Film and Media Cultures
20 | CCN: 11602
What is the role of media in our everyday lives, and how can looking closely at media help us better to understand our culture? This course introduces students to theories and methods in the scholarly study of media, including print, photography, film, television, and digital media. We will begin with an introduction to ideology critique courtesy of Roland Barthes, learning how to excavate the hidden meaning behind everyday habits and objects. As we move through some highlights of the film & media studies canon, we will use our readings to help us see a variety of cinematic, televisual, and digital objects in a new light. Special attention will be paid to how media texts, together with the institutions in which they are embedded, produce power relations with regard to race, gender, sexuality, class, and nationality. This will mean asking such complex questions as: what are the technological/material, formal, and aesthetic features that define different media and their various modes of address and representation? How do different media work with time and space, and how do they construct their audiences or spectators, producing different kinds of “publics”? Throughout, we will think critically about questions of tradition and innovation, seeking both the old in the new (why do we still call it “TV,” and why does it still have seasons?) and the new in the old (were early silent films the original Vine videos?). This approach should help us to defamiliarize customary ideas about where media come from and where they might be going, and invite us to think about whose ideas and voices are included and excluded in the formation of media theory.
Readings will span the last century, from early responses to photography and silent film to current debates on the death of cinema, the question of television, and the emergence of digital media. The course will include readings from André Bazin, Walter Benjamin, Siegfried Kracauer, Laura Mulvey, bell hooks, Mary Ann Doane, Stuart Hall, Jane Feuer, and Simone Browne, among others. This is a reading intensive course: one of our central goals is to learn how to appreciate the challenge of reading complex theoretical material. Weekly film screenings and encounters with contemporary digital and video art will provide concrete case studies with which to ground our ideas and discussions, and written assignments will give you an opportunity to work through your ideas in more detail.
By the end of this course, students should be able to understand the concept of medium specificity and compare various forms of media. They will be able to analyze films and other cultural objects from a variety of perspectives and consider their roles within a larger society. Students should also be able to apply these critical lenses to the media they encounter in their everyday lives.