American Studies 151 01 Introduction to American Studies: Popular Culture

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American Studies 151 01 Introduction to American Studies: Popular Culture

Stetson University

Fall 2005

M/W noon-1:15 pm; LBC 221

Dr. Emily Mieras

Office: Sampson 218


Office Hours: Mondays and Wednesdays, 2-4 pm;

Other times by appointment
Course Goals:
This course has four major goals. 1) It will introduce you to the interdisciplinary methods of analysis central to American Studies. By "interdisciplinary methods," I mean the various critical approaches, bodies of evidence and historical contexts that you can use in order to investigate American culture and figure out what it means. 2) The course's second goal is to contextualize cultural forms--such as film, advertising and television--within the time period in which they were produced. In other words, we will look at them as the product of specific historical circumstances. We will try to determine how those circumstances might have shaped a given work of art, film, music, or other cultural artifact and how the issues, events and mood of historical eras affected the public reception of different cultural forms. 3) We will think about broad theoretical issues, such as how each example of popular culture is part of broader systems of human relationships and patterns of social change or continuity. 4) Finally, through our analysis of popular culture you will become (an even more) critical analyst of the popular culture you encounter every day.

I bring a few assumptions to teaching this class and expect you to go along with them for the semester:

1) A movie is never "just a movie" (you can substitute "song," "cartoon" "advertisement" "sitcom" or whatever you choose for "movie" and this axiom still holds!)

2) All cultural products (such as, for example, films, novels, TV shows, fashion trends, toys) have something to tell us about the people who made them, the people who see/use/read them and the times in which they were created.

Course Format:

This class will combine lectures and discussion. I lecture occasionally to provide introductions to the topics, interpret our texts, and to give you a theoretical framework for understanding popular culture. These lectures will be interactive, however! Discussion is also an important part of the class. To enable everyone to participate, we will hold discussion with the whole class sometimes, but at other times, we will break down into groups for smaller discussion sessions, led by myself and the course teaching assistant. Everyone must take an active role in these discussion groups.

Teaching Assistant:

This semester, you and I are both fortunate to have a teaching assistant for AS 151: Brendan Kingsley, an American Studies major. Brendan will help lead small-group discussions, give a couple of presentations during the semester, and will be available for you to consult with questions about the course material or for help brainstorming about your papers (of course, you should also meet with me during my office hours or by appointment to talk about the course and your papers!).

Course Texts

Books are available for purchase at the Bookstore; most are also on reserve at the library.

Nick Bromell, Tomorrow Never Knows: Rock and Psychedelics in the 1960s

Robert C. Bulman, Hollywood Goes to High School: Cinema, Schools, and American Culture

(* Not available at library as of 8/15/05)

Susan Douglas, Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female With the Mass Media

Sut Jhally and Justin Lewis, Enlightened Racism: The Cosby Show, Audiences, and the Myth

Of The American Dream
In addition to these books, you will read some articles and book excerpts that will be posted on Blackboard.

Films/TV episodes:

This course includes several outside-class film and TV screenings, which are required. Screening times and places will be posted on Blackboard in advance of the screening date. It is your responsibility to check Blackboard for the latest details on times/places. I recognize that some students may have conflicts with these screenings; however, if you cannot see the film at the scheduled time, it is your responsibility to arrange another time to see it at the Instructional Media Center in the Du-Pont Ball Library (x 7182) or to find other source for the film. Some of the videos will also be on reserve at the library, where you can watch them on your own ahead of time. Note that the IMC will remove the films to get ready for the screenings, so you can’t count on them being available right before or right after screening times. PLAN AHEAD.
The films we will see outside class time are:
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) (feature film; on reserve. Long but good!)

Blackboard Jungle (1955) (feature film; on reserve)

I Love Lucy and Leave It To Beaver (selected episodes) (NOT on reserve, but available in IMC)

Ethnic Notions (1987) (documentary; on reserve)

The Cosby Show, selected episodes, on reserve

The Breakfast Club (1985) (feature film; NOT on reserve)
Blackboard: This course has a site on Blackboard. All students registered for the class should be able to access Blackboard. If you cannot do so, contact Information Technology (x 7217) for help. I expect you to visit the course site regularly; I will post announcements and class documents, including assignment descriptions, on the site as well as other materials. You are responsible for keeping up to date by visiting the website. To fulfill your participation requirement, you must also post at least two general entries on the Blackboard discussion forum (see below) and make posts on specific topics as stipulated on the Course Schedule (see below).


Note: Do not submit assignments to me over e-mail unless you have made arrangements with me beforehand and demonstrated a compelling reason to do so.

I. Participation

This class relies on your participation to make it a success. Your responsibility is threefold: 1) DO THE READING 2) Be an active listener 3) Contribute to discussions. Of course, some people will want to talk more than others. Your participation grade will be based on the quality, not quantity, of your contributions. Attendance and preparation are essential to good participation. More than three absences over the term will significantly reduce your participation grade. (“Significantly” means your participation grade goes down at least half a letter grade if you have more than three absences, and drops rapidly after four absences. Since the participation grade also depends on the work you do while in class, missing class will affect the participation grade differently for each student.)

Participation includes posts to Blackboard as follows: First, you will participate in on-line discussion. To do so, submit at least two well-developed posts to the course discussion forum. You can describe a popular culture experience of your own, comment further on course readings or discussion, or respond to one of the posted comments from others. These posts should be several sentences long as well as interesting and reflective. You will post on other topics as assigned in the Course Schedule (below).
II. Quizzes and In-Class Writing Assignments. From time to time, you will have quizzes or short in-class essays on the day’s reading. Sometimes these will be announced, sometimes not.
III. Papers /Popular Culture Collection Assignments
These “collection” assignments are meant to introduce you to basic methods of research and analysis, give you a chance to practice your writing skills, and teach you to think critically about the examples of popular culture you select. Two of these assignments require formal papers; two do not. In all four assignments, however, your writing should be clear, grammatically correct, and well thought-out. Consult the Paper Guide attached to this syllabus to review some basic rules and forestall some frequent errors. Consult your own style manuals as well when you have questions about grammar and punctuation.
These assignments will be:

  1. Piece of Popular Culture: Bring in any piece of popular culture of your choosing; due in class Wed. Aug. 31. Try to be creative about this assignment. No cell phones. Also due: short essay on this piece of popular culture. You must write one typed or computer-generated solid page explaining why it constitutes popular culture and what it can show us about American society. To do well, you must think carefully and deeply about what popular culture is, what it means and how your object is part of a broader set of American cultural patterns, values, and ideas. Go beyond surface observation and apply the ideas discussed the first day of class and in the first set of readings from Blackboard. Make direct connections to these readings and cite the text when you do so (see Paper Guidelines).

*Note: If your object is too large to bring to class, bring something that represents it.

  1. Music and Meaning: Contemporary Parallels: Short (3-4 page) essay on one musical group (or solo performer) that matters to you. In this essay, you should apply the ideas from readings we have done for this class. More details to come (Check Blackboard).*Your choice must constitute popular music. Clear topic with me if you’re not sure if it fits.

Due Wed., Oct. 19, in class.
3) Media collection: You will research how at least three different media outlets have covered the same significant event. By “different,” I mean different in format, such as print vs. visual, AND different in approach (Bill O’Reilly versus the CBS Evening News versus Bill Maher versus The Daily Show, for ex.). Clearly, there are a few steps here: 1) pick an event (must be a recent or ongoing event); 2) choose media outlets and find/watch/read examples of the coverage of your event. 3) Write up a brief (one-page) summary of what you’ve learned. Bring that summary to class, along with copies of any print materials used, along with your notes on any visual materials you used. 4) Discuss in class (small-group format). 5) I will grade the summary and your participation. Copies/notes must be included for full credit.

Don’t wait until the last minute. More advice to follow; See Blackboard. Due Wed. Nov. 2, in class.

4) Mini-Research Paper: You will write a well-researched paper (7-10 pages) on a contemporary popular culture topic of your choice. This paper is “mini” only in length; you must do solid research about your topic, consulting scholarly sources, popular commentary on your topic, and, of course, analyzing your subject yourself. Topics Due: Wed. Oct. 12 (you can e-mail me your topics if you wish); Preliminary list of sources due Monday, Oct. 31 (can submit by e-mail); Drafts due in class Nov. 28 for peer review workshop; Final papers due Monday, Dec. 5 no later than 5 pm.
IV. Exam
This course will have a final exam, now scheduled for Monday, Dec. 12, 9-11am. The exam will cover material from the entire semester, including lectures, presentations, books, Blackboard readings, and visual materials. Note that Stetson policy mandates that any student who does not take the final exam automatically fails the course.


Grading Scale: A + (hard to come by): 98-100; A: 93 -97; A -: 90-92

B +: 88-89; B: 83-87; B – 80-82; C +: 78-79; C: 73-77; C- 70-72 and so on.

See Blackboard for more explanation of grading criteria for your class assignments.
Grade Breakdown:

Participation: 10 percent

In-Class Writing: 15 percent

Piece of Popular Culture: 10 percent

Music and Meaning Paper: 15 percent

Media Research Assignment: 10 percent

Mini-Research Paper: 20 percent

Final Exam: 20 percent

Course Policies


Course work is due on the date indicated on this syllabus. Assignments due in class are due in class. Otherwise, they will be marked off for lateness. I will take off three points for each day a paper is late up to two weeks late; after that, I will no longer accept the paper. But NOTE: I will accept only one late paper from any student this term in any case. Obviously, if severe personal circumstances interfere with your completing your work on schedule, you can discuss those circumstances with me and we can negotiate options.

Completion of Work

Work is complete when it contains all the required elements (for example, if I ask you to turn in copies of articles with your essay, it is incomplete if you do not include them). Incomplete work will lose points. In-class work cannot be made up.
Academic Accommodations
Any student who feels that she or he may need an accommodation based on a disability or medical condition should speak with me.  In addition, please contact the Academic Resources Center in 101 CUB (386.822.7127 or

Academic Honesty

I will not tolerate cheating and/or plagiarism in this course. I will refer suspected cheating to the Honors Council, and penalties may range from failing an assignment to failing the course.

All Stetson students are bound by the University’s Honor System, whose principles are summarized in the Pledge that students have the opportunity to sign upon enrolling in the University, or any time thereafter. Go to for information.)
The Pledge:
As a member of Stetson University, I agree to uphold the highest standards of integrity in my academic work. I promise that I will neither give nor receive unauthorized aid of any kind on my tests, papers, and assignments. When using the ideas, thoughts, or words of another in my work, I will always provide clear acknowledgement of the individuals and sources on which I am relying. I will avoid using fraudulent, falsified, or fabricated evidence and/or material. I will refrain from resubmitting without authorization work for one class that was obtained from work previously submitted for academic credit in another class. I will not destroy, steal, or make inaccessible any academic resource material. By my actions and my example, I will strive to promote the ideals of honesty, responsibility, trust, fairness, and respect that are at the heart of Stetson's Honor System.
Possessing academic integrity does not mean you learn in a vacuum. Learning is a shared venture. Thus, I expect and hope that you will discuss the course and your work with your classmates. HOWEVER, all final work that you submit in this class must be your own, and you must follow the Pledge guidelines above, as well as this course’s guidelines for citing and using research materials. I expect you to consult me if you have any questions about whether your methods of study, research, or writing fit these guidelines for academic integrity. You can also consult your student handbook for university guidelines on penalties for cheating and plagiarism, and you can consult any style manual (the Henry Holt Guide; The Chicago Manual of Style; the MLA Handbook, for example) on the proper way to cite your sources and avoid plagiarism.

Academic Support Resources

Stetson has both a Writing Center (Flagler Hall) and an Academic Resources Center (in the CUB) to support and assist you. I urge you to make use of the experts who work in these offices (as well as consulting me and making use of my office hours!).

Common Courtesy

Turn off cell phones and beepers in class. If they ring by accident, turn them off; do not answer them. Come to class on time.

* NOTE: Reading is due on the day assigned.
Unit One: What is Popular Culture? Definitions and Explorations
Week One
W Aug. 24 Introduction
Week Two

M Aug 29 Reading Due: Assignment One on Blackboard:

(introductions to “Signs of Life in the USA” and “The Popular Culture Reader)
W Aug 31 Popular Culture Collection Assignment One Due (See “Assignments” section on syllabus)

(You must bring your popular culture object AND your one-page essay to class.)
Unit Two: Popular Culture and American Identity in Times of War and Crisis
Week Three

M Sept. 5 Labor Day Holiday

W Sept. 7 Popular Culture and World War II (no reading due)
Week Four

Film Screening This Week: The Best Years of Our Lives (for discussion Wed., Sept. 14)

(Mon. Sept. 12, Flagler 313, 6:30 pm; OR Tues. Sept. 13, Flagler 317, 6:30 pm)
M Sept. 12 Advertising America in World War II

(Library Assignment to be carried out in class; DUE: Post to Blackboard

by midnight Tues., Sept. 13, discussing what you learned)

W Sept. 14 Discussion: The Best Years of Our Lives

(In-Class Writing Assignment on the Film)

Reading Due: 1)selection from Thomas Doherty, Projections of War (BLACKBOARD)

2)Robert Bulman, Hollywood Goes to High School, selections from Chapt. 1: pages 1-3, “A Sociological Introduction; pages 6-9, “Films and Culture”
Week Five ‘50s Popular Culture: The Promise of Television

THIS WEEK: View Episodes of Leave It To Beaver and I Love Lucy (alternative: Watch any four episodes—two of each--on your own by Wednesday—but make sure you take notes so you can discuss details in class assignment) (Mon., Sept. 19, and Tues., Sept. 20, 7 pm, Place, TBA: SEE BLACKBOARD)

M Sept. 19 Reading Due: Lynn Spigel, “Make Room for TV: Television and The Family

Ideal in Post-War America” (BLACKBOARD)

W Sept. 21 Reading Due: Susan Douglas, Where The Girls Are, Intro, Chapters One and Two

Also due: selected episodes of LITB and ILL

In-Class Writing on TV episodes
Week Six

Film Screening this week: Blackboard Jungle (1955)

Mon., Sept. 26, 7pm, Flag 313; OR Tues. Sept. 27, 7pm, Lib. Rm. 25 (near IMC and basement computer lab)
M Sept. 26 Reading Due: Bulman, Chapt. 2 and Chapt. 3 up to section break on p. 63
W Sept 28 Discussion of Blackboard Jungle ; In-Class Writing on Film
Unit Three: Music, Meaning, and Identity
Week Seven
M Oct. 3 Reading Due: 1)George Lipsitz: “’Ain’t Nobody Here but Us Chickens:’ The Class Origins of Rock and Roll” AND 2)Grace Palladino, “Great Balls of Fire” (BOTH ON BLACKBOARD)
W Oct. 5

Reading Due: Douglas, Chapt. Four

Week Eight
W Oct 12 Reading Due: Nick Bromell, Tomorrow Never Knows, Intro, Chapts. 2 and 3

Mini-Research Paper Topics due by the end of the day (you may submit by e-mail)

Week Nine

M Oct. 17 Reading Due: Bromell, Chapts 4, 5, Afterward
W Oct. 19 T. A. Presentation AND

Papers DUE IN CLASS On Music and Meaning (we will discuss your papers in class)

Unit Four: Making Sense of the World Through Media
Week Ten
M Oct. 24 LIBRARY RESEARCH ORIENTATION (with library faculty member

Ms. Jane Bradford) goal: prepare for media assignment and mini-research paper

W Oct. 26 Reading Due: Douglas, Chapts. 7 and 8
Week Eleven

Film Screening This Week for 11/ 7: Ethnic Notions

(Wed. Nov. 2 at 7pm OR Thurs. Nov. 3 at 7 pm; PLACE TBA: SEEBLACKBOARD)
M Oct. 31 Reading Due: selection from Robin Andersen, Consumer Culture and

TV Programming (BLACKBOARD)

Preliminary List of Sources for Mini-Research Paper due by the end of the day

(you may submit by e-mail)
W Nov. 2 Popular Culture Collection Due in Class: Media Research (see “Assignments”

Section on this syllabus)

Unit Five: Race, Class, and Popular Culture Narratives about the United States
Week Twelve

TV Screening This Week for 11/14.: The Cosby Show, selected episodes (alternative: Watch any four episodes on your own by Wednesday—but make sure you take notes so you can discuss details in class assignment)

M Nov. 7 Discussion of Ethnic Notions (Post response on film to Blackboard by 10 am today)

AND Reading Due: Jhally and Lewis, Enlightened Racism, Chapts. 1, 2

W Nov. 9 Reading Due: Enlightened Racism, Chapt. 3, 4 and 5

Week Thirteen

M Nov. 14 Reading Due: Enlightened Racism, Chapts. 6 (to 101 only); 7, 8 (skim 8 only)

In-Class Writing on Cosby episodes

Unit Six Youth on Film: Sex, Rebellion, and the Quest for Self
W Nov. 16 Reading Due: Douglas, Chapt. 3 (note that this chapter jumps back in time

to the 1960s, but theme fits in here!)

Week Fourteen

Film Screening for Wed. 11/24: The Breakfast Club (1985)

(Mon., Nov. 21, 7pm OR Tues., Nov. 22, 7 pm, Lib. Rm. 25)
M Nov. 21 Reading Due: Bulman, Chapts. 4 and 5
W Nov. 23 Discussion of film: The Breakfast Club (1985)

In-Class Writing on Film

Unit Seven: Contemporary Trends in Popular Culture (or, Searching for Meaning and “Reality” in the Postmodern World)
Week Fifteen
M Nov. 28 T. A. presentation AND

MINI-RESEARCH PAPER DRAFTS DUE TODAY (in-class peer review workshop)
W Nov. 30 Reading Due on Reality TV: See BLACKBOARD
Week Sixteen
M Dec. 5 Mediated Reality, continued discussion.

NO CLASS MEETING DURING REGULAR TIME; INSTEAD, WE WILL RESCHEDULE THIS CLASS TO EITHER Wed. Nov. 30 or Th. Dec. 1 in the late afternoon or evening or Mon. Dec. 5 in the late afternoon or evening. During that time, we will meet with Prof. Andy Dehnart, of Stetson’s English Department, who is an expert on reality TV and publishes on the subject. Before this meeting, make sure to explore his website on reality television:

W Dec. 7 LAST DAY OF CLASS. Conclusions and Review.

Mini-Research Papers Due no later than 5 pm at my office (hard copies required)


Appendix: Paper Guide

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