class essay questions.
Paper/Presentation (30%): At the end of the
semester, you will turn in a final paper and will present
(as time allows) an analysis in class. Your evaluation
will come from the paper itself. Presentation will be on
a voluntary basis but it will serve the purpose of giving
you a space to improve the paper through community input.
If you wrote a paper for the midterm, you have the option
of doing a joint project/paper with a classmate for the
final project. If you do choose to work in a pair, the
length of the analysis and expectations will in general
double. (10-16 pages rather than 5-8 and a more in depth
You are required to attend all class days when your
classmates are presenting. Because we will be meeting on
the regularly scheduled exam date for paper
presentations, do not purchase airline tickets or make
plans to leave town before the exam meeting date. Further,
do not purchase airline tickets that require that you
leave the exam period early, even by five minutes. As now
scheduled, the exam periods are: 1)Dec. 15--12-2 PM; 2) Dec. 19--9-11 AM.
- Attendance: You may miss two classes
throughout the semester without any penalty. Any classes that you miss
beyond two will lead to 2 points off of your final grade average (on a 100
point scale) unless you are on official university business or have a
verifiable emergency. If you will be leaving on official university
business, you must provide me with evidence of this absence at least two days
before our next class meeting. DO NOT provide me with a list of all of
your absences early in the semester. Instead, check with me each time
before the class meeting you will miss.
- Tardiness: If you are more than 10
minutes late to class (according to my time piece), I will assume that you are
ABSENT on that day. This absence will count toward the attendance policy
discussed above. If you leave class more than 10 minutes early, I will
mark you as absent on that day.
- Cell Phones: If cell phones are brought
to class, they must either be turned off or turned on silent (please do not
turn phones on "vibrate"). Class should NEVER be interrupted by sounds
made by your personal communication technologies. If you forget and your
phone rings, you may not answer it during class.
- Paper Due Dates: Unless you have a
verifiable emergency or have made arrangements with me beforehand, papers will
lose 10 points for each day they are turned in late. This includes
Saturday and Sunday.
- Electronic submissions: I will NOT
accept papers unless they are turned in manually in hard copy. That is,
I will not accept electronic versions of your papers unless we have made
prior arrangements for me to do so.
- Unit One (approximately two
weeks) Introduction: In the first two weeks, we will
overview the structure of the course and discuss the
general area of media studies.
- Unit Two (1 week)
Television: Cultural Suicide?: The most pessimistic phase
of the course, drawing largely upon the theories of Neil
Postman, we will discuss the possibility that television,
our dominant mode of communication, is leading to the
depletion of traditional cultural values and the
dissolution of literacy.
- Unit Three (1 week) Culture,
Text Ownership, Methodological Issues: Here, we will draw
upon the interdisciplinary field of study known as
cultural studies in order to begin asking questions about
the meaning of texts, their operation in culture and the
uses of popular texts by audiences. By drawing upon
numerous methods and orientations, we will begin to think
about what mass mediated communication "does"
as it works on the level of popular culture. We will
isolate and focus on elements of the entire circuit of
meaning--production, consumption, identification,
- Unit Four (9 weeks)
Production, Pleasure, Class, Race, Gender and Sexuality:
Case Studies and Methodologies: In this unit, the largest
section of the class, we will continue reading critical
essays about mass mediated messages but will try to work
at investigating particular issues. However, we will be
very active in making in-class case studies of popular
- Unit Five (2 weeks)
Presentations: Simply put, you will work here to provide
a formal presentation of the ideas in your final paper.
In this presentation, you will lead the class through a
discussion of whatever text or series of texts you have
been studying, much as we have done in class throughout
Course Schedule (tentative):
Aug 28--Introduction to Course
Sep 02--Meet in Computer Lab (119D Garland)/Assign
Sep 04--Overview of Criticism. Assign Groups. VandeBerg, Ch. 1-4.
Sep 09--Overview of Criticism, media determinism. Intro
Paper Due. VandeBerg, Ch 1-4.
Sep 11--Our Contemporary Mediated Culture. Gitlin, Chapters 1 and 2. Assign
Sep 16--Debates on Gitlin and contemporary culture. Gitlin, Chapters 3 and
Sep 18--Whose text is it anyway? Condit, Cloud (electronic
reserve). Lull (61-66) and Hall (89-93) in Dines.
Sep 23--Production/Ethics: Guest Lecturer.
Sep 25--Marx, Althusser, and the Frankfurt School. VandeBerg 291-328 (Orbe) and
Tucker and Shaw (electronic
Sep 30--Ideology and naturalization, VandeBerg (86-109 and 412-419).
Oct 02--Audiences. VandeBerg 357-369. Dines 507-521 and 302-313.
Oct 07--Genre. VandeBerg 110-138.
Oct 09--Myth, Narrative. VandeBerg, 196-228, 445-449, 483-500. Draft
of paper two.
Oct 14--Class issues. Dines, 48-60, 116-128/Workshop.
Oct 16--Midterm/Paper two due.
Oct 21--FALL BREAK.
Oct 23--Race, Dines (111-115, 283-292, 665-676). Final
Oct 28--Gender/feminism--VandeBerg, 154-174, 450-453, 464-471.
Oct 30--Gender/feminism. Dines, 223-229, 314-338.
Nov 04--Gender/masculinity. Dines, 349-358, 451-468.
Nov 06--Sexuality. Dines, 94-97, 204-211.
Nov 11--Sexuality. Dines, 597-612.
Nov 13--Violence. Dines, 339-348, 385-396.
Nov 18--Pornography. Dines, 406-416, 424-450
Nov 20--Hip hop. Dines, 136-148, 396-405. Last date for Journal/Book Chapter Analysis.
Nov 25--THANKSGIVING BREAK.
Nov 27--THANKSGIVING BREAK.
Dec 02--Viewing Group presentation. Distribute
rough drafts of final paper.
Dec 04--Viewing Group presentation.
Dec 09--Final Presentations. Final
Dec 11--Final Presentations.
WE WILL ALSO MEET DURING THE EXAM PERIOD TO
COMPLETE PRESENTATIONS. You are required to attend one of the two
If you have questions or need to talk to me, call me at
322-2988, come by my office (213 Calhoun), or email me.
If you would like to see my other courses, you will find links
on my homepage.