Myth and Ideology in Popular Culture, Summer 2007

COMM 6910/8790

Course Description

This course brings together two frameworks for understanding popular
culture: myth criticism and ideological analysis.

Influenced by anthropologists such as Claude Levi-Strauss, myth
critics trace the connections between contemporary cultural
narratives and the stories which anchor traditional belief systems.
Mythographer Joseph Campbell, in fact, has become
a key influence on many Hollywood screenwriters, who self-consciously
craft stories around the “Hero’s Journey” Campbell describes.

Ideological analysis interrogates the political assumptions
underlying cultural representations, examining how influential texts
may reflect economic contradictions, reinforce dominant structures of
power, or influence social change.

At a time when the spectacular global success of the superhero and
fantasy genres has produced ever more dazzling visions of larger-than-
life heroes and villains engaged in epic struggles between good and
evil, this class will attempt to make sense of these modern myths.


Class readings will include books, a coursepack of articles, and news items distributed via the class email list.

The course books are available at the GSU bookstores. Here are the books you’ll need:

Anthony Stevens, Jung: A Very Short Introduction
Robert Segal,  Myth: A Very Short Introduction
Roland Barthes, Mythologies
Salman Rushdie, The Wizard of Oz
Neal Gaiman, Sandman: A Season of Mists
Alan Moore, Watchmen

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


DVDs for screenings are widely available at local video stores and online outlets such as Required films include

Star Wars: A New Hope
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
The Company of Wolves
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
The Wizard of Oz
Pan’s Labyrinth

Email Group
All students will be signed up to the class email list. I will regularly forward media news and cultural criticism to the list. You’re encouraged to forward other interesting information, post your reactions to recent movies, respond to other postings, or continue any other ongoing discussions from class.


Week 1: Hollywood Myth

6/12    Introduction

6/14    Joseph Campbell and Star Wars
Campbell, excerpts from The Hero With a Thousand Faces (handout)
Christopher Vogler and Stuart Voytilla, excerpts from
Myth and the Movies (handout)
Ted Friedman, “Star Wars and the Dialectics of Myth”:
David Brin, “Star Wars Despots vs. Star Trek Populists”:
Screen Star Wars IV: A New Hope

Week 2: Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious

6/19    Carl Jung
Anthony Stevens, Jung: A Very Short Introduction
Robert Segal, “Introduction,” Jung on Myth (CP)
Jung, “Myth as a Way of Thinking,” “The Fight With the Shadow,” and
“Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth” (CP)
6/21    The Lord of the Rings
JRR Tolkein, “Forward to the Second Edition,” The Lord of the Rings (CP)
Screen The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Week 3: Mythography

6/26    Theories of Myth
Robert Segal, Myth: A Very Short Introduction
Claude Levi-Strauss, “Myth: Cracking the Code of Culture” (CP) and
“The Structural Study of Myth”:

6/28    Metafictions
Neal Gaiman, Sandman: Season of Mists
Screen  The Company of Wolves

Week 4: Ideology

7/3    Roland Barthes
Barthes, Mythologies

7/5    American Myths
Alan Moore, Watchmen
Screen Spider-man

Week 5: The Political Unconscious

7/10    Fredric Jameson
Jameson, excerpts from The Political Unconscious

7/12    Pottermania
Readings TBA
Screen Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Week 6: Global Popular Culture

7/17    The Wizard of Oz
Salman Rushdie, The Wizard of Oz
Screen The Wizard of Oz

7/19    Pan’s Labyrinth
Screen Pan’s Labyrinth

Week 7: Research Presentations

7/24    Research Presentations Part I

7/26    Research Presentations Part II/Party at Ted’s House

Final research paper due August 2


I. Lead discussion of one critic – 10% of final grade
You will sign up to lead, with a group, discussions of one of the assigned critics. Choices include:

6/26     Claude Levi-Strauss
7/3    Roland Barthes
7/10    Fredric Jameson
7/17    Salman Rushdie

Before class, meet with your group to prepare for the discussion. Concentrate on how to link the work to the key questions we’ll be asking all semester. Subjects for discussion should include:

Core theoretical argument: What is the core argument that structures the reading? What is this author’s theory of myth?

Relationship to other theories of myth: To which theorists is the author responding? How does the author’s ideas relate to the other authors we’re read?

Example of interpretation: Pick an example in the reading of the author’s interpretation of a specific text. Discuss the strengths and limitations of this interpretation  How might the other authors we’ve read respond to this interpretation?

4. Application of theory: Pick a contemporary media text. Screen a short sample (5 minutes max) in class, and discuss how the author’s ideas could be applied to the text. Again, how might the other authors we’re read interpret the text differently?

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. Lead discussion of two films/comics – 10% of final grade each

You will also sign up to lead two discussions of the assigned films and comic books. Options include:

6/21    The Lord of the Rings
6/28    The Company of Wolves
6/28    Watchmen
7/5    Superman
7/5    Sandman: A Season of Mists
7/12    Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
7/17    The Wizard of Oz
7/19    Pan’s Labyrinth

In this case, your preparation for discussion should focus on applying theories of myth to the texts. Prepare a short (1-2 page) handout with some background information on the film and a list of key questions for discussion.

III. Deliver presentation on a theorist of myth – 10% of final grade
Expanding on the brief sketches in Myth: A Very Short Introduction, you will research and present a 10-15 minute summary of the ideas of a theorist of myth not otherwise addressed in the class.

Options include:

Bruno Bettelheim
Hans Blumenberg
Robert Bly
Kenneth Burke
Walter Burket
Ernst Cassirer
Alan Dundes
Cristopher Flood
James Frazier
Sigmund Freud
Northrop Frye
James Hillman
Lewis Hyde
Robert Jewett & John Shelton Lawrence
Bronislaw Malinowski
Vladimir Propp
Otto Rank
Jack Zipes

This summary should include the following components:

A brief biography of the author with a list of key works on myth.
A summary of the author’s primary theoretical arguments about myth.
An example of how the author interprets a specific myth
An assessment of the author’s influence on other theorists of myth.
A discussion of how the author’s ideas could be applied to the texts in this class.

The presentation should include a short 1-2 page handout.

IV. Final Project – 50% of the final grade
Option 1: Write a paper engaging theories of myth in relation to contemporary popular culture. COMM 6910: 8-12 pages. COMM 8790: 12-15 pages.

Option 2: Produce a creative work which engages theories of myth. The project can be a short film, a screenplay, or a new media work. Along with the project, include a 5-page paper relating your work to ideas from the class.

For either option, the deadlines are the same:
A one-page prospectus is due July 3. I will schedule individual meetings with you to discuss the prospectus.
I will look at drafts of the final project submitted on or before July 26. You’re welcome to submit multiple drafts for feedback. If you choose, I will let you know what grade a draft would receive if you submitted as the final version of your project.
You will give a 15-20 minute presentation of your final project during the last week of class, on July 24 or 26.
The final project is due August 2.

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.


Academic Honesty
The university’s policy on academic honesty is published in On Campus: The Undergraduate Co-Curricular Affairs Handbook, available online at 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 possible disciplinary sanctions.

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.

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