2010-2011: Fall Quarter

English 165MC: Topics in Literature: Media Culture (Instructor: William Warner)
The American 20th century was marked by the development of successive waves of new media for communication and entertainment. At the same time, cultural critics developed theories to explain, shape, and speculate about the nature of media. In this course we will focus on four media: film, radio, television and the networked computer. Each has become a central part of media culture and each has demonstrated rich new possibilities for narrative.

Because this is a potentially vast topic, we will approach these media through the prism of three topics and issues:

I: When Each Medium Was New: We will pay close attention to the forces at work in the years when each of the four media emerged as a media institution with broad influence within culture. Who are the evangelists for each new medium? (e.g. David Sarnoff, Bill Gates) What do they promise? Who were the critics? What possibilities for each medium are foreclosed by the institutionalization of media? Do the demonic duo of corporate interests and government policy bind and stifle our media? If so, are there ways to free the media?

II: Critical Media Theory: We will study the most important critical theories developed to comprehend new media. This will mean close reading of selections from essays written by Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Jurgen Habermas, Roland Barthes, Marshall McLuhan, Stuart Hall, Noam Chompsky, and others. Through this reading we will get a deeper understanding of the routine debates about media influence that fill our newspapers. (e.g. sex, violence, media concentration)

III: Narrative and Aesthetic Implications of Media: In the 21st century, the thoughtful student of literature should be a well-informed student of media. New media have transformed the visual and aural culture of the 20th century and expanded our ways of telling stories and conceptualizing aesthetic value. In this course we will study influential examples of each media form, paying particular attention to examples of radio, film, television and the Internet that reflect upon their own status as a media form. Here are some of the media texts we may include for study: W.D. Griffith, The Birth of a Nation; Orson Welles, Citizen Cane and The War of the Worlds (the radio play); Edward R. Murrow reporting the bombing of London; Frank Capra, Meet John Doe; I Love Lucy, and The Simpsons (TV sitcom); Stanley Kubrick, A Clockwork Orange; Jennie Livingson, Paris is Burning.

Class size will be strictly limited to 37; and there is no “pass-no pass” option.

I have given a detailed account of class in hopes of attracting students who love media, who are intellectually ambitious, and who have the time to put into reading difficult theoretical texts and developing team projects on media in a web environment. You can get a more detailed glimpse of the sort of class this will be at the previous offering’s web-site (when it had a different number): http://dc-mrg.english.ucsb.edu/WarnerTeach/E165mc/index.htm

Requirements: one short (2-page) paper on a major theoretical essay in the course; a mid-term; and a quarter-long team research project, with each team member contributing an 8 page final paper. Each team will be composed of 2 or 3 members. Example of a team project: the television sit com; one paper topic, “Gender wars in I Love Lucy.” Or, “The comics, animation and The Simpsons as a parody of the television sitcom”; each project should have an historical, a theoretical, and an aesthetic dimension.

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