Instructor: Cynara M. Medina, School of Media Arts and Studies @ Ohio University
Office hours: Thursday: 3:30 – 5:00 pm
Office: RTV 015 C
We often hear how popular culture is derided as being of lesser value, but it is an important part of our daily life. In fact, popular culture is one of the sites in which we think about our values, goals, and anxieties. Through popular culture we think about today, and about the future… about continuity and change… about Andy Griffin and what Opie would have done on Facebook (and how Andy would have dealt with it). This course examines the emergence and development of American popular culture since the early Twentieth century, and the role it fulfills in American society. An online portfolio, class discussions, readings, and lectures will be our tools.
- Describe the difference between popular culture and high culture.
- Explain why the popular becomes popular.
- Describe major trends in popular culture in the United States since the early years of the twentieth century.
- Analyze the significance of popular culture in American life, including an understanding of the major issues and controversies.
- Exercise written, oral and/or mediated communication skills, and critical thinking skills.
- Develop research skills, including the ability to evaluate and synthesize sources, and to follow an appropriate style guide (MLA, APA, etc.).
- Constructively comment on the work of others.
This course stresses critical thinking, so you are expected to be self-critical of own work, and constructively critical and respectful of the work and opinion of your peers. You are also expected to:
- Complete assigned readings and written assignments by their due date. Completing these assignments will support your participation in class and online.
- Participate in class and online.
- Complete a course online portfolio.
Topic I: What is Popular Culture: How does the popular become popular?
Topic II: Being: Popular Culture and identity — Myths.
Topic III: Behaving: Popular culture and roles — masculinity and femininity.
Topic IV: Consuming — Mass production and the consumer culture.
Topic V: Participating — Public life (religion and politics)
Topic VI: Alternatives — Subcultures and countercultures
Topic VII: Changing — New trends.
Assessment and Grading
Your final grade in this course will come from attendance and class participation, written responses to films/videos (4), an online portfolio (blog on WordPress.com), a book critique, and a portfolio presentation. The breakdown is as follows:
|Attendance and participation||
|Film responses (4 @ 25 points each)||
|Online learning portfolio / Blog||
|“About” Page, Personal reflections & Responses to classmates (10 points each)||
|A = 399-420||B = 357 – 370||C = 315 – 328||D = 273 – 286|
|A – = 385-398||B - = 342 – 369||C - = 300 – 327||D - = 258 – 272|
|B + = 371 – 384||C + = 329 – 341||D + = 287 – 299||F = 270 – 0|
You will be permitted two (2) unexplained absences. Unless any additional absences are explained by (1) significant medical excuse, (2) religious observance, (3) participation in a university-sponsored event, or (4) an event that was clearly beyond your control, each absence will reduce your final grade by five (5) points. It is your responsibility to stay current and find out what you missed if you were absent.
During the quarter, we will be watching four (4) films that illustrate topics from the class. You are expected to write a 1-2 page response paper (double-spaced, with 1 inch margins, 12 point font), in which you explain how the film exemplifies, supports or contradicts concepts addressed in the readings, lectures, the course blogs and/or class discussion. Your film responses will be graded according to the following criteria: (1) You identify at least one key concept that the film represents, supports or contradicts; (2) You bring in at least one relevant example from lecture, readings, course blogs and/or discussion; (3) You bring in at least one relevant example from a reputable outside source; (4) You cite your sources using an appropriate style manual, and include a reference list at the end of the paper; (5) your paper has less than 3 grammatical and/or spelling mistakes. I highly recommend that you take notes as you watch the film. The films will be on reserve at Alden Library after the screening. Please refer to course schedule for due dates for your response paper. No late papers will be accepted unless you meet the criteria spelled out in the attendance section of this syllabus.
Online Learning Portfolio/Blog:
A portfolio is a collection of artifacts — documents, articles, video, etc. —, and reflections about those artifacts. The purpose of the portfolio is to illustrate, support or contradict the key ideas explored throughout the course. You can find these ideas in lectures, discussion, readings and videos. Whatever catches your attention can be your springboard. Examples can include statements such as: “There could be no mass culture until there were masses” (Macdonald, 1962, p. 13), or “Jon Stewart makes cynicism attractive; indeed, he makes it profitable” (Hart & Hartelius, 2007, p. 263). Bear in mind that the most important aspect of the portfolio is not the artifacts, but your reflections, what you think about as you read, or what comes to mind while you’re watching a youtube video that just reminds you of something discussed in class, even if you can’t quite peg what that something is. If it bugs you, explore it, but remember: What is important is how you use the artifacts to answer questions like:
- What does this artifact say about masculinity/femininity?
- How does this artifact explain the relationship between popular culture and consumption?
- How does this artifact help us understand the role of social networks in American politics?
These are only examples, but there could be more questions that you can come up on your own.
Here are some examples of artifacts:
- Description of a scene for a television program, video clip, video game.
- Link to a photograph, cartoon, drawing, or illustration.
- An article from a magazine, newspaper, etc., of an excerpt from it.
- Information from a relevant website.
- Quotes from well-known individuals.
- Entries in Wikipedia. However, bear in mind that you should find at least one credible external source that backs up the Wikipedia entry.
- Screen captures of a twitter feed, online game, Facebook feed, chat.
Please make an effort to find and post examples from a variety of sources and types, as this will be taken into account when I evaluate your portfolios. Your portfolio must include a total of 20 artifacts. 10 ARTIFACTS WILL BE PART OF YOUR MIDTERM GRADE. The portfolio should include the following types of posts:
- An introduction stating who you are, what your interest in popular culture is, and what your overall goals for the course are. Please use the blog’s “about” page for this entry.
- Personal reflections (minimum one post per week), where you analyze popular culture artifacts in light of the concepts we discuss in class.
- Reflections on classmates’ entries (minimum one post per week). The purpose of these reflections is for you to use the blog as a virtual forum. Hence, you are expected to contribute at least one entry per week that expands on something one of the blog contributors (including the instructor) has posted. If you post the comment directly on the contributor’s page, make sure you copy and paste it as a new post on your own blog (for ease of grading).
- Final reflection (one entry at the end of the quarter – due 11/12/09 by 5 pm.). The final entry summarizes the key insights you have learned from this process. You should review your previous posts and course materials in order to produce this final entry. The final reflection should be approximately 500 words in length.
I recommend that you make it a habit to post on your blog weekly. Otherwise the point of the assignment, which is for you to reflect on the material as we go along, is completely lost. If I notice that people are not keeping up, I reserve the right to take 5 points off for each late posting. I will give feedback and assign grades to portfolios on two occasions: Oct 13 and at the end of the quarter. Your grade will be based on the following criteria: (1) You present a variety of sources and artifact types (at least 2); (2) The artifacts and reflections are relevant to the course, and you present sufficient evidence to support the connection; (3) The artifacts and reflections identify key concepts from the course; (4) less than 3 spelling and grammatical mistakes; (5) the reflections are at least two paragraphs in length.
Instructions for setting up your blog:
The course blog for this Popular Culture in America is @ popcultural.wordpress.com. This site will host resources, and I will be posting weekly summaries and observations periodically. You will need to register your personal blog at WordPress. You can do that by going to wordpress.com, clicking on the “sign up now” link, and following the instructions. Email me the link to your blog as soon as you’re set up so I can add you to the main site.
Your blog is your space. Feel free to configure it however you wish. To begin, the dashboard allows you to set up and administer the blog. In the dashboard, the general settings tab allows you to set the blog’s title, the tagline, language, time zone, date, and time formats. You may want to come up with an interesting title and tagline, but you are not obligated to do so.
The “Appearance” Box of the dashboard allows you to customize how the blog looks. This is also where you will find widgets that can help make easier to navigate. Please make sure to include the “Tag Cloud” widget. The Tag Cloud is usually already available by default. Tag Clouds depicts user-generated tags, or words found on your site. These tags help readers find related posts on your blog, and on other sites. They also help search engines to catalog your site.
By default, the blog usually includes a “Blog Roll” where you can list your favorite web sites. Please take a moment to add links to the blog roll, so we can begin sharing resources about popular culture. You can customize the Blog Roll using the “Links” feature of the Dashboard, but bear in mind that these links are not the same as the links you’ll be including in your individual artifact posts.
To post/edit on your blog.
You need to be logged in to WordPress to add or edit posts on your blog. You also need to be logged in to comment on other people’s blog. Whether adding or editing, the main text box works like any word processing program, and you’ll notice that different buttons on the top side of the text box allow you to perform different functions, such as bold and spell check. When you highlight (select) words in the main text box, you will notice that two additional buttons, one with a chain link, and the other one with a broken chain link, will light up. These buttons allow you to embed links in your posts. To embed a link, highlight the text that you want to use to activate the link. Then click on the chain link box and paste the URL. Make sure to select “open link in a new window” from the target menu. You can also embed images, video, audio and other content into your blog using the upload/insert buttons.
Once you are finished creating and editing your individual posts, make sure that visibility is set to “public”, and that you click on the blue “publish” button. Otherwise you will be the only one able to see what you posted. Also, if you edit your posts, please click on the blue Update Post tab on the edit post feature to save changes. You should keep your posts public until the end of the quarter. After that, it is up to you whether to keep blogging or not.
At the end of the quarter, you will have the opportunity to present your online portfolio to the entire class. You should pick what you consider to be your best work (minimum 2 artifacts). Though the presentation will be graded, it should be kept informal, meaning that you don’t need to put together a power point or do anything beyond what you already have created. Your work should speak for itself, and you should focus on how the portfolio helped you understand the relationship between the popular culture you experience daily and the concepts discussed in the class. A detailed rubric for the presentation will be provided to you at a later date.
You need to read and critique one (1) of these two books:
Johnson, Steven. Everything Bad is Good For you: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter. New York: NY: Penguin, 2005.
Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. New York: NY: Penguin (1985).
The book critique should be between 3 and 5 pages in length. It should include the following: (1) An introduction identifying 3 main arguments or ideas presented in the book. The introduction should end with a personal statement indicating whether you agree or disagree with the author; (2) at least three (3) reasons for your opinion. Each argument is supported by evidence and examples from a reputable source; (3) contains less than 3 grammatical and/or spelling mistakes; (4) presents a strong conclusion re-stating your position; (5) cites all outside sources, and contains a list of references for those sources. A guide for citing in APA style will be provided to you, but you can use any style you feel comfortable with.
Ohio University provides you with an email account (the OAK account), which is the only one used for all university announcements, including those regarding this course. If you have not done so, please activate your OAK account. When emailing me about this class, please use OAK, and be sure to include your first and last name in the email so I know who you are.
I will only accept late work when there is a significant medical excuse or when circumstances were clearly beyond your control. If you know you will be absent from class on the day that an assignment is due, you must plan ahead so you can meet the deadline.
If you have a documented disability, you are entitled to reasonable accommodations that will allow you to fulfill course goals in an effective and satisfying manner. If you are eligible, please contact me within the first week of the quarter. You may also want to use the resources of Ohio University’s Office of Institutional Equity, which can be found at www.ohio.edu/equity/disabilityservices/studentservices.cfm
Ohio University has instituted the following policy about academic misconduct:
The Student Code of Conduct prohibits all forms of academic misconduct. Academic misconduct is an A level offense and is defined by the student code of conduct as Dishonesty or deception in fulfilling academic requirements. It includes, but is not limited to: (1) Cheating, (2) plagiarism, (3) Un-permitted collaboration, (4) forged attendance (when attendance is required), (5) fabrication (e.g., use of invented information or falsification of research or other findings), (6) using advantages not approved by the instructor (e.g., unauthorized review of a copy of an exam ahead of time), (7) knowingly permitting another student to plagiarize or cheat from one’s work, (8) submitting the same assignment in different courses without consent of the instructor.
Note: An instructor may impose a grade penalty for academic misconduct and/or file a judicial referral.
If you are unsure about a question of academic misconduct, consult your instructor or the director of Judiciaries. If you are found to be involved in academic misconduct, your instructor has the option of lowering your grade or giving you an F grade on the project or in the course, and/or referring you to Judiciaries. Possible sanctions through Judiciaries are suspension, expulsion, or any sanction not less than a reprimand (Source: www.ohio.edu/judiciaries/academic-misconduct.cfm#academic).
In this course, academic misconduct will result in an “F” for the assignment or test. A second offense will result in an “F” for the course, and referral to the University Judiciaries.
I HAVE NO TOLERANCE FOR ACADEMIC DISHONESTY, so please don’t test me on the subject. Bear in mind that if you plagiarize, it is not all that hard to find out.
Ohio University recognizes that students and faculty are “entitled to classroom privacy, academic freedom, and professional courtesy” (Faculty Handbook, Section IV.A.9). To ensure our privacy, no one may record classroom activities using electronic means (i.e., videotaping, audio recording, camera phones, etc.) without my permission. Everyone in the class will be informed in the event such permission is granted.
Ohio University also recognizes that classroom observation by other faculty members is sometimes desirable to improve teaching effectiveness, and for the purposes of promotion and tenure. You will be notified beforehand if and when a faculty observer will visit the classroom.
Cell phones, are not needed nor are they allowed in the classroom. Please put your cell phone away.
Laptops are allowed, and encouraged in this class; however, you should not interpret this as license to spend valuable class time on your facebook page. Rather, I’m allowing laptops because I recognize that they are one important means through which we access popular culture, and that we might be using them from time to time. Don’t abuse the privilege or it will be revoked for everyone.
The instructor retains the right to amend this syllabus during the period of the course. Any changes to the syllabus will be notified in writing.
|9/10||What is popular culture?
Dwight Macdonald – Selection from Masscult and Midcult.
Jacques Barzun. The Tenth Muse.
Chuck Klosterman. Culture got you down?
Malcolm Gladwell. The Coolhunt
|Set up your course blog.|
|9/17||What popular culture tells us about being an American:
FILM SCREENING: High Noon.
|9/22||Frederick Jackson Turner: The significance of the Frontier in American History
Robert Warshow: The Westerner.
|Written response to High Noon & discussion.|
|9/24||Immigrants in Popular Culture
Randolph Bourne: Transnational America
Frances Negron-Muntaner: Jennifer’s Butt
|9/29||Popular culture and Gender: Femininity
Susan J. Douglas: Fractured Fairytales
Stephanie Empey: Lois: Portrait of a Mother.
FILM SCREENING: TBA
|10/6||Nick Trujillo: Hegemonic masculinity on the mound.
Jason Fagone: Does God have a Tim Tebow complex?
|Written response to film & class discussion|
|10/8||No Class – Instructor @ AOIR Conference|
|10/13||Consuming the Popular
Samuel Strauss: Things are in the saddle
Naomi Klein: The brand expands: How the logo grabbed center stage (From No Logo).
|10/15||Popular Culture and Public Life – Politics
Roderick Hart & Johanna Hartelius: The Political Sins of Jon Stewart
Robert Harriman: In Defense of Jon Stewart
SCREENING: Indecision 2004
|First Portfolio Evaluation|
|10/20||Popular Culture and Public Life: Participation
Henry Jenkins: Photoshop for democracy
Rashid Shabazz: Obamania
Meghan McCain: Why Republicans don’t get the Internet.
|Written response to Indecision 2004, and discussion|
|10/22||Popular Culture and Public Life: Religion
Raymond J. Vanarragon: Family Guy and God.
Wan: Soul-Searching on Facebook.
|10/27||Popular Culture and Public Life: The Cult of Celebrity.
Film screening: TBA
|10/29||Joshua Gamson: The Assembly Line of Greatness.
Heather Havrielesky: The triumph of uncelebrity.
|Written response to film & discussion.|
|11/3||Subcultures and countercultures
Joli Jenson: Fandom as Pathology.
Henry Jenkins: American Idol
Douglas Haddow: Hipster: The Dead End of Western civilization
|11/5||New Trends in Pop Culture: Reality TV.
What happens when people stop being polite
Brian Lowry: Reality TV breeds new star system.
|Book Reports due|
|11/12||Portfolio Presentations||Cut off date for portfolios|
|11/17||Final Portfolio Reflection due.
No entries with time stamp after 11:59 PM on 11/17 will be accepted.
 Wikipedia is not considered a reputable source, but it is a good starting point to find additional sources. If you use Wikipedia, you need to find additional sources to back it up.
 The portfolio assignment and instructions to set up the blog are based on Danielle Stern’s work @ Christopher Newport University. I have only modified them slightly to fit the goals of this course.