Media and Cultural Studies, Fall 2010

COMM 6160/8690

Course Description

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


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

Graeme Turner, British Cultural Studies: An Introduction
Janice Radway, Reading the Romance
One romance novel of your choice
Angela McRobbie, The Aftermath of Feminism
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Commonwealth
Philip Wegner, Life Between Two Deaths, 1989-2001
Michael Berube, The Left at War
David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous
Janice Hocker Rushing and Thomas Frentz, Projecting the Shadow
Stephen Batchelor, Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist

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

Podcasts, Screenings and Activities

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

Twitter Feed

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

Unit I: Roots

8/25    The Politics of Culture
In-class screening: Barbie Nation

9/1    Culture and Power
Graeme Tuner, British Cultural Studies: An Introduction: Introduction, Chapter 1
Karl Marx, excerpts from The German Ideology;
Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment
as Mass Deception”
Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History”
Watch or listen to Reading Marx’s Capital with David Harvey, Class 1: “Introduction”
Watch or listen to Paul Fry’s Literary Theory, Class 17: “The Frankfurt School of
Critical Theory”

9/8    Hegemony and Resistance
Turner, Chapters 2-7, Conclusion
Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses”
Atonio Gramsci, “Hegemony, Intellectuals and the State” (CP)
Stuart Hall, “Encoding/Decoding” (CP)

9/15    Cynicism and Utopia
Slavoj Zizek, excerpt from The Sublime Object of Ideology (CP)
Fredric Jameson, “Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture,” (CP)
Douglas Kellner, “Ernst Bloch, Utopia and Ideology Critique”
Richard Dyer, “Entertainment and Utopia” (CP)
Ted Friedman, “Introduction,” Electric Dreams
Watch or listen to Paul Fry’s Literary Theory, Class 18: “The Political Unconscious”

Unit II: Branches

9/22    Audience and Gender
Janice Radway, Reading the Romance
Go to a bookstore, buy a romance novel, and read it.

9/29    Postfeminism
Angela McRobbie, The Aftermath of Feminism
Watch a make-over TV show

10/6    Globalization
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Commonwealth

10/13    Periodization
Philip Wegner, Life Between Two Deaths, 1989-2001
Watch Independence Day

10/20    War
Michael Berube, The Left at War

Unit III: Seeds

10/27    Ecocriticism
David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous
David Abram, “Language and the Ecology of Sensory Experience”
Ted Friedman, “The Politics of Magic”
Take a walk in a park. I recommend Avondale Lake and Pine Lake.

11/3    Transhumanism
Janice Hocker Rushing and Thomas Frentz, Projecting the Shadow: The Cyborg Hero in
American Film
Ted Friedman, “Jung and Lost”
Ted Friedman, “Myth, the Numinous, and Cultural Studies”
Watch Jaws

11/10    Meaning
Stephen Batchelor, Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist
Ted Friedman, “Vertigo”
Listen to Stephen Batchelor, “Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist”
Try at least one of the meditation exercises from the Sounds True Guide to Meditation:

11/17    Research Presentations
No reading

11/24    No Class – Thanksgiving Break

12/1    Research Presentations/Party
No reading
Party at Ted’s house

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. Together, the group should prepare a short 1-page summary of the key facts about the author, reading, and media examples. 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, and Jameson.

II. Book Discussion – 6160: 25% of final grade; 8690: 20% of final grade
You will lead, with a group, discussion of one assigned books. 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, 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?

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.

Note: 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
PhD 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 October 13. 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 November 17 or December 1.
The final project is due December 8.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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