Category Archives: Myth

My position paper for the Flow conference: Zizek and Media Studies

For this panel I’d like to look at the relevance to media studies of three ideas associated with the work of Slavoj Zizek: cynical reason, apocalypse as utopia, and the theological turn. As I started putting this paper together, I realized that Zizek himself is actually not the originator of any of the three concepts, which were pioneered, respectively, by Peter Slotterdjick, Fredric Jameson, and Alain Badiou (among others). But Zizek is a useful figure around which to frame these ideas, for two reasons. First, because Zizek, as a public intellectual, has been particularly effective at elucidating these ideas through films such as A Pervert’s Guide to Cinema and its sequel, A Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, which drop Zizek right in the middle of the scenes he’s discussing. The second reason is that Zizek is an examplary dialectical thinker, a theoretical omnivore eager to assimilate a range of ideas into an always-expanding worldview.

At a time when Web 2.0 technologies seem to be democratizing culture more than ever before, Zizek’s ideas are valuable exactly because of his bracing skepticism over the limits of democracy. His having lived through one alternative, growing up behind the Iron Curtain in Communist Slovenia, makes this skepticism particularly credible.

Zizek is the great philosopher of complicity and disavowal, making his work an invaluable counterpoint to media studies’ tendency, still, to fetishize moments of resistance. The hugely influential model of Cultural Studies developed by Stuart Hall and John Fiske, among others, proposed a dialectic between hegemonic media producers and resistant media audiences. But the 21st Century empowerment of what Jay Rosen has called “the people formerly known as the audience” has failed to transform, or even much challenge, neoliberal ideology and capitalist relations of power. What Zizek helps us understand is that ideology isn’t just out there – it’s in us – shaping all of our sense of the possible.

In his first English-language book, The Sublime Object of Ideology, Zizek distinguished two models of ideology: the classic model of false consciousness – “the know not what they do” – and Slotterdjick’s alternative of “cynical reason” – “the know what they do, but they do it anyway.” Cynical reason captures how we all navigate an exploitative capitalist system. We all know how our iPhones are made – but we buy them anyway, because we see no practical alternative. Cynical reason also helps explain so-called “slacktivism” – we know clickng Like on a friend’s activist message doesn’t accomplish much, but we do it anyway.

Cynical reason is the result of our stunted political imaginations. Visiting Occupy Wall Street in 2011, Zizek borrowed (without attribution) an observation of Fredric Jameson’s: that these days, it seems easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. This insight helps explain the boom in zombie culture in the last few years: only by envisioning the slate wiped clean through apocalypse can we free our imaginations to consider a world fundamentally structured differently from ours.

This interest in envisioning utopia has led Zizek in recent years to participate in a third theoretical development: the so-called “theological turn.” Žižek, while remaining an atheist, has argued that theology is one of the few systems of thought available as an alternative to the totalizing power of capitalism’s drive for ever-increasing profit. Again, Zizek’s insight helps explain contemporary popular culture – not just the few explicitly religious hits like Heaven Is Real, but the fantasy boom represented by Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and now Game of Thrones. As I have argued elsewhere, the trope of magic in these texts rejects science fiction’s rigid materialism, instead envisioning a world that is ensouled. The shamans in these texts – Dumbledore, Gandalf, Bran Stark – gain their power by tapping into the spirit of nature, transcending the conventional limits of human perception.

It is here, in understanding the power of this pop mysticism, that I find the limits of Zizek’s postmodern Marxism. In the documentary Examined Lives, Zizek, filmed in a garbage dump, argues that crises of capitalism such as global warming force us to acknowledge that nature is a human invention, and that we should embrace that constructedness rather than fetishize a pristine fantasy of uncontaminated nature. But I would suggest that pop mysticism instead demands of us modesty in the face of a natural world far more powerful and complex than our conventional models can comprehend.

American Film History II, Summer 2014

Film 4960/Comm 6960, Summer 2014

Mondays & Wednesdays 1:50-4:20, Aderhold 324

Office: 25 Park Place South #1017

email: ted@tedfriedman.com

Twitter: http://twitter.com/tedfriedman 

website: http://www.tedfriedman.com 

 

Course Description

How do movies reflect and influence American life? How has Hollywood shaped Americans’ image of the world, and the world’s view of Americans? What are the alternatives to Hollywood’s stories? What is the future of film in a digital age?

In attempting to answer these questions, this class will trace the history of American movies from the 1960s to the present. Along the way, we’ll look at the semiotics, aesthetics, economics, and politics of Hollywood movies and their independent alternatives.

Readings & Films

The assigned readings include a coursepack and online articles. The coursepack is sold by Bestway Copy Center, 18 Decatur Street SE (on the first floor of One Park Place South). The assigned films are all widely available to rent or stream.

Class Schedule

 

6/9Introduction

In-class screening: opening of Saving Private Ryan (Spielberg, 1998).

 

6/11Hollywood Today & Warm Bodies (Levine, 2013)

Rachel Dodes, “Why It Took Seven Years to See Mandy Lane,” Wall Street Journal, August 22, 2013:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324747104579022770929528870.html

David Bordwell, “Intensified Continuity: Visual Style in Contemporary 

American Film,” Film Quarterly 55.3 (Spring 2002): 16-28.

Ashley Lutz, “These 6 Corporations Control 90% of the Media in America,” Business 

Insider, June 14, 2012 [infographic by Jason of http://frugaldad.com]:

http://www.businessinsider.com/these-6-corporations-control-90-of-the-media-in-america-2012-6 

Christopher Anderson, “The Long Tail,” Wired, December 2010:

http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/tail.html

Peter Suderman, “Save the Movie!”, Slate, July 19, 2013:

http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2013/07/hollywood_and_blake_snyder_s_screenwriting_book_save_the_cat.html 

Peter Suderman, “The Save the Cat Beat Sheet,” Slate, July 19, 2013:

http://www.slate.com/sidebars/2013/07/the_save_the_cat_beat_sheet.html 

Scott Brown, “Nuke the Cat!”, New York, August 4, 2013:

http://www.vulture.com/2013/08/script-doctor-damon-lindelof-on-blockbuster-screenwriting.html

 

6/16Body Genres & Night of the Living Dead (Romero, 1968)

Robin Wood, “George Romero: Apocalypse Now,” Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan 

and Beyond (Columbia UP, 2003), 101-119.

Thomas Schatz, “Film Genres and the Genre Film,” Hollywood Genres (McGraw-Hill, 

1981), 14-41.

Carol J. Clover, “Her Body, Himself,” Men, Women and Chainsaws (Princeton UP, 1992), 21-64.

Linda Williams, “Film Bodies: Gender, Genre and Excess,” Film Quarterly 44.4 (Summer 1991), 2-13.

In-class screening: The American Nightmare (Simon, 2000).

 

6/18The Hollywood Renaissance & McCabe & Mrs. Miller (Altman, 1971)

Richard Slotkin, “Introduction: The Significance of the Frontier Myth in American History,” 

Gunfighter Nation (Oklahoma UP, 1998), 1-26.

Pauline Kael, “McCabe & Mrs. Miller: Pipe Dream,” New Yorker, July 3, 1971.

Yannis Tzioumakis, “The New Hollywood and the Independent Hollywood,” American Independent Cinema: An Introduction (Rutgers UP, 2006), 169-191.

In-class screening: American Cinema: The Film School Generation (Klarer, 2000).

 

6/23Crime Movies & The Godfather (Coppola, 1972)

Robert Ray, “Introduction,” “Left and Right Cycles,” and “The Godfather and Taxi Driver,” A Certain Tendency in the Hollywood Cinema, 1930-1980 (Princeton UP, 1985), 3-21, 296-360.

Ed Guerrero, “The Rise and Fall of Blaxploitation,” from Framing Blackness: The African-American Image in Film, excerpted in Movies and American Society, ed. Steven J. Ross (Blackwell, 2002), 250-273.

In-class screening: Baadasssss Cinema (Julien, 2002).

 

6/25The New Hollywood & Jaws (Spielberg, 1975)

Janice Hocker Rushing and Thomas S. Frentz, “Introduction,” “The Hunter Myth” and “Jaws: Faces of the Shadow,” Projecting the Shadow: The Cyborg Hero in American Film (University of Chicago Press, 1995), 1-8, 52-99.

Thomas Schatz, “The New Hollywood,” in Jim Collins, Hilary Radner, and Ava Preacher Collins, eds., Film Theory Goes to the Movies (Routledge, 1993), 8-36.

 

6/30Teen Films & Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Heckerling, 1982)

Robin Wood, “Teens, Parties and Rollercoasters: A Genre of the 1990s,” Hollywood: From Vietnam to Reagan…and Beyond (Columbia, 2003), 144-167, 309-332.

Susan Faludi, “Fatal and Fetal Visions: The Backlash in the Movies,” Backlash (Broadway Books, 1991), 112-139.

 

7/2Action Heroes & Top Gun (Scott, 1986)

Susan Jeffords, “Hard Bodies: The Reagan Heroes” and “The Movies are Looking for a Few Good White Men,” Hard Bodies (Rutgers UP, 1994): 24-63, 104-139.

 

7/7Black Cinema & Do the Right Thing (Lee, 1989)

Nelson George, excerpts from Blackface: Reflections on African-Americans and the 

Movies (Perennial, 1995).

In-class screening: Classified X

Take-home Midterm due

 

7/9The Sundance Generation & Slacker (Linklater, 1991)

Michael Z. Newman, “Indie Cinema Viewing Strategies,” Indie: An American Film Culture   

(Columbia UP, 2011), 21-47.

Yannis Tzioumakis, “The Institutionalization of American Independent Cinema,” American Independent Cinema: An Introduction (Rutgers UP, 2006), 246-280.

 

7/14Narrative Play & Mulholland Drive (Lynch, 2001)

David Foster Wallace, “David Lynch Keeps His Head,” A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll 

Never Do Again (Back Bay, 1998), 146-212.

Michael Z. Newman, “Games of Narrative Form,” Indie: An American Film Culture   

(Columbia, 2011), 182-220. 

Bill Wyman, Max Garrone and Andy Klein, “Everything You Were Afraid to Ask About Mulholland Drive,” Salon, October 24, 2001: 

http://www.salon.com/2001/10/24/mulholland_drive_analysis/ 

 

7/16Hollywood Sexuality & Brokeback Mountain (Lee, 2005)

Harry Benshoff and Sean Griffin, “Sexuality and American Film,” America on Film 

(Wiley-Blackwell, 2009): 303-355.

Alexander Doty, “There’s Something Queer Here,” Making Things Perfectly Queer 

(Minnesota UP, 1993), 1-16.

In-class screening: The Celluloid Closet

 

7/21War Films & Zero Dark Thirty (Bigelow, 2013)

Peter Bergen, “Zero Dark Thirty: Did Torture Really Net Bin Laden?” CNN.com

December 11, 2012:

http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/10/opinion/bergen-zero-dark-thirty/index.html

Jane Meyer, “Zero Conscience in Zero Dark Thirty,” New Yorker, December 14, 2012:

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2012/12/torture-in-kathryn-bigelows-zero-dark-thirty.html?mobify=0 

Steve Coll, “‘Disturbing’ & ‘Misleading,’” New York Review of Books, February 7, 2013:

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/feb/07/disturbing-misleading-zero-dark-thirty/?pagination=false 

Spencer Ackerman, “Two Cheers for Zero Dark Thirty,” Wired.com, December 12, 2012:

http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/12/zero-dark-thirty/ 

 

 

7/23Superheroes & Iron Man 3 (Black, 2013)

Readings TBA

 

Take-home Final due Jul 30

 

Assignments

 

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+100-98B+89-88C+79-78D69-65

A 97-93B87-83C77-70F64-0

A-92-90B-82-80

 

Director Presentation – 4960: 10 points; 6960: 5 points

 

You will research and present a 15-20 minute discussion of a contemporary American filmmaker. A list of potential directors is attached. The presentation should include the following parts:

 

1. Begin by presenting a brief overview of the director’s work, with an emphasis on key films which demonstrate what makes the director’s work distinctive and innovative. Focus on bringing to class up to speed on what they should know about the director in order to have an informed discussion of the clip. If at all possible, include a short clip (under 5 minutes) of the director discussing his or her own work, from a DVD Special Feature, YouTube clip, documentary, or other source.

 

2. Screen a short film clip (under 5 minutes) to exemplify the director’s style. Unless you choose the alternate presentation (discussed below), use one continuous clip.

 

3. Present a short analysis of the clip. Choose 1-3 film elements, and discuss in detail how each element functions in the clip. Rewind and replay selections from the clip, or pause on still images, to highlight key moments. (Be sure to prepare by noting in advance the time marks for moments you want to highlight.) 

 

4. Class discussion.

 

5. At the end of class, hand in a list of your group’s sources. At least five distinct sources are required. (You don’t need to specifically discuss all sources during your presentation – the goal is that you dig around enough to find the most useful material.) Possible sources include books, journal articles, interviews, documentaries, DVD commentary tracks, and YouTube videos. Wikipedia can be a useful launching pad for your research but does not in itself count towards your six sources. Other recommended resources:

 

Film & Television Literature Index:

http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.gsu.edu/ehost/search/basic?sid=941c38dc-4cf8-4b7d-b462-670bc0603fbd%40sessionmgr111&vid=2&hid=126

“Gateways to Geekery,” The A.V. Club

http://www.avclub.com/features/gateways-to-geekery/ 

“The New Cult Canon,” The A.V. Club:

http://www.avclub.com/features/the-new-cult-canon/ 

Box Office Mojo: http://boxofficemojo.com 

Internet Movie Database: http://imdb.com

 Film Studies for Free: http://filmstudiesforfree.blogspot.com

 

Alternate presentation: if you choose, you may produce a video presentation on your director in place of the spoken presentation. Possible video projects include an edited selection of clips with commentary, interviews with viewers, a fan film, or a trailer mashup. Video equipment and training are available at GSU’s Digital Aquarium in the Student Center.

 

Book Presentation – 6960 only: 5 points

Graduate students will give an additional 15-20 minute presentation to the class on a scholarly book on American film.

 

Take-Home Midterm – 45 points

The take-home midterm will require you to relate concepts from the readings and lectures to the films screened in the first half of the semester. Due in class July 7.

 

Take-Home Final – 45 points

The take-home final will be structured just like the midterm, covering the second half of the semester. Due July 30.

 

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.

 

 

Policies

 

Re-Writes and Makeup Tests

Opportunities for revision and improvement will be available for the midterm and the presentation. In addition, I will look at optional drafts of the final submitted on or before the last class. 

 

Late and Unsubmitted Papers

Late papers will be marked off by ½ point for every day overdue unless an extension is agreed upon before the due date. Any unsubmitted papers will receive a 0. Likewise, any unanswered exam questions will receive a 0. So, if you answer only 2 out of 3 required exam questions, you will get a 0 on the third question.

 

Academic Honesty

The university’s policy on academic honesty is attached. The policy prohibits plagiarism, cheating on examinations, unauthorized collaboration, falsification, and multiple submissions. Violation of the policy will result in failing the class, in addition to disciplinary sanctions. 

 

The Internet makes it easy to plagiarize, but also easy to track down plagiarism. Bottom line: Don’t plagiarize. It’s wrong, and it’s not worth it. There’s always a better way. Cite all your sources, put all direct quotations in quotation marks, and clearly note when you are paraphrasing other authors’ work. 

 

Incompletes

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

 

Changes to the Syllabus

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

 

Course Evaluation

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

pastedGraphic.pngDirector List

 

Note: This is only a partial list. Feel free to choose any other director who’s made English-language films since World War II, with one exception: directors of films screened for class are off limits, since they’re already covered. 

 

 

Woody Allen

Paul Thomas Anderson

Allison Anders

Kenneth Anger

Judd Apatow

Greg Araki

Darren Aronofsky

Hal Ashby

Ralph Bakshi

Paul Bartel

Noah Baumbach

Michael Bay

Luc Besson

Brad Bird

Lizzie Borden

Danny Boyle

Stan Brakhage

Albert Brooks

Mel Brooks

Charles Burnett

Tim Burton

James Cameron

Jane Campion

Shane Carruth

John Cassavetes

Joel & Ethan Coen

Martha Coolidge

Sofia Coppola

Roger Corman

Alex Cox

Wes Craven

David Cronenberg

Cameron Crowe

Julie Dash

Ossie Davis

Tamra Davis

Guillermo del Toro

Jonathan Demme

Brian DePalma

Tom DiCillo

Ernest Dickerson

Atom Egoyan

Bobby and Peter Farrelly

Jon Favreau

Abel Ferrara

David Fincher

Stephen Frears

William Friedkin

Sam Fuller

Terry Gilliam

Michael Gondry

F. Gary Gray

David Gordon Green

Paul Greengrass

Christopher Guest

James Gunn

Mary Harron

Hal Hartley

Amy Heckerling

Albert and Allen Hughes

Peter Jackson

Henry Jaglom

Rian Johnson

Spike Jonze

Neil Jordan

Jon Jost

Lloyd Kaufman

Harmony Korine

Stanley Kubrick

Neil LaBute

John Lassiter

David Lean

Barry Levinson

Doug Liman

Ken Loach

Sidney Lumet

Terrence Malick

Michael Mann

Elaine May

George Miller

Michael Moore

Errol Morris

Greg Mottola

Mira Nair

Gregory Nava

Mike Nichols

Victor Nunez

Alexander Payne

Sam Peckinpah

Arthur Penn

Sidney Poitier

Roman Polanski

Alex Proyas

Sam Raimi

Rob Reiner

Tim Robbins

Robert Rodriguez

Eli Roth

Alan Rudolph

David O. Russell

Nancy Savoca

John Sayles

Michael Schultz

Martin Scorcese

Susan Seidelman

M. Night Shyamalan

Bryan Singer

John Singleton

Jack Smith

Kevin Smith

Zach Snyder

Stephen Sodebergh

Todd Solondz

Penelope Spheeris

Andrew Stanton

Whit Stillman

Quentin Tarantino

Julien Temple

Rose Troche

Melvin Van Peebles

Gus Van Sandt

Lars von Trier

Lana & Andy Wachowski

Wayne Wang

Andy Warhol

John Waters

Forest Whitaker

Fredric Wiseman

John Woo

Edgar Wright

Boaz Yakin

Benh Zeitlin

Robert Zemeckis

Rob Zombie

The Politics of Magic

The website for the journal Scope is currently down, so I’m re-posting my 2009 essay “The Politics of Magic” here.

The Politics of Magic: Fantasy Media, Technology, and Nature in the 21st Century

Abstract

The 2000’s have seen an unprecedented boom in fantasy media – including hit films, games, comics and novels – and a corresponding decline in the influence of science fiction. This essay argues that this shift can be explained by the value of the trope of magic for representing twenty-first century society’s ambivalent relationship to technology and nature. On the one hand, magic represents the power of computer technologies, in which lines of code function like spells, enacting the operations they describe. On the other hand, magic evokes the ancient worldview of animism, a perspective that sees all of human surroundings – from animals to plants to rocks and the wind – as infused with meaning and consciousness. Drawing on phenomenologist David Abram’s The Spell of  the Sensuous, the essay argues that this animistic perspective has been too readily dismissed by moderns, and offers the possibility of reclaiming a more balanced relationship with nature. Reworking Donna Haraway’s “Manifesto for Cyborgs,” which in the 1980s embraced science fiction as a mode for critical engagement with postmodern technoculture, the essay calls for a new “Manifesto for Centaurs” – a politics which takes inspiration from contemporary fantasy’s recognition of the limits of technology and rediscovery of our animist inheritance. 

Keywords: fantasy, ecocriticism, technology, postmodernism, animism

Introduction

The 2000’s have been a decade of fantasy media. Two fantasy film series begun in 2001, The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, have now combined to produce eight of the twenty highest-grossing films of all time (Box Office Mojo, 2008). Fantasy authors such as Neil Gaiman, Susannah Clarke, and Philip Pullman have crossed over beyond the SF/fantasy niche to produce bestselling, critically acclaimed books. And massively multiplayer role-playing games such as World of Warcraft have hooked millions of subscribers and generated entire virtual societies.

Fantasy has become so ubiquitous, so quickly, that we may forget how unprecedented its prominence is. While the fantasy genre sports a rich literary history – one could argue that it is the modern inheritor of the vast traditions of mythology – it spent the bulk of the twentieth century as a marginalized field, dismissed as escapism for children and arrested adolescents. Even within the genre ghetto, it rarely achieved the crossover success or critical respectability of its doppelganger, science fiction. While SF novelists such as Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Robert Heinlein reached mass audiences, only J.R.R. Tolkien among fantasy writers found similar influence. While classic SF films such as 2001 (1968) and Blade Runner (1982) were acclaimed as prescient masterworks, no parallel canon of fantasy film emerged. The critical literature on fantasy film is dwarfed by the work on science fiction film. (Two rare exceptions are Bellin (2005) and Worley (2005).) And while the most commercially successful film series of the century, Star Wars (begun in 1977), borrowed much from fantasy, it transformed its swords and sorcery into light sabers and spaceships, disavowing the genre trappings of fantasy for the seemingly more relevant world of science fiction. [1]

But in this new millennium, the tables have turned. Why? What could fantasy offer that other genres weren’t providing? And what are the consequences of this shift in the popular imagination?

The key to fantasy’s contemporary resonance, I’d like to suggest, lies in the way the genre negotiates two intertwined preoccupations of our era: technology and nature. Fantasy films and games are astonishing spectacles of state-of-the-art computer-generated imagery, producing reality-defying virtual worlds of stunning verisimilitude. However, those virtual worlds evoke not the future, but the past, conjuring up pastoral visions of an era before industrialization. At a time of both great technological advances and looming ecological catastrophe, the fantasy genre provides writers, directors, game designers, and audiences an opportunity to re-imagine their relationships with both their machines and their environment.

Many of the most influential fantasy films of this decade began as novels many years earlier. Most prominently, The Lord of the Rings was written by J.R.R. Tolkein in the 1930s and 1940s, published in the 1950s, and first won a widespread cult audience in the 1960s. The stories told by contemporary fantasy media, then, are hardly new. But it has only been in our current moment that this subcultural taste for fantasy has become a ubiquitous mass phenomenon. To better understand this shift in the zeitgeist, my focus in this essay will be on recent blockbuster fantasy films and games. My purpose is not to diminish the significance of their antecedents, but to pinpoint what has changed in this era to allow their sensibility to reach such a large audience.

The central trope of the fantasy genre is magic, an imaginary force that can represent both technology and nature. In some ways, a magic spell is a kind of stand-in for the computer program, coding the fantasy world in its digital image. But at the same time, magic is rooted in the ancient traditions of animism, a worldview that insists human consciousness is inextricably interwoven with the natural world. This paper will examine both of these models of magic, and how they intersect in contemporary fantasy media.

Before we do that, though, it will be helpful to better understand the relationship between fantasy and its closest generic relative, science fiction. 

 

From Science Fiction to Fantasy: A Manifesto for Centaurs

Over twenty years ago, Donna Haraway (1985) published her landmark “Manifesto for Cyborgs” in Socialist Review. Surveying the battered state of progressive politics in the midst of the Reagan Eighties, Haraway diagnosed a failure of countercultural imagination. The left was dispirited, living off past glories. Nostalgia for the radical promise of the 1960s overshadowed any vision of the future. Widespread Luddism (born of understandable suspicion of the military-industrial complex) blinded progressives to the possibilities of new technologies. And rigid notions of identity threatened to fragment the left into warring factions unable to recognize their common ground.

What socialist feminism needed, Haraway argued, was a new kind of “ironic political myth” (65) – a different story to tell itself about the possibilities of the future. This myth would need a new kind of hero. Examining the culture of her era, Haraway found the most inspiring ideas in a surprising place: not high art or avant-garde literature, but the lowbrow genre of science fiction. As Haraway was writing, the cyberpunk movement was revitalizing SF, offering a new set of tools for making sense of the emerging culture of postmodernity. Cyberpunk authors such as William Gibson and Pat Cadigan combined the speculative futurism of science fiction with the gritty urban texture of punk rock. At the center of this sensibility was the image of the human inextricably, messily intertwined with technology: the cyborg. Haraway’s essay found the links between highbrow postmodern theory and this new pop energy, recognizing that both discourses were creative responses to the same cultural shifts, as the acceleration of late capitalism described by contemporaries such as Fredric Jameson (1984) rendered the modernist verities of fixed identities and familiar master narratives insufficient.

Haraway’s choice of protagonist in her new myth was counterintuitive, because the most familiar fictional cyborgs of the era were hardly conventional heroes. Star Wars’ Darth Vader represented a dystopian vision of the human consumed by the machine. The androids of Blade Runner, while more sympathetic, were intimidating, murderous übermenschen. Haraway’s intervention was to claim the cyborg as a figure worth contesting – to recognize the glimmer of utopia in these dystopian worlds.

Haraway’s essay inspired a new generation of “posthumanist” theorists to rethink the relationship between the human and the machine (see, for example, Hayles, 1999) and helped envision a new kind of cyberactivism invested in engaging rather than rejecting new technologies. The internet boom of the 1990s confirmed Haraway’s prescience, while bringing new recognition to the cyberpunk pioneers of the 1980s. And in 1999, the massive box office success of The Matrix completed cyberpunk’s journey from the margins to the mainstream. Today, the ideas that seemed revolutionary two decades ago are practically common sense. In the era of MoveOn.org, Meetup.com, and homemade political ads viewed by millions on YouTube, left technophobia is a fading memory.

But a funny thing happened to cyberpunk in the twenty-first century. Its insights absorbed by the culture, it lost its critical edge. As SF editor David Hartwell once put it, discussing the similarly counterintuitive contraction of the genre after the Sputnik launch in 1957, “When it becomes real, it’s merely technology. Real space travel almost killed the science fiction field” (1996: 109). Similarly, as real life became more cyberpunk, fictional cyborgs grew redundant. The Matrix sequels were critical and commercial disappointments, and no new SF blockbusters emerged to take their place. Science fiction television series such as Star Trek and The X-Files ran out of steam.[2] And no new movement of science fiction writers emerged to capture the public’s imagination as cyberpunk once did. 

Instead, the fantasy genre has provided much more fertile soil, both creatively and commercially, in our era. But just as science fiction was viewed with suspicion by many on the left in the 1980s, today fantasy is likewise politically suspect. Fantasy’s preference for metaphors from the past rather than the future can seem inherently conservative. As Haraway famously concluded her manifesto, “I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess” (1985: 101). Indeed, the success of fantasy in post-9/11 era – the first Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter films both debuted over the 2001 Christmas season – has often been linked by critics to audiences’ desire to escape from a frightening and dangerous present into a comfortingly simpler vision of the past (see, for example, Grossman, 2002).

But a turn to the past can be used not just to escape from the present, but to historicize it, demonstrating that we have not always lived as we do today. The past can shine a critical light on the present, suggesting, as Patrick Curry puts it, “that just as there was life before modernity, so there can be life after it” (Curry, 1997: 15). Curry, drawing on the work of Fraser Harrington (1984), describes this defamiliarizing perspective as “radical nostalgia” (Curry, 1997: 16). Fantasy may often be set in the past, but it speaks to the dilemmas of twenty-first century reality.

Every genre possesses distinct tools, ways of reframing everyday experience to generate new insight into present circumstances. The central trope of the science fiction genre is extrapolation: projecting social, political, and technological trends into the future in order to envision, in extremis, the possible implications of present circumstances. Fantasy, while mixed in with SF on the bookstore shelves, is in many ways its mirror image. The central trope of fantasy is magic: a force by definition outside of scientific explanation.

Science fiction represents the world as it could possibly become. Fantasy, on the other hand, embraces the impossible (Nichols, 1993: 408). If what seems to be magic turns out to be explicable through science and reason – like the ghost in a Scooby Doo episode who always turns out to be that creepy amusement park owner – we’re out of the realm of fantasy, and back in the real world. (Except for the talking dog, that is.)

But the fact that magic doesn’t exist in our real world is exactly what makes it so potent as metaphor. Its meanings float, untethered to everyday reality. That very fluidity and indeterminacy makes it a particularly valuable tool for representing what Zymunt Bauman (2005) calls the “liquid life” of the twenty-first century. In an era in which our lives increasingly feel like science fiction, it takes a trope that extends beyond extrapolation to defamiliarize our world and bring new perspective to our everyday experiences.

Haraway herself has turned from cyborgs to other limnal creatures. In Companion Species Manifesto, she writes, “By the end of the millennium, cyborgs could no longer do the work of a proper herding dog to gather up the threads needed for critical inquiry” (Haraway, 2003: 4). Instead, she examines how a serious consideration of the subjectivity of our companion animals likewise challenges our familiar boundaries between “the human and non-human, the organic and the technological, . . . modernity and postmodernity, nature and culture” (Haraway, 2003: 4).

Haraway writes of real-world relationships between dogs and humans, through breeding, sport, and companionship. But if we look for the works of the imagination that most provocatively explore the relationships between humans and other animals, we must turn to fantasy. Just as SF extrapolates through fiction upon the real-life meldings between human and machine, fantasy uses magic to intensify its representation of the connections between humans, technology, and the natural world.

In that spirit, I’d like to suggest a new myth for the twenty-first century: a Manifesto for Centaurs. The centaur is a creature from classical myth with the head and torso of a human and the body and hind quarters of a horse. An ambiguous archetype, the beast has been used to represent the union of human and animal in both a positive and pejorative light. In Greek myth, the centaur Chiron was a great teacher and healer. On the other hand, some medieval sources “state that the Centaurs represented the duplicitous nature of man as both pious and literally beastly in his behavior” (Rose, 2001: 72). The centaur turns up repeatedly in contemporary fantasy media, including the Harry Potter and Chronicles of Narnia films.

The centaur is a quintessential magical creature: a figure impossible outside the bounds of the imagination. In the Harry Potter movies, the Hogwarts campus stands on the edge of a dark, mysterious forest, home to myriad dangers but also the source of much power. The tribe of centaurs who live in the woods are the limnal figures who can negotiate between the world of the forest and humans outside – wary of human entanglements, but willing to assist if they are properly respected on their own terms.

Like the cyborg, the centaur is a hybrid: half-human, half-horse.

Like the cyborg, the centaur is also a contested figure. Just as the fictional cyborgs of the 1980s were more monsters than heroes, the centaur – and the fantasy genre it represents – remains often complicit in the ideologies it seeks to transcend. As we shall see, the utopian animism in fantasy media often risks collapsing into smug anthropomorphism. But just as the cyborg was worth fighting for twenty-five years ago, so too the centaur today. The dreams that fantasy inspires are too vivid to turn away from.

The following sections will look at three ways magic functions as a metaphor for technology in contemporary fantasy media. We’ll examine magic as technological spectacle, as a reflection of our alienation from technology, and as an allegory for computer programming. Then, we’ll turn to the other side of the story: how magic re-imagines our relationship with nature.

 

Magic as Spectacle

The most familiar explanation for the success of the blockbuster fantasy film is the development of new computer-generated imaging (CGI) technologies which can make the impossible seem real. Over the past two decades, Hollywood special effects have undergone a revolutionary shift. Advances in computer processing power have made it possible for filmmakers to largely replace traditional special-effects techniques such as model-building and stop-motion animation with CGI. This technology allows directors to create unnatural landscapes, spectacular battles, and inhuman characters, all of which can be blended seamlessly (or close to it) into the footage of real actors shot on physical sets.

Director Peter Jackson (2002), for one, has made the case that only with the development of CGI did it even become possible for him to successfully adapt the Lord of the Rings books into films. By this logic, animator Ralph Bakshi’s attempted adaptation of the series in the 1970s was doomed from the start. Using the technology available to him at the time, Bakshi combined traditional animation with rotoscoping, a technique in which animators trace over live-action images. The result was an artistic and commercial disappointment. Now that Hollywood finally has the tools to do justice to the fantasy classics, it’s making up for lost time, motoring its way as fast as it can through the decades-old works of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

Fantasy may be the ideal genre for the contemporary blockbuster film. Many critics have labelled the blockbuster a postmodern version of the early “cinema of attractions” described by Tom Gunning (1980), which was concerned less with character or narrative coherence than with pure spectacle (see, for example, Strauven, 2007). The trope of magic allows today’s fantasy blockbuster to abandon any pretense to obeying scientific plausibility in pursuit of the most spectacular sequence.

But as Geoff King (2001) and Warren Buckland (1998) have argued, this critical emphasis on spectacle risks distorting the degree to which old-fashioned virtues such as storytelling and characterization remain necessary for blockbuster films to reach and satisfy large audiences. Likewise, the appeal of the fantasy genre in this decade cannot simply be explained by the rise of CGI. Magic is more than just an excuse for spectacle. It is a way of interpreting the world with its own rules, logic, and economy (see Jones, 1997). Spells must be learned, skills developed, some form of energy acquired and expended. To suspend their disbelief while watching a fantasy film, audiences need more than persuasive images. They must have reasons to want to believe in magic.

 

Magic as the “Black Box Effect”

Magic serves the role in fantasy that technology does in science fiction – and in fact, the role that technology serves in real life. Magic is the fictional force that makes tools work in fantasy worlds. The funny thing, though, is how little separates technology from magic in our own everyday experience of the world. Think about all the technological devices you own. Now, for how many of them do you actually understand how they work? In an increasingly technologically complex society, we grow more and more alienated from the actual workings of our technology.

Car engines are a good example. A century ago, you had to know your way around a car engine if you wanted to keep it running. Even a generation ago, it was expected that a driver should know what’s under a car hood. And with a little study, you would have been be able to develop a pretty clear understanding of what connects to what, and what the problem might be if something goes wrong. But in the past decade or so, auto repair, like so many aspects of our lives, has grown more and more computerized, and less and less accessible to the common user. Cars today are filled with computer chips whose problems can’t be diagnosed on sight the way you can spot a blown tire. When your engine light goes on, you have to take it into the repair shop, where they plug in an electronic device that diagnoses the problem and spits out a “repair code” telling the mechanic what to do. This device is the intellectual property of the car manufacturer, which will only distribute it to authorized dealers – spurring the decline of the independent repair shop as well as the amateur mechanic (Sheeres, 2004).

A car, then, used to be an open book. Anybody could pop the engine and take a look inside and see how it works. Today, it’s an example of what science studies theorists such as Bruno Latour (1987) and Langdon Winner (1993) call the “black box effect”: the creation of a walled-off machine whose workings are kept opaque and mysterious to users. For all intents and purposes, it might as well run on magic. That makes magic a valuable metaphor for representing our alienated relationship to technology.

The Harry Potter films juxtapose magic and technology to great satirical effect, defamiliarizing our own everyday technologies by placing them in the context of a magical world. Harry, who was raised in our non-magical world, is understandably surprised and delighted by the marvels he encounters when he is introduced to the world of magic. Floo powder, for example, is a magical substance that wizards use to teleport between locations via ordinary fireplaces. But Arthur Weasley, the wizard father of Harry’s friend Ron and expert on non-magical “Muggle affairs” for the Ministry of Magic, is equally enthralled by ordinary objects such as cars, which seem just as exotic to him.

Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke famously wrote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” (Clarke, 1973). I’d suggest that similarly, we could say today that “any technology sufficiently alienated from the user is indistinguishable from magic.” I walk up to my 2008 Prius, and the “smart key” in my pocket automatically unlocks the door as I touch the handle. I sit down, push a button, and the car starts, the key still in my pocket. It might as well be magic. 

 

Magic as Computer Programming

If magic in one sense captures the user’s alienation from modern technology, it can also represent the power of those who master today’s most potent tools: computer programmers. As Friedrich Kittler (1995) points out, computer code, unlike normal language but much like a magic spell, actually does what it says. Programmers have long recognized the parallels between a magician’s spell and a piece of software. Thus the etymology of such terms as programming “wizard” and software “daemon” (see Raymond, 1996). Both spell and program manipulate simple words on a page to bend reality to their will. And just as programmers must master arcane languages such as C++ to gain control of their machines, magicians in works such as Ursula le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea (1968) and Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind (2007) must learn the “true names” of objects in order to master them. Internet pioneer and SF writer Vernor Vinge plays on this parallel in one of the founding texts of the cyberpunk movement, the novella “True Names” (1981), in which duelling hackers commandeer computer networks to gain wizard-like power. While using pseudonyms online, the characters go to great lengths to keep their real-life identities secret, to avoid being tracked down and arrested. In the novella, and indeed in cyberspace today, to learn a hacker’s true name is to gain great power over her.

One could say that programmers are simply the latest in a long line of creators to recognize the connection between magic and art. Shakespeare’s The Tempest, for example, explores the parallels between the role of the sorcerer Prospero, master of his mysterious island, and the role of Shakespeare himself as creator of The Tempest‘s fictional world. (The current TV series Lost is just the latest reworking of this story.) Today, the computer age has brought unprecedented power to the simple manipulator of symbols.

The realm of computer games shows the full power of the programmer as magician. Just as in fantasy, the spell can bend reality to its will, so too the program, within the confines of the “virtual reality” produced by the machine, can transcend the laws of nature. When designing a computer game, the laws of physics, time, and mortality need not apply. If you want to allow your players to fly, or give them unlimited lives, no problem, as long as the internal rules of gameplay are coherent and satisfying. In this way, programming is very unlike more traditional forms of technological design, such as architecture. If you’re designing a building, you’d better pay attention to the laws of gravity. But in a computer game, why bother? The laws you have to worry about are the internal rules of the programming language, just as the magic user must follow the logic of the spell.

This may help explain why today the most popular online role-playing game, World of Warcraft with over ten million subscribers (Kirkpatrick, 2008), is set not in a science fiction universe, but a fantasy realm. One might think that the techno-savvy users who play these complex, challenging games would gravitate toward science fictional settings that would seem to speak most directly to their own experiences with computers. However, the fantasy genre is hardly an escape from technology, but rather a compelling reworking of the raw materials of our technology-infused lives.

 

Magic as Animism

One aspect of magic’s appeal, then, is in its representation of the computer’s power to produce virtual realities unbound by any physical laws. But the flip side is its deep roots in a worldview that predates modern technology, offering an ongoing critique of technology’s limitations, and a utopian glimpse of its alternatives.

Fantasy is the inheritor of the premodern philosophy of animism: a perspective that sees all of human surroundings – from animals to plants to rocks and the wind – as infused with meaning and consciousness. The history of Western thought, historian of science Morris Berman (1981) argues, is gradual resituation of consciousness from the world as a whole into the minds of men – what Max Weber famously called “the disenchantment of the world” (Weber, 1946: 155. See also Norberg and Lundblad, 2001; Glynn, 2003).

As inheritors of the Enlightenment, moderns today take for granted the Cartesian distinction between human subjects and nonhuman, inert objects. Any other way of thinking seems absurd on its face – unscientific, irrational, “magical.” We presume that our animist ancestors were simply too “primitive” to understand how the world really works. But philosopher David Abram makes an intriguing counter-argument. Drawing on the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Abram argues that human perception is impossible without a continuous process of interchange with the perceived. Perception is always a form of participation. The mind cannot exist in isolation, but is only formed in the context of “our ongoing reciprocity with the world” (Abram, 1996: 56). On the level of the body, we know this, but as we conceptualize, we repress the evidence of the senses.

This denial of our senses, Abram argues, helps explain the ecological devastation we live with today. Only when we repress our awareness of our reciprocal relationship with the natural world can we do the damage we’ve caused. Conversely, a successful environmental movement requires a reawakening of our senses, and a rediscovery of our animist legacy. As Berman writes,

For more than 99 percent of human history, the world was enchanted and man saw himself as an integral part of it. The complete reversal of this perception in a mere four hundred years or so has destroyed the continuity of the human experience and the integrity of the human psyche. It has very nearly wrecked the planet as well. The only hope, or so it seems to me, lies in a reenchantment of the world. . . . Some type of holistic, or participating, consciousness and a corresponding sociopolitical formation have to emerge if we are to survive as a species (1981: 23).

Abram provocatively rethinks our understanding of animism and magic in his pioneering work of ecocriticism, The Spell of the Sensuous. Abram travelled to rural Asia to study the relation between magic and medicine among the traditional sorcerers, or dukun, of Indonesia and shamans, or dzankris, of Nepal. Abram concludes that the conventional Western notion of magic as the realm of the “supernatural” is wrongheaded. In fact, what gives these traditional healers their power, he argues, is their special relationship with the natural world. The healers he met conceive of disease in ecological terms, as a reflection of an imbalance between humans and the surrounding land. To heal the sick, they must redress that imbalance. And to do that, they must be able to see the world through the eyes of their nonhuman neighbors: animals, plants, rocks, the wind – the entire living world. The rituals, chants, and meditative practices of these healers, misunderstood by generations of Western anthropologists as calls to supernatural “spirits,” are rather, according to Abram, what allows them access to these radically different forms of perception. In an introduction titled “The Ecology of Magic,” Abram writes,

[I]n tribal cultures that which we call “magic” takes its meaning from the fact that humans, in an indigenous and oral context, experience their own consciousness as simply one form of awareness among many others. The traditional magician cultivates an ability to shift out of his or her common state of consciousness precisely in order to make contact with the other organic forms of sensitivity and awareness with which human existence is intertwined. Only by temporarily shedding the accepted perceptual logic of his culture can the sorcerer hope to enter into relation with other species on their own terms . . . His magic is precisely this heightened receptivity to the meaningful solicitations – songs, cries, gestures – of the larger, more-than-human field.

Magic, then, in its perhaps most primordial sense, is the experience of existing in a world made up of multiple intelligences, the intuition that every form one perceives – from the swallow swooping overhead to the fly on a blade of grass, and indeed the blade of grass itself – is an experiencing form, an entity with its own predilections and sensations, albeit sensations that are very different from our own (1996: 9-10).

The neo-animism of Abram and Berman shares some similarities with Bruno Latour’s actor-network theory, which deconstructs the modern distinction between nature and culture, human and nonhuman, and instead proposes a “Parliament of Things” (Latour, 1993: 142). But Latour might very well dismiss their vision as sentimental, counterproductive antimodernism. Latour argues instead, in the title of one book, that We Have Never Been Modern in the first place. He asks,

Haven’t we shed enough tears over the disenchantment of the world? Haven’t we frightened ourselves enough with the poor European who is thrust into a cold soulless cosmos, wandering on an inert planet in a world devoid of meaning? . . . [W]e have never abandoned the old anthropological matrix. We have never stopped building our collectives with raw materials made of poor humans and humble nonhumans. How could we be capable of disenchanting the world, when every day our laboratories and our factories populate the world with hundreds of hybrids stranger than those of the day before? (Latour, 1993: 115)

Latour concludes that antimoderns are simply moderns’ “stooges” (Latour, 1993: 135), swallowing the lies modernity tells itself and simply reversing the valences. “In an effort to offer a supplement of soul to the modern world, the one it has is taken away – the one it had, the one it was quite incapable of losing” (Latour, 1993: 124).

Like Haraway’s “Manifesto for Cyborgs,” Latour’s We Have Never Been Modern is a bracing critique of reflexive antimodernity – a fault Abram and Berman (along with Tolkien and his inheritors) are perhaps at times guilty of. But where Haraway rejects Goddess feminism outright in her embrace of the cyborg, Latour leaves room for models which look to the past within his utopian vision of a “nonmodern” future. He concludes, “Let us keep what is best about [the premoderns], above all [their] inability to differentiate durably between the networks and the pure poles of Nature and Society, their obsessive interest in thinking about the production of hybrids of Nature and Society, of things and signs, their certainty that transcendences abound, their capacity for conceiving of past and future in many ways other than progress and decadence, the multiplication of types of nonhumans different from those of the moderns” (Latour, 1993: 133). In this sense, we can find common ground between the neo-animism of Abram and Berman, and Latour’s “nonmodern Constitution.”

Abram and Berman, in any case, are not simple nostalgics. Both acknowledge that the animistic worldview cannot simply be reproduced in the context of postmodern technological society. Both writers look instead to holistic scientific models such as James Lovelock’s (1975) Gaia hypothesis, which proposes that the entire Earth constitutes a single complex organism. Likewise, we can see emerging fields such as ecological psychology (Gibson, 1979) and situated cognition (Robbins and Ayede, 2008; Noë, 2009) as attempts to develop models of consciousness and culture which view “every organism [as] not so much a discrete entity as a node in a field of interrelationships” (Ingold, 2000: 4).

Meanwhile, in our dreams, we have always been unapologetic animists. As we sleep, every object shimmers with meaning, and dualism falls away. Freud recognized this, while nonetheless dismissing the animist worldview as a narcissistic fantasy of human omnipotence. Rather than seeing the “residues of animistic mental activity” (Freud, 2003: 47) as irrational holdovers, we might instead think of them as the mind’s attempts to reclaim a lost sense of wholeness denied us in the modern waking world.

The fantasy genre is one of the few cultural spaces where a version of this animistic perspective still survives – domesticated into the world of make-believe (and often thought of as a genre for children), but still powerful enough to grip our imaginations. Under the cover of fiction, we grant ourselves brief moments to imagine that the world is truly awake, and truly a part of us. In these moments, we see glimpses of what centaur consciousness might look like. In a time when ecological crisis is ever harder to ignore, it is not surprising that this craving for a different relationship with the natural world grows stronger.

Animism pervades contemporary fantasy. Fantasy filmmakers take advantage of CGI technology to fill the screen with talking animals, self-aware plants, and landscapes that breathe with meaning. This animistic vision, however, is often intertwined with its shadow double, anthropomorphism. While animism challenges us to engage the natural world on its own terms and in doing so transform us, anthropomorphism simply remakes the world in our own image and subordinates nature to our desires. As the following examples from recent fantasy films demonstrate, the push and pull between animism and anthropomorphism define the possibilities and limitations of centaur consciousness.

  

Animism and Anthropomorphism in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and The Golden Compass

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), the second of the three Lord of the Rings films, features, among many magical creatures, a race of sentient trees known as the Ents. The Ents look more like trees than people, and their sense of time and space is arboreal rather than human. They can take weeks to hold a conversation, and they are reluctant to get involved of the affairs of men, who are often no friends of the trees. When they discover that the corrupt wizard Saruman has deforested his region, however, they finally act, destroying his forces with great fury.

Ent-consciousness is not exactly what Abram might describe as tree-consciousness. True tree-consciousness would mean to learn what it feels like to move at the pace of a branch or root, to communicate through seed and pollen. On the other hand, the Ent is more than simply a tree that acts like a person. We learn that the Ents were once a humanoid race of “treeherds.” Over time, they grew more and more like the trees they cared for. As we can see, their arms have transformed into branches, legs into trunks, hair into moss, facial features into knots in the wood. An Ent, then, is not a tree that acts like a human; rather, it’s a human who’s become treelike. Rather than anthropomorphism, we could describe this transformation as its reverse – perhaps, vegetamorphism.

The Golden Compass (2007) dramatizes the inextricable link between the human and animal worlds through a particularly inventive conceit, the dæmon. In the magical universe where the story begins, every human’s soul is physically incarnated in the form of an animal. A child’s dæmon can shape-shift (represented in the film through the CGI technology of “morphing”), but after puberty, the dæmon settles into a fixed form which reflects dominant aspects of the human’s personality – a kind of totem animal as constant companion. Most human and their dæmons must remain in close proximity or suffer severe physical and emotional pain. If a human is killed, the dæmon disappears, and if the dæmon dies, the human dies as well.

The Golden Compass, like The Two Towers, risks anthropomorphism, as dæmons serve in a sense as simply animal reflections of human subjectivity. But dæmons also function as the reverse: reminders of the animal within the human. As Maude Hines writes, “dæmons are what connect us to animals, reminding us that we too are animals” (Hines, 2005: 45). The villain of The Golden Compass, Mrs. Coulter, conspires with religious authorities to develop a horrifying device to permanently separate children from dæmons, as a way to repress the primal drives of sex and aggression and produce docile citizens. The process is a nightmare version of Weber’s “disenchantment,” as the rejection of the animal within the human leaves the children soulless and ashen.

 

Becoming-Animal in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter first discovers his magical powers in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), the first film in the series, on a trip to the zoo in nonmagical London. There, he discovers that he can suddenly speak Parseltongue, the language of snakes. Without quite realizing what he is doing, he responds to the caged snakes’ pleas and frees them, causing havoc. Harry learns he is special and powerful by discovering the animal within himself.

By the third film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), the Potter universe has been populated with a rich network of human-animal relations. A partial list of those in this film includes:

Pets (owned by children studying to be wizards at Hogwarts Academy)

  • Harry Potter’s owl Hedwig.
  • Hermione Granger’s cat Crookshanks.
  • Ron Weasley’s rat Scabbers (later revealed to be the shape-shifted form of the traitorous human Peter Pettigrew).

 

Animagi (adolescent and adult wizards who have learned how to shape-shift between human and animal form):

  • James Potter, Harry’s now-deceased father, became a stag.
  • Sirius Black, Harry’s uncle, becomes a giant black dog.
  • Peter Pettigrew becomes the rat Scabbers.
  • Remus Lupin becomes a werewolf, although he lacks control over the shift, which overtakes him on the full moon.

 

Magical creatures:

  • The Whomping Willow, a dangerous tree that attacks anything in reach of its branches.
  • Buckbeak, a hippogriff (a mixture of lion, eagle, and horse) sentenced to execution for attacking an aggressive student, then rescued by Harry, Hermione and Ron.
  • The Monster Book of Monsters, a textbook which is itself a monster.
  • The Boggart, a monster who takes the shape of its victim’s worst fear.
  • Patronuses, animal spirit protectors produced by the Patronus Charm spell. Each wizard produces a different patronus – Harry discovers his to be a stag, the same form as his father’s animagus shape.

The frequent shapeshifting of characters in Prisoner of Azkaban between human and animal forms evokes the process that Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (1991) call “becoming-animal” – a transformation that challenges the boundaries of human identity and breaks down the Oedipal subject. In a section of A Thousand Plateaus appropriately titled, “Memories of a Sorcerer,” Deleuze and Guattari offer an intriguing hierarchy of animal representations:

We must distinguish three kinds of animals. First, individuated animals, family pets, sentimental, Oedipal animals each with its own petty history, “my” cat, “my” dog. . . . And then there is a second kind: animals with characteristics or attributes: genus, classification, or State animals; animals as they are treated in the great divine myths, in such a way as to extract from them series or structures, archetypes or models . . . . Finally, there are more demonic animals, pack or affect animals that form a multiplicity, a becoming, a population, a tale . . . (Deleuze and Guattari, 1991: 240-241).

As Cary Wolfe writes, “Deleuze and Guattari’s distinctions aim to underscore that the figure of the animal, properly understood, is a privileged figure for the problematic of the subject in the most general sense because here we are forced to confront the reality that the subject is always already multiple” (Wolfe, 2003: 170).

We could roughly match the three groups of animals in Prisoner of Azkaban to Deleuze and Guattari’s three categories, although with Donna Haraway (2003), I bristle at their tidy hierarchy. The pets are certainly subordinated to their human “masters,” but they also retain autonomy. Crookshanks the cat continually chases after Scabbers the rat, ignoring their owners’ attempts at discipline. 

The animagi are very much archetypal figures, each animal reflecting the character of its wizard. Sirius is dangerous but loyal, James is noble, Remus lives in fear of aggression he can’t always control, and Peter is a rat. In the stability of these archetypes (really closer to a stereotype, in the case of the rat) we see perhaps the limits of the film’s animism. The animagi remind us of the animal within the human, but each animal remains singular, unitary – unlike the continuously shapeshifting dæmons of children in The Golden Compass, which are always in the process of becoming.

The magical creatures in Prisoner of Azkaban are the certainly the most disruptive, although in some cases coded negatively as monsters. The hippogriff, whose impending execution motivates the film’s climax, is not simply a hybrid, but a hybrid of a hybrid: it’s the offspring of a mare and a griffin, which itself is a magical creature with body of a lion and the wings of an eagle. On the other hand, the Boggart, which shape-shifts into the worst fear of whoever it confronts, is a nightmare vision of the instability celebrated in The Golden Compass. The Monster Book of Monsters is a particularly inspired animistic creation – a book that embodies its own subject. It’s presented not as threat but comic relief, attacking its owners like an aggrieved poodle until they learn to soothe it by rubbing its binding.

But perhaps to rank the various forms of animals in Prisoner of Azkaban along a scale is to miss what’s most distinctive about the film: the way it presents humans and animals living interdependently in a dense network of affiliations. Almost every frame of the film flickers with plant and animal life. Some of the most vivid scenes, in fact, don’t involve humans at all, as the camera of director Alfonso Cuarón periodically cuts from the narrative to follow the paths of birds and butterflies as they fly through the campus grounds, tour the countryside – and get smacked by the Whomping Willow.

 

Magic between Technology and Nature

What are the possible consequences, then, of the emerging centaur consciousness produced by twenty-first century fantasy media? We could certainly see the strange mixture of technology and nature in these stories and games as simply a compensatory fantasy: as the globe melts, we retreat to our movie, TV, and computer screens to recreate an imaginary version of the world we’ve lost. But if we are to have any hope for the future, it must involve just the kind of marriage of science and spirit that these fantasies are groping towards.

In calling for a “reenchantment of the world,” Morris Berman points out that the posthuman science of cybernetics actually has much in common with the archaic tradition. Cybernetics, like animism, recognizes “the relational nature of reality” (Berman, 1981: 273): the fact that we are all us – human, animal, machine, plant, stone, wind – part of the same integrated circuit, inextricably enmeshed in multiple feedback loops. To be a centaur is already to be a cyborg, and vice versa. Learning the lessons of fantasy, then, does not need to mean clinging to a lost, mythical past. But it will require us to re-imagine the future.

 

Notes

 

[1] One could certainly argue that Star Wars owes as much to fantasy as science fiction. But the way the film series reframes fantasy elements through the rhetoric of science fiction demonstrates its era’s reluctance to nakedly embrace the fantastic without a veneer of pseudo-scientific rationalization. In the original Star Wars (1977), Obi-Wan Kenobi defines the Force as “an energy field created by all living things.” The terms – “force,” “energy,” “field” – deploy the language of physics to describe what more traditionally might be called  “spirit,” “karma,” or “God.”  Most notoriously, in The Phantom Menace (1999), we learn that all living things are filled with microorganisms known as “midicholrians,” which communicate with the Force. A blood test determines that Anakin Skywalker has “a high concentration of midichlorians,” proving that the Force is strong with him. The dissonance of this genetic explanation for a mystical metaphor provoked a fan backlash, perhaps reflecting an emerging popular willingness at the turn of the millennium to accept magic on its own terms.

 

[2] An exception to the demise of science fiction in this decade is the the revived Battlestar Galactica franchise. But the limits of Battlestar’s commercial success suggests the changed playing field for science fiction today. While Star Trek spawned multiple series and feature films, Galactica remained a cult phenomenon on the low-rated SciFi network. Following Thomas Schatz’s (1981) model of generic evolution as “patterns of increasing self-consciousness,” we could compare the Star Trek (and original Galactica) series’ “classicism” to the new Galactica’s “self-reflexivity.” Schatz points out that as audiences become more familiar with a genre’s formal and thematic structures, they demand more self-aware storytelling. Galactica, produced by Star Trek veteran Ronald D. Moore, was widely celebrated for its deconstruction of science fiction cliches, presenting fallible heroes, sympathetic villains, and an ambivalent perspective towards technology – including cyborgs. This approach won the show critical praise, but perhaps limited its audience. As Schatz writes, “we tend to regard early genre filmmakers as storytellers or craftsmen and later ones as artists” (1981: 41). Compared to the science fiction genre, the fantasy genre on film and television is still largely in its “classic” stage (save for rare auterist exceptions such as Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labrynth).

 

 

 

References

 

Abram, David (1996) The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World. New York: Vintage Books.

 

Bauman, Zygmut (2005) Liquid Life. Boston, MA: Polity.

 

Bellin, Joshua David (2005) Framing Monsters: Fantasy Film and Social Alienation. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

 

Berman, Morris (1981) The Reenchantment of the World. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

 

Buckland, Warren (1998) Notes on Narrative Aspects of the New Hollywood Blockbuster, in Steve Neale and Murray Smith (eds.), Contemporary Hollywood Cinema. New York: Routledge, pp. 166-177.

 

Clarke, Arthur C. (1973) Profiles of the Future. New York: Harper & Row.

 

Curry, Patrick (1997) Defending Middle Earth: Tolkien, Myth and Modernity. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.

 

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari (1991) A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

 

Freud, Sigmund (2003) The Uncanny. New York: Penguin Classics.

 

Gibson, James Jerome (1979) The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

 

Glynn, Kevin (2003) The Discreet Charm of Occult TV, Comparative American Studies 1 (4), (December), pp. 421-447.

 

Grossman, Lev (2002) Feeding on Fantasy, Time, December 12.

 

Gunning, Tom (1980) The Cinema of Attractions: Early Film, Its Spectator, and the Avant-Garde, in Thomas Elasser with Adam Barker (eds.), Early Cinema: Space, Frame, Narrative. London: British Film Institute.

 

Haraway, Donna (1985) A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s, Socialist Review 15, pp. 65-106.

 

Haraway, Donna (2003) The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness. Chicago, IL: Prickly Paradigm Press.

 

Harrison, Fraser (1984) England, Home and Beauty, in Richard Mabey with Susan Clifford and Angela King (eds.), Second Nature. London: Jonathan Cape.

 

Hartwell, David (1996) Age of Wonders: Exploring the World of Science Fiction. New York: Tor.

 

Hayles, N. Katherine (1999) How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

 

Hines, Maude (2005) Dæmons and Ideology in The Golden Compass, in Millecent Lenz and Carole Scott (eds.), His Dark Materials Illuminated: Critical Essays on Philip Pullman’s Trilogy. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press.

 

Ingold, Tim (2000) The Perception of the Environment. New York: Routledge.

 

Jackson, Peter (2002) Director’s Commentary, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: Special Extended DVD Edition. New Line Cinema.

 

Jameson, Fredric (1984) Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, New Left Review I/146, (July-August).

 

Jones, Diana Wynne (1997) Magic, in John Clute and John Grant (eds.), The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, pp. 615-616.

 

King, Geoff (2001) Spectacular Narratives: Hollywood in the Age of the Blockbuster. New York: I.B. Tauris.

 

Latour, Bruno (1987) Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

 

Latour, Bruno (1993) We Have Never Been Modern. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

 

le Guin, Ursula (1968) A Wizard of Earthsea. New York: Bantam.

 

Lovelock, James (1975) Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

 

Nichols, Peter (1993) Fantasy, in John Clute and Peter Nichols (eds.), The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, pp. 407-411.

 

Noë, Alvo (2009). Out of Our Heads. New York: Hill and Wang.

 

Norberg, Peter and Nicklas Lundblad (2001) E-nchantment – Wiederverzauberung in Contemporary Computer Games. e-Everything: e-Commerce, e-Government, e-Household, e-Democracy. 14th Bled Electronic Commerce Conference, Bled, Slovenia, June 25-26, 2001.

 

Raymond, Eric S. (1996) The New Hacker’s Dictionary – 3rd Edition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

 

Rose, Carol (2001) Giants, Monsters, and Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend and Myth. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

 

Robbins, Philip and Murat Ayede (2008) The Cambridge Handbook of Situated Cognition. New York: Cambridge University Press.

 

Rothfuss, Patrick (2007) The Name of the Wind. New York: DAW Books.

 

Schatz, Thomas (1981) Hollywood Genres. New York: McGraw-Hill.

 

Strauven, Wanda, ed. (2007) The Cinema of Atrractions Reloaded. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

 

Vernor Vinge (1981) Nightflyers/True Names. New York: Dell Publishing.

 

Weber, Max (1946). From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. Trans. and ed. by H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Winner, Langdon (1993) Upon Opening the Black Box and Finding It Empty: Social Construction and the Philosophy of Technology, Science, Technology and Human Values 18 (3), pp. 362-378.

 

Wolfe, Cary (2003) Animal Rites. Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press.

 

Worley, Alec (2005) Empires of the Imagination. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.

 

 

 

Websites

 

Box Office Mojo (2008) All Time Box Office Worldwide Grosses. Accessible at:http://boxofficemojo.com/alltime/world/. Accessed June 1, 2008.

 

Kirkpatrick, Marshall (2008) World of Warcraft Hits 10 Million Subscribers.  ReadWriteWeb, January 22. Accessible at: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/world_of_warcraft_hits_10_mill.php. Accessed June 1, 2008.

 

Kittler, Fredrich (1995) There Is No Software, CTheory, October 18. Accessible at: http://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=74. Accessed July 5, 2008.

 

Sheeres, Julia (2004) Drivers Want to Code Their Cars, Wired.com, May 31. Accessible at: http://www.wired.com/cars/energy/news/2004/05/63615. Accessed June 1, 2008.

 

 

 

Filmography

 

2001: A Space Odyessey. 1968. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. MGM.

 

Blade Runner. 1982. Dir. Ridley Scott. Blade Runner Partnership.

 

The Golden Compass. 2007. Dir. Chris Weitz. New Line Cinema.

 

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. 2004. Dir. Alfonso Cuarón. Warner Bros.

 

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. 2001. Dir. Chris Columbus. 1492 Pictures.

 

The Lord of the Rings. 1978. Dir. Ralph Bakshi. United Artists.

 

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. 2001. Dir. Peter Jackson. New Line Cinema.

 

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. 2002. Dir. Peter Jackson. New Line Cinema.

 

The Matrix. 1999. Dir. Andy Wachoowski. Groucho II Film Partnership

 

Fantasy & Science Fiction Media, Spring 2014

FILM 4280/6280, Spring 2014

Tuesdays & Thursdays 1:00-2:15 PM, 401 Langdale

Screenings Tuesdays, 11:00 AM-12:50 PM, 406 Arts & Humanities

 

Ted Friedman

25 Park Place #1017

tedf@gsu.edu

http://twitter.com/tedfriedman

http://tedfriedman.com

 

 

Course Description

How do we dream our visions of the future? How do we explore our fantasies of the past?

 

Science fiction extrapolates the trends of the present to imagine possible future worlds, both utopian and (more often) dystopian. Fantasy looks back to imagine past worlds in which technology has not yet usurped nature. Both genres are rooted in mythic traditions that push beyond the boundaries of realism to reach for deeper truths.

 

This class will examine the genres of fantasy and science fiction across multiple media, including film, television, literature, comics and gaming. We’ll survey their history, while at the same time tracing the impact of each text forward into the present. We’ll look at how these works have reflected and influenced American society, as each new generation of creators has responded to changing social conditions by re-imagining the key tropes and themes of the genres. And we’ll try to understand why these visions continue to capture the world’s imagination.

 

Readings

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

 

Maggie Hyde and Michael McGuinness, Introducing Jung

Salman Rushdie, The Wizard of Oz

Neal Gaiman, The Sandman: Season of Mists

Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game

Karen Thompson Walker, The Age of Miracles

 

The course books can be ordered through online retailers such as amazon.com/student, bn.com, and powells.com. The coursepack is sold by Bestway Copy Center, 18 Decatur Street SE (on the first floor of One Park Place South).

 

Students in Film 6280 will read two additional books of their choice, one scholarly book and one work of fiction, and will present them in two separately scheduled meetings with the other graduate students.

 

Twitter Feed 

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

 

Unit I: Modern Myths

 

T 1/14 Understanding Fantasy and Science Fiction

 

Th 1/16 The Power of Myth

Ted Friedman, “Myth, the Numinous, and Cultural Studies”:

http://flowtv.org/?p=4161

Ted Friedman, “The Politics of Magic,”

http://www.scope.nottingham.ac.uk/article.php?issue=14&id=1138&section=article&q=rose

 

T 1/21 Star Wars

Joseph Campbell, excerpt from The Hero With a Thousand Faces (CP)

Christopher Vogler and Stuart Voytilla, excerpt from Myth and the Movies (CP)

 

Th 1/23 Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious

Hyde and McGuinness, Introducing Jung

Ted Friedman, “Jung and Lost”:

http://flowtv.org/?p=3865

Ursula K. LeGuin, “The Child and the Shadow” (CP)

 

T 1/28 The Lord of the Rings 

J.R.R. Tolkien, “Introduction to The Fellowship of the Ring” (CP)

J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories”:

http://bjorn.kiev.ua/librae/Tolkien/Tolkien_On_Fairy_Stories.htm

 

Th 1/30 Game of Thrones

 

 

Unit II: Folklore and Fantasy

 

T 2/4 The Wizard of Oz

Salman Rushdie, The Wizard of Oz

 

Th 2/6 Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, “Why Vampires Never Die”:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/31/opinion/31deltoro.html?_r=1

Laura Miller, “Real Men Have Fangs”:

http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB122540672952785957-lMyQjAxMDI4MjE1MTQxMDE2Wj.html

 

T 2/11 The Company of Wolves

Angela Carter, “The Company of Wolves” (CP)

Selections from Marjorie Tatar, ed., The Classic Fairy Tales (CP)

 

Th 2/13 Firefly

 

T 2/18 Where the Wild Things Are

Alison Lurie, “Something Wonderful Out of Almost Nothing”:

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/jul/12/something-wonderful-out-almost-nothing/

 

Th 2/20 Dollhouse

 

T 2/25 Spirited Away

Margaret Talbot, “The Auteur of Anime” (CP)

James W. Boyd and Tetsuya Nishimura, “Shinto Perspectives in Miyazaki’s Anime Film Spirited Away,” The Journal of Religion and Film 8.2 (October 2004):

http://www.unomaha.edu/jrf/Vol8No2/boydShinto.htm

Norkio T. Reider, “Spirited Away: Film of the Fantastic and Evolving Japanese Folk Symbols,” Film Criticism 29.3 (2005): 4-27:

http://www.corneredangel.com/amwess/papers/spirited_away.pdf

Aaron Sherwood, “Characterization, Narrative Structure and Mythopoeia in the Films of Hayao Miyazaki” (2006):

http://www.nausicaa.net/miyazaki/essay/files/AaronSherwood_Mythopoeia.pdf

 

Th 2/27 Lost

Jason Mittell, “Sites of Participation: Wiki Fandom and the Case of Lostpedia”:

http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/118/117

 

T 3/4 Pan’s Labyrinth and Sandman

Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: Season of Mists

 

Th 3/6 The Walking Dead

Take-home midterm due

 

Unit III: Science Fiction

 

T 3/11 Metropolis

J. P. Telotte, “The Seductive Text of Metropolis” (CP)

William Gibson, “The Gernsback Continuum” (CP)

Andrew Ross, “Getting Out of the Gernsback Continuum” (CP)

David Hartwell, excerpt from Age of Wonders (CP)

 

Th 3/13 The Twilight Zone

 

T 3/18 Spring Break – no class

 

Th 3/20 Spring Break – no class

 

T 3/25 Bride of Frankenstein

Gary Morris, “Sexual Subversion: The Bride of Frankenstein”:

http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/19/19_bride1.html

 

Th 3/27 Star Trek

Henry Jenkins, “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations” (CP)

Ted Friedman, “Capitalism: The Final Frontier”:

http://www.tedfriedman.com/essays/2005/03/capitalism_the.html

 

T 4/1 Blade Runner

Donna Haraway, “A Manifesto for Cyborgs” (CP)

Fredric Jameson, “Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism” (CP)

 

Th 4/3 The X-Files

Carl Jung, “Flying Saucers as Modern Myths” (CP)

 

T 4/8 Brazil and Ender’s Game

Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game

 

Th 4/10 Battlestar Galactica

Spencer Ackerman, “Battlestar: Iraqtica,”

http://www.slate.com/id/2151425/nav/tap2/

 

T 4/15 The Matrix

David Weberman, “The Matrix: Simulation and the Postmodern Age” (CP)

Slavoj Zizek, “The Matrix, or the Two Sides of Perversion” (CP)

Aleksandar Hemon, “Beyond the Matrix”:

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/09/10/120910fa_fact_hemon

 

Th 4/17 World of Warcraft and The Guild

Download and play the free World of Warcraft trial:

http://www.worldofwarcraft.com

 

T 4/22 Children of Men and The Age of Miracles

Karen Thompson Walker, The Age of Miracles

 

Th 4/24 Futurama

 

 

Take-Home Final due via email to tedf@gsu.edu on Thursday, May 1 by 5 PM

 

 

 

Screening Schedule

 

You are responsible for viewing assigned films in time for class discussion. Screenings are held on Tuesdays at 11 AM in 406 Arts & Humanities.

 

1/14 No screening

1/21 Star Wars

1/28 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

2/4 The Wizard of Oz

2/11 The Company of Wolves

2/18 Where the Wild Things Are

2/25 Spirited Away

3/4 Pan’s Labyrinth

3/11 Metropolis

3/18 Spring Break – no class

3/25 Bride of Frankenstein

4/1 Blade Runner

4/8 Brazil

4/15 The Matrix

4/22 Children of Men

 

 

 

Assignments

 

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

 

TV Presentation – 10 points (Film 4280 only)

As part of a 2-3 person team, you will give a presentation on an influential fantasy or science fiction television show. Your team has two presentation options:

 

Research Presentation: Each member of the team gives a 5-minute presentation on a different aspect of the show: 1) the creator/creators; 2) the economics of the production, including available budget and ratings information; 3) audience responses. Each member hands in a list of sources. A minimum of five separate sources is required for each member’s presentation. (Wikipedia can be consulted to find sources but does not itself count toward the five sources.) PowerPoint is not necessary, but short video clips (such as creator interviews, news stories, and fan films) should be incorporated into each presentation when available.

 

Creative Presentation: Alternately, the presentation team can choose to collectively produce a short film about the TV show. Options include an edited selection of clips with voice-over commentary, a series of interviews with viewers, or a fan film.

 

Book Presentations – 5 points each (Film 6280 only)

Graduate students will read two additional books of their choice, one scholarly book and one work of fiction, and will give short a presentation on each in two separately scheduled meetings with the other graduate students.

 

Take-Home Midterm – 45 points (Film 4280 and 6280)

The take-home midterm will require you to relate concepts from the readings and lectures to the assigned films, series, novels and comics. Undergraduate and graduate students will take the same exam, but graduate students will be expected to submit more detailed answers. Due March 7.

 

Take-Home Final – 45 points (Film 4280 and 6280)

The take-home final will be structured just like the midterm, covering the second half of the semester. Due April 30.

 

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.

 

 

 

Policies

 

Office Hours

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

 

Late Papers

Late midterms are penalized at the rate of 1/2 point per day overdue. Late finals cannot be accepted without an extension.

 

Rewrites

Rewrites of any midterm question are welcome. The final grade on the question will be the average of the original grade and the rewritten version’s grade. Rewrites of the final are unavailable, but rough drafts of the final can be submitted for feedback through April 23.

 

Incompletes

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

 

Assessment

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.

 

Disability

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.

PostMarxisms, Summer 2013

Is Marxism dead? If so, what other forms of critique and imagination can help us think beyond the injustices and unsustainability of global capitalism? What can we learn from the successes and failures of the Marxist project?

The goal of the course is to take stock of the value and legacy of the Marxist critical tradition for contemporary debates about culture and politics. Over the seven weeks, we’ll alternate reading Marx himself with work by theorists engaging his legacy.

Required Texts

Karl Marx, Capital, Volume 1

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/

For a hard copy, get the Penguin Classics or Vintage Books edition

Karl Marx & Frederick Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/index.htm

Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri, Declaration

http://antonionegriinenglish.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/93152857-hardt-negri-declaration-2012.pdf

Also available on Amazon for 99¢

Jodi Dean, The Communist Horizon

Marshall Berman, Adventures in Marxism

Giles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus:Capitalism and Schizophrenia

Timothy Morton, The Ecological Thought

In addition to the readings, you will also be required to watch or listen to David Harvey’s series of lectures, Reading Marx’s Capital. It’s available in a variety of streaming and downloadable formats at http://davidharvey.org/reading-capital.

Schedule

6/11 Introduction

 

6/13 Marx, Capital, chapters 1-2; Harvey, classes 1-2

Fredric Jameson, “A New Reading of Capital”

http://www.mediationsjournal.org/articles/a-new-reading-of-capital

Nancy Fraser, “A Triple Movement?” New Left Review 81, May-June 2013.

http://newleftreview.org.ezproxy.gsu.edu/II/81/nancy-fraser-a-triple-movement

(you must be logged in to the GSU library for this link to work)

 

6/18 Marx & Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party

Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri, Declaration

 

6/20 Capital, chapters 3-6; Harvey, classes 3-4

 

6/25 Jodi Dean, The Communist Horizon

 

6/27 Capital, chapters 7-11; Harvey, classes 5-6

 

7/2 Marshall Berman, Adventures in Marxism

 

7/4 No Class – July 4 holiday

 

7/9 Fredric Jameson, “Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture”

Fredric Jameson, “Forward,” in A.J. Greimas, On Meaning: Selected Writings in Semiotic Theory

Philip Wegner, “Greimas Avec Lacan: or, From the Symbolic to the Real in Dialectical Criticism”

Assignment: come in with your own semantic square

 

7/11 Capital, chapters 12-15; Harvey, classes 7-9

 

7/16 Giles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus

 

7/18 Capital, chapters 16-25; Harvey, classes 10-11

 

7/23 Timothy Morton, The Ecological Thought

 

7/25 Capital, chapters 26-33; Harvey, classes 12-13

 

7/29 Research Presentations/Party at Ted’s house

Note: this class is on a Monday

 

 

Paper due Friday, August 2

 

 

Assignments

 

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. Reading Discussion – 6160: 20% of final grade; 8690: 15% of final grade

You will sign up to lead, with a group, the discussion of one of the assigned readings (other than Capital). To prepare for the discussion of the reading, research these questions to put the reading in a broader context:

 

  1. 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?

 

  1. What was the reception of the book? How was 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, address on these areas:

 

  1. 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?

 

  1. Examples: Pick 2-3 media examples that are 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?

 

Outline the key topics of discussion in a short (1-2 page) handout for the class. There’s no need to include more detail, or to prepare a PowerPoint presentation – the focus should be on presenting material orally and facilitating a good class discussion.

 

II. Contemporary Capital example – 6160: 20% of grade; 8690: 15% of grade

For one week’s reading in Capital, bring in a relevant contemporary example so that class can assess the applicability and value of Marx’s ideas today. Choose a text to present to the class to get the discussion going, such as a video clip.

 

IIi. Outside reading presentation – 8690 only: 10% of grade

PhD students will read one additional book, and give a 15-20 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 eligible books is appended to the syllabus.

 

III. Final Paper – 60% of final grade

Write a paper on a subject relating to the ideas of the class. 6160: 12-15 pages. 8690: 18-25 pages. Doctoral work will also be expected to meet a higher standard of theoretical sophistication.

 

  • A one-page prospectus is due July 9. I will schedule individual meetings with you to discuss the prospectus.
  • You will give a short (10 minute) presentation of your work in progress on July 29.
  • The final paper is due August 2.

 

IV. 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.

 

 

Policies

 

Office Hours

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

 

Incompletes

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

 

Assessment

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.

 

Disability

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.

 

 

 

 

Potential Books for Outside Presenations:

 

Adorno & Horkheimer, The Dialectic of Enlightenment

Alain Badiou & Bruno Bosteels, The Adventure of French Philosophy

Jean Baudrillard, Simulations

Walter Benjamin, Illuminations

Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism

Jacob Blumenfeld, Chiara Battici & Simon Critchley, The Anarchist Turn

Bruno Bosteels, Marx and Freud in Latin America

Judith Butler and Athena Athanasiou, Dispossession: the Performative in the Political

Simon Critchley, Faith of the Faithless: Experiement in Political Theology

Ann Cvetkovich, Depression: a Public Feeling 

Jaques Derrida, Spectres of Marx

Neal Faulkner, A Marxist History of the World

Mark Fisher, Capitalist Imperialism: Is There No Alternative?

MIchael Foucault, Discipline and Punich

John Fiske, Understanding Popular Culture

Nancy Fraser, Forces of Feminism: From State-Managed Capitalism to Neoliberal Crisis

Gindin and Panich, The Making of Global Capitalism

Alexander Galloway & Eugene Thacker, The Exploit: A Theory of Networks

Chaz Gormley et al, Occupy Pysche: Jungian and Arthetypal Perspectives on a Movement

Antonio Gramsci, The Prison Notebooks

Melissa Greegg & Gregory J Seigworth, The Affect Theory Reader

Staurt Hall, Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies

Graham Harman, Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Thngs

David Harvey, The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism

Christopher Hayes, Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy

Fredric Jameson, Marxism and Form

Razmig Keucheyan & Gregory Elliott, Left Hemisphere: Mapping Contemporary Theory

Samuel Kimbles & Thomas Singer, the Cultural Complex: Contemporary Jungian Perspectives on  Psyche and Society

Ernesto Laclau & Chantall Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy

Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern

Quentin Mailassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency

Catherine Malabou, The Future of Hegel

Paul Mason, Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere:The New Global Revolutions

Jose Munoz, Cruising Utopia

Karl Polanyi, The Long Twentieth Century

Jacques Ranciere, Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics

Jonathan Sperber, Karl Marx: A Ninetheenth-Century Life

Michael Warner, The Trouble with Normal

Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature

Slavoj Zizek, Less Than Zero

Slavoj Zizek, ed., Mapping Ideology

 

Fantasy and Science Fiction Media, Spring 2013

FILM 4280/6280, Spring 2013
Tuesdays & Thursdays 1:00-2:15 PM, 331 General Classroom Building
Screenings Tuesdays, 11:00 AM-12:50 PM, 406 Arts & Humanities

Ted Friedman
25 Park Place #1017
tedf@gsu.edu
http://twitter.com/tedfriedman
http://tedfriedman.com

Course Description
How do we dream our visions of the future? How do we explore our fantasies of the past?

Science fiction extrapolates the trends of the present to imagine possible future worlds, both utopian and (more often) dystopian. Fantasy looks back to imagine past worlds in which technology has not yet usurped nature. Both genres are rooted in mythic traditions that push beyond the boundaries of realism to reach for deeper truths.

This class will examine the genres of fantasy and science fiction across multiple media, including film, television, literature, comics and gaming. We’ll survey their history, while at the same time tracing the impact of each text forward into the present. We’ll look at how these works have reflected and influenced American society, as each new generation of creators has responded to changing social conditions by re-imagining the key tropes and themes of the genres. And we’ll try to understand why these visions continue to capture the world’s imagination.

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

Maggie Hyde and Michael McGuinness, Introducing Jung
Salman Rushdie, The Wizard of Oz
Neal Gaiman, The Sandman: Season of Mists
Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game
Karen Thompson Walker, The Age of Miracles

The course books can be ordered through online retailers such as amazon.com/student, bn.com, and powells.com. The coursepack is sold by Bestway Copy Center, 18 Decatur Street SE (on the first floor of One Park Place South).

Students in Film 6280 will read two additional books of their choice, one scholarly book and one work of fiction, and will present them in two separately scheduled meetings with the other graduate students.

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

Unit I: Modern Myths

T 1/15 Understanding Fantasy and Science Fiction

Th 1/17 The Power of Myth
Ted Friedman, “Myth, the Numinous, and Cultural Studies”:
http://flowtv.org/?p=4161
Ted Friedman, “The Politics of Magic,”
http://www.scope.nottingham.ac.uk/article.php?issue=14&id=1138&section=article&q=rose

T 1/22 Star Wars
Joseph Campbell, excerpt from The Hero With a Thousand Faces (CP)
Christopher Vogler and Stuart Voytilla, excerpt from Myth and the Movies (CP)

Th 1/24 Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious
Hyde and McGuinness, Introducing Jung
Ted Friedman, “Jung and Lost”:
http://flowtv.org/?p=3865
Ursula K. LeGuin, “The Child and the Shadow” (CP)

T 1/29 The Lord of the Rings
J.R.R. Tolkien, “Introduction to The Fellowship of the Ring” (CP)
J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories”:
http://bjorn.kiev.ua/librae/Tolkien/Tolkien_On_Fairy_Stories.htm

Th 1/31 Game of Thrones

Unit II: Folklore and Fantasy

T 2/5 The Wizard of Oz
Salman Rushdie, The Wizard of Oz

Th 2/7 Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, “Why Vampires Never Die”:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/31/opinion/31deltoro.html?_r=1
Laura Miller, “Real Men Have Fangs”:
http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB122540672952785957-lMyQjAxMDI4MjE1MTQxMDE2Wj.html

T 2/12 The Company of Wolves
Angela Carter, “The Company of Wolves” (CP)
Selections from Marjorie Tatar, ed., The Classic Fairy Tales (CP)

Th 2/14 Firefly

T 2/19 Where the Wild Things Are
Alison Lurie, “Something Wonderful Out of Almost Nothing”:
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/jul/12/something-wonderful-out-almost-nothing/

Th 2/21 Dollhouse

T 2/26 Spirited Away
Margaret Talbot, “The Auteur of Anime” (CP)
James W. Boyd and Tetsuya Nishimura, “Shinto Perspectives in Miyazaki’s Anime Film Spirited Away,” The Journal of Religion and Film 8.2 (October 2004):
http://www.unomaha.edu/jrf/Vol8No2/boydShinto.htm
Norkio T. Reider, “Spirited Away: Film of the Fantastic and Evolving Japanese Folk Symbols,” Film Criticism 29.3 (2005): 4-27:

Click to access spirited_away.pdf


Aaron Sherwood, “Characterization, Narrative Structure and Mythopoeia in the Films of Hayao Miyazaki” (2006):

Click to access AaronSherwood_Mythopoeia.pdf

Th 2/28 Lost
Jason Mittell, “Sites of Participation: Wiki Fandom and the Case of Lostpedia”:
http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/118/117

T 3/5 Pan’s Labyrinth and Sandman
Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: Season of Mists

Th 3/7 The Walking Dead
Take-home midterm due

Unit III: Science Fiction

T 3/12 Metropolis
J. P. Telotte, “The Seductive Text of Metropolis” (CP)
William Gibson, “The Gernsback Continuum” (CP)
Andrew Ross, “Getting Out of the Gernsback Continuum” (CP)
David Hartwell, excerpt from Age of Wonders (CP)

Th 3/14 The Twilight Zone

T 3/19 Spring Break – no class

Th 3/21 Spring Break – no class

T 3/26 Bride of Frankenstein
Gary Morris, “Sexual Subversion: The Bride of Frankenstein”:
http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/19/19_bride1.html

Th 3/28 Star Trek
Henry Jenkins, “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations” (CP)
Ted Friedman, “Capitalism: The Final Frontier”:
http://www.tedfriedman.com/essays/2005/03/capitalism_the.html

T 4/2 Blade Runner
Donna Haraway, “A Manifesto for Cyborgs” (CP)
Fredric Jameson, “Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism” (CP)

Th 4/4 The X-Files
Carl Jung, “Flying Saucers as Modern Myths” (CP)

T 4/9 Brazil and Ender’s Game
Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game

Th 4/11 Battlestar Galactica
Spencer Ackerman, “Battlestar: Iraqtica,”
http://www.slate.com/id/2151425/nav/tap2/

T 4/16 The Matrix
David Weberman, “The Matrix: Simulation and the Postmodern Age” (CP)
Slavoj Zizek, “The Matrix, or the Two Sides of Perversion” (CP)
Aleksandar Hemon, “Beyond the Matrix”:
http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/09/10/120910fa_fact_hemon

Th 4/18 World of Warcraft and The Guild
Download and play the free World of Warcraft trial:
http://www.worldofwarcraft.com

T 4/23 Children of Men and The Age of Miracles
Karen Thompson Walker, The Age of Miracles

Th 4/25 Futurama

Take-Home Final due via email to tedf@gsu.edu on Tuesday, April 30 by 5 PM

Screening Schedule

You are responsible for viewing assigned films in time for class discussion. Screenings are held on Thursdays at 4:30 PM in 406 Arts & Humanities.

1/15 No screening
1/22 Star Wars
1/29 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
2/5 The Wizard of Oz
2/12 The Company of Wolves
2/19 Where the Wild Things Are
2/26 Spirited Away
3/5 Pan’s Labyrinth
3/12 Metropolis
3/19 Spring Break – no class
3/26 Bride of Frankenstein
4/2 Blade Runner
4/9 Brazil
4/16 The Matrix
4/23 Children of Men

Assignments

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

TV Presentation – 10 points (Film 4280 only)
As part of a 2-3 person team, you will give a presentation on an influential fantasy or science fiction television show. Your team has two presentation options:

Research Presentation: Each member of the team gives a 5-minute presentation on a different aspect of the show: 1) the creator/creators; 2) the economics of the production, including available budget and ratings information; 3) audience responses. Each member hands in a list of sources. A minimum of five separate sources is required for each member’s presentation. (Wikipedia can be consulted to find sources but does not itself count toward the five sources.) PowerPoint is not necessary, but short video clips (such as creator interviews, news stories, and fan films) should be incorporated into each presentation when available.

Creative Presentation: Alternately, the presentation team can choose to collectively produce a short film about the TV show. Options include an edited selection of clips with voice-over commentary, a series of interviews with viewers, or a fan film.

Book Presentations – 5 points each (Film 6280 only)
Graduate students will read two additional books of their choice, one scholarly book and one work of fiction, and will give short a presentation on each in two separately scheduled meetings with the other graduate students.

Take-Home Midterm – 45 points (Film 4280 and 6280)
The take-home midterm will require you to relate concepts from the readings and lectures to the assigned films, series, novels and comics. Undergraduate and graduate students will take the same exam, but graduate students will be expected to submit more detailed answers. Due March 7.

Take-Home Final – 45 points (Film 4280 and 6280)
The take-home final will be structured just like the midterm, covering the second half of the semester. Due April 30.

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.

Policies

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

Late Papers
Late midterms are penalized at the rate of 1/2 point per day overdue. Late finals cannot be accepted without an extension.

Rewrites
Rewrites of any midterm question are welcome. The final grade on the question will be the average of the original grade and the rewritten version’s grade. Rewrites of the final are unavailable, but rough drafts of the final can be submitted for feedback through April 23.

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

Assessment
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.

Disability
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.

For a Jungian Turn in Comics Studies

Here’s a short “position paper” I wrote for a panel on comics at the Flow media studies conference in Austin:

For a Jungian Turn in Comics Studies

The rise of the new field of comics studies offers the opportunity to reconsider theoretical choices made by earlier forms of media studies. When, in an earlier generation, film studies began looking for models of subjectivity, it turned to the Freudian/Lacanian tradition. Left behind, for the most part, was the very different psychoanalytic perspective developed by Freud’s onetime protégé Carl Jung. While parsing the obsessions of exemplary filmmakers such as Alfred Hitchcock seemed to require the Oedipal framework of Freud, the work of comparable comic book auteurs such as Alan Moore and Neal Gaiman is in a very different, much more Jungian register. Their model for the psyche begins not with the family romance, but with a multiplicity of intense affects and impulses represented by godlike figures of outsized powers and desires. As these creators recognize, comic books’ heroes are archetypal, their stories mythic, their metaphysics mystical. Turning to Jung gives comics studies access to an invaluable trove of insight into the mythic dimensions of popular culture. In turn, recentering media studies around comics studies offers a chance to reintegrate models of archetype and the numinous into contemporary cultural studies.

Fans and scholars rightly insist that comics are more than just superheroes. But this claim for diversity also includes a hint of disavowal: there’s good reason why superpowered characters have featured so prominently not only in the medium’s most popular works, but also in many of its most powerful and influential ones. Produced by just ink and paper, comics are not indexically bound as photography and film are, and so easily transcend the limits of verisimilitude, making them the ideal visual medium for fantasy. Only now are other media, using CGI technology, able to approach the vastness of this canvas. Even Joss Whedon’s film version of The Avengers, working with a budget north of $100 million, was compelled to save money and effort by setting much of its second act in the stagey confines of the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier. The locations of a comic book, on the other hand, are limited only by the artists’ imaginations.

Comics, then, are ideally suited for representing larger-than-life characteristics in settings far beyond the everyday. In Jungian terms, superheroes are archetypes: representations of primal psychic forces. In Jungian interpretations of myths and fairy tales, individual characters represent archetypal aspects of a single psyche: the Hero, the Mother, the Shadow, and so on. Likewise, stories of superheroes and super villains speak to us today because their characters represent archetypal elements within each of our psyches. Within The Avengers, for example, one might argue that Thor is an image of power, Captain America of duty, Iron Man intellect, and the Bruce Banner/The Hulk the dialectic of repression and aggression. Each of us contains within us the multitudes of the superheroic mythos.

Critics of Jungian interpretation have argued that it is essentialist—that is presumes all cultural texts represent unchanging psychological truths. But contemporary “post-Jungian” critics have pointed to the distinction that Jung draws between “archetype” and “archetypal image.” An archetype is an unrepresentable pattern of energy, stored, for Jung, in the collective unconscious. An archetypal image is the specific embodiment of an archetype in a distinct cultural and historical moment. The archetypal image is where archetype meets ideology. Bringing Jung together with the ideas of Antonio Gramsci, we can see every specific archetypal image as an intervention in the struggle to define the hegemonic meanings attached to an underlying archetype. The representation of Captain America, for instance, has been a space to struggle over the meanings of patriotism—from Jack Kirby’s Avenger slugging Hitler, to Alan Moore’s curdled parody the Comedian, to Whedon’s man out of time. Pairing post-Marxist ideology criticism with post-Jungian analytical theory gives comics studies the tools not just to explain its own medium, but also to map the fantasies and fears at the heart of contemporary popular culture.

Convergence Culture, Fall 2012

Senior Seminar: Convergence Culture
Film 4910, Fall 2012
Section 4910-005: Tuesdays & Thursdays 11:00-12:15, Sparks 305
Section 4910-010: Tuesdays & Thursdays 2:30-3:45, Sparks 329

Ted Friedman
Office: 738 One Park Place South
Email: ted@tedfriedman.com
Twitter: http://twitter.com/tedfriedman
Website: https://tedfriedman.com/teaching

Course Description
Media today are converging, as the boundaries that divide movies, TV, games, phones and the web blur. Likewise, the familiar categories of producer and consumer intermingle in Web 2.0 practices such as blogging, vidding, modding and tweeting. This senior seminar will examine the shifting roles of creators and audiences across a range of media practices, culminating in a capstone project that represents your own engagement with the changing media landscape.

Readings
Three books are required for the class:
Marcus Boon, In Praise of Copying (Harvard UP, 2010).
Bill Wasik, And Then There’s This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture (Penguin, 2009).
Laurence Lessig: Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy (Penguin, 2008).
In Praise of Copying can be downloaded for free at http://www.hup.harvard.edu/features/boon/. Remix can be read for free online at http://www.scribd.com/doc/47089238/Remix. And Then There’s This can be purchased online from http://amazon.com, http://bn.com, or http://powells.com, or ordered from the campus bookstore. Other assigned readings are available online at the URLs listed below. Supplementary links to media news and criticism will be distributed via the class Twitter hashtag #sensem.

Capstone Project
This seminar is structured to support the creation of an individual project (research or creative) addressing some aspect of authorship, audiences, and/or convergence.  This project may either be a research paper (10-15 pages), a website (15-20 pages), a fiction/nonfiction video (5-10 minutes), a comic book (24 pages), or a game (a board game with cards and rules, or a computer game), depending on your preference and previous technical experience. (Students will not receive technical training in the details of video production or multimedia development as part of this class. Support is available through the GSU Digital Aquarium, http://www.gsu.edu/aquarium/.)  The final submitted project will be the culmination of a series of assignments, as described below.

Critical Thinking through Writing
This course is a designated Critical Thinking through Writing (CTW) course. It is designed as the capstone course for students majoring in Film/Media. In film/media studies, “critical thinking” is defined as identifying, analyzing, and evaluating arguments and truth claims, then formulating and presenting convincing reasons in support of conclusions.  “Writing” refers to the skill of writing clear, well-organized, and grammatically correct English prose. The emphasis throughout the process of creating the capstone project will be on ensuring that your project achieves your rhetorical ends. All students, whether they write a paper or do a more “creative” project, must clearly articulate those rhetorical strategies in writing and will revise those strategies based on feedback. In addition, students will demonstrate their ability to think critically in discussing their peers’ work, evaluating each individual project’s structure and its persuasive impact.

Schedule

Introducing Convergence Culture

8/21    Introduction
    In-class screening: Star Wars fan films    

8/23    Read Henry Jenkins, “Quentin Tarantino’s Star Wars? Digital Cinema,
    Media Convergence, and Participatory Culture”
    http://web.mit.edu/cms/People/henry3/starwars.html
    In-class screening: Barbie Nation

The Culture of the Copy

8/28    Read Marcus Boon, In Praise of Copying, Introduction, Chapter 1
    In-class screening: Rip! A Remix Manifesto
    
8/30     Read Boon, Chapters 2-3

9/4    Read Boon, Chapters 4-6
    In-class screening: Exit through the Gift Shop
    Project Proposal due

9/6    Read Boon, Chapter 7, Conclusion

Memetics

9/11     Read Bill Wasik, And Then There’s This, Introduction, Chapter 1
    In-class screening: memes

9/13    Read Wasik, Chapter 2

9/18    Read Wasik, Chapters 3-4
    Project Structure draft due

9/20    Read Wasik, Chapter 5, Conclusion

Source/Influence Presentations

9/25    Source/Influence Presentations

9/27    Source/Influence Presentations

10/2    Source/Influence Presentations
    Project Structure final draft due

10/4    Source/Influence Presentations

10/9    Source/Influence Presentations

Proposal Workshops

10/11    Proposal Workshops

10/16    Proposal Workshops

10/18    Proposal Workshops

10/23    Proposal Workshops

10/25    Proposal Workshops

10/30    Proposal Workshops

Remix Culture

11/1    Read Laurence Lessig, Remix, Part 1
    In-class screening: PressPausePlay

11/6    Read Lessig, Part 2

11/8    Read Lessig, Part 3

Final Project Presentations

11/13    Final Project Presentations

11/15    Final Project Presentations

11/27    Final Project Presentations

11/29    Final Project Presentations

Final project due December 6

Assignments

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     100-93        B+    89-88        C+    79-78        D    70-65
A-    92-90        B    87-83        C    77-73        F    64-0
            B-    82-80        C-    72-70
                        
Project Proposal – 10 points
Write a 2-3 page proposal.  Students creating research papers, nonfiction videos, or websites will detail the questions to be investigated and the sources they will use (including bibliography).  Those creating fiction videos will present a story synopsis and a statement of their project’s intended meaning/purpose. The proposal is due in class on September 4.

Source/Influence Presentation – 10 points
Pick one or more texts that you expect to engage in your project. These may be sources you plan to write about, clips you plan to sample, or models for your own creative work. Present to the class (10-15 minutes) the background and context for the sources or influences, discussing how you plan to engage them in your own project. Presentations will be scheduled from September 25-October 9.

Project Structure – 30 points
Write a 6-10 page document including the following segments:

I. Outline or script: 3-5 pages, form depending on project. An essay project should include an expanded outline. A nonfiction video project should include a detailed segmentation breaking down scenes. A fiction video project or comic book should include a full script. A website project should include a site map.

II. Critical essay about the project: 3-5 pages. This paper should address three topics:
    – The goals for your project and how you plan to achieve them
    – How your project engages the ideas of the class, drawing on at least one of the assigned
        readings.
    – How you plan to engage the text or texts discussed in your Source/Influence
        Presentation

A rough draft of the Project Structure is due in class on September 18. After meetings to discuss revisions, the final version is due in class October 2.

Proposal Workshop – 10 points
Present your work in progress to the class. Workshops will be scheduled from October 11-30.

Final Project Presentation – 10 points
After incorporating the class’s feedback from the Proposal Workshop, you will present a final version to the class at the end of the semester, November 13-29.

Final Project – 30 points
After incorporating further class feedback and polishing any rough edges, the final version of the capstone project is due on December 6.

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 on 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.

Policies

Late Assignments
Late assignments will be marked off by ½ point for every day overdue unless an extension is agreed upon before the due date. No work can be accepted after the deadline for the final project. Any unsubmitted work will receive a 0.

Withdrawals
Students withdrawing on or before the midsemester point will receive a W provided they are passing the course. Students who withdraw after the midsemester point will not be eligible for a W except in cases of hardship. If you withdraw after the midsemester point, you will be assigned a WF, except in those cases in which (1) hardship status is determined by the Office of the Dean of Students because of emergency, employment, or health reasons, and (2) you are passing the course.

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

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

Convergence Culture, Summer 2012

Film 4910, Summer 2012
Tuesdays & Thursdays 10:55-1:25, Classroom South 308

Ted Friedman
Office: 738 One Park Place South
Email: ted@tedfriedman.com     
Twitter: http://twitter.com/tedfriedman
Website: https://tedfriedman.com/teaching

Course Description
Media today are converging, as the boundaries that divide movies, TV, games, phones and the web blur. Likewise, the familiar categories of producer and consumer intermingle in Web 2.0 practices such as blogging, vidding, modding and tweeting. This senior seminar will examine the shifting roles of creators and audiences across a range of media practices, culminating in a capstone project that represents your own engagement with the changing media landscape.

Readings
Three books are required for the class:
Marcus Boon, In Praise of Copying (Harvard UP, 2010).
Bill Wasik, And Then There’s This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture (Penguin, 2009).
Laurence Lessig: Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy (Penguin, 2008).
In Praise of Copying can be downloaded for free at http://www.hup.harvard.edu/features/boon/. Remix can be read for free online at http://www.scribd.com/doc/47089238/Remix. And Then There’s This can be purchased from http://amazon.com, http//:bn.com, http://powells.com, and other retailers. Other assigned readings are available online at the URLs listed below. Supplementary links to media news and criticism will be distributed via the class Twitter hashtag #sensem.

Capstone Project
This seminar is structured to support the creation of an individual project (research or creative) addressing some aspect of authorship, audiences, and/or convergence.  This project may either be a research paper (10-15 pages), a website (15-20 pages), a fiction/nonfiction video (5-10 minutes), a comic book (24 pages) or a game (a board game with cards and rules, or a computer game) depending on your preference and previous technical experience. (Students will not receive technical training in the details of video production or multimedia development as part of this class. Support is available through the GSU Digital Aquarium, http://www.gsu.edu/aquarium/.)   The final submitted project will be the culmination of a series of assignments, as described below.

Critical Thinking through Writing
This course is a designated Critical Thinking through Writing (CTW) course. It is designed as the capstone course for students majoring in Film/Media. In film/media studies, “critical thinking” is defined as identifying, analyzing, and evaluating arguments and truth claims, then formulating and presenting convincing reasons in support of conclusions.  “Writing” refers to the skill of writing clear, well-organized, and grammatically correct English prose. The emphasis throughout the process of creating the capstone project will be on ensuring that your project achieves your rhetorical ends. All students, whether they write a paper or do a more “creative” project, must clearly articulate those rhetorical strategies in writing and will revise those strategies based on feedback. In addition, students will demonstrate their ability to think critically in discussing their peers’ work, evaluating each individual project’s structure and its persuasive impact.

Schedule

Introducing Convergence Culture

6/5    Introduction
    In-class screening: Barbie Nation

6/7    Read Henry Jenkins, “Quentin Tarantino’s Star Wars? Digital Cinema,
    Media Convergence, and Participatory Culture”
    http://web.mit.edu/cms/People/henry3/starwars.html
    In-class screening: Star Wars fan films

The Culture of the Copy

6/12    Read Marcus Boon, In Praise of Copying, Introduction, Chapters 1-4
    In-class screening: Rip! A Remix Manifesto
    Project Proposal due

6/14    Read Boon, Chapter 5-7, Conclusion
    In-class screening: PressPausePlay

Memetics

6/19    Read Bill Wasik, And Then There’s This, Introduction, Chapters 1-2
    In-class screening: memes
    Project Structure draft due        

6/22     Read Wasik, Chapters 3-5, Conclusion
    In-class screening: memes
    

Source/Influence Presentations

6/26    Source/Influence Presentations
    Project Structure final draft due

6/28    Source/Influence Presentations

Proposal Workshops

7/3    Proposal Workshops

7/5    Proposal Workshops

Remix Culture

7/10    Read Laurence Lessig, Remix, Parts 1-2.
    In-class screening: Copyright Criminals

7/12    Read Lessig, Part 3.
    In-class screening: Exit through the Gift Shop

Final Project Presentations

7/17    Final Project Presentations

7/19    Final Project Presentations

Final project due July 26

Assignments

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     100-93        B+    89-88        C+    79-78        D    70-65
A-    92-90        B    87-83        C    77-73        F    64-0
            B-    82-80        C-    72-70
                        
Project Proposal – 10 points
Write a 2-3 page proposal.  Students creating research papers, nonfiction videos, or websites will detail the questions to be investigated and the sources they will use (including bibliography).  Those creating fiction videos will present a story synopsis and a statement of their project’s intended meaning/purpose. The proposal is due in class on June 12.

Source/Influence Presentation – 10 points
Pick one or more texts that you expect to engage in your project. These may be sources you plan to write about, clips you plan to sample, or models for your own creative work. Present to the class (10-15 minutes) the background and context for the sources or influences, discussing how you plan to engage them in your own project. Source presentations will be June 26 and 28.

Project Structure – 30 points
Write a 6-10 page document including the following segments:

I. Outline or script: 3-5 pages, form depending on project. An essay project should include an expanded outline. A nonfiction video project should include a detailed segmentation breaking down scenes. A fiction video project or comic book should include a full script. A website project should include a site map.

II. Critical essay about the project: 3-5 pages. This paper should address three topics:
    – The goals for your project and how you plan to achieve them
    – How your project engages the ideas of the class, drawing on at least one of the assigned
        readings.
    – How you plan to engage the text or texts discussed in your source/influence
        presentation

A rough draft of the Project Structure is due in class on June 19. After meetings to discuss revisions, the final version is due in class June 26.

Proposal Workshop – 10 points
Present your work in progress to the class on July 3 or 5.

Final Project Presentation – 10 points
After incorporating the class’s feedback from the Proposal Workshop, you will present a final version to the class at the end of the semester, July 17 or 19.

Final Project – 30 points
After incorporating further class feedback and polishing any rough edges, the final version of the capstone project is due on July 26.

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 on 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.

Policies

Late Assignments
Late assignments will be marked off by ½ point for every day overdue unless an extension is agreed upon before the due date. No work can be accepted after the deadline for the final project. Any unsubmitted work will receive a 0.

Withdrawals
Students withdrawing on or before the midsemester point will receive a W provided they are passing the course. Students who withdraw after the midsemester point will not be eligible for a W except in cases of hardship. If you withdraw after the midsemester point, you will be assigned a WF, except in those cases in which (1) hardship status is determined by the Office of the Dean of Students because of emergency, employment, or health reasons, and (2) you are passing the course.

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

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

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
ted@tedfriedman.com
http://twitter.com/tedfriedman
http://tedfriedman.com

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.

Readings
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 amazon.com/student, bn.com, and powells.com. 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.
Schedule

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
http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/german-ideology/ch01a.htm;
http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/german-ideology/ch01b.htm
Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment
as Mass Deception”
http://www.icce.rug.nl/~soundscapes/DATABASES/SWA/Some_writings_of_Adorno.shtml
Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History”
http://www.sfu.ca/~andrewf/CONCEPT2.html
Watch or listen to Reading Marx’s Capital with David Harvey, Class 1: “Introduction”
http://davidharvey.org/2008/06/marxs-capital-class-01/
Watch or listen to Paul Fry’s Literary Theory, Class 17: “The Frankfurt School of
Critical Theory”
http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/17-the-frankfurt-school-critical/id341652579?i=63753382

1/26    Hegemony and Resistance
Turner, Chapters 2-7, Conclusion
Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses”
http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/althusser/1970/ideology.htm
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
http://www.tedfriedman.com/electricdreams/2005/02/introduction.php
Michael Berube, “What’s the Matter with Cultural Studies,”
http://chronicle.com/article/Whats-the-Matter-With/48334/
Watch or listen to Paul Fry’s Literary Theory, Class 18: “The Political Unconscious”
http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/18-the-political-unconscious/id341652579?i=63753375

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

Assignments

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.

Policies

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

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

Assessment
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.

Disability
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.

Ted’s Top Music of 2011

Albums

1. Bon Iver, Bon Iver
2. Drake, Take Care
3. Tune-Yards, Whokill
4. Laura Marling, A Creature I Don’t Know
5. Tycho, Dive
6. Washed Out, Within and Without
7. Radiohead, King of Limbs
8. M83, Hurry Up We’re Dreaming
9. Raphael Saadiq, Stone Rollin’
10. Feist, Metals

Honorable Mention

James Blake
Amon Tobin, ISAM
Ke$ha, I Am the Dance Commander
Abigail Washburn, City of Refuge
The Head and the Heart
Adele, 21
Brad Mehldau, Live at Birdland
Danger Mouse & Daniel Luppe, Rome
Tim Hecker, Ravedeath, 1972
Death Cab for Cutie, Codes & Keys
J Mascis, Several Shades of Why
JAY Z & Kanye West, Watch the Throne
Portugal, the Man, In the Mountain in the Cloud

Singles

1. Adele, “Rolling in the Deep”
2. Tune-Yards, “My Country”
3. Kreayshawn, “Gucci Gucci”
4. Foster the People, “Pumped Up Kicks”
5. Active Child, “You Are All I See”
6. The Head and the Heart, “Lost in My Mind”
7. Diego Garcia, “You Were Never There”
8. Iron & Wine, “Tree By the River”
9. Neon Indian, “Polish Girl”
10. Radihead, “Give Up the Ghost”

Honorable Mentions

Amos Lee, “Windows Are Rolled Down”
The Sheepdogs, “Who?”
Burial, “Street Halo”
Weird Al Yankovic, “Perform This Way”

 

 

Marx, Jung & Yoda: The Dialectics of The Force

Here’s a talk about Star Wars and myth that I gave last month  at the Academy of Religious Studies conference in San Francisco. Feedback is welcome – I’m in the process of turning this into the introduction to my book, Centaur Manifesto.

I’m really thrilled to be here at the AAR conference. This is the first time I have been to a conference in religious studies, and I want to admit right off the bat that I’m not a trained scholar in religious studies. My own background is in cultural studies, new media, and critical theory. But I have found more and more that in trying to understand contemporary American culture, it’s impossible to ignore spiritual themes, and that the theoretical models of cultural studies really don’t offer a lot of space to think through questions of spirituality. There are some good and legitimate reasons for this. The Marxist and Freudian hermaneutics of suspicion have been incredibly valuable in uncovering the ideological underpinnings of religious discourses, along with all other discourses. But I’ve come to conclude that they’re not enough to tell the whole story.  I’ve come to this conference because I think a theological turn – or, in psychoanalytic terms, a Jungian turn – can help cultural studies develop a richer vocabulary to talk about the numinous. And at the same time, I do have some hope that some of the ideas that have come out of my own field might be of use to religious studies as well.

I’d like to begin by giving a little context for how I came to this topic. My first book, Electric Dreams, looked at the cultural history of personal computers, and what I argue is that cyberculture in the 1980s and 90s became what I call a utopian sphere: a space to imagine different visions of the future beyond the boundaries of late capitalist ideology. I was inspired by the work of Fredric Jameson, particularly his groundbreaking essay “Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture.” Jameson argues that for popular culture texts to capture the imaginations of large audiences, they must include at least glimpses of a better world. But capitalist ideology represses and recontains these utopian impulses, channelling them into consumerism, cynicism, and alienated individualism. For Jameson, the goal of the critic is to rescue and expand upon the utopian visions that have been buried within what he calls The Political Unconscious.

After finishing my first book a few years ago, I began to look more closely at the popular culture of this past decade, and was surprised by what I found. Electric Dreams argued that science fiction was the most influential genre of the 1980s and 1990s, helping to invent and make sense of the transmediated universe that we all live in now. But in this past decade, there’s been a cultural shift that has paralleled the growth of transmedia. These days, I’d argue that it’s the genre of fantasy that has been the most influential to our culture, producing the biggest blockbusters (Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings), the most popular gamespaces (World of Warcraft), and, to my mind, the most interesting genre authors

Fantasy works differently than science fiction. Science fiction speaks in the register of science and technology. But the central trope of fantasy is magic – a mystical force beyond the boundraries of Englightenment rationality. If science fiction celebrates logos, fantasy is the genre of mythos. As Arthur C. Clarke points out, any technology sufficiently advanced beyond our own is indistinguishable from magic. In this sense, all science fiction is part of the larger fantastical, mythological tradition. It’s just that the technological gloss of SF provides a cover of rationality over its magical, mystical core. Lately, that cover seems to be slipping. The rise of popular fantasy, I’d suggest, reflects what Christopher Partridge calls The Re-Enchantment of the West, in a play on Max Weber’s famous description of modernity as “The Dis-Enchantment of the World.” The desires underlying many fantasy texts, then, are not only the visions of a more just and egalitarian post-capitalist society that Jameson identifies, but also repressed visions of the spiritual – of mytical, gnostic experience.

Now, it may seem strange to describe spirituality as a repressed subtext in American popular culture. After all, the US remains one of the most religious societies in the world, an ongoing repudiation of the secularization thesis. But I’d suggest that the mystical, gnostic sensiblity of popular fantasy is not prominently represented in the American public sphere. This is the argument religious studies scholar Jeffrey Kripal makes in his fascinating new study of comic books, Mutants and Mystics. Furthermore, the core audience for these texts – the kinds of geeks and techies like myself who attend the San Diego Comic Con and play MMORPGs – are exactly those whose everyday worlds are most structured by the capitalist technocratic rationality of binary codes and spreadsheets. In this context, the mystical vision of fantasy represents what Jung would call a compensatory myth – not, as classical ideology theory would have it, because it mystifies and justifies capitalism, but rather because, like a recurring dream, it points to a psychological need that is not being met – a potential transformation of the self, and of society, that challenges the illusion of a stable, complete ego.

In other words, there is a spiritual impulse that is repressed in technocratic postmodern American culture. But that human need does not go away. The return of the repressed shows up in our shared fantasies. Jorge Louis Borges suggested that the theological is a part of the fantastical genre.  I’d like to suggest the converse: that we consider popular fantasy as a form of folk theology.

Another inspiriation for my work, and for much of transmedia studies in general, has been Donna Haraway’s hugely influential 1986 essay, “A Manifesto for Cyborgs.” Haraway turned to the figure of the cyborg to argue that it offered a way to reimagine the intersection between the human and the machine, between nature and technology. She saw the cyborg as a figure who could challenge the presumptions of many on the Left at the time who saw technology as the enemy. Instead, she suggested that films like Blade Runner offerred ways to imagine reappropriating technological tools to empower the disnenfranchised. Haraway’s ideas, controversial in their time, have become a kind of common sense today; I don’t think technophobia on the Left is nearly the problem it was when she was discussing it. Instead, just as science fiction was dismissed by most of Haraway’s peers in the 1980s as escapism, today it is fantasy that is often dismissed as reactionary nostalgia. In fact, both the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies first came out in the fall of 2001, shortly after 9/11, and many critics  argued that these films were so popular at this moment because they offer a safe, reassuring retreat into a fantasy world. I don’t think that’s completely wrong, but I don’t think it tells nearly the whole story. If in the 1980s what was needed was a cyborg manifesto, today what’s needed is what I call a centaur manifesto, a similar embrace of a liminal figure. The centaur is on the boundary between human and animal, between nature and culture, and even on the boundary between reality and fantasy, between the scientific world of everyday life and the fantastical world of mythology. Just as Haraway saw the cyborg as an inspiring figure to imagine how we could rework science fiction in new, more empowered ways, I think the centaur similarly can be that type of fantasy figure.

To flesh out the implications of this centaur manifesto, I’ll be turning now to a specific text. The movie I want to talk about might be a little surprising because at first glance we might presume it’s science fiction: Star Wars. Star Wars is on the precipice of science fiction and fantasy. It has spaceships and light sabers, but it’s also a story of a knight who rescues a princess. It begins like a fairy tale: “Long ago in a galaxy far, far away.” And most of all, it’s a world in which magic overcomes technology, as Luke turns off his computer and destroys the Death Star by trusting instead in the Force.

The formative religious experience of my childhood was Star Wars – certainly more so, I have to admit, than Hebrew School or my Bar Mitzvah. When Obi-Wan Kenobi told Luke, “The Force . . . is an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together,” I could feel The Force tingle in my own fingertips. More than once I attempted to move objects with only the power of my mind. They never moved, but I can’t say I was ever disappointed – I think something in me moved, as I recognized that my mind and the outside world in were in some ways part of an indivisible whole. Years later, I would rediscover the flavor of those experiences when I began meditating regularly.

The power of The Force, I think, has a lot to do with the endurance of the Star Wars mythos, over three decades past the release of the first film. Star Wars was one of the first transmedia blockbusters, spawning books, comics, videogames, lunchboxes, and most lucratively, toys. All of these spinoffs meant that watching the movie was only the beginning of the experience – kids like me could move on to tell our own stories, as we did for all the years between 198tk and 1999 when no new films were being made.

The Force is a fictional construction, but at the same time it is a very powerful model for thinking about the numinous in our lives. In fact, its very fictional nature may be part of what has made it so resonant and lasting. In Jungian terms, we could say that for Star Wars fans, The Force is an archetypal image rather than the archetype itself. While there are a few people who mark ‘Jedi’ under religion on their census forms, most people don’t explicitly believe in the theology of Star Wars. Rather, they find Star Wars a set of metaphors that can help them conceive of their own sense of the spiritual or the numinous without feeling constrained by the doctrines of traditional religions. In this sense, Star Wars is one example of what Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead call The Spiritual Revolution, in which more and more Westerners define themselves as spiritual rather than religious.

So, how does cultural studies theorize texts like Star Wars? In Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins’ agenda-setting work on transmedia, Jenkins recognizes the influence of Joseph Campbell’s ideas about myth not only on Star Wars, but on the many other screenplays that have been inspired by Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces. But Jenkins characterizes Campbell’s ideas in a very distinctive way. He writes: “Audience familiarity with this basic plot structure allows scriptwriters to skip over transitional or expository sequences, throwing us directly in the action.” In other words, Jenkins finds Campbell important as a structuralist who codified the generic expectations that make these heroic narratives easier to parse. But Jenkins passes over exactly what’s most important about myth to Campbell: the mystical. As Campbell put it: “Without the mystical, myth is just ideology.” For Campbell, as a Jungian, the hero’s journey is fundamentally about the descent into the unconscious to engage the numinous – what he calls “the mystery which is the ground of our being.”

So what would it mean to take the numinous more seriously in cultural studies? Is there a way to articulate spirituality within the set of ideas that have been so influential in cultural studies?

The circuit of culture is Paul du Gay’s very influential model of the five nodes through which every culural object passes. Where does the numinous fit in this model? Spirituality is certainly an aspect of personal identity. It’s also, as I’ve been arguing, a key theme of textual representation, even if remains as subtext. But I’d suggest the numinous – a vision of the transcendental – also informs the activities of production, consumption, and regulation. Another way to rework the circuit of culture is this:

[To come: image of a Mandala of Culture. Submissions welcome.]

Here is a Mandala of Culture, which transforms Du Gay’s two-dimentional circle into a three-dimensional sphere. It conceives of the numinous as the ground, the context in which all the circuit goes around. The numinous in itself is not directly accessible. In Jung’s terms, it is the realm of archetypes. It enters our world through the circuit of culture, where it becomes an object of representation, redefinition, and struggle. The circuit of culture is where archetype meets ideology.

I like Jung’s term “the numinous” because it locates the spiritual in the unconscious, the unrepresentable. We could also call this axis the sublime, or even Lacan’s Real – in some sense, I’d argue that all these terms are pointing to the same thing: that part of the humand experience beyond Enlightenment rationality.

[Note – this is the fuzziest, most speculative part of the talk. More to come in Centaur Manifesto.]

With this model in place, let’s turn back to Star Wars and ask how we might integrate the numinous into cultural studies. One place to start is to point out that Joseph Campbell was not George Lucas’s only guru. As I was doing research for this paper, I came across a series of fascinating talks by Alan Watts, who was a very influential popularizer of Zen Buddhism and Taoism in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. During the period that George Lucas was writing Star Wars, Watts lived in the Bay area, speaking often at places like the Esalen Institute and on his weekly public radio show. The vocal, physical, and philosphical resemblance between Watts and Alec Guinness’s portrayal of Obi-Wan Kenobi is so unmistakeable that many fans have concluded that Watts was “the real Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

In this context, then, we can see the Force not only as a generalized religious metaphor, but also more specifically as an example of the popular transmission of Eastern spiritual ideas to the West in the second half of the Twentieth Century. But Lucas’s Force is not quite the same thing as the Tao. In Taoism, the model of yin and yang reflects the interdependence and interpenetration of all things. Dark and light depend on and need each other. One cannot exist without the other, just as any figure depends on the negative space of its background. In George Lucas’s version of the Force, while the language of dark and light remains, it’s reincorporated into a much more Western, Manichean vision of absolute good and evil. There is the light side of Obi-Wan and Luke, and there is the dark side of Darth Vader and The Emperor. So while on the one hand George Lucas brought a Taoist vision to the United States, on the other hand, in the process he robbed it of much of what makes it distinctive, complex and resonant. For this, it’s been justly criticized for validating Ronald Reagan’s attack on the Soviet Union as an “Evil Empire” in the 1980s, and George W. Bush’s similar demonization of an “Axis of Evil” two decades later.

Having said that, however, if we then begin to think about Star Wars as a transmediated text, what is significant not only its original texual representation, but also its reappropriation and reworking by its audiences. If we think of the cultural studies model of an active audience negotiating and resisting dominant codes, then we can see George Lucas’s original vision of the Force as only a first step towards a more complex, collectively produced theological vision.

I work in downtown Atlanta. Just up the block once a year is the Dragon Con annual convention where science fiction and fantasy fans come from all over the world to dress up as their favorite characters. The most popular characters, by far, are the Star Wars Storm Troopers. Every year the Storm Troopers parade down Peachtree Street. This may seem surprising: why, we may wonder, would so many fans want to dress up, not as heroes like Luke Skywalker or Obi-Wan Kenobi, but instead as part of the forces of darkness? The answer, I think, is that for Star Wars fans, the metaphysics of Star Wars are more complex than it is in Lucas’s original formulation. The dark side represents not simply evil, but the shadow side of our own personalities – the attraction towards violence, aggression, and power that we repress in our daily lives. The play space of the Dragon Con convention and the Star Wars transmedia universe provides a safe, delineated way to engage with that shadow side. And in the process, to create a more complex moral vision: to embrace and show sympathy for the devil.

What Star Wars fans are doing is what we could call vernacular theology: challenging Lucas’s dilution of Alan Watts’s Taoist vision, returning it to a more complex model that has kept the power of the Force alive after 35 years.

Renewal

A couple of weeks ago I attended a wonderful workshop put together by Depth Psychology Seminars, a group of Jungian therapists and artists. The weekend included both lectures and creative workshops – opportunities to move from theory to practice, in the form of what Jung called “active imagination,” and my Marxist colleagues might call “praxis.” I painted, acted, and wrote poetry for the first time in decades. It was a blast.

For the poetry workshop with Laura Hope-Gill, we were encouraged to write a poem inspired by the seven-stage process of alchemical transformation described in many  classical texts. Here’s what I came up with:

Renewal

I pick up my book manuscript
my notes, my files,
my hard drives, my flash drives,
my Moleskine, my legal pads,
my audio files, my video files,
my DVDs, my CDs, my CD-ROMs,
my email, my snail mail,
my files in the cloud.
I pile them to the sky in my big backyard
and drench them.

I pour water, but they won’t dissolve
so I break out the alcohol.
Turpentine and witch hazel,
then vodka and scotch.
The pile saturates and wilts,
the papers grow translucent, like tissue, then melt.
The circuits short out,
zeroes becoming ones,
ones becoming zeroes,
or maybe some other numbers the motherboards don’t know about.
Book bindings melt.
Plastic labels peel off circular slices of metal.
And then I toss in the match.

The wood fibers burble.
The plastic curls.
The metal melts.
The smoke rises.
My eyes sting and tear.

I take a big shopvac and suck it all up:
the ashes,
the smoke,
the plastic shining like melted candy,
the metal glimmering like mercury,
the data pouring down from the cloud in a rain of bits.
The shopvac explodes.

My lawn in scorched.
My neighbors are alarmed.
My cats are nonplussed.

Then Noisy comes out to take a look.
The Dude follows.
I even let Pilot Squeaky out, though she hasn’t promised to be good.
They sniff around the edges.
They scratch at the rubble like kitty litter.

Steam rises from the cooling pile.
Particles congeal into a nubbly slab.
Soft like Silly Putty.
Slick like river rocks.
Mottled like fake vomit.

Then the Dude backs up
with a dreamy look in his eyes
and with a squirt
baptizes it all.

American Film History II, Fall 2011

Film 4960/6960, Fall 2011
Class: Tuesdays & Thursdays 1:00-2:15, Classroom South 426
Screenings: Thursdays at 2:30, Arts & Humanities 406
Office: 738 One Park Place South
email: ted@tedfriedman.com
Twitter: http://twitter.com/tedfriedman
website: http://www.tedfriedman.com

Course Description

How do movies reflect and influence American life? How has Hollywood shaped Americans’ image of the world, and the world’s view of Americans? What are the alternatives to Hollywood’s stories? What is the future of film in a digital age?

In attempting to answer these questions, this class will trace the history of American movies from the 1960s to the present. Along the way, we’ll look at the semiotics, aesthetics, economics, and politics of Hollywood movies and their independent alternatives.

Readings

The readings for the class include one required book, a coursepack, and a choice of movie memoirs from which you will select one to read. In addition, graduate students will choose two additional scholarly books to read and discuss in two additional meetings outside of class.

The required text is Reinventing Cinema: Movies in the Age of Media Convergence by Chuck Tryon (Rutgers, 2009).

The coursepack for this class is sold by Bestway Copy Center, 18 Decatur Street SE (on the first floor of One Park Place South).

The choice of movie memoirs includes:
William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade (Warner, 1983).
Robert Rodriguez, Rebel Without a Crew (Plume, 1996).
Sidney Lumet, Making Movies (Vintage, 1996).
John Gregory Dunne, Monster (Random House, 1997).
Brian Michael Bendis, Fortune and Glory: A True Hollywood Comic Book Story (Oni, 2000)
Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon, Writing Movies for Fun & Profit (Touchstone, 2011).

In addition, optional movie news items and reviews will be distributed through the Twitter hashtag #afh2. Find all recent tweets by searching http://twitter.com for #afh2, and feel free to share your own links and comments by including #afh2 in any tweet.

Class Schedule

8/23    Introduction
In-class screening: opening of Saving Private Ryan (Speilberg, 1998).

8/25    Hollywood Today
Malcolm Gladwell, “The Formula”:
http://gladwell.com/2006/2006_10_16_a_formula.html
Christopher Anderson, “The Long Tail”:
http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/tail.html

8/30    Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Wyatt, 2011)
David Bordwell, “Intensified Continuity: Visual Style in Contemporary
American Film,” Film Quarterly 55.3 (Spring 2002): 16-28.
Toby Miller, Nitin Govil, John McMurria, Richard Maxwell and Ting Wang, “Introduction,” Global Hollywood 2 (BFI Publishing, 2005), 1-49.

9/1    Moviegoing Today
Chuck Tryon, Reinventing Cinema (Rutgers, 2009): Introduction, Chapters 1, 3, 6.
Tad Friend, “Funny Like a Guy,” The New Yorker, April 11, 2011.

9/6    Planet of the Apes (Schaffer, 1968)
Eric Greene, “Planet of the Apes” and “Urban Riots and Ape Revolution,” Planet of the Apes as American Myth (McFarland, 1996), 21-54, 78-113.
Michael Atkinson, “You May Not Like What You Find: The Planet of the Apes Cycle,” Ghosts in the Machine: The Dark Hear of Pop Cinema (Limelight, 2004), 7-15.

9/8    Body Genres
Carol J. Clover, “Her Body, Himself,” Men, Women and Chainsaws (Princeton, 1992), 21-64.
In-class screening: The American Nightmare (Simon, 2000)

9/13    The Godfather (Coppola, 1972)
Robert Ray, “Introduction,” “Left and Right Cycles” and “The Godfather and Taxi Driver,” A Certain Tendency in the Hollywood Cinema, 1930-1980 (Princeton, 1985), 3-21, 296-360.

9/15    The Hollywood Renaissance
Yannis Tzioumakis, “The New Hollywood and the Independent Hollywood,” American Independent Cinema: An Introduction (Rutgers, 2006), 169-191.
In-class screening: American Cinema: The Film School Generation (Klarer, 2000).

9/20    Jaws (Speilberg, 1975)
Janice Hocker Rushing and Thomas S. Frentz, “Introduction,” “The Hunter Myth” and “Jaws: Faces of the Shadow,” Projecting the Shadow: The Cyborg Hero in American Film (University of Chicago Press, 1995), 1-8, 52-99.
Thomas Schatz, “The New Hollywood,” in Jim Collins, Hilary Radner, and Ava Preacher Collins, eds., Film Theory Goes to the Movies (Routledge, 1993), 8-36.

9/22    Blaxploitation
Ed Guerrero, “The Rise and Fall of Blaxploitation,” from Framing Blackness: The African-American Image in Film, excerpted in Movies and American Society, ed. Steven J. Ross (Blackwell, 2002), 250-273.
In-class screening: Baadasssss Cinema (Julien, 2002).

9/27    Real Life (Brooks, 1979)
Pick one of the following memoirs to read (and discuss on the midterm):
William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade (Warner, 1983).
Robert Rodriguez, Rebel Without a Crew (Plume, 1996).
Sidney Lumet, Making Movies (Vintage, 1996).
John Gregory Dunne, Monster (Random House, 1997).
Brian Michael Bendis, Fortune and Glory: A True Hollywood Comic Book Story (Oni, 2000)
Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon, Writing Movies for Fun & Profit (Touchstone, 2011).

9/29    Graduate Presentations

10/4    Valley Girl (Coolidge, 1983)
Robin Wood, “Papering the Cracks: Fantasy and Ideology in the Reagan Era” and “Teens, Parties and Rollercoasters: A Genre of the 1990s,” Hollywood: From Vietnam to Reagan…and Beyond (Columbia, 2003), 144-167, 309-332.

10/6    Director Presentations
Take-home midterm due (presenters have extension until 10/11)

10/11    Die Hard (McTiernan, 1988)
Susan Jeffords, “Hard Bodies: The Reagan Heroes,” Hard Bodies (Rutgers University Press, 1994): 24-63.
Susan Faludi, “Fatal and Fetal Visions: The Backlash at the Movies,” Backlash (Crown, 1991): 112-139.

10/13    Director presentations

10/18    Guest speaker: Chuck Tryon
Chuck Tryon, Reinventing Cinema: Chapters 2, 4, Conclusion.

10/20    Slacker (Linklater, 1991)
Michael Z. Newman, “Indie Cinema Viewing Strategies” and “Games of Narrative Form” (Columbia, 2011), 21-47, 182-220.
Yannis Tzioumakis, “The Institutionalization of American Independent Cinema,” American Independent Cinema: An Introduction (Rutgers, 2006), 246-280.

10/25    Bamboozled (Lee, 2000)
Nelson George, excerpts from Blackface: Reflections on African-Americans and the Movies (Perennial, 1995).
In-class screening: Classified X

10/27    Director Presentations

11/1    Brokeback Mountain (Lee, 2005)
Harry Benshoff and Sean Griffin, “Sexuality and American Film,” America on Film (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009): 303-355.

11/3    Hollywood Sexuality
In-class screening: The Celluloid Closet

11/8    The Hurt Locker (Bigelow, 2008)
Stephen Prince, “Battleground Iraq” and “No End in Sight,” Firestorm: American Film in the Age of Terrorism (Columbia, 2009), 173-233, 281-309.

11/10    Director Presentations

11/15    Winter’s Bone (Granik, 2010)
Chuck Tryon, Reinventing Cinema, Chapter 5.
Search for blog posts about Winter’s Bone and read at least six.

11/17    Director Presentations

Thanksgiving Break – No Class 11/22, 11/24

11/29    Class Choice
Reading TBA

12/1    Director Presentations

Take-home Final due 12/8

Screenings

You are responsible for viewing the assigned film before class each week. Screenings are Thursdays at 2:30 in 406 Arts & Humanities.

8/25    No screening in 406 – go see Rise of the Planet of the Apes, now playing in theaters
9/1    Planet of the Apes
9/8    The Godfather
9/15    Jaws
9/22    Real Life
9/29    Valley Girl
10/6    Die Hard
10/13    Slacker
10/20    Bamboozled
10/27    Brokeback Mountain
11/3    The Hurt Locker
11/10    Winter’s Bone
11/17    Class choice – film TBD
11/24    No screening – Thanksgiving Break
12/1    No screening

Assignments

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

Presentation – 10 Points

Film 6960: Graduate students will each choose a scholarly book on American Film to read and present to the class in a 15-20 minute presentation.

Film 4960: With a partner, undergraduate students will research and present a 15-20 minute discussion of a contemporary American filmmaker. A list of potential directors is attached. The presentation should include the following parts:

1. One partner will begin by presenting a brief overview of the director’s work, with an emphasis on key films which demonstrate what makes the director’s work distinctive and innovative. Focus on bringing to class up to speed on what they should know about the director in order to have an informed discussion of the clip. If at all possible, include a short clip (under 5 minutes) of the director discussing his or her own work, from a DVD Special Feature, YouTube clip, documentary, or other source.

2. Screen a short film clip (under 5 minutes) selected by both partners to exemplify the director’s style. Unless you choose the alternate presentation, use one continuous clip.

3. The other partner will then present a short analysis of the clip. Choose 1-3 film elements, and discuss in detail how each element functions in the clip. Rewind and replay selections from the clip, or pause on still images, to highlight key moments. (Be sure to prepare by noting in advance the time marks for moments you want to highlight.)

4. Class discussion.

5. At the end of class, hand in a list of your group’s sources. At least five distinct sources are required from each group. (You don’t need to specifically discuss all five sources during your presentation – the goal is that you dig around enough to find the most useful material.) Possible sources include books, journal articles, interviews, documentaries, DVD commentary tracks, and online videos. Wikipedia can be a useful launching pad for your research but does not in itself count towards your five sources.

Alternate presentation: if you choose, you may produce a video presentation on your director in place of the spoken presentation. Possible video projects include an edited selection of clips with commentary, interviews with viewers, a fan film, or a trailer mashup. Video equipment and training are available at GSU’s Digital Aquarium in the Student Center.

Take-Home Midterm – 45 points
The take-home midterm will require you to relate concepts from the readings and lectures to the films screened in the first half of the semester. Due in class October 6.

Take-Home Final – 45 points
The take-home final will be structured just like the midterm, covering the second half of the semester. Due December 8.

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.

Policies

Re-Writes and Makeup Tests
Opportunities for revision and improvement will be available for the midterm and the presentation. In addition, I will look at optional drafts of the final submitted on or before December 1.

Late and Unsubmitted Papers
Late papers will be marked off by ½ point for every day overdue unless an extension is agreed upon before the due date. Any unsubmitted papers will receive a 0. Likewise, any unanswered exam questions will receive a 0. So, if you answer only 2 out of 3 required exam questions, you will get a 0 on the third question.

Academic Honesty
The university’s policy on academic honesty is attached. The policy prohibits plagiarism, cheating on examinations, unauthorized collaboration, falsification, and multiple submissions. Violation of the policy will result in failing the class, in addition to disciplinary sanctions.

The Internet makes it easy to plagiarize, but also easy to track down plagiarism. Bottom line: Don’t plagiarize. It’s wrong, and it’s not worth it. There’s always a better way. Cite all your sources, put all direct quotations in quotation marks, and clearly note when you are paraphrasing other authors’ work.

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

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

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

Director List

Note: This is only a partial list. Feel free to choose any other director who’s made English-language films since World War II, with one exception: directors of films screened for class are off limits, since they’re already covered.

Woody Allen
Robert Altman
Paul Thomas Anderson
Allison Anders
Kenneth Anger
Judd Apatow
Greg Araki
Darren Aronofsky
Hal Ashby
Ralph Bakshi
Paul Bartel
Kathryn Bigelow
Lizzie Borden
Danny Boyle
Stan Brakhage
Albert Brooks
Mel Brooks
Charles Burnett
Tim Burton
James Cameron
Jane Campion
John Cassavetes
Martha Coolidge
Francis Ford Coppalla
Sophia Coppalla
Roger Corman
Alex Cox
Wes Craven
David Cronenberg
Cameron Crowe
Julie Dash
Ossie Davis
Tamra Davis
Guillermo del Toro
Jonathan Demme
Brian DePalma
Tom DiCillo
Atom Egoyan
Bobby and Peter Farrelly
Abel Ferrara
David Fincher
Stephen Frears
William Friedkin
Sam Fuller
Terry Gilliam
Michael Gondry
F. Gary Gray
David Gordon Green
Paul Greengrass
Christopher Guest
Mary Harron
Hal Hartley
Amy Heckerling
Albert and Allen Hughes
Henry Jaglom
Spike Jonze
Neil Jordan
Jon Jost
Harmony Korine
Stanley Kubrick
Neil LaBute
John Lassiter
David Lean
Barry Levinson
Doug Liman
Richard Linklater
Ken Loach
Sidney Lumet
David Lynch
Terrence Malick
Michael Mann
Elaine May
George Miller
Michael Moore
Errol Morris
Mira Nair
Gregory Nava
Mike Nichols
Victor Nunez
Alexander Payne
Sam Peckinpaugh
Arthur Penn
Sidney Poitier
Roman Polanski
Alex Proyas
Sam Raimi
Rob Reiner
Tim Robbins
Robert Rodriguez
George Romero
Eli Roth
Alan Rudolph
David O. Russell
Nancy Savoca
John Sayles
Michael Schultz
Martin Scorcese
Susan Seidelman
M. Night Shyamalan
Bryan Singer
John Singleton
Jack Smith
Kevin Smith
Stephen Sodebergh
Todd Solondz
Penelope Spheeris
Whit Stillman
Quentin Tarantino
Julien Temple
Rose Troche
Melvin Van Peebles
Gus Van Sandt
Lars von Trier
Larry and Andy Wachowski
Wayne Wang
Andy Warhol
John Waters
Forest Whitaker
Fredric Wiseman
John Woo
Boaz Yakin
Robert Zemeckis
Rob Zombie

New Interview on the Diet Soap Philosophy Podcast

SF writer Douglas Lain interviewed me for his philosophy podcast, Diet Soap. We talk about myth, ideology and flying saucers:

The essay of mine we talk about, “Myth, the Numinous and Cultural Studies,” is part of the book I’m working on, A Centaur Manifesto: Mythos & Logos on the Commons. I have more to say about Jung in “Jung and Lost,” and more on centaurs & cyborgs in The Politics of Magic.”

PostMarxisms, Summer 2011

COMM 6160/8980, Summer 2011
Tuesdays & Thursdays, 4:45-7:30
1020 One Park Place

Course Description
Is Marxism dead? If so, what other forms of critique and imagination can help us think beyond the injustices and unsustainability of global capitalism? What can we learn from the successes and failures of the Marxist project?

The goal of the course is to take stock of the value and legacy of the Marxist critical tradition for contemporary debates about culture and politics. Over the seven weeks, we’ll alternate reading Marx himself with work by theorists engaging his legacy.

Required Texts

Karl Marx, Capital, Volume 1
Terry Eagleton, Why Marx Was Right
Fredric Jameson, Representing Capital
Slavoj Zizek, Living in the End Times
Giles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus
Marcus Boon, In Praise of Copying
Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things

In addition to the readings, you will also be required to watch or listen to David Harvey’s series of lectures, Reading Marx’s Capital. It’s available in a variety of streaming and downloadable formats at http://davidharvey.org/reading-capital.

Schedule

6/7    Introduction
6/9    Capital, chapters 1-2; Harvey, classes 1-2

6/14    Terry Eagleton, Why Marx Was Right
6/16    Capital, chapters 3-6; Harvey, classes 3-4

6/21    Fredric Jameson, Representing Capital
6/23    Capital, chapters 7-11; Harvey, classes 5-6

6/28    Slavoj Zizek, Living in the End Times
6/30    Capital, chapters 12-15; Harvey, classes 7-9

7/5    Giles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus
7/7    Capital, chapters 16-25; Harvey, classes 10-11

7/12    Marcus Boon, In Praise of Copying
7/14    Capital, chapters 26-33; Harvey, classes 12-13

7/19    Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things
7/21    Research Presentations/Party at Ted’s house

Paper due 7/28

Assignments

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. Book Discussions – 6160: 20% of final grade each; 8690: 15% of final grade each
You will sign up to lead, with a group, discussions of two of the assigned books (other than Capital). 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 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, address on these areas:

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?

Examples: Pick 2-3 media examples that are 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?

Outline the key topics of discussion in a short (1-2 page) handout for the class. There’s no need to include more detail, or to prepare a PowerPoint presentation – the focus should be on presenting material orally and facilitating a good class discussion.

II. Contemporary Capital example – 10% of grade
For one week’s reading in Capital, bring in a relevant contemporary example so that class can assess the applicability and value of Marx’s ideas today. Choose a text to present to the class to get the discussion going, such as a video clip.

IIi. Outside reading presentation – 8690 only: 10% of grade
PhD students will read one additional book, and give a 15-20 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.

III. Final Paper – 50% of final grade
Write a paper on a subject relating to the ideas of the class. 6160: 12-15 pages. 8690: 18-25 pages. Doctoral work will also be expected to meet a higher standard of theoretical sophistication.

A one-page prospectus is due July 5. I will schedule individual meetings with you to discuss the prospectus.
You will give a short (10 minute) presentation of your work in progress on July 21.
The final paper is due July 28.

IV. 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.

Policies

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

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

Assessment
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.

Disability
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.

Media and Popular Culture Take-Home Final Exam

Media and Popular Culture, Spring 2011
Take-Home Final Exam

Instructions

Answer any 5 of the 10 questions below. Each answer should be at least one complete page long. The exam should be typed, double-spaced, in Times New Roman 12-point. The exam is due by 5 PM on Wednesday, May 2. You can either drop it off in my office mailbox (738 One Park Place South) or email it to me at tedf@gsu.edu.

Your response should demonstrate that you have carefully studied and understood class readings, lectures and discussion, and can apply ideas from the course to individual texts. When questions refer to specific authors, you should clearly address the ideas of those authors, demonstrating your understanding of their arguments.

Questions

1. Pick any contemporary media text. (You can choose a film, TV show, book, graphic novel, advertisement, game, website, or any other source.) Drawing on Omi and Winant’s Racial Formation in the United States, discuss the text as a “racial project.”

2. Pick any contemporary media text. (You can use the same text for multiple questions, or different texts if you prefer.) Drawing on Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs, discuss the representation of gender in the text. How does the text reflect the “postfeminist” era?

3. Pick any contemporary media text. Drawing on Alexander Doty’s “There’s Something Queer Here,” discuss queer readings of the text.

4. Pick any comic book or animated text. Drawing on Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, discuss the “pictorial vocabulary” of the artwork. Draw a triangle on the page and show where the art fits in relation the vertices of “reality,” “language,” and “the picture plane,” then explain why.

5. Pick any game. Drawing on Ralph Koster’s A Theory of Fun for Video Games, discuss what makes the game fun.

6. Pick any game. Drawing on McKenzie Wark’s GAM3R 7H3ORY, discuss the “gamespace” of the game and how it relates to the world outside the game.

7. Compare your own experience and that of your friends to the generational sensibility described in Emily Nussbaum’s “Say Everything.”

8. Pick any contemporary media text. Drawing on Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, discuss how the text helps create a sense of national identity.

9. Pick any contemporary media text. Make a “culture-jammed” version of the text.

10. Visit a park, garden, or other nature space. Turn off all electronic devices. Sit quietly for at least 10 minutes observing the landscape and animals. Describe the experience, and compare it to your usual pace of life.

What I’ve Been Up to the Last Five Years

I recently had to write up what I’ve been working on over the last five years for my “post-tenure dossier,” so I thought I’d excerpt that here to explain how I got from Electric Dreams: Computers and American Culture to Centaur Manifesto: Mythos & Logos on the Commons. The language is pretty jargon-heavy and a little stilted, a function of the three-page limit and institutional context. One of my goals is to write the book itself in a much looser, more direct and conversational voice, closer to the way I try to be in the classroom. In fact, transcribing and editing my lectures is the next step in getting Centaur Manifesto written. I’d appreciate any feedback, either in the comments below or via Twitter, where I’m @tedfriedman.

—-

My first book, Electric Dreams, was largely inspired by the rise of “cyberpunk” science fiction in the 1980s and 1990s. It was a cyberpunk author, William Gibson, who coined the term “cyberspace,” and science fiction both influenced the development of computer technologies and provided the richest exploration of their potential consequences. By 2000, the subcultural sensibility first expressed in Gibson’s novels had become ubiquitous in the form of The Matrix and its sequels.

In the twenty-first century, however, a cultural shift appeared to be occurring. The blockbuster genre of the 2000s was not science fiction, but fantasy, in the form of the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings franchises. At the same time, the energy of cyberpunk appeared to be spent, and the most vital and influential genre writers were emerging instead out of fantasy fiction and comics.

Fascinated by this development, I began to research the history of the fantasy genre, and to search for new theoretical models to help explain the shift from science fiction to fantasy. I began my work on fantasy media with “The Politics of Magic: Fantasy, Technology & Nature,” which was published in 2009 in Scope, an online peer-reviewed media studies journal published by the University of Nottingham. I argue in the essay that the trope of magic is a powerful tool for making sense of computer technologies. A computer program is a kind of spell, deploying highly-structured language to allow the user to transcend the constraints of time, space and gravity within cyberspace. At the same time, the concept of magic is rooted in the ancient practices and beliefs of animism, and the contemporary appeal of fantasy suggests a deep cultural desire to return to a more rooted relationship to nature in the context of global environmental crisis.

In “The Politics of Magic,” I discuss the influence of feminist scholar Donna Haraway’s 1986 essay “Manifesto for Cyborgs,” which called on technophobic theorists to engage the oft-ignored genre of science fiction. I suggest that the time is ripe for a “Centaur Manifesto” to similarly address fantasy, which today is often likewise dismissed as mere escapism. Haraway picked the figure of the cyborg because it is a hybrid creature on the border between human and machine, reflecting how all of our lives are dependent upon and intertwined with technology. Similarly, the centaur is a magical hybrid of human and animal, culture and nature.

In addition to Haraway’s ideas, “The Politics of Magic” incorporates the work of historian of science Morris Berman, phenomenological ecocritic David Abram, and actor-network theorist Bruno Latour. Looking to dig deeper into the historical roots of fantasy, I began researching theories of myth, a concept which once held great sway in critical theory, but which has more recently fallen into disrepute among poststructuralist scholars wary of essentializing metanarratives. I turned first to Joseph Campbell, whose Hero with a Thousand Faces has been hugely influential on generations of Hollywood screenwriters and spiritual seekers. Frustrated with the limitations of Campbell’s approach, I concluded that what was truly distinctive about Campbell’s ideas stemmed from the influence of Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung, a student of Sigmund Freud who broke with his mentor over their differing ideas about the role of the unconscious. Freud emphasized the need for the ego to control a dangerous id, while Jung also saw in the unconscious a source of wisdom. Jung found in myths and fairy tales evidence of a “collective unconscious” rooted in deep archetypal structures.

Jung has been widely dismissed by contemporary critical theorists as irredeemably essentialist. But a new generation of “post-Jungian” scholars persuasively argues that Jung was a far more subtle, dialectical thinker than the caricature, and that his ideas remain relevant. The release last year of The Red Book, an illustrated manuscript of “active imaginations” that Jung kept private for almost 100 years, has led to a renewed interest in his ideas. In Jung’s concepts I have found new tools to help explain contemporary American culture. As I write in “Jung and Lost,” while film studies emerged in the 1950s and 1960s under the influence of Freud,

“today it is Jung’s shadow which looms over much of American culture. The most commercially successful Hollywood genres of this decade are fantasy and superhero movies, subjects which in previous generations were viewed as kids’ stuff, but today claim a larger portion of culture than ever before. These genres reject conventional models of realism and psychological depth. Instead, they embrace magical storytelling and characters of outsized dimensions and godlike powers. These qualities have led them to be largely dismissed by conventional cultural critics (beyond fan studies scholars who have tended to emphasize audience reception over the textual properties of the stories themselves). But these same qualities are well described by the Jungian language of archetypes and the collective unconscious. Their roots are in the storytelling traditions of myth and fairy tale – exactly the genres Jungian analysts have always most valued.”

Jung and Lost” is one of six invited columns I wrote from 2008-9 for Flow, an online media studies journal published by the University of Texas. In “Myth, the Numinous, and Cultural Studies,” I make the case for a renewed engagement in cultural studies with the concept of myth. In “Strat-O-Matic and the Baseball Tarot: Sense and Synchronicity in Sports and Games,” I suggest that Jung’s concept of synchronicity – “meaningful coincidence” – can help explain the power of randomness in play. And in “Vertigo,” I move beyond Jung to other models of the numinous, arguing that the parallels between poststructuralist theory and Buddhist philosophy can help critical theorists think past “the linguistic turn” to escape “the prison-house of language.”

Another of my pieces for Flow, “Tweeting the Dialectic of Technological Determinism,” addresses the role of Twitter in the Iranian protests. And in “The Play Paradigm,” I suggest “What Media Studies Can Learn from Game Studies.” I have also “curated” two pieces for In Media Res, the digital humanities site now published by Georgia State, and guest-edited a week for the site on pop music. I look forward to expanding my role in the project.

I am now in the process of turning my work of the last few years into a book, A Centaur Manifesto: Mythos & Logos on the Commons. The goal of the book is to bring together post-Marxist ideological criticism with post-Jungian depth psychology. I have published all of my recent work in open-access journals, and I hope to have the manuscript for Centaur Manifesto reviewed through the “open peer review” process, which could bring together readers from cultural studies, religious studies, depth psychology, and the fantasy community. I will regularly be blogging about the book at tedfriedman.com, and tweeting as @tedfriedman.

Summer Graduate Seminar: Post-Marxisms

This summer I’ll be teaching a graduate seminar, “Post-Marxisms.” Here’s an overview:

Is Marxism dead? If so, what other forms of critique and imagination can help us think beyond the injustices and unsustainability of global capitalism? What can we learn from the successes and failures of the Marxist project?

The goal of the course is to take stock of the value and legacy of the Marxist critical tradition for contemporary debates about culture and politics. Over the seven weeks, we’ll alternate reading Marx himself with work by Jameson, Derrida, Zizek, Hardt & Negri, and others. We’ll also rely for context on David Harvey’s online lectures on Capital and Francis Wheen’s history of its writing.

The class will be organized around a series of key terms in Marxist theory, including dialectical materialism, ideology and political economy. As we go, we’ll be looking to see how the Marxist tradition might offer fresh ways to think about contemporary concepts such as convergence culture, network theory, the high-tech gift economy, the digital commons and transhumanism.

Assignments will include presentations on the readings and a final paper. PhD students will give an additional presentation on an outside reading and write a longer paper.

I’m really excited about the chance to work through these questions with you, and eager to incorporate your own interests and concerns. So feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions, or any suggestions for readings or assignments.