FMST 43: Conspiracy

This course investigates the texts, narratives, and cultures of conspiracy as they are constituted in film, television, digital, and print media. We will concentrate less on the “truth” of any given conspiracy than on its popular and public impact and meaning – what it says, or might be saying, about ourselves, our world, and our times. The subject, then, is both conspiracy theory and theories about conspiracy. As this is a Film and Media Studies course, we will also pay attention to factors such as representation, technology, narrative, audience, and industry, and their relationship to both dominant and resistant ideologies.

Our focus is on the half-century dating from the late 1950s to the present, a period that extends from the Red Scare, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the Apollo moon landings to Waco, 9/11, and contemporary controversies about Barack Obama’s citizenship and an all-encompassing New World Order. Confining ourselves to the United States, we will explore the ways in which public perceptions of conspiracies spread and evolve through media practices both inside and outside the mainstream, as a mode of education, entertainment, and political activity. Areas we will explore (moving from specific to general) include:

  • The tropes, recurring patterns, and characteristic forms of conspiracy
  • The role of different media in shaping perceptions and understandings of conspiracies
  • The relationship of conspiracy narratives/theories to other media modes such as journalism and documentary, and genres such as horror, science fiction, and mystery
  • The light shed by conspiracy narratives on the production and legitimization of knowledge
  • The possibilities and limits of “diagnosing” conspiratorial trends in relation to specific historical and cultural moments
  • Conspiracy theory as an element of democratic discourse, grassroots political movements, and ideological critique

Textbooks & Readings 

  • The Rough Guide to Conspiracy Theories. James McConnachie and Robin Tudge. Rough Guides Reference, 2008.
  • Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture. Mark Fenster. Revised and Updated Edition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008.
  • Additional readings marked [PDF] will be distributed via Blackboard under “Course Documents.”


20% Participation. Assessed throughout term; includes discussion board presence and pass-fail participation in two in-class debates (Weeks 4 and 9).

20% Screening responses and discussion leading. Once during the semester, each student will introduce a screening with a brief overview at the end of Tuesday’s class. He or she will then post a short response to that week’s screening, along with discussion prompts. This student will then lead our in-class discussion for that week, starting with a clip. Weeks with two movies will have two respondents.

30% Short papers. Three 3-5 page papers, due by email at the end of weeks 4, 7, and 10.

Together, the first two papers will constitute the midterm.

  • Paper 1 (Week 4): Film Analysis
  • Paper 2 (Week 7): Conspiracy Analysis
  • Paper 3 (Week 10): Conspiracy and Documentary Form

30% Conspiracy wall display and reflection paper. Due the penultimate week of class, this project represents the culmination of your experiences in and thinking about Conspiracy. Working in teams, you will create a public display at McCabe Library, a “conspiracy wall” of texts and images mapping out an existing conspiracy or one of your own design.

You will also turn in a 3-5 page reflection paper that discusses the conspiracy and the presentation you have given it. Further details will be given later in term.

CALENDAR (may change during semester) 

Week 1 (Aug 30-Sept 1): Course Introduction; Types of Knowledge

Read for Thursday: Fenster, “Introduction: We’re All Conspiracy Theorists Now”; Birchall, “Know It All” [PDF], Lisker, “The MADE Manifesto” [PDF]

Screen: Conspiracy Theory (Richard Donner, 1997)

Week 2 (Sept 6-8): Reading and Paranoia

Read for Tuesday: Fenster Ch 3, “Finding the Plot”; Shapiro, “Paranoid Style” [PDF]; for Thursday,  Fenster Ch 4, “Uncovering the Plot” (pp. 118-142); Foucault, “Panopticism”

Screen: The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)

Week 3 (Sept 13-15): Red Scares and Pod People

Read for Tuesday: Fenster, Ch 1, “Theorizing Conspiracy Politics,” Hofstadter, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” [PDF]; for Thursday, Steffen-Fluhr, “Women and the Inner Game of Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers” [PDF]; Marcus, excerpts from “The Manchurian Candidate” [PDF]

Screen: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel, 1956); The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer, 1962). NOTE: LONG SCREENING.

Week 4 (Sept 20-22): JFK

Read for Tuesday: Fenster Ch 4 “Uncovering the Plot” pp. 118-142 (review); Simon, “The Zapruder Film” and “JFK” [PDF]; Hidell, “The Center of the Labyrinth” [PDF]

Screen: JFK (Oliver Stone, 1991)

Thursday: In-class debate 1

Due by Sunday night: Paper 1 (Film Analysis)

Week 5 (Sept 27-29): Watergate and the 1970s

Read for Tuesday: TBA; for Thursday, “Project Mind Kontrol” [PDF]; Simon, “The Parallax View” [PDF]; Jameson, “The Parallax View” [PDF]

Screen: The Parallax View (Alan J. Pakula, 1974)

Week 6 (Oct 4-6): The Plot Against Women

Read for Tuesday; Knight, “The Problem with No Name: Feminism and the Figuration of Conspiracy” [PDF]; for Thursday, Valerius, “Rosemary’s Baby, Gothic Pregnancy, and Fetal Subjects” [PDF]

Screen: Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968); The Stepford Wives (Bryan Forbes, 1975).


Fall Break 

Week 7 (Oct 18-20): Space Invaders

Read for Tuesday: Fenster Ch 5, “Plotting the Rush”; Kay, “Democratizing Paranoia: How the Web Revolutionized Conspiracism” [PDF]; for Thursday, Bara, “The Secret History of NASA” [PDF]

Screen: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Moon (Bart Sibrel, 2001); Astronauts Gone Wild (Bart Sibrel, 2004).

Due by Sunday night: Paper 2 (Conspiracy Analysis)

Week 8 (Oct 25-27): The 1990s: The Truth is Out There

Read for Tuesday: Fenster Ch 4, “Uncovering the Plot” pp. 143-end; for Thursday, Graham, “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been? Conspiracy Theory and The X-Files” [PDF]; Bell and Bennion-Nixon, “The Popular Culture of Conspiracy/The Conspiracy of Popular Culture” [PDF]; Waco reading TBA

Screen: Episodes of The X-Files TBA; Waco: The Rules of Engagement (William Gazecki, 1997)

Week 9 (Nov 1-3): 9/11

Read for Tuesday: Fenster Ch 7 “A Failure of Imagination”; Helms, “Lingering Questions about 9/11” [PDF]; Meigs, “Afterword: The Conspiracy Industry” [PDF]

Screen: Loose Change (Dylan Avery, 2007)

In-class debate 2

Week 10 (Nov 8-10): The New World Order

Read for Tuesday: Fenster Ch 2, “When the Senator Met the Commander”; Heimbichner, “The Idiot’s Guide to the Cryptocracy” [PDF]; Weidner, “The Culling: A Speculative Look into the Global Apocalypse” [PDF]; Weston, “FEMA: Fascist Entity Manipulating America” [PDF]

Screen: Endgame: Blueprint for Global Enslavement (Alex Jones, 2007)

Due by Sunday night: Paper 3 (Conspiracy and Documentary Form)

Week 11 (Nov 15-17): Birthers, Truthers, and Death Panels

Read: Kay, “Show Me the Birth Certificate: Conspiracism in the Age of Obama” [PDF]; additional readings TBA

Screen: TBA

Week 12: no class (Thanksgiving)

Week 13 (Nov 29-Dec 1): Approaching the End

Read: Fenster Ch 6, “The Prophetic Plot”; Marrs, “What Will Happen in 2012?” [PDF]; Wallace, “Four Horses of the Apocalypse: A Color-Coded Key to the Cryptocracy” [PDF]

Screen: Angels and Demons (Ron Howard, 2009)

Due: Conspiracy Wall displays and reflection papers

Week 14 (Dec 6): Last day of class

Student evaluations

Note: There is no final exam in this course.

FMST 86: Theory and History of Video Games

Course Description and Goals

By any measure – industrial scale and profitability, cultural pervasiveness, size of audience, range of genres and aesthetics, and influence on and intersection with other media – video games have become one of the dominant entertainment forms of our time. This course investigates the video game medium in both its theoretical and historical dimensions, drawing on a variety of texts and perspectives as well as on play and analysis of video games themselves to build a portrait, not just of games, gamers, and gaming, but of a unique moment in the evolution of contemporary media.

The first half of the term will establish a basic conceptual vocabulary for thinking, speaking, and writing about video games, emphasizing the formal and aesthetic principles that distinguish them as a medium, and articulating these principles to a historical account of video game development. In the second half of the term, we will shift our attention to the broader contexts and cultural functions of video gaming – examining them as commercial and transmedia entities; as spaces for the forging of identity and sociality; as objects of fandom and instruments of ideology – culminating in interpretive and creative practices that push the definition of video games and gaming to, and past, their limits.

Throughout the semester, we will take pains to situate video games in specific contexts, distributing our attention among their technological, formal, and cultural aspects. Students are encouraged to bring their own interests and backgrounds to bear, illuminating video games with the insights of literary theory, film studies, philosophy, psychology, performance, economics, feminism, and any other rubric that enriches the object of study.


  • Egenfeldt-Nielsen, Simon, Jonas Heide Smith, and Susana Pajares Tosca. Understanding Video Games: The Essential Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2008.
  • Galloway, Alexander. Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006.
  • Levy, Steven. Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. New York: Penguin Books, 2001.
  • Recommended: Donovan, Tristan. Replay: The History of Video Games. East Sussex: Yellow Ant, 2010.
  • All other readings available as PDFs on Blackboard under “Course Documents.”


Detailed instructions will be given throughout term. I am always available to discuss
particulars, suggest approaches, and negotiate alternatives.

  • 15% Participation
  • 35% Short Papers
  • 5% Ludology/Narratology Debate Week 6; pass/fail
  • 15% Team Presentation Weeks 7-11; schedule with me
  • 30% Final Project

Readings and assignments are subject to change

Week 1 (8/30 & 9/1): Overture
T Introductions and course overview
Th Framing videogames as objects of study
UVG Ch. 1, “Studying Video Games” & Ch. 6, “Video Game Culture”

Week 2 (9/6 & 9/8): Basic Categories
T Theorizing games and play
UVG Ch. 3, “What Is A Game?”; Galloway, “Gamic Action, Four
** Due: 1-page self-introduction
Th Thinking in (and about) genres
Foucault, “The Order of Things”
Excerpts from Wolf, The Video Game Explosion

Week 3 (9/13 & 9/15): History I
T Roots of video gaming
UVG Ch. 4, “History” (pp. 45-67)
Levy, Hackers

Th The arcade era

Hilbert, “Flying Off the Screen: Observations from the Golden Age of the
American Video Game Arcade”
Rouse, “Game Analysis: Centipede”
Fiske, “Video Pleasures”
** View on own time: The King of Kong (Seth Gordon, 2007)

Week 4 (9/20 & 9/22): History II
T Console and PC gaming
UVG Ch. 4, “History” (pp. 67-96)
** Due: Spacewar/Adventure Comparison
Th Mobile and casual games
Juul, excerpt from A Casual Revolution
Chien, “This Is Not a Dance”
Scott and Ruggill, “Simulation or Simulacrum? The Promise of Sports

Week 5 (9/27 & 9/29): Principles of Form
T Rules and representation
UVG Ch. 5, “Video Game Aesthetics”
Sudnow, “Eyeball and Cathexis”
Th Closeup: First-Person Shooters
Galloway, “Origins of the First-Person Shooter”
** Due: Midterm (between now and week 10)

Week 6 (10/4 & 10/6): Ludology & Narratology
T Ludology & narratology
UVG Ch. 8, “Narrative”
Aarseth, “Genre Trouble: Narrativism and the Art of Simulation”
Jenkins, “Game Design as Narrative Architecture”
Frasca, “Simulation versus Narrative: Introduction to Ludology”
Th In-class debate

Fall Break

Week 7 (10/18 & 10/20): Business and Industry
** Start of team presentations
T Gamemakers
UVG Chapter 2, “The Game Industry”
Birdwell, “The Cabal: Valve’s Design Process for Creating Half-Life”
Th Adaptations and transmedia
Excerpt from Brookey, Hollywood GamersTheory and History of Videogames / 4

Week 8 (10/25 & 10/27): Social Effects
T Reclaiming gaming
Johnson, excerpt from Everything Bad Is Good for You
McGonigal, excerpt from Reality Is Broken
Th Video game fandom
Rehak, “Mapping the Bit Girl”; additional reading(s) TBA

Week 9 (11/1 & 11/3): Multiplayer
T Game communities
UVG Ch. 7, “Player Culture”
Dibbell, “A Rape in Cyberspace”
Th Multiplayer
Bartle, “Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit MUDS”
Pearce and Artemesia, excerpt from Communities of Play
** View on own time: Second Skin (Juan Carlos Pineiro-Escoriaza, 2008)

Week 10 (11/8 & 11/10): Identity
T Gender
Kafai, Heeter et al, excerpt from Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat
Burrill, excerpt from Die Tryin’: Videogames, Masculinity, Culture
Th Race
always_black, “Bow, N****r”
Nakamura, “Race In/For Cyberspace: Identity Tourism and Racial Passing on
the Internet”

Week 11 (11/15 & 11/17): Gaming the Game
T Mods, cheating, and machinima
Galloway, “Countergaming”
Consalvo, excerpt from Cheating
Th Serious games
UVG Ch. 9, “Serious Games”
Galloway, “Social Realism”
Bogost, excerpt from Persuasive Games

Week 12 – Thanksgiving (class does not meet)

Week 13 (11/29 & 12/1): Colloquium
T Student presentations
Th Student presentations

Week 14 (12/6)
T Wrap up; course evaluations
** Final papers due 12/13

FMST 84: TV and New Media

Course Description and Goals

This course explores the commercial, technological, and aesthetic dimensions of television, using this fundamentally “transient and unstable” medium (as William Uricchio has called it) as a springboard for larger discussions about cultural responses to media succession. At its birth, television disrupted and reworked the media around it (film, radio, and telephone); has itself been reshaped by VCRs, DVDs, and game consoles; and now faces further redefinition by smart phones, iPads, DVRs, streaming video on demand, social networking, and piracy. Amid all the excitement, our challenge as critical media scholars is to separate the revolutionary from the evolutionary, arriving at a comprehensive picture of how the contemporary mediascape – with its promises of total information access, on-demand entertainment, and democratic participation in content creation – both extends and breaks with tradition.

Our goals, by the end of the term, will be to (A) map the historical paths by which television has grown from a radically “new” medium to an everyday part of our social and ideological fabric; (B) explore the ways in which TV, as industry and entertainment form, incorporates and responds to emerging technologies, new media genres, and globalization; (C) analyze recurrent tropes in the cultural imagining of new media, such as interactivity, “liveness,” and tensions between mass and individual, fiction and reality; and finally (D) reflect critically on our own media practices – how we use media for pleasure and knowledge, and how media in turn shape us as consumers and citizens, as gendered and raced individuals.


  • Bennett, James and Niki Strange (eds). Television as Digital Media.
    Durham: Duke University Press, 2011. [TVDM]
  • Kackman, Michael et al (eds). Flow TV: Television in the Age of Media
    . New York: Routledge, 2011. [FTV]
  • Newman, Michael Z. and Elana Levine. Legitimating Television: Media
    Convergence and Cultural Status
    . New York: Routledge, 2012. [LT]
  • Links to and PDFs of additional readings on Moodle ( Please print and bring all texts to class.

Graded Course Components

  • 10%            Participation
  • 10%            Podcast
  • 15%            Midterm
  • 20%            Journal
  • 20%            Blogging
  • 25%            Final Project


Includes regular attendance (if you must miss class, please email me with an explanation), preparation (read all materials in advance), and active, helpful contributions to discussion.


You will sign up to record and post to Moodle a 5-minute podcast (audio or video) that responds critically to one of our readings. Podcasts must be posted by Monday night so everyone can review before class. Podcasts will begin in Week 3.


Working in teams of two, you will find two media artifacts (clips of TV series, YouTube videos, etc.), one representing “old” and the other “new,” and bring them together in a post to the class wiki that explores their relationship and connects it to a question, theory, or author(s) we have covered. We will view and discuss these in class in Week 8.


Throughout the semester, you will keep a journal on Moodle in which you respond to prompts, track and discuss your own media habits, and analyze media content. Plan to journal once every two weeks, for a total of 6-8 substantive entries. As part of this assignment, watch several episodes of one of the TV series listed at the end of the syllabus, all of which are on reserve at McCabe.


I will divide you into four teams of 4-6 people. Each team will take responsibility for posting to the class blog for one three-week term, while the rest of the class comments. Teams should plan to post at least every other day, for a total of 9-12 entries, with all members participating. Posts may be drawn from current news and events in media, historical materials, or responses to course topics and discussion, but should always be relevant and interesting. Note: assessment of this component will be based both on how your team performs, and how active each individual is in commenting when other teams are posting.

Final Project

Your final project, on a research question of your choice, will combine a wiki page with a 10-minute presentation and participation in a Q&A at our colloquium in Week 14.


Readings, topics, and screenings are subject to change.

Week 1 (Jan 18) – Course Introduction

  • Screening: Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976)
  • Intros to LT, FTV, TVDM

Week 2 (Jan 25) – Broadcast TV: History, Forms, and Genres

  • Screening: Marty (Delbert Mann, 1953)
  • LT 2, “Another Golden Age?”
  • Anderson, “Television Networks and the Uses of Genre”
  • Williams, “Programming as Sequence or Flow”
  • Dayan and Katz, from Media Events: The Live Broadcasting of History
  • Ellis, from Visible Fictions: Cinema, Television, Video
  • § Team 1 blogs

Week 3 (Feb 1) – TV in the Age of the Web

  • TVDM Dawson, “Television’s Aesthetic of Efficiency”
  • TVDM Burgess, “User-Generated Content and Everyday Cultural Practice”
  • FTV Gurney, “It’s Just Like a Mini-Mall”
  • § Team 1 blogs
  • Podcasts begin

Week 4 (Feb 8 ) – Converging and Spreading

  • You are expected to attend Henry Jenkins events: lecture 2/9 at 7 p.m. in SCI 101; conversation with students 2/10 at 10 a.m., Scheuer Room
  • Excerpts from Convergence Culture, Spreadable Media
  • § Team 1 blogs

Week 5 (Feb 15) – Audiences, Agency, Authorship, Interpretation

  • Screening: Twin Peaks (David Lynch, 1991)
  • LT 3, “The Showrunner as Auteur”
  • FTV Gray, “The Reviews Are In”
  • FTV Stein, “Word of Mouth on Steroids”
  • § Team 2 blogs

Week 6 (Feb 22) – Spaces and Screens

  • LT 6, “The Television Image and Image of Television”
  • TVDM Boddy, “Is It TV Yet?”
  • FTV Chamberlin, “Media Interfaces”
  • § Team 2 blogs

Week 7 ( Feb 29) – Race, Ethnicity, Identity

  • Screening: Color Adjustment (Marlon Riggs, 1992)
  • FTV Kim, “NASCAR Nation and Television: Race-ing Whiteness”
  • FTV Amaya, “Television/Televisión”
  • § Team 2 blogs

Spring Break

Week 8 (Mar 14): Old and New

  • Present midterms in class
  • § Team 3 blogs

Week 9 (Mar 21) – Drama

  • Screening: TBA
  • LT 5, “Not A Soap Opera”
  • Seiter and Wilson, “Soap Opera Survival Tactics”
  • § Team 3 blogs

Week 10 (Mar 28) – Comedy

  • Screening: TBA
  • LT 4, “Upgrading the Situation Comedy”
  • Butsch, “Five Decades and Three Hundred Sitcoms About Class and Gender”
  • § Team 3 blogs

Week 11 (Apr 4) – Reality

  • Screening: TBA
  • Simon, “The Changing Face of Reality Television”
  • FTV Bratich, “Affective Convergence in Reality Television”
  • FTV Kavka, “Industry Convergence Shows”
  • § Team 4 blogs

Week 12 (Apr 11) – News and Politics

  • Screening: Good Night, and Good Luck (George Clooney, 2005)
  • FTV Freedman, “The Limits of the Cellular Imaginary”
  • FTV Tryon, “Representing the Presidency”
  • § Team 4 blogs

Week 13 (Apr 18) – Cult

  • Screening: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (Joss Whedon, Web, 2009); “Love and Monsters” (Doctor Who, BBC1, w. Russell T. Davies, d. Dan Zeff, 2006)
  • TVDM Pearson, “Cult Television as Digital Television’s Cutting Edge”
  • FTV Kompare, “Online Cult Television Authorship”
  • § Team 4 blogs

Week 14 (Apr 25) – Colloquium and Course Conclusion

  • Meet in SCI 101 during screening time to present final projects

There is no final exam in this course.