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.

Texts

  • 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
    Convergence
    . 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 (https://moodle.swarthmore.edu/my/). Please print and bring all texts to class.

Graded Course Components

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

Participation

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.

Podcast

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.

Midterm

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.

Journal

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.

Blogging

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.

Calendar

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.

2 thoughts on “FMST 84: TV and New Media

  1. This syllabus has only gotten more exciting since I took the course in spring 2009 (has it really been that long?). The addition of Dayan and Katz is a particularly apt one.

    I wonder how you’ve handled, in structuring the syllabus, the question of the “race week” (or the “gender” week, or “queer” week, etc). In thinking about how, in the future, I’ll develop courses of my own, I’m always troubled by the possibility of dumping the identity stuff into a single week, for fear of ghettoizing it within the structure of the course.

    It seems like a lot of weeks in this course — particularly the genre-centric weeks in the second half of the course — could support topic-relevant identity-centric readings (e.g. Katherine Sender’s “Queens for a Day: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and the Neoliberal Project” or something from Sender and Kraidy’s edited volume, The Politics of Reality TV). What do you think are the potential problems/benefits of having an explicitly identified “Race/Ethnicity/Identity” week?

  2. *Sigh* You’ve put your finger on one of the things I struggle with most in my teaching, which is where/how to address identity within the media domains I study and talk about. As you know from your experience in TV & New Media as well as in Theory and History of Video Games (an updated syllabus for which I plan to post shortly), I tend to mark out a single week for looking directly at identity politics and representations of difference. And you’re right — this does run the risk of compartmentalizing the discussion and implying that such issues aren’t as crucial to understanding media forms and practices at other points in the term. Part of this, I freely admit, comes from the fact that I’m not as deft or comfortable in addressing these topics as I know I ought to be. Call it a case of straight-white-male guilt: foregrounding identity means confronting the privileged position from which I continuously, and more or less unconsciously, speak.

    On the other hand, I’ve been teaching long enough to know what works in my classroom: what my strengths and weaknesses are, and how best to play to/compensate for them. I’ve become more forthright about interrogating certain identity categories — race, gender, class, and sexual orientation among them — on an ongoing basis as part of our overall exploration of a subject, and am fairly confident that students emerge from my classes with their own subject positions troubled and broadened. Too, I find that it’s incorrect, and sometimes counterproductive, to assume that all students (even Swatties!) come into the room at equal levels of proficiency and readiness to tackle questions that arrow so precisely into the personal and political. One of my guiding pedagogical principles is to keep as many people as possible engaged in the conversation, denying them excuses to switch off; this sometimes means being less confrontational about hot-button issues than my own committedly liberal politics would dictate.

    Short answer: in my experience, devoting a week to identity doesn’t take the topic off the table at other points in the semester; if anything, it helps put us all on the same page by establishing a vocabulary we can use as we navigate things like genre. For the TV/NM class in particular, the readings we’re working with do a good job of keeping those questions alive and important no matter what the week’s focus.

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