Syllabus and assignments

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COMMUNICATION 140-03: Culture and the Media

Spring 2007
T.S. Frank

OFFICE: Olin 105

PHONE: 724-223 6136 and 412-761-6701


OFFICE HOURS: T-R 4:30-5:30 and M-W 11:00-12:00. Other times by appointment please.

CLASS HOURS: T-R 2:30-4:00, TEK 214

TEXTS: Mass Media Mass Culture: An Introduction, by James R. Wilson and S. Roy Wilson

No Applause ~ Just Throw Money, by Trav S.D., aka Travis Stewart

The Fifties, by David Halberstam


  1. Culture and the Media will enable the students to think and write critically about Mass Media as it relates to American Culture.

  1. The course will expose students to cultural artifacts such as newspaper and magazine articles, music, films, TV shows, products, and advertisements from various media—all of which will serve as examples reflecting the reciprocal relationship between culture and media.

  1. The course will enable the students to write about the elemental history of American mass media, as well as the people, inventions, trends, and cultural events associated with each medium.

  1. The course will enable a student to define a list of terms essential to a discussion of communication, culture, and media.

  1. The course will challenge students to investigate ethical issues concerning media and culture.

  1. The course will require the student to submit two argument-driven ESSAYS (due on 3/8 and 5/8) on important topics related to culture and media.  These graded writing assignments will comprise 30 per cent of the student's course grade—15 per cent each.

  1. The course will require the students to write a MID-TERM and FINAL EXAM in class.  These exams, at fifteen per cent each, will comprise 30 per cent of the student's course grade.

  1. The course will require the student to keep a CULTURE JOURNAL of clipped articles, reviews, pictures, song lyrics, advertisements and the like, plus written obser­vations and ideas about these cultural artifacts and other issues concerning our culture and the media. The Culture Journal will comprise 15 per cent of the student's grade. Note that the Culture Journal must be composed or compiled on a regular basis–which translates to 40 total entries, 20 by the midterm. This Journal is an excellent place to begin to collect and develop ideas and theses for the papers.

  1. The course will require the students to complete READING QUIZZES to test their understanding of all reading assignments. These quizzes will comprise 15 percent of the course grade.

  1. The course will require the student to make a series of short oral presentation, which comprises five (5) percent of the course grade.

  1. The course will require the students to attend all classes and complete all assignments on time, as well as actively participate in all classroom discussions.  Five (5) per cent of the student's course grade will be determined by his/her CONTRIBUTION TO CLASS DISCUSSIONS.

  1. The course instructor will provide one to one tutorials outside class.

The Student will demonstrate the ability:

  1. To define a list of terms associated with the study of communication, culture, and media.

  1. To provide a history of the media, in which the student supplies important names, dates, and other historical information essential to understanding mass media in an historical context.

  1. To write about and discuss basic concepts associated with mass culture and mass media.

  1. To explain the elemental relationship between culture and the mass media.

  1. To write about and discuss American culture as part of a larger “global village,” including a discussion of the world-wide web as a mass medium.

  1. To write about and discuss issues concerning censorship, governmental regulation, and conglomeration of the media.

  1. To write about and discuss the increasing interconnectedness of media.

  1. To write about and discuss advertising and its effect on the culture of consumerism.

  1. To write about and discuss public relations and image-making in various media as it relates to the culture and the commodification of identity.

  1. To write about and discuss important ethical issues associated with American culture and the media.

  1. To write about and discuss important research that investigates the relationship between culture and media.

  1. To submit assignments on time to the instructor for grading.

  1. To complete all reading, writing and speaking assignments in a timely manner.

  1. To demonstrate one’s knowledge of the readings in class discussions.

  1. To attend all classes, scheduled tutorials, and any class activities, unless excused by the instructor.

N.B. A student who accrues more than two (2) absences will have his or her grade lowered a grade point per subsequent absence, so that with three absences a student whose scores add up to a A- would receive a B+ as his/her final grade.

To receive an excellent grade (A), on writing assign­ments, the student must do the following:

  1. Fulfill the requirements of the assignment.

  1. Write the essay on a worthwhile topic, with a thesis successfully argued by the end of the paper. (Worthwhile means that a discussion of the topic contributes to the student’s and his/her classmates’ understanding of important issues concerning culture and the media.)

  1. Write standard English with minimal number of grammatical, mechanical, and syntactical errors. (Minimal means no more than 2 errors per page.)

  1. Write a unified essay centered on a single focus, or thesis.

  1. Write a coherent essay, whose ideas lead logically from one to another.

  1. Do the study and research necessary to formulate a timely and meaningful argument.

  1. Supply the details and evidence necessary to argue the thesis successfully.

  1. Follow MLA style rules.


To receive an excellent grade (A), for speaking assignments, the student must do the following:

  1. Speak from a position of knowledge, having completed and thought through a given assignment.

  1. Speak clearly, in a manner appropriate to the setting and circumstances.

  1. Speak with a purpose, formulating an argument that attempts to make a valid point.

  1. In conversation, speak in a way that facilitates discussion, neither monopolizing a conversation nor avoiding it.

  1. When making formal oral presentations, deliver a shaped message with a recognizable beginning, middle, and end—a message that is focused on a single, valid idea.

100-90=A+ to A-, 89-80=B+ to B-, 79-70=C+ to C-, 69-60=D+ to D-, Below 60=F. Please note that a C (75%) is considered average work and that a B- (80%) indicates above-average work.)


Of what value is a course like Culture and Media? At this time in our history we Americans are engaged in a war that Professor Benjamin R. Barber has identified as “Jihad vs. McWorld.” As we contend with dangerous forces from outside our borders, we must also contend with important issues here at home, issues about who we are and who we will become in the face of very real threats to our nation. As citizens we must confront issues of freedom, safety, community, and citizenship in a culture that remains wary of politics and government and enamoured with the privatization and corporatization of civic institutions. And these issues and their attendant arguments are discussed, for the most part, through media, which inform us and shape our perceptions. So it is one purpose of this course to enable you to investigate your perceptions of American culture and to think about them in new and unconventional ways. Furthermore, “Culture and the Media” is designed to enable you to look at the cultural artifacts we produce, including the mass media though which they are disseminated, and to reflect on what they say about us, who we are, and are becoming as a people.
In a democratic society the term citizen is infinitely more praiseworthy than celebrity. In a democracy the citizen endures, and through each citizen, the democracy itself endures. Celebrities come and go as quickly the next Clay Akin or Fantasia Barino or some other diva undone by a wardrobe malfunction. But the citizen remain. Therefore, another aim of this course is to make you a more knowledgeable citizen, maybe even an active one. And though we will discuss celebrity, we will do it not as fans but as citizens who are actively involved in understanding and creating the democracy in which we live.
Finally, this course is designed to give you further instruction in communication. Take advantage of the in-class writing and speaking exercises and tutorials during office hours so that you can continue to develop the skills necessary to make you a formidable citizen capable of speaking and writing knowledgeably about the country in which you live.
Good luck this semester. If you do all the work required of you, you will do well. If you don’t, you won’t.


WEEK 1: Basic Concepts

Meeting 1 2/2—Review Syllabus and Course requirements. Define the following terms: culture, mass media, and ­communication. View an American cultural artifact: “Merchants of Cool.” Write a brief description of American Culture by discussing one element of it found in the DVD. (Writing sample is to be pasted in your Journal, as its first entry.)
H.W. (Homework)—Read Chapters 1 and 2, pp. 1 to 42. Be prepared for a quiz on the reading. Begin reading No Applause, due on 2/27.
N.B. Be prepared for a reading quiz after every reading assignment.
Paste an image into your Culture Journal and identify the medium that purveys the image, then write a brief explanation of what the image says about our culture.
WEEK 2: The Relationship between Culture(s) and Media
Meeting 2 2/6—Reading quiz on Chapters 1 and 2, be able to define essential terms. Discussion of essential terms. Discussion of the relationship between culture and media. Present the image in your Culture Journal and your interpretation of it. That is show us the picture in your journal. Tell us your insights about it.
H.W.—Read Chapter 3, pp. 42-73. Find an image of a product made for the Middle East. Be ready to discuss one of the issues or “global problems” touched upon in Chapter 3.
PAPER NUMBER 1: Discuss a cultural artifact associated with the Vaudeville, generated either by or for Americans around the turn of the 20th Century. In a short paper—no longer than 4 pages—discuss the nature of the cultural artifact you choose and how it helps to define American culture as it was being realized back then. The artifact—an original or a reproduction—must have been extant between 1881 and 1930. To discuss television, cell phones, and computers would be inappropriate for this paper, since they didn’t exist in the early 1900’s and are no associated with Vaudeville. When reading Trav S.D.’s book keep and eye peeled for ideas.
Google Vaudeville and choose three possible artifacts for your first paper. Write them below.
1. _____________________________________________
2. _____________________________________________
3. _____________________________________________
Meeting 3 2/8—Reading quiz. Presentation of image and a discussion of issues concerning the “globalization of information.” Were you able to connect to Al Jazeera? Be able to answer this question: “How did my oral presentation add to my classmates’ understanding of the issues presented in Chapter 3? And how did the arrival of immigrant cultures affect the development of vaudeville at the turn of the 20th Century?
Answer one of the above questions here: __________________________________________
H.W.—Read Chapter 4, pp. 74-94. In your Culture Journal, paste an article or an image associated with censorship or other legal controls on the media, for example Judith Miller or Anthony Latour. Write a brief explanation of what the article or image says about our struggle with “free speech” in a democracy. How has the War on Terror affected issues of censorship?
Choose the artifact for your first short paper and write its working thesis in the space provided below. Remember Essay is due 3/8.
Topic: _______________________________________________________________________
Thesis: _______________________________________________________________________
WEEK 3: Staying Informed in a Democracy
Meeting 4 2/13—Reading Quiz. Reading and writing workshop: read handout, discuss and write synopsis with a purpose. Discuss results.
H.W.—Read Chapter 5 pp. 96-126. Find an outside source—a primary source, secondary source, or some artifact—that can provide the class insight into the news media. Be prepared to discuss what you’ve found with the class.
Answer this question: What insight does my outside source provide me? ___________________
How can your oral presentation engage your audience and allow them to participate in the ownership of this important information?
Be prepared to discuss the following question: What problems arise from the ability to communicate news instantaneously from around the world? Furthermore, be able to define the terms news.
Meeting 5 2/15—Reading Quiz on Chapter 5. Present your outside source material. How is it related to your paper topic? Discussion of the news, its definition, and the problems associated with the instantaneous communication of it around the world.
H.W.—Read Dave Hickey’s essay on the purpose of art. Complete a portion of the first draft of your first essay—underline your thesis statement. How can your work on this first short paper help you retain the information contained in Chapters 1-5 of your text?


WEEK 4: Hickey and Books

Meeting 6 2/20—Discussion of Hickey’s essay. Handout and worksheet on the purpose of art.
H.W.—Read Chapter 6, pp. 128-154. How can your first essay be connected to your second essay?
Meeting 7 2/22—Reading Quiz. Handout and worksheet on books. Discussion of reading and books and their changing nature.

H.W.—Read Chapter 7, pp. 156-186. Finish reading No Applause… for the next meeting. Be prepared to be tested on the book as well as the chapter. How’s your short paper coming?

WEEK 5: Books and Newspapers
Meeting 8 2/27—Reading quiz on Chapter 7 and No Applause. Handout and worksheet on newspapers. Discuss your newspaper article in relation to the media and the culture. Discussion on No Applause....
H.W.—Read Chapter 8, pp 188-213. Begin reading David Halberstam’s The Fifties. Find a magazine to bring to class. Be ready to discuss how its contents reflects the nature of the audience for which it is written and what that sub-group says about the culture in which we live. Furthermore be ready to justify your choice of magazine. (Use the listserv to tell your classmates which magazine you plan to bring in so that no one brings in the same magazine.) Can you find an old magazine, from the fifties?
Meeting 9 3/1—Discussion of magazines and their audiences, interspersed with the magazines you’ve brought to class. Handout and worksheet. Discussion.
H.W.—Complete Essay 1. Read Chapter 9, pp. 216-249. Make sure you get up to date with your Culture Journal.


WEEK 6: Movies

Meeting 10 3/6—View The Great Train Robbery etc. Discussion of film: its history and its evolution as cultural artifact.
H.W.—Find a movie review and paste that review in your culture journal. Read a period review of Blackboard Jungle and On the Waterfront. Find an image from either of the two movies and paste it in your Culture Journal next to a Disney image. Then in your Journal write a brief comparison of the two images. Complete the final draft if Essay 1.
Meeting 11 3/8—Hand in Final draft of Essay 1. View On the Waterfront.
H.W.—Study for Midterm. Up date your Culture Journal. Read Chapter 10, pp. 252-273. Listen to an old radio show. To do so, log on to to find a sample of an old time radio show.

WEEK 7: Making Sense of Things Thus Far

Meeting 12 3/13—Review for Midterm Exam
H.W.—Study for the midterm. The Midterm Exam will be a comprehensive objective and essay test, covering Chapters 1-9, as well as No Applause ~Just Throw Money. Be prepared to write an essay that discusses how the culture is realized through the media you have covered. Be ready to write an essay about vaudeville and the early 1900’s. Bring your Culture Journal, to be graded during the exam
As you read The Fifties, think about a subject from the Fifties for Essay 2, which is due 5/8.
Write possible subject here: __________________________________________________
Meeting 13 3/15—MIDTERM EXAM
H.W.—Over the break watch the Spike Jonz’s film Being John Malkovich. Write a brief comparison of it to On the Waterfront in your Culture Journal.
PAPER NUMBER 2. View a film or television show, read a magazine or a novel, or listen to a radio program from the 1950’s. After viewing, reading, or hearing the artifact, prepare to write an essay that discusses the artifact as representative of the time period in which it was generated. This paper should discuss the artifact in relation to the social, political, historical, cultural or artistic forces operating at the time. For example, a subject might be the first critical responses to Catcher in the Rye or the influence of Marlon Brando’s performance in The Wild One or Elvis Presley’s early rock persona, or films that express the rising concern over juvenile delinquency during the 1950’s.
WEEK 8: Radio and Popular Music
Meeting 14 3/27— Visit with Mr. David Kraeuter, at 506 East Wheeling Street. Discussion of old time radio and “Radio Spirits Shows.”
H.W.—Read Chapter 11, pp. 274-305. Be prepared to present your favorite song or kind of music to the class and discuss its cultural relevance. Make sure the music is in a form I can play. Be ready to defend your music as an important cultural artifact. Paste a pop-music image in your Culture Journal and write a brief analysis of what the image says about the culture.
Meeting 15 3/29—Popular Music as cultural history. America as an Afro-European cultural marriage, from Ragtime to Rap. How is the issue of race dealt with in popular music?
H.W.—Chapter 12, p.p. 308-339. In your Culture Journal write a description of your favorite television show; also discuss why it’s your favorite. What does this show say about you and what does it say about the culture? Complete Paper 2.

WEEK 9: The Tube

Meeting 16 4/3—View Paddy Chayefsky’s Marty and Sid Caeser’s Your Show of Shows.
Meeting 17 4/5—Discussion of Television. Google a Danny Hoch video: “Danny Hoch Exposes Seinfeld.” What is Hip Hop and why is it such an important cultural force these days? How does the Hip Hop ethos differ from the Hollywood television ethos. Discussion of your favorite television shows and what they say about us as a people.
H.W.—Watch a television show you have never seen before. Write a one-page critique of it. In the space below, write the topic for your third essay, which is due 12/6.
WEEK 10: A Review
Meeting 18 4/10—Complete the investigation of television as a medium and a message. In class writing: Compare the kind of thinking you do when you read with the kind of thinking you do when you watch MTV. How do you think Television has altered linear thinking?
H.W.—Study for a comprehensive reading quiz on the Chapters 9-12, concerning the Electronic

Media. Write your final paper’s thesis statement, which is to be handed in as part of your comprehensive reading quiz.

Meeting 19 4/12—Hand in First Draft of 2nd Paper. Reading Quiz on Chapters 9-12. Reading TV commercials. Read Scholes’ “On Reading a Video Text.” Look at commericials.
H.W.—Read Chapter 13, pp. 342-372. How has working on the first two papers helped formulate your argument for your final paper?
Write answer here: ______________________________________________________________


WEEK 11: Reviewing and Advertising


Meeting 20 4/17—Reading quiz. Discussion of advertising. Handout and worksheet.

H.W.—In your culture journal compare a print ad and electronic ad for the same product, for example Budweiser. What similar ideas are expressed through both media? How does each medium handle the same idea differently? Make sure the print ad accompanies the written text.
Prepare an oral presentation of your comparison to the print and electronic ad. Will you need the DVD, VCR?
In your oral presentation also address the following questions: How has the medium influenced the shaping of the message? What audience does the message target? How is the medium connected to the audience? How is the medium the message?
Meeting 21 4/19—Oral presentations on advertisements.
H.W— Chapter 14, pp. 374-393. Read the handout concerning ethical issues and advertising.

In your Culture Journal write a brief definition of the term “post-modern culture.”

WEEK 12: Public Relations and Ethical Issues
Meeting 22 4/24—Reading quiz. Form small groups of three or four students to discuss an ethical issue of advertising. Begin to construct a group oral presentation. Consider how you will divide the duties—according to media that purvey the message that raises the issue? Or according to different ethical issues arising from the advertisement? Question: What it the ethical issue arising from the ad? Is the ethical issue dealt with or ignored in the ad itself? Example: The US Army ad that looks like an action movie, or the one that looks like a video game, is designed to entice young men to join the Special Forces. Do you see ethical issues in this ad? What are they? Not more than 5-minutes per group presentation.
H.W.—Read Chapter 15, pp. 394-434. Prepare for your oral presentation.
Meeting 23 4/26— View Sidney Lumet/Paddy Chayefsky film Network at 1hr. 56 min. Be prepared to stay late this time.
H.W.—Work on Oral Presentations.
WEEK 13: Ethical Issues (Cont.)
Meeting 24 5/1—Make oral presentations on ethical issues in advertising.
Meeting 25 5/3—Reading quiz. Compare Network and Marty and discuss the change in Chayefsky’s view of the value of TV. How do historical dramas like Quiz Show pose the same problem as the show “Twenty-One,” since the truth gets altered for dramatic purposes?
H.W.—Put final touches on your 2nd paper. How has the presentations about ethical issues in advertising informed you about your final paper?
WEEK 14: Wrapping It Up

Meeting 26 5/8—Hand in Essay 2. Mock Exam?

H.W.— Read Chapter 16, pp. 436-455. Study for Final Exam. Reading Days 5/9 and 5/13. Exam Week 5/10-5/15. COM 140 Final Exam 5/10, 6:30-9:30 p.m., TEK 214. Make sure you BRING your CULTURE JOURNAL to the Final Exam.

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