Tag Archives: Arts

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:
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 2/28 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.

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.

Pop Music Week on In Media Res [Updated through Friday]

This week the digital humanities journal In Media Res will be posting a series of short pieces I organized on pop music. All the contributors are old  friends who worked with me in college on the zine Nadine. Today some of us are academics, others journalists, editors and novelists. Here’s the publication schedule – I’ll come back and add links as each piece goes live.

Monday 2/7/11

Tickling the Ivory Towers” by yours truly. It’s about academia, rock criticism, and Madonna.

Tuesday 2/8/11

Words, Words, Words” by Gavin Edwards. Gavin is a Contributing Editor at Rolling Stone, the author of numerous books on pop music, and one of my oldest friends – we met in high school when I loaned him my copy of the Bob Dylan boxed set Biograph. His contribution is an extension of his ongoing project  to chronicle every minute of the 1988 MTV New Year’s Eve Top 100 Videos countdown, which I primarily remember for the innumerable commercials for the Kevin Kline flop The January Man.

Wednesday 2/9/11

Hide Your Kids! Hide Your Wife! Hide Your Husband!” by James Hannaham. James is the author of the acclaimed novel God Says No (McSweeney’s) and one of the founders of the performance group Elevator Repair Service. He’s written for The Village Voice and Salon, and teaches at the Pratt Institute. His piece is on the “Bed Intruder Song” viral video.

Thursday 2/10/11

… Or Other Visual Media” by Marc Weidenbaum. Marc is the editor of the ambient/electronica music website disquiet and a contributor to Nature. He was an editor at Tower Records’ late, lamented Pulse! magazine, as well as the groundbreaking American version of the omnibus manga magazine Shonen Jump. His piece is on videogame music.

Friday 2/11/11

Free and Freer: Wikileaks and ViCKi LEEKX” by Ivan Kreilkamp. Ivan is Associate Professor of English at Indiana University. He’s the author of Voice and the Victorian Storyteller. He’s also on the cover of the Lemonheads’ Creator holding a box of Cheerios. His piece is on M.I.A.’s mixtape tribute to Wikileaks.

I’m going to try to keep the conversation going all week on Twitter through the hashtag #IMR, culminating in a live tweet chat Sunday night during the Grammies. Join us!

Ted’s Movie Database

Film poster for Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter'...

The complete Ted’s Movie Database, featuring the Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead rating system, is now back online. It’s part of the new Lists section, which includes year-end Top 10s and decade-end Top 50s, syllabi, comprehensive exam reading lists, old Village Voice Pazz & Jop critics’ poll ballots, and now TMDB. Follow the links from the navigation bar, or click here to go directly to TMDB.

Ted’s Top Movies of 2010

My movie rankings have used the DTMTBD system ever since I first unveiled it in the  fanzine Nadine in 1992. I keep a complete database of every movie I’ve seen using Movie Collector by collectorz.com, sorted by year and DTMTBD rating. It’s proven an invaluable resource for syllabus ideas, zeitgeist reminders, and producing a feeling of accomplishment out of sitting through anything. (I had an online version of my database on the old website; look for it soon on the new TedFriedman.com.)

My premise is that the most typical, amiably professional Hollywood genre piece is a good milestone against which to compare other films’ successes and failures. Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead is my line in the sand: anything better is a treat, anything worse is time wasted. I wrote back in 1992 that going to see Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead itself still counted as a good time, since going to a movie theater and eating popcorn is an inherently fun activity. 18 years later, either I’ve raised my standards or the theaters have gotten worse. Today I’d certainly regret hauling to a theater just to see Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, just as Date Night was a disappointment. (We actually drove out to see it on a Thursday night when NBC was all reruns. It was cute, but a definite cut below a lineup of Community, Parks & Recreation, The Office and 30 Rock. Not even close, actually.)

I admit I haven’t seen most of the big Oscar contenders, including The Fighter (no interest), The King’s Speech (mild interest), or The Social Network (Aaron Sorkin grew up in Scarsdale and I believe went to SHS even did Scarsdale Summer Music Theater, while Zuckerberg’s dad is an orthodontist in Westchester. It feels too much like a high school reunion). But here’s what I thought of what I saw.

The Best Movies of the Year

1. Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World

2. Please Give

3. Hot Tub Time Machine


Much Better Than Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead

4. How to Train Your Dragon

5. Easy A

6. Inception

7. Toy Story 3

Better Than Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead

8. Salt

9. Dinner for Schmucks

10. Greenberg

11. The Other Guys

12. Kick-Ass

13. The Expendables

About As Good As Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead

14. Date Night

15. Iron Man 2

Media and Popular Culture, Spring 2011

Media and Popular Culture
Film 4810, Spring 2011
Mondays & Wednesdays 1:30-2:45, Aderhold 303
Office: 738 One Park Place South
Email: ted3k@me.com    Twitter: http://twitter.com/tedfriedman
Website: https://tedfriedman.com/teaching

Popular culture is often described as “escapist” entertainment. But this dismissal evades some very serious questions. What are we escaping? Where are we escaping to? Does everybody go to the same place? How might the trip affect us, once we get back? This class looks at the social consequences and political implications of mass mediated entertainment. Its goal is to develop the theoretical tools and critical perspective to interrogate the TV shows, commercials, films, books, songs, videos, and web sites that saturate our lives.

Readings
The coursepack is sold by Bestway Copy Center, 18 Decatur Street SE (on the first floor of One Park Place South). Some readings are available online through the links provided. Links to additional optional readings will be distributed via the Twitter hashtag #popcult.

Schedule

Unit I: Introducing Cultural Studies

1/19    Introduction: What Is Culture?

1/24    Barbie Nation: Culture as Struggle and Negotiation
Ted Friedman, “Introduction,” Electric Dreams: Computers and American Culture:
https://tedfriedman.com/electric-dreams/electric-dreams-introduction/
Watch The Century of Self online:
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6718420906413643126#

1/26    Culture as Sentimental Education
Clifford Geertz, “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight”:
http://webhome.idirect.com/~boweevil/BaliCockGeertz.html
In Media Res theme week, Sports & Media: Football/Futbol:
http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/imr/theme-week/2010/45/sports-media-footballfutbol-november-8-12-2010

1/31    Paris Is Burning: Subcultures and Mass Culture
Dick Hebdige, “The Function of Subculture”: http://www.kirkarts.com/wiki/images/a/af/Hebdige_subculture.pdf
Malcolm Gladwell, “The Coolhunt”: http://gladwell.com/1997/1997_03_17_a_cool.htm
Gladwell, “The Science of Shopping”: http://gladwell.com/1996/1996_11_04_a_shopping.htm

Unit II: The Circuit of Culture

2/2    Regulation and Production
Thomas Schatz, “New Hollywood, New Millennium,” from Film Theory and Contemporary New Media, ed. Warren Buckland (Routledge, 2009). (CP)
Chris Anderson, “The Long Tail”: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/tail.html

2/7    Representation
Ellen Seiter, “Semiotics, Structuralism and Television,” from Channels of Discourse, Reassembled, ed. Robert Allen (UNC Press, 1992). (CP)
Roland Barthes, “Myth Today”: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~marton/myth.html

2/9    Audience, Identity and Meaning
Barbara Ehrenreich et al, “Beatlemania: Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” from The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media, ed. Lisa Lewis (Routledge, 1992). (CP)
Ted Friedman, “Myth, the Numious and Cultural Studies,” Flow 10.05, August 6, 2009:
http://flowtv.org/2009/08/myth-the-numinous-and-cultural-studies-ted-friedman-georgia-state-university-atlanta/
In Media Res theme week, “Science Fiction and Fandom,” September 6-10, 2010:
http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/imr/theme-week/2010/36/science-fiction-and-fandom-september-6-10-2010

Unit III: Culture and Power

2/14    Reading the Romance: Cultural Capital
Janice Radway, excerpts from Reading the Romance (UNC Press, 1984). (CP)
John Fiske, “The Cultural Economy of Fandom,” from The Adoring Audience. (CP)
Go to a bookstore. Browse for, buy, and read a romance novel.

2/16    Ideology, Hegemony and Resistance
James Kavanaugh, “Ideology,” from Critical Terms for Literary Study, ed. Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin (U Chicago Press, 1995).
John Fiske, “British Cultural Studies and Television,” from Channels of Discourse, Reassembled.
Stuart Hall, “Encoding, Decoding,” from CCCS Stencilled Paper 7:
http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/irvinem/theory/SH-Coding.pdf

2/21    Ultimate Fighting Champsionship
In Media Res theme week, “Professional Wrestling,” August 16-20, 2010:
http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/imr/theme-week/2010/32/wrestling-august-16-20-2010

2/23    Color Adjustment: Racial Formation
Omi and Winant, excerpt from Racial Formation in the United States (Routledge 1994). (CP)

2/28    Spring Break – No Class

3/2    Spring Break – No Class

3/7    Gender
Ariel Levy, “Raunch Culture” and “The Future that Never Happened,” from Female Chauvinist Pigs (Free Press, 2006). (CP)
Alexander Doty, “There’s Something Queer Here,” from Making Things Perfectly Queer (U Minnesota Press, 1993).

3/9    Mad Men
Midterms due

Unit IV: New Media Futures

3/14    Understanding Comics
Scott McCloud, excerpt from Understanding Comics (Kitchen Sink Press, 1993).
Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield, Freakangels: http://www.freakangels.com/?p=23
(read through at least Volume 1)

3/16    Adult Swim

3/21    Game Studies
Ralph Koster, excerpts from A Theory of Fun for Game Design (Paraglyph Press, 2004).
McKenzie Wark, GAM3R 7H3ORY: http://www.futureofthebook.org/gamertheory/ (read “Agony: on The Cave,” page cards 1-25)
Ted Friedman, “The Play Paradigm: What Media Studies Can Learn from Game Studies,” Flow 9.03 (December 1, 2008): http://flowtv.org/2008/12/the-play-paradigm-what-media-studies-can-learn-from-game-studies-ted-friedman-georgia-state-university/
Ted Friedman, “Strat-O-Matic and the Baseball Tarot: Sense and Synchronicity in Sports and Games,” Flow 9.07 (February 20, 2009): http://flowtv.org/2009/02/strat-o-matic-and-the-baseball-tarot-sense-and-synchronicity-in-sports-and-games-ted-friedman-georgia-state-university-atlanta/
In Media Res theme week, “Gaming,” December 6-10, 2010: http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/imr/theme-week/2010/49/gaming-december-6-10-2010
Play World of Warcraft, Farmville, or any other MMORPG or social game of your choice.
Free 10-day trial for WoW at http://www.worldofwarcraft.com.

3/23    Game Demos

3/28    Social Media
Emily Nussbam, “Say Everything,” New York, January 15, 2009:
http://nymag.com/news/features/27341/
Ted Friedman, “Tweeting the Dialectic of Technological Determinism,” Flow 10.02, June 27, 2009:
http://flowtv.org/2009/06/tweeting-the-dialectic-of-technological-determinism

3/30     New Media Demos

Unit V: The Politics of Culture

4/4    Globalization
Benedict Anderson, from Imagined Communities (CP)
Arjun Appadurai, from Modernity at Large (CP)

4/6    Global Formats

4/11    Activism
Watch Naomi Klein, “Addicted to Risk,” online:

Watch The Story of Stuff online: http://storyofstuff.com/

4/13    Late Night TV

4/18    Posthumanism
Donna Haraway, “Manifesto for Cyborgs” from Simians, Cyborgs and Women (Routledge 1990).CP

4/20    New Media Demos

4/25    Ecocultural Studies
David Abram, “The Ecology of Magic,” from The Spell of the Sensuous (Vintage, 1996):
http://www.primitivism.com/ecology-magic.htm
Scott London, “The Ecology of Magic: An Interview with David Abram”:
http://www.scottlondon.com/interviews/abram.html
Ted Friedman, “The Politics of Magic,” Scope 14 (June 2009):
http://www.scope.nottingham.ac.uk/article.php?issue=14&id=1138
Ted Friedman, “Vertigo,” Flow 10.08 (September 19, 2009):
http://flowtv.org/2009/09/vertigoted-friedman-georgia-state-university/
Take a walk in a park.

Take-Home Final Exam due 5/2

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     100-93        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

Take-Home Midterm – 45 points
The take-home midterm will require you to relate concepts from the readings and lectures to the films screened for the first three class units. Due in class March 17.

Take-Home Final – 45 points
The take-home final will be structured just like the midterm, covering units 4-7. Due May 5.

Presentation – 10 points
You will sign up with two partners to research the creators, economics, and audience contexts of a television program or video game. You will then choose a sample episode or gameplay experience, present your research to the class, screen the episode/game for the class, then participate in the class discussion. More information will follow in a separate handout.

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 presentations. In addition, I will look at optional drafts of the final submitted on or before the deadline listed above.

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. No work can be accepted after the deadline for the take-home final. 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.

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.

Ted’s Top 50 TV Shows of the 2000s

Originally posted December 29, 2009

This was the decade in which TV became America’s most exciting creative medium. When the most compelling auteurs were not filmmakers, but showrunners like Joss Wheedon, David Simon, David Chase and Matthew Weiner. When fandom became a matter not just of accepting the limitations of a mass-produced format, but celebrating the novelistic possibilities of serialized storytelling. When hundreds of channels meant, at least some of the time, true diversity. Even as the music industry tanked and the movies got bigger and dumber, TV – at least the best TV – got smarter. How long it’ll last is up for grabs. But this decade has at least demonstrated that there’s an audience out there for great weekly storytelling.

Below is a list of my favorite TV shows of the decade. For shows that started in the 1990s (like Buffy), I only considered the episodes that ran in the 2000s.

1 – The Wire
2 – The Office (US version)
3 – Lost
4 – Chappelle’s Show
5 – Lucky Louie
6 – Breaking Bad
7 – The Colbert Report
8 – Battlestar Galactica
9 – Mad Men
10 – Top Chef
11 – Flight of the Conchords
12 – 30 Rock
13 – Big Love
14 – Deadwood
15 – Buffy the Vampire Slayer
16 – The Gilmore Girls
17 – Insomniac
18 – Generation Kill
19 – Project Greenlight
20 – Sex and the City
21 – Futurama
22 – Curb Your Enthusiasm
23 – The Sopranos
24 – The Daily Show
25 – Undeclared
26 – Dollhouse
27 – True Blood
28 – Hey Monie
29 – The Powerpuff Girls
30 – Parks and Recreation
31 – The Amazing Race
32 – The PJs
33 – Project Runway
34 – Pardon the Interruption
35 – Weeds
36 – CMT Crossroads
37 – No Reservations
38 – Best Week Ever
39 – MXC
40 – Cover Wars
41 – Human Giant
42 – Michael and Michael Have Issues
43 – King of the Hill
44 – Celebrity Poker Showdown
45 – Ultimate Film Fanatic
46 – Beat the Geeks
47 – World Poker Tour
48 – South Park
49 – Yo Gabba Gabba
50 – The Guild