Narrative, Myth and Ideology, Fall 2004

COMM 8750

Course Description

How do stories work? How does storytelling influence the way we think about our world and ourselves? What alternatives are available to the stories we live by today?

This class will examine these questions by engaging three parallel frameworks for understanding culture: narrative, myth and ideology. The frame of narrative, developed by literarily critics, examines how stories are put together. The frame of myth, developed by anthropologists, understands stories as the roots of social structures and self-understanding. The frame of ideology, developed by Marxist critics, looks at stories as expressions and instruments of power.

We will apply these three theoretical perspectives to a series of contemporary texts, to understand how storytelling works today. We will also supplement our theoretical readings with practical works on screenwriting, to better understand how storytellers themselves conceive of their work.

Required Readings

Class readings will include books, readings distributed in class, and news items distributed via the class email list.

These course books are available at the GSU bookstores:

Robert Ray, A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema
Kristin Thompson, Storytelling in the New Hollywood
Aristotle, Poetics
Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces
Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism
Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey
Reeves and Campbell, Cracked Coverage
Catherine Orenstein, Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked
Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes the World
Robert McKee, Story

Several other books ordered by the bookstore will not be used in class. In addition, Roland Barthes’s Mythologies is required, but is not available at the bookstores. It can be ordered online from Amazon, Powells, etc.


All the films on the syllabus should be screened before class. Most of the films will be available in the Library Media Center. In addition, all can be found at local video stores. Recommended alternatives to Blockbuster are Movies Worth Seeing (1409 N Highland; 404-892-1802) and Videodrome (617 N Highland; 404-885-1117). The films include:

Finding Nemo
Star Wars

In addition, on November 1 we will discuss political advertising. That week’s presentation group will prepare a selection of current political ads to screen in class.


8/23    Introduction

Ideology and Form

8/30    Read Robert Ray, A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema

9/6    Labor Day – no class

9/13    Read Kristin Thompson, Storytelling in the New Hollywood

9/20    See Finding Nemo
Read Aristotle, Poetics


9/27    Read Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces

10/4    Read Roland Barthes, Mythologies

10/11    Read Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism

10/18    See Star Wars
Read Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey


10/25    Read Reeves and Campbell, Cracked Coverage

11/1    See selection of political ads
Read articles to be distributed online


11/8    Read Catherine Orenstein, Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked

11/15    See Shrek
Start Robert McKee, Story


11/22    Read Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World

11/29    See Adaptation
Finish Robert McKee, Story

12/6    No reading – Party/research presentations at Ted’s House

The final paper is due on Monday, December 13.


I. Lead two discussions of readings – 10% of final grade for each reading
You will sign up to lead, with a group, discussions of two readings. To prepare for the discussion of the reading, in addition to reading the week’s assignment, 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? Who does the author criticize? How does this work move the debate forward?

Example of Analysis: Pick one text addressed by the author. (This should not be a film we’re screening for class.) Show a representative example from the text (any clip should be no more than 5 minutes). Discuss the author’s interpretation of the scene and the film. 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. Lead one discussion of a media text – 10% of final grade
You will also lead, with a group, a discussion either one of the films or the political ads. If you lead the discussion on political ads, you will prepare a clip reel of current ads to screen for the class. In any case, prepare to apply the concepts from the class readings to the texts, examining them in terms of narrative, myth and ideology.

III. How-To presentation – 10% of final grade
You will pick a storytelling “how-to” book, magazine, or software program, and give a brief presentation (5-10 minutes) on how the text conceives of the creative process, in the context of the class discussions of narrative, myth and ideology. Some possible sources include:

Linda Cowgill, Secrets of Screenplay Structure
Ken Dancyger and Jeff Rush, Alternative Scriptwriting
David Freeman, Creating Emotions in Games
Syd Field, Screenplay
William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade
Dennis O’Neil, The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics
Thomas Pope, Good Scripts, Bad Scripts
Tom Sawyer and Arthur David Weingarten, Plots Unlimited
Michael Tierno, Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters
Ronald Tobias, 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them
Christine Vachon and David Edelstein, Shooting to Kill
Creative Screenwriting magazine
Scr(i)pt magazine
Dramatica software
Storycraft Pro software
Storyview software
Storyweaver software
Truby’s Blockbuster software

To learn more about your options, browse The Writers Store at Many of the books are also available for browsing at Borders and Barnes & Noble, in the Writing sections. Demo version of the software are available for free download.

IV. Final Project – 60%.of the final grade
Option 1: Write a 15-20 page paper on a subject relating to the politics of Hollywood film. You should write this paper with an eye towards eventually presenting it at a conference, expanding it and publishing it. In addition, if you already have a thesis or dissertation topic in mind, consider how this paper might form the basis for a chapter of the larger work.

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 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 October 25. I will schedule individual meetings with you to discuss the prospectus.
I will look at drafts of the final project submitted on or before December 6. 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 short (5-10 minute) presentation of your research project at the final class on December 6.
The final project is due December 13.

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.

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 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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