Broadcasting and Society
A good subtitle for this course might be "Media Culture." It is a subtitle with (at least) three meanings: First, it implies a culture given shape by media content, a culture in which The Simpsons, Dreamworks, the Virgin Mega Store and a host of other spectacles actually produce the conditions of everyday life, dominate leisure time, provide identity and set the parameters for behavior. Second, media culture can be read less suspiciously as defining more-or-less inert products, simple date-stamped expressions: media as merely the result of the culture's energy and media as available for active appropriation and recycling by its users in their production of new media expressions and new identities. Third, media culture also signals technology: technology has become culture as never before; the adage "the medium is the message" has, by some accounts, never been more true. Technology is our society's fundamental organizing principle: we might not all work for Bill Gates, but we all work with him.
This course takes up these three interpretations of media culture as embodied in the work of their major practitioners: The Frankfurt School, whose "critical theory" levied withering attacks on a totalizing media world produced by an unassailable culture industry; The Birmingham School, headed by Stuart Hall, who argued for the resistance of consumers on the cultural margins and praised their ability to subvert and remake dominant media ideologies on their own terms; and Marshall McLuhan and his cadre of media formalists who argued that every era's communication technology trumps all other factors in determining the essential character of its culture.
Every student will be required to give two oral presentations during the course of the semester on assigned readings of their choice. These presentations will be between 20 and 30 minutes in length and will distill for the class the major arguments and contentions of the reading. Students may also wish to provide larger historical or biographical contextualization of their readings and must endeavor to make connections from their reading to other assigned readings and to media phenomena with which they are familiar. Each oral presentation will count for 15% of the final grade (30% total).
The major course assignment is a seminar paper from 13 to 19 pages in length. Seminar papers can be on any topic related to media culture of the student's choice. Students are encouraged to develop one of the issues raised in one of their oral presentations into a seminar paper, or to conduct research related to their thesis projects or MFA productions. The only requirement is that papers address or grapple with in some way one of the many media, cultural or broadcasting issues brought up in one of the readings or in class. Comparative analyses of different media theories are acceptable as is the application of a theory or a methodology discussed in class to contemporary or historical media material. Use either MLA or Chicago style (but be consistent). Seminar papers count for 40% of the final grade.
A progress report on the seminar paper will be due during the last third of the semester. This report (2-3 pages) will describe the project to be undertaken as the seminar paper. It should outline a significant argument or field of inquiry, describe intended resources and ask questions to be answered in the course of researching the final seminar paper. I will make detailed comments on this progress report and your grade on the final paper will be determined in large part on how well you addressed these comments. The progress report will be worth 10% of the final grade.
The final 20% of the final grade comes from attendance and class participation. Your participation is absolutely essential in making this course work.
A large packet of various readings available at Far Better.
George Trow, Within the Context of No Context
Guy DeBord, The Society of the Spectacle
Raymond Williams, Television
Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media
(all texts are available at the campus bookstore)