History 482B Spring 2006 Professor Chris Endy
Popular Culture in Twentieth-Century America
Wednesdays 6:10 to 10:00 p.m in King Hall C4071
Instructor’s Office: King Hall C4076A
Office Phone: 323-343-2046
Office Hours: Mon/Wed 2:15 to 4:15, and by appointment.
Instructor’s Web Page: http://www.calstatela.edu/faculty/cendy
This course offers advanced undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to read, view, discuss, and write about popular culture in 20th century U.S. history. Key questions that we will explore include:
1. How do we know what “popular culture” is? What do we mean when we talk about popular culture (vs. folk, mass, or high culture)?
2. Who has controlled the creation and reception of popular culture?
3. To what degree has popular culture brought liberation? Conversely, to what degree has it brought social or cultural control by reinforcing stereotypes or dominant values?
4. How do movies, songs, novels and other popular culture artifacts reflect (or contradict) broader societal issues such as gender and race relations or definitions of class and nationality?
5. How “American” is American pop culture, both within the United States and around the world? Is the global spread of American popular culture something to celebrate or lament?
Required Texts (plus articles on e-reserve via the JFK library website):
•John Kasson, Amusing the Million
•Susan Douglas, Where the Girls Are
•Walter LaFeber, Michael Jordan and the New Global Capitalism (2002 ed.)
Assignments and Grading:
Class Participation: 15%
Response papers (five 2-3 page papers): 40% (8% each)
Family History Paper (3-4 pages) 15%
Film History Paper (5-7 pages): 30%
Your grades on all essays will be based on three major, closely related criteria:
1. use of the relevant class material (evidence);
2. development of an argument or point of view that is pertinent to the issue at hand and that has breadth, coherence, and insight (interpretation); and
3. expression of ideas in a clear, concise, engaging prose (style).
A: excellent. Outstanding in all three areas.
B: good. Strong in all three areas or notable strengths in one balanced by weakness in another.
C: average. Adequate performance in one or more areas offset by serious weakness in others.
D: poor. Problems in all three areas.
F: unacceptable. Serious flaws in all three areas.
•We will use a “+/-” system: A (93-100), A- (90-92), B+ (87-89), B (83-86), B- (80-82), C+ (77-79), C (73-76), C- (70-72), D+ (67-69), D (60-66), F (0-59). If you don’t understand the basis of the grade you received or if you disagree with the assessment, speak to the instructor—but only after letting twenty-four hours pass for you to absorb and reflect on the evaluation. Please act within two weeks of the return of the paper.
A Note on Class Format and Discussions: We will spend a substantial part of our class time engaged in some activity other than lecture. Class participation is a part of your grade. If you encounter obstacles to your participation (for whatever reason), please meet with me so we can work out a solution. The class will also discuss sensitive but important issues involving race and gender. Please respect the views of your classmates and frame your comments constructively.
Response Papers: Eight of our class sessions offer opportunities to turn in response papers. You are required to choose five of those sessions to submit response papers, each one 2-3 typed, double-spaced pages. The response papers should draw on the readings for that session. A good response paper will have a clear and creative thesis and will support that thesis by referring to a wide range of that week’s reading material (i.e. show me that you have given a careful reading of the week’s material. In creating your thesis, consider the key questions listed at the start of this syllabus. Do the readings for this week help answer one of these questions? If so how? You may also develop your own thesis independent of these questions, so long as it allows you to cover a wide range of that week’s readings.
Family History Paper: This 3-4 page (typed, double-spaced) paper will require you to interview an older family member or family friend—someone who can talk about popular culture before 1980. Interview this person about a favorite movie, TV show, band, song, or radio show from before 1980. Try to find out what the multiple meanings of this pop culture item were for this person. Also place this pop culture artifact into the context of social, cultural, or political trends during the time period. In your thesis, develop a creative argument about the nature or significance of popular culture. Your essay should make substantive references to at least two of our class readings so far.
Film History Paper: This 5-7 page (typed, double-spaced) paper will require you to analyze two films that appeared before 1990. You can select two films from the same time period or two films on similar themes but from different time periods. You will also need to locate and analyze at least two reviews of each film from the time period to help show its reception in the public.
Your paper should address the following questions: What was the likely intent of those who created each film? How does each film reflect and/or contradict dominant social, cultural, or political trends of the time? What multiple messages might audiences have taken from each film? Lastly, how do the two films relate to each other? Don’t simply write about one movie and then about the other. Instead, emphasize comparisons between them. In your thesis, develop a creative argument about the nature or significance of film in 20th-century America. A good paper should also make substantive references to at least two of our class readings and should provide a full bibliography.
To find movies, consult with me for ideas, or try a keyword search on the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com). For reviews, start with the Film Review Index in the JFK reference section at Z5784.M9 F513 1986.
Late Policy: Out of fairness to other students, late response papers and family history papers will be marked down in five-point steps. For instance, a 92 (A-) paper that is turned in one session late will receive an 87. The same paper turned in two sessions late will receive an 82. Essays received after the start of the class when they are due will be penalized as if they were one session late.
In case of a family emergency, special allowances may be made. Please contact the instructor as soon as possible. If you suspect that you might have a problem meeting a deadline, please see the instructor beforehand so that we can make a special arrangement.
The Free Late: For one of the paper assignments (but not the final film paper), you will be allowed to turn in your essay one week after the due date with no penalty. Simply write “Free Late” on the top of the essay when you turn it in. You may only take advantage of this option once; use it wisely.
Plagiarism: Plagiarism is the use of somebody else’s words or ideas without acknowledgement of this borrowing. This includes copying from texts or webpages as well as submitting work done by somebody else. Be sure to use quotation marks and footnotes or endnotes to acknowledging when you are borrowing words or ideas from other people in your own writing.
29 March: Class Introduction
5 April: Inventing Mass Culture and Modernity at Coney Island
Kasson, Amusing the Million, whole book.
Lawrence Levine, “The Folklore of Industrial Society: Popular Culture and Its Audiences,” American Historical Review 97 (December 1992): 1369- 99. [E-Reserve & J-Stor]
Response Paper 1 Due
12 April: Race, Gender, and Immigration in the Transnational 1910s and 1920s
Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception,” in Juliet B. Schor and Douglas B. Holt, ed., The Consumer Society Reader (New York: New Press, 2000), 3-19. [E-Reserve]
Amelia S. Holberg, “Betty Boop: Yiddish Film Star,” American Jewish History 87 (December 1999): 291-312 [E-Reserve & Project Muse]
The 1930 Film Production Code [E-Reserve]
Harlem Renaissance Readings [E-Reserve]
Response Paper 2 Due
19 April: Class, Power, and the “Popular”
Steven Ross, Visualizing Ideology: Labor Vs. Capital in the Age of Silent Film
[This link is on my faculty website’s History 482B page]
Stuart Hall, “Notes on Deconstructing the ‘Popular,’” in Raphael Samuel, ed. People’s History and Socialist Theory (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981), 227-40. [E-Reserve]
“Hollywood’s Cold War: The Suppression of Salt of the Earth (1954),” in James J. Lorence, Screening America: United States History Through Film Since 1900 (New York: Pearson/Longman, 2006), 117-30. [E- Reserve]
Response Paper 3 Due
26 April: Gender Play: Conformity and Resistance
Douglas, Where the Girls Are, 3-138
Catherine S. Ramírez, “Crimes of Fashion: The Pachuca and Chicana Style Politics,” Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism 2 (2002): 1-35. [E-Reserve & Wilson OmniFile]
Response Paper 4 Due
Film History Paper Proposal Due
3 May: Feminism and the Media
Douglas, Where the Girls Are, 139-307
Response Paper 5 Due
10 May: Sharing Family Stories / Making Sense of the Westerns
Family History Paper Due (3-4 pages)
17 May: Explaining the Global Reach of American Pop Culture
Walter LaFeber, Michael Jordan and the New Global Capitalism, whole book.
Response Paper 6 Due
24 May: Coca-Colonization: How American is American Pop Culture Abroad?
Gülriz Büken, “Backlash: An Argument Against the Spread of American Popular Culture in Turkey,” in Reinhold Wagnleitner, “Here, There, and Everywhere:” The Foreign Politics of American Popular Culture (Hanover: University Press of New England, 2000), 242-50. [E- Reserve]
Charles Ambler, “Popular Films and Colonial Audiences: The Movies in Northern Rhodesia,” American Historical Review 106 (February 2001): 81-105. [E-Reserve, History Cooperative, & Academic Search Premier]
James Petterson, “No More Song and Dance: French Radio Broadcast Quotas, Chansons, and Cultural Exceptions,” in Heide Fehrenbach and Uta G. Poiger, eds., Transactions, Transgressions, Transformations: American Culture in Western Europe and Japan (New York: Berghahn Books, 2000): 109-23. [E-Reserve]
Ian Condry, The Social Production of Difference: Imitation and Authenticity in Japanese Rap Music, in Fehrenbach and Poiger, eds., Transactions, Transgressions, Transformations, 166-84. [E-Reserve]
Response Paper 7 Due
31 May: Turning the Tables: Globalization in the United States
Kristin Hoganson, “Cosmopolitan Domesticity: Importing the American Dream, 1865-1920,” American Historical Review 107 (February 2002): 55-83. [E-Reserve, History Cooperative, & Academic Search Premier]
Amy Abugo Ongiri, “He wanted to be just like Bruce Lee”: African Americans, Kung Fu Theater and Cultural Exchange at the Margins,” Journal of Asian American Studies 5 (February 2002): 31-40. [E-Reserve & Project Muse]
Primary Source Readings [TBA, 15 to 25 pages on E-Reserve]
Response Paper 8 Due
7 June: Finals Week
Film History Paper Due in professor’s office by 7:30pm
••• GENERAL TIPS ON WRITING •••
(adapted from Michael Hunt)
Writing is a process, and no paper reaches perfection on the first try. Any kind of writing needs time for the ideas to take shape and for the exposition to gain polish. Here are some suggestions:
1. Take a few minutes to figure out the assignment. What are you being asked to do? To resolve any uncertainties, talk with the professor.
2. Prepare a rough draft. Don’t worry about perfection. Writing can be a way of trying ideas out. Strike out those that don’t work and concentrate on those that do. Identify relevant evidence to give depth to your argument. If at this stage you are having difficulty getting started, return to the assignment instructions or consult with the instructor. The most frequent cause for blockage at this point is the need for either a stronger grasp of what you are talking about or a willingness to take a stand (to have a personal reaction to an issue or topic, to ask hard questions about the materials, or to identify key concepts and seek relationships among them).
3. Set the draft aside. Twenty-four hours (or at least overnight) will give you the fresh critical perspective needed to edit. If you don't have much time, take whatever interval you can. Even a few hours is better than rushing through the assignment in one sitting.
4. Return to the draft for a careful editing. This can be the most pleasurable part of writing as you see an interpretation or argument emerge ever more sharply. Particularly difficult sections may require even more attention, perhaps even another visit after some time away. Consider having a friend not in the class look over the draft for clarity, style, and grammar. If that outside reader can understand your argument, chances are you have a compelling and clear essay.
Here are some questions to keep in mind as you revise:
• Do you have a clear, descriptive, engaging title? The title is your first chance to communicate your intentions to your reader. Use it well.
• Does your opening (or thesis) paragraph indicate clearly your paper’s direction? Make sure that all the sentences making up the paragraph point the reader in the same general direction. If they don’t, the reader will be confused from the outset. In early drafts the conclusion often offers the most precise version of your thesis. If so, move all or part of that draft conclusion to the front of the paper where it will serve you and your reader far better. Make sure that your opening paragraph is clear and short. Long introductions eat up the limited space available to develop and support your argument.
• Are the supporting paragraphs tied together so that they make a connected argument? Give the transitions between paragraphs attention so that your argument does not degenerate into a series of separate mini-arguments. Each supporting paragraph should also begin with a topic sentence. This topic sentence, at the start of each paragraph, should announce the purpose of the paragraph and indicate how the paragraph fits into the overall argument of your essay. Think of the topic sentence as a mini-thesis for each paragraph.
• Do the supporting paragraphs deploy evidence from class materials (e.g., names, events, statistics, points of view, or quotes) to support the argument? Evidence requires careful selection—only pick the best and most relevant examples. Evidence also requires balance in quantity—enough to convince the reader but not so much that the reader is overwhelmed, bored or even distracted from the general point that you want to make.
• Does the concluding paragraph (usually relatively short) offer more than a simple repetition of the general argument? An intelligent reader will have already gotten your argument if it is well made. Instead of merely repeating yourself (and wasting valuable lines), use the conclusion to extend your argument, explore its significance, or view it from a fresh angle. What have you learned? Why is the major point made in the paper important to you?
• Can you condense by making key points more concisely? Words, phrases, and sentences that don’t serve your purpose take up valuable space. Remove whatever seems tangential or repetitious and make each line count.
• Did you proofread to catch any remaining errors or glitches, especially in grammar and spelling. Also look for the most common enemies of engaging style: passive voice verbs (which kill the action and obscure the actor), long quotations (which use space while silencing your own voice), and run-on or incomplete sentences (which disrupt your flow and make it hard for a reader to understand your ideas). The more polished and error-free a paper is, the more the reader can concentrate on your argument. If you have trouble finding errors, ask for help in proofreading.
• Have you read your writing aloud? Imagine how it might sound to someone coming to the topic for the first time. Each little improvement will make your argument more accessible.
Tips to avoid common stylistic problems in history papers:
1. Avoid anonymous quotations. Always identify the speaker or author and the basic context of a quotation you select.
BAD: Idealism thrived in 1898 as with the statement, “Our purpose is noble.”
GOOD: Idealism thrived in 1898. As President McKinley told Congress, “Our purpose is noble.”
2. Use the past tense when writing about past events or statements.
BAD: In his 1898 letter to Congress, President McKinley writes that “our purpose is noble.”
GOOD: In his 1898 letter to Congress, President McKinley wrote that “our purpose is noble.”
3. Avoid passive voice sentences that obscure the real person or thing doing the action. History is about people or forces doing things, so you want your sentences to show who or what is making things happen.
BAD: The movement was accused of being Communist.
GOOD: The Los Angeles Times accused the movement of being Communist.
BAD: By 1942 the unemployment problem was solved.
GOOD: By 1942 the new war industries had helped solve the unemployment problem.
Final Note: Learning to write with power and beauty depends on constant practice and critical feedback. Do not expect to become a good writer in one single effort. And do not let ego and a reluctance to ask questions stand in the way of listening to criticism and figuring out how to respond to it. Most important, don’t let feedback on your paper become a referendum on you as a person.
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