Courses / Undergraduate

Spring 2020

  • Special Topics – DIVA! The Politics of the Female Voice Onscreen

    140-001 | CCN: 19771

    Dolores McElroy

    4 Units

    MW 2pm-3:30pm, Location: Dwinelle 188

    Screening: M 3:30pm-5:30pm, Location: Dwinelle 188

    If we look to popular media, “diva” can mean just about anyone whose manner of self-presentation puts them on some imagined scale between self-confidence and out-and-out vanity. But there is a history to the term “diva,” beginning with certain women opera singers of the 19thcentury, and continuing to the present day. This course is an interdisciplinary exploration of the idea of “diva” and its formal and theoretical consequences for moving image media. We will explore the history and permutations of “diva” as a cultural type, particularly as anchored in the history of thought surrounding the female voice and technology. 

    In this course, students contend with a wide range of theories of the voice and the image, including, but not limited to, feminist film and spectatorship theory, music studies, queer theory, critical race theory, aesthetics, and politics. Students will view and listen to various media featuring the work of selected divas from the beginning of recorded sound to the present day, including operatic video recordings, silent era Italian and Hollywood stars, avant-garde cinema, the self-reflexive “dark” backstage musicals of the 1950s-1970s, and the pop stars of today.

    Our studies will range from Anne Carson’s work on “The Gender of Sound” in the ancient Greek world, to the work of J.Q. Davies on the twilight of the castrato and the rise of the operatic diva in the early 19th century, Walter Benjamin on the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction, Mladen Dolar on the linguistics, metaphysics, ethics, and politics of the voice, Edgar Morin on stardom, Richard Dyer on the queer appeal of Judy Garland, Jane Feuer on the self-reflexive musical, Terry Castle and Wayne Koestenbaum on the rapturous queer reception of the diva, Mary Ann Doane on film sound and the close-up, bell hooks on Beyoncé, Jack Halberstam on Lady Gaga, feminist critiques of “empowerment” discourse as related to Rihanna and Lana Del Rey, as well as theories of film melodrama, the mad scene, the “comeback,” and more! 

    Questions we will address include: How does the history of thought about the female voice influence the depiction of women onscreen? How do “divas” differ from other cultural types, such as the femme fatale? How do theories of the voice interact with theories of technology? How does the diva help us understand cultural tensions around gender and sexuality? How are the ideas of the face and the voice gendered, and how do they circulate in a global, consumer market?