CMST 241--Rhetoric of Mass Media

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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 everyday life.

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.

Required Texts:

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.

Assignments and Grading:

  1. 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 evaluations. 
  2. Introductory 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?"
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Paper 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.
  6. Final 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 analysis). NOTE: 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.

Other Policies:

Course Structure:

Course Schedule (tentative):

Aug 28--Introduction to Course
Sep 02--Meet in Computer Lab (119D Garland)/Assign Introductory Paper.
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 Paper Two.
Sep 16--Debates on Gitlin and contemporary culture.  Gitlin, Chapters 3 and 4.
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 reserve).
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 23--Race, Dines (111-115, 283-292, 665-676).  Final paper assigned.
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.
Dec 02--Viewing Group presentation. Distribute rough drafts of final paper.
Dec 04--Viewing Group presentation.
Dec 09--Final Presentations. Final Paper Due.
Dec 11--Final Presentations.

WE WILL ALSO MEET DURING THE EXAM PERIOD TO COMPLETE PRESENTATIONS. You are required to attend one of the two exam periods.

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.