Media and Cultural Studies, Spring 2012

COMM 6160/8690, Spring 2012
Thursdays 4:30-7:00 PM, Sparks 321

Ted Friedman
Office: 738 One Park Place South

Course Description
What are the political dimensions of popular culture? How does culture reflect, influence, and embody structures of power? Where does hegemony end and resistance begin? This class will engage the interdisciplinary field of Cultural Studies, which attempts to understand the relationship between culture and politics. We’ll be reading both founding theoretical texts and cutting-edge scholarship. We’ll address a range of media, from film and television to music, computer games and romance novels. We’ll look at multiple, intersecting structures of power, including class, nation, gender, and race.

Class readings will include books and a coursepack of articles. Here are the books you’ll need:

Graeme Turner, British Cultural Studies: An Introduction
Janice Radway, Reading the Romance
One romance novel of your choice
Susan Douglas, The Rise of Enlightened Sexism
Jodi Dean, Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies
Stephen Duncombe, Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy
Jane McGonigal, Reality Is Broken
Bruno Latour, On the Modern Cult of the Factish Gods
Janice Hocker Rushing and Thomas Frentz, Projecting the Shadow
Jeffrey Kripal, Mutants and Mystics

Most course books should be available at the GSU bookstores. They can also be ordered through online retailers such as,, and The coursepack is sold by Bestway Copy Center, 18 Decatur Street SE (on the first floor of One Park Place South).

Podcasts, Screenings and Activities
In addition to readings, some weeks’ assignments will include listening to podcasts, screening films and TV shows, and visiting locations around Atlanta.

Twitter Feed
Relevant news and commentary will be shared with the class via the Twitter hashtag #cultstud. Feel free to respond to tweets or post your own.

1/12    The Politics of Culture
In-class screening: Barbie Nation

1/19    Culture and Power
Graeme Tuner, British Cultural Studies: An Introduction: Introduction, Chapter 1
Karl Marx, excerpts from The German Ideology;
Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment
as Mass Deception”
Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History”
Watch or listen to Reading Marx’s Capital with David Harvey, Class 1: “Introduction”
Watch or listen to Paul Fry’s Literary Theory, Class 17: “The Frankfurt School of
Critical Theory”

1/26    Hegemony and Resistance
Turner, Chapters 2-7, Conclusion
Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses”
Antonio Gramsci, “Hegemony, Intellectuals and the State” (CP)
Stuart Hall, “Encoding/Decoding” (CP)

2/2    Cynicism and Utopia
Slavoj Zizek, excerpt from The Sublime Object of Ideology (CP)
Fredric Jameson, “Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture,” (CP)
Thomas Frank, “New Consensus for Old” (CP)
Richard Dyer, “Entertainment and Utopia” (CP)
Ted Friedman, “Introduction,” Electric Dreams
Michael Berube, “What’s the Matter with Cultural Studies,”
Watch or listen to Paul Fry’s Literary Theory, Class 18: “The Political Unconscious”

2/9    Audience and Gender
Janice Radway, Reading the Romance
Go to a bookstore, buy a romance novel, and read it.

2/16    Postfeminisms
Susan Douglas, The Rise of Enlighted Sexism

2/23    Communicative Capitalism
Jodi Dean, Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies

3/1    No class – spring break

3/8    Fantasy
Stephen Duncombe, Dream: Re-imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy

3/15    Play
Jane McGonigal, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They
Can Change the World

3/22    Science
Bruno Latour, On the Modern Cult of the Factish Gods

3/29    Myth
Janice Hocker Rushing & Thomas S. Frentz, Projecting the Shadow: The Cyborg Hero
in American Film
Watch Blade Runner

4/5    Mysticism
Jeffrey Kripal, Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics,
and the Paranormal

4/12    Research Presentations
No reading

4/19    Research Presentations/Party
No reading


The class assignments add up to total of 100 possible points. Your final grade for the class is determined by adding up your grades for each assignment, adjusting for attendance, then applying the final number to the following scale:

A+    100-98        B+    89-88        C+    79-78        D    69-65
A     97-93        B    87-83        C    77-70        F    64-0
A-    92-90        B-    82-80

I. Theorist Discussion – Comm 6160: 15% of final grade; Comm 8690: 10% of final grade
You will lead, with a group, a 30-45 minute discussion of one of the theorists covered in the opening weeks of class. One group member should present a brief (5 minute) biographical introduction, incorporating video clips of the author if available. Each other member should introduce a contemporary media example and suggest how the author’s ideas could be applied to the text. Note: it is not necessary to summarize the reading beyond a brief 1-2 sentence statement of its key arguments. Further exegesis will be developed in lecture and class discussion. The choice of theorists includes: Adorno, Benjamin, Althusser, Gramsci, Hall, Zizek, Jameson and Frank.

II. Book Discussion – 6160: 25% of final grade; 8690: 20% of final grade
You will lead, with a group, discussion of one assigned book. To prepare for the discussion of the reading, research these questions to put the reading in a broader context:

What is the author’s background? What discipline is the author trained in? What else has s/he written? In which journals has s/he published?

What was the reception of the book? How was the book reviewed? What criticisms have been made of the author’s work? How has the author responded? Whom has the author influenced?

Then, meet with your group to prepare for a class discussion. Don’t bother summarizing the work. Rather, concentrate on how the work relates to the key questions we’ll be asking all semester. In addition to the research topics, other subjects for discussion should include:

Methodology: What research methods does the author use? (Possibilities include textual analysis, ethnography, historical research, quantitative social science, etc.) How does the author approach and justify this methodology? What are the advantages and limitations of this methodology?

Theoretical debates: In what theoretical debates does the work intervene? Where does the author stand? Whom does the author criticize? How does this work move the debate forward?

Example of Analysis: Pick one media example that’s either directly addressed by the author, or that can be illuminated by applying the author’s ideas. Show a representative sample from the text (any clip should be no more than 5 minutes). Discuss how the author would (or does) interpret the example. What are the strengths and limitations of this interpretation? What alternate interpretations are possible?

(You don’t need to organize your discussion in the order listed above. It may help to present the example up front, to ground your discussion of methodology and theory. It’s often also a good icebreaker to begin discussion by going around the room, asking everybody to answer a specific question related to their response to the book.)

III. Outside reading presentation – 8690 only: 10% of grade
Doctoral students will read one additional book and give a short (10-15 minute) presentation on the work to the class, summarizing the book’s key arguments, the critical response to the book, and how its ideas relate to the themes of the course. A list of suggested readings will be distributed separately.

IV. Final Project – 50% of final grade
Option 1: Write a paper on a subject relating to the politics of popular culture. 6160: 12-15 pages. 8690: 18-25 pages. Doctoral work will be expected to meet a higher standard of theoretical sophistication.

Option 2: Produce a creative work which engages some of the ideas of the class. The project can be a short film, a screenplay, or a new media work. Along with the project, include a short paper relating your work to ideas from the class. 6160: 3-5 pages; 8690: 8-10 pages. Doctoral work will be expected to meet a higher standard of theoretical sophistication.

For either option, the deadlines are the same:
A one-page prospectus is due February 23. I will schedule individual meetings with you to discuss the prospectus.
You will give a short (10 minute) presentation of your research project on either April 12 or April 19.
The final project is due April 26.

V. Attendance Adjustment
As Woody Allen put it, “80 percent of success is showing up.” It’s less than that in this formula, but the bottom line is that you can’t contribute to the class if you’re not there. You’re allowed one unexcused absence for the semester. After that, each unexcused absence subtracts one point from your grade total. Excused absences include medical and family emergencies. You will be expected to schedule any employment responsibilities around this class, or accept the consequences of missed classes for your grade. If you do need to miss a class, please contact me ahead of time, and make arrangements to catch up on missed material.


Office Hours
Office hours are by appointment. I’m usually available to meet before and after every class.

Incompletes may be given only in special hardship cases. Incompletes will not be used merely for extending the time for completion of course requirements.

Your constructive assessment of this course plays an indispensable role in shaping education at Georgia State. Upon completing the course, please take time to fill out the online course evaluation.

Students who wish to request accommodation for a disability may do so by registering with the Office of Disability Services. Students may only be accommodated upon issuance by the Office of Disability Services of a signed Accommodation Plan and are responsible for providing a copy of that plan to instructors of all classes in which accommodations are sought.

Changes to the Syllabus
This syllabus provides a general plan for the course. Deviations may be necessary.

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