History 225g: film, power, and american history course Description



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Spring 2012 Professor Steven J. Ross

10:00-11:50 MW SOS 172 (0-1681) sjross@usc.edu



MRF 340 Office Hrs: M 12-1; W 1-2 & by apptmt
HISTORY 225g: FILM, POWER, AND AMERICAN HISTORY
Course Description: Few contemporary institutions have a greater effect on molding popular understandings of the world than film and television. Yet, most citizens lack the critical tools to contextualize, analyze, and critique the images and ideologies conveyed on the screen. This course is designed to join elements of film studies with various schools of historical thought to provide students with the critical skills needed to analyze the images and ideologies they see on the screen and understand how those images effect our views of the past and present. This course is part of the Social Issues category of GE. We examine many of the fundamental social, political, and economic problems that have shaped the 20th century: industrialization, urbanization, war, poverty, crime, politics, success, race, class, and gender conflict. We will analyze these issues from three different perspectives: (a) films made during the period that address those issues; (b) primary documents that shed light on those issues; (c) historical overviews of those issues.
Our films and documents cover the period from 1900 to 2010. The films we watch (which include fiction films, documentaries, and newsreels) were made during that decade and deal with one or more of the major problems of the time. But movies offer only one perspective on the world. Each week will also read works that offer additional perspectives: readings that discuss the general historical events of the era; readings that discuss what is happening in the motion picture industry; and readings that offer primary documents of the period. In short, we will triangulate our way through American history. It is the student's job to figure out which of these perspectives seems most convincing, why it seems so, and the implications of one form of knowledge being more powerful than another.
Class Format: Monday meetings will provide students with a broad overview of the era. They feature a lecture and clips from various newsfilms and documentaries about the era. Wednesdays will generally be spent viewing and discussing films (two caveats on films: films listed in syllabus are subject to change depending on availability; my goal is to show repetition of certain kinds of images—consequently we will often see only parts of listed films). Students will learn how to "read" the political ideology embedded in films. ALL Students must enroll in a weekly discussion section. Discussion sections will be run as seminars in which students will analyze the week's readings and discuss the similarities and dissimilarities in what historians, primary sources, and filmmakers say about a particular era. We will also try to reach some final synthesis concerning the popular images and realities of the age. What can movies tell us that history books cannot? What can history books can tell us that movies cannot?
Requirements: The course includes a midterm (20%), final exam (30%), and term paper due April. 146(20%); class participation (including written assignments) will constitute an additional 30% of the final grade. We expect students to attend ALL classes and discussion sections; unexcused absence from class or discussion section will affect your grade. All work submitted must be written entirely by the student. Plagiarism will result in an F in the course and the initiation of expulsion proceedings. Discussion readings must be completed by Friday.
Required Readings:

Robert Marcus & David Burner, America Firsthand, VOL II (*course packet at bookstore)

Steven J. Ross, Movies and American Society

Steven J. Ross, Working-Class Hollywood: Silent Film and the Shaping of Class in America

Elaine May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (20th anniversary edtn.)

Maurice Isserman and Michael Kazin, America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s (4th edtn)

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (Centennial edtn; Thomas Pynchon preface)
LECTURES, FILMS, AND READINGS
Jan 9: INTRODUCTION: SEEING & BELIEVING: FILM, HISTORY & POWER

General issues of course: socio-political-economic problems in America; class, race, gender as key themes. Triangulation approach to synthesizing and analyzing history, media, and primary documents. What we see is not always what we should believe. The elusive nature of power.



Jan 11: THE PROMISES & PROBLEMS OF AMERICAN LIFE, 1890-1917

America in the late 19th century: big business, class conflict, poverty, immigration, women's sphere, mass protest. Progressivism and the Progressive movement, 1890s-1917; the "invention" of modern leisure; origins of TGIF. Documentary footage of Progressive-era America..



Discussion Section Readings:

Ross, Movies and American Society, xiv-xvi, 1-41

Ross, Working-Class Hollywood, xi-xv; 3-55

M&B, Am First Hand, 65-73, 83-94



Jan 16: No Class: Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Jan 18: AMERICA, THE LAND OF OPPORTUNITY: BUT NOT FOR ALL THE POOR

Movies, immigrants, workers, and the problems of everyday life. Films look at the [in]justice system, monopolies, poverty, gangs, prostitution, authority figures, and the American Dream gone awry. Class as a vital element of early 20th century life, both on and off the screen.



The Kleptomaniac (1905) Corner in Wheat (1908) Work (1915)

The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912) The Italian (1915)
Discussion Section Readings:

Ross, Movies and American Society, 42-63

Ross, Working-Class Hollywood, 56-111

M&B, Am First Hand, 121-31, 151-60, 180-85


Writing Assignment #1: Analyzing Primary Documents: Due Jan. 20: Write a three-page, double-spaced analysis of Andrew Carnegie’s “Climbing the Ladder,” in M&B, America First Hand, pp.67-73. What does this document say about the American Dream? Who is not included in Carnegie’s vision? How does the document deal with themes of class, ethnicity, gender, and race?

Jan 23: WAR, REVOLUTION, REDS, AND REPRESSION: SOCIAL AND POLITICAL

PROBLEMS IN THE 19teens and 1920s

How class, radical politics, and Progressivism are effected by World War I, the Russian Revolution, and Red Scare. Examination of the Bolshevik Menace, labor militancy, Americanization movement, decline of social problem films. Political "others" in America.


Jan 25: SAVING AMERICA: CINEMATIC BATTLES LEFT AND RIGHT

Ideological battles on the screen; worker-made films vs Hollywood productions.


Dangerous Hours (1920) Labor's Reward (1925) The Passaic Textile Strike (1926)
Discussion Section Readings:

Ross, Working-Class Hollywood, 115-72

M&B, Am First Hand, 115-20, 196-209

Emma Goldman, “Patriotism: A Menace to Liberty” (available online at:



http://sunsite3.berkeley.edu/Goldman/Writings/Anarchism/patriotism.html)


Jan 30: REDEFINING AMERICA: CLASS, GENDER, & THE PROMISES OF CONSUMPTION

Mass Production, Mass Consumption, and rise of a Consumer Society in 1920s; women, work, the vote, and changing gender roles; how movies and movie palaces help forge new visions of class and self-identity in America.


Feb 1: SEX AND THE FAST LIFE

Reorientation of film in the 1920s; consumption, gender, class; leisure vs work.



Male and Female (1919) Sex (1920) The Sheik (1921) Smouldering Fires (1925) Our Dancing Daughters (1928)

Discussion Section Readings:

Ross, Working-Class Hollywood, 173-257

Ross, Movies and American Society, 89-97

M&B, Am First Hand, 214-227


Writing Assignment #2: Due Friday, Feb. 3: Do Exercise 1: Reading Politics in Images (answer Question 1 and Question 2) from Visualizing Ideology: Labor vs Capital In the Age of Silent Film (dornsife.usc.edu/hist225g/pages/home/index.html) *Hand in hard copy to TA

Feb 6: ON THE MARGINS OF POWER: RACE IN AMERICA

What does America look like when some "color" is added to the historical mix? The problems faced by racial groups excluded from American society and marginalized in films: African-American, Asians, Mexicans. Scenes from The Bronze Screen: 100 Years of Latinos in Hollywood


Feb 8: CINEMA AND RACE

Midnight Ramble documentary on the rise of a black cinema—“race films”—for black audiences; footage of early race films. George Johnson, Oscar Micheaux; G.C. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. D.W. Griffith and Birth of a Nation. Scenes from Michaux’s The Symbol of the Unconquered (1920) and/or Within Our Gates (1920)
Discussion Group Readings:

Ross, Movies and American Society, 164-91

M&B, America First Hand, 10-31, 210-13

W.E.B. DuBois, “Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others,” (available on line at:



http://www.bartleby.com/114/3.html)

Marcus Garvey, “If You Believe the Negro Has a Soul: Back to Africa” (text and Garvey

audio speech available at http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5124)
Feb 13: MID TERM EXAM

Feb 15: THE GREAT DEPRESSION: POVERTY, DESPAIR, AND HOPE

Cinematic responses to poverty and despair; farmers and workers organize; rise of CIO; popular culture and the masses—movies and radio. Challenges to the New Deal and to state power; the fragility of democracy in the 1930s; the repressive nature of American government as it deals with threats like the Bonus March; fascism at home and abroad; rise of Hitler, Franco, Mussolini, and Stalin.



Feb 20: No Class: President’s Day
Feb 22: THE MYTH OF THE ORDINARY AMERICAN: YOU CAN BEAT CITY

HALL—OR, CAN YOU?

Myths of the politics, political heroes, and political manipulation.


Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) Gabriel Over the White House (1933)

Meet John Doe (1941)
Discussion Group Readings:

M&B, America First Hand, 132-46

Ross, Movies and American Society, 128-163

Feb 27: WORLD WAR II AND THE PROMISES OF AMERICAN LIFE

Impact of war and return of prosperity and seeming harmony; effects of war on class, race, and gender. Hopes and disappointments of postwar era.


Discussion Group Readings:

May, Homeward Bound, 1-108



Feb 29: OPPORTUNITY AND DISILLUSIONMENT

The dark side of domestic life during the war—“fast” and dangerous women. Myths and realities of the “Good War” and readjustment to postwar life.


Double Indemnity (1944) The Best Years of Our Life (1946)

March 5: PROSPERITY & POVERTY, CONFORMITY & REBELLION: THE 50s

Postwar prosperity; rise of suburbia; new middle class. Corporate world and corporate workers; beatniks, rebels, and youth culture.


March 7: YOUTH CULTURE BEFORE FACEBOOK

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

Discussion Group Readings:

May, Homeward Bound, 109-216

M&B, America Firsthand, 288-91
Writing Assignment #3: Due March 9: Write a three-page double-spaced critical summary of May, Homeward Bound. The first paragraph should summarize the book’s main arguments; the first 2 pages should analyze her key points/arguments. The final page should have your critical thoughts and comments on the book.

March 12-16: No Class: Spring Break

March 19: THE COLD WAR HEATS UP: WHO IS THE ENEMY?

Cold War at home & abroad: 1940s-60s; Communist menace and American liberties; Hollywood blacklist; labor, ethnics, minorities under assault.



March 21: CLASS, ETHNICITY, RACE, GENDER AND AMERICAN POLITICS

Left, right, and center views of key problems.


Salt of the Earth (1953) Dr. Strangelove (1964) On the Waterfront (1954)

Discussion Group Readings

Isserman and Kazin, America Divided (4th edition), 7-22

Ross, Movies and American Society, 192-248

Vicki L. Ruiz, “South by Southwest: Mexican Americans and Segregated Schooling,

1900-1950,” OAH Magazine of History 15 (Winter 2001). (available on line at

www.oah.org/pubs/magazine/deseg/ruiz.html

M&B, America Firsthand, 359-64




March 26: RACE, RACE RELATIONS & CIVIL RIGHTS: POWER FROM BELOW

The rise of the Civil Rights movement; power being exercised at grass roots level; JFK-LBJ War on poverty; rise of Black Power movement.



March 28: CIVIL RIGHTS ON THE SCREEN

Hollywood liberal views of race and the Blaxploitation film movement.


Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) Shaft (1971) To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

Discussion Group Readings:

Isserman and Kazin, America Divided (4th edition), xi-xii, 1-6; 23-149

Ross, Movies and American Society, 249-79

Malcolm X, “The Ballot or the Bullet” (on line at http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/malcolmxballot.htm

M&B, America Firsthand, 302-11

April 2: VIETNAM AND THE CRISIS OF AMERICAN POWER

Vietnam and challenges to national power; war's impact on all aspects of American life; student revolts; the politics of the counterculture.


April 4: AMERICA: LOVE IT, LEAVE IT, OR CHANGE IT!

Debate over Vietnam splits a nation. Who is responsible? What to do? Nationalist and nihilist depictions of the war. Drugs, freedom, the counterculture and the New Hollywood.


The Green Berets (1968) Apocalypse Now (1979) Deer Hunter (1978)

Discussion Group Readings:

Isserman and Kazin, America Divided, 151-309

Ross, Movies and American Society, 280-312

M&B, America Firsthand, 292-301, 312-20




April 9: FEMINISM, SEXUALITY, & SOCIAL CHANGE: HOPE & FEAR IN THE 1980s-1990s

Women's movement; feminism; gender roles questioned; backlash. Why are men—and women—afraid of changing gender roles?



April 11: BEING A "WOMAN" IN THE '80s,‘90s, and ‘00s

What does it mean to be a woman or man in the modern world? The problems of family and divorce. Gender and class in society and on the screen. Rise of feminism and rise of backlash.


Fatal Attraction (1987)
Discussion Group Readings:

Ross, Movies and American Society, 313-43

M&B, America Firsthand, 327-35; 354-58

**Term Paper Due April 16

April 16: THE CONSERVATIVE REVOLUTION: THE RISE OF RONALD REAGAN AND THE CONSERVATIVE ASCENDENCY

The emergence of a new conservative movement that challenged the New Deal welfare state; the decline of federalism; culture wars; the decline of American political discourse


April 18 RAPPIN’ POLITICS: WHAT MIGHT A REAL TWO-PARTY SYSTEM

LOOK LIKE?
Bulworth (1998)
Discussion Group Readings:

Ross, Movies and American Society, 344-66

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four [Pynchon forward edtn], vii-xxvi, 1-106


April 23: WAR & GREED IN A TIME OF PEACE: REAGAN, BUSH, CLINTON, BUSH & THE GLOBAL WORLD ORDER

Prosperity and poverty, war and peace; advances and setbacks at home and abroad; impact of globalization on America and the world.


April 25: ACTION, DRAMA, AND THE CAUSES OF WAR

The Iraq war as an action film with a strong political edge (think of this as an updated worker film strategy of silent era)


The Green Zone (2010)
Discussion Group Readings:

Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 107-231



May, Homeward Bound, 217-28


**FINAL EXAM: Monday, May 7, 8-10 a.m. in this room!






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