Writing About Media & Culture
Instructor: Josh Roiland
Phone: 314-550-9156

“We don’t know who it was that discovered water, but we’re pretty sure that it wasn’t a fish.” — Marshall McLuhan

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means” — Joan Didion

“What the mind doesn’t understand, it worships, or fears” — Alice Walker

Required Texts
Mass Culture and Electronic Media, Marjorie Ford and Jon Ford, eds.
A Pocket Style Manual, 4th Edition, Diana Hacker
Handouts and Essays on Blackboard

Course Description
English 102 is the second half of the rhetoric sequence required at Fontbonne University. It is meant to introduce students to a variety of contemporary public debates, while writing formal argument-driven, research-based essays. The contemporary debate our course will enter into is the often-contested and ever-changing relationship between media and culture in America. We will tackle broad questions like: What is media? What is culture? How do the two interact and inform each other? What is your relationship with both? We will read, discuss and write about these topics in a manner that moves from personal writing to writing based upon textual analysis and outside research.

Course Objective
Simply stated, this course’s goal is to enhance your already-developed critical reading, thinking, and writing skills. We will work hard to explore what we know and how we know it. We will accomplish this goal by reading a myriad of rich and thought-provoking texts, discussing our readings and ideas inside (and outside) of class. And writing personally, reflectively, and argumentatively about the impression the texts and discussion have made on us. Our course combines intensive reading with continuous writing. Reading and writing are so deeply intertwined, that, to cultivate the craft of one would be impossible without the other. One becomes a better writer by writing, but also by reading good literature. And one gains a better grasp of what one reads, when, as the above quote by Joan Didion underscores, one writes about it. My goal is for all of us to investigate the personal relationships between media and culture, through reading, discussion, composition, revision, and introspection.

Course Requirements
Daily Reading & Writing
Class Discussion
Possible Quizzes & Presentations
Writing Workshop Participation
7 Reading Reflections
4 Essays (2 drafts each)
1 Final Revision (either Paper 1 or 2)

Class Discussion — 10%
Reading Reflections — 10%
Paper 1: 3-4 pgs. — 10%
Paper 2: 5-6 pgs. — 15%
Paper 3: 7-8 pgs. — 20%
Paper 4: 5-6 pgs. — 15%
Final Revision — 10%

Reading and Writing Schedule

Week 1: Why Write?
7-17: Introduction, Syllabus
7-19: Read: Orwell, “Why I Write” 1-2
Didion, “Why I Write” 1-5
7-21: Read: Orwell, “Politics and the English Language” 117-129
Write: Reading Reflection 1

Week 2: Defining Media
7-24: Read: Postman, “Media as Epistemology” 16-43
7-26: Read: McLuhan, “The Medium is the Message”129-139
Read: No Reading
Write: Reading Reflection 2

Week 3: Constructing Reality
7-31: Read: Gabler, “The Human Entertainment” 143-191
8-2: Read: Glassner, “Black Men: How to Perpetuate Prejudice Without Really Trying” 109-127
Glassner, “Metaphoric Illness: How Not to Criticize the Establishment” 151-181
8-4: Read: Mantsios, “Media Magic: Making Class Invisible,” 510-519
Write: Paper 1.1 DUE

Week 4: Constructing an Argument
8-7: Read: Quayle, “Restoring Basic Values” 162-168
Kozol, from Savage Inequalities, 305-313
8-9: Read: Rich, “Taking Women Students Seriously” 283-290
Brubach, “The Age of the Female Icon” 19-23
8-11: Read: Winn, “Family Life” 26-34
Gates, Jr., “The Living Room” 56-62
Write: Reading Reflection 3

Week 5: News Coverage
8-14: Read: Schudson, from The Sociology of News, 1-7
Write: Paper 1.2 DUE
8-16: Read: Kaniss, from Making Local News, 1-8
Nord, “Readers Love to Argue About the News” 278-283
8-18: Read: Fiske, “Radical Shopping in LA: Race, Media, and the Sphere of Consumption” 111-125

Week 6: Newspapers, Television, Radio, Internet
8-21: Read: Williams, “Hate Radio” 69-76
Hooks, “Gangsta Culture—Sexism, Misogyny—Who Will Take the Rap” 63-68
8-23: Read: Shaheen, “TV Arabs” 286-288
Douglas, “Where the Girls Are”290-298
8-25: Read: Holtzman, “Don’t Look Back” 100-105
Gladwell, “Brain Candy” 1-4
Write: Paper 2.1 DUE

Week 7: Media and Violence
8-28: Read: Eron, “The Television Industry Must Police Itself” 716-717
Hollings, “Save the Children” 717-719
Abrams, “Save Free Speech” 719-721
Rhodes, “Hollows Claims About Television Violence” 721-724
Grossman, “It’s Important to Feel Something When You Kill” 726-739
8-30: Read: Males, “Who Us? Stop Blaming Kids & TV” 42-46
Bok, “Aggression: The Impact of Media Violence” 35-41
9-1: NO CLASS—Labor Day

Week 8: Alternative Media
9-4: NO CLASS—Labor Day
9-6: Read: Scholes, “On Reading a Video Text” 82-93
Wolf, “The Blockbuster Script Factory” 306-310
Write: Paper 2.2 DUE
9-8: Read: Gross, “Out of the Mainstream: Sexual Minorities and Mass Media” 405-423
Lai, “Political Animals and the Body of History” 587-596

Week 9: Myth of Objectivity
9-11: Read: Kaplan, from Politics and the American Press: The Rise of Objectivity, 1865-1920, 1-17, 184-197
9-13: Read: Birkhead, “The Rise of News as a Commodity: Business Imperatives and the Press…” 1-14
9-15: Read: Carey, “The Dark Continent of American Journalism” 144-188
Write: Reading Reflection 5

Week 10: Media and Democracy
9-18: Read: Didion, “Insider Baseball” 19-59
9-20: Read: Bimber & Davis, from Campaigning Online: The Internet in U.S. Elections, 13-42
Putnam, “Bowling Alone” 462-477
9-22: Read: No Reading
Write: Paper 3.1 DUE

Week 11: Media at War
9-25: Read: MacArthur, from Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War, 37-76
9-27: Read: Hedges, “The Press and the Myths of War” 16-18
Robertson, “Images of War” 46-51
Dillow, “Dispatches: Slices of War” 32-44
9-29: Read: Engstrom, “The Soundtrack to War” 45-47
Smith, “Hard Lessons” 26-28
Friedman, “TV: A Missed Opportunity”29-31
Ricchiardi, “Close to the Action” 29-35
Write: Reading Reflection 6

Week 12: Propaganda
10-2: Read: No Reading
Write: Paper 3.2 DUE
10-4: Read: Miller, from The Voice of Business: Hill & Knowlton and Postwar Public Relations, 121-145
Tugend, “Pundits for Hire” 46-51
10-6: Read: Chomsky & Herman, “A Propaganda Model” 1-35

Week 13: Welcome to the Blogosphere
10-9: Read: Welch, “Blogworld and Its Gravity” 21-26
Smolkin, “The Expanding Blogosphere” 39-43
10-11: Read: Brown, “Searching for Online Gold” 54-60
Rosen, “Terms of Authority” 35-37
Palser, “Online Advances”40-45
10-13: Read: No Reading
Write: Paper 4.1 DUE

Week 14: Art of Writing
10-16: Read: Didion, “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream” 3-28
10-18 Read: Talese, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” 173-208
10-20: Read: Ross, “The Yellow Bus”
Write: Reading Reflection 7

Week 15: Final Draft
10-23 Read: No Reading
Write: Work on Paper 4.2 and Final Revision
10-25 Read: No Reading
Write: Work on Paper 4.2 and Final Revision
10-27: Conclusions, Evaluations
Paper 4.2 DUE
Final Revision DUE

A Note On…

A Note on Assignments:
Upon receiving a writing assignment, small or large, do not immediately configure your thought process according to its parameters. Instead of asking me what I want, ask yourself what you want to write about. What interests you about the topic? What excites you? What makes you angry? Determine these answers first, and then proceed to figuring out how to incorporate your thoughts and feelings into the limits of the assignment. These are your assignments; therefore, you should dictate what goes in them.

A Note on Writing:
Our course is not an assembly line, where, after several key stops, a polished and finished product (you, the writer) appears. Rather than production, think of this class as design, where you come up with new, creative ideas, and then test them out. Some will work, others will not, but this class, like college in general, is not a means to an end. It is a means to exploration of thought – and there can be no end to that. This semester we will be:

-practicing the stages of the writing process, including peer review
-defining a significant argument through the writing process
-framing personal experience for a public audience
-supporting an argument with relevant evidence from formal essays
-considering audience in making decisions about writing
-identifying arguments in reads and responding to them
-developing arguments in a variety of ways outside the formal essay
-writing clear, error-free sentences
-revising for style, grammar, and essay organization
A Note on Grading:
Do not be consumed by your grades. Thoughtful feedback, not judgmental grading, will help you become a better writer. Grade obsession often stifles creativity and compels students to pander to a higher authority (i.e., me, the teacher). This ideology runs counter to everything our class will celebrate. Take risks! Explore! And heed the words of author and critic James Baldwin: “It is very nearly impossible…to become an educated person in a country so distrustful of the independent mind.” It will serve you better to concern yourself with originality of thought rather than outcomes of performance.

A Note on Asking Why?:
The word why, in my opinion, is the most powerful word in the English language. It derives its power from the response generated in those who are asked it. Be it parents, teachers, politicians, etc., the word why grates and nags because it requires critical thinking, articulation, and honesty. We are a fast-paced culture that thrives on instant gratification, convenience, and economy. Why entrenches itself against all these notions. It requires us to slow down, work hard, and perhaps – almost certainly – be displeased with the results we find. The benefits to this discomfort, however, far outweigh the inconvenience. Asking why allows us to travel beneath the surface, beneath the generalizations, easy answers, and half-truths. Asking why is a powerful tool that makes people nervous; it allows us to get to the heart of the heart of the matter – to learn things others may not want us to know.

A Note on Respect: As I’ve noted, our class will function mainly as a discussion group (a hyper-analytical book club with writing assignments, if you will). Whether we meet in small groups or as a whole class, it is imperative that we treat everyone’s opinions with respect, empathy, and concern. No doubt we will, at times, get into heated debates in the classroom – this is great, this means we are passionate and engaged with our topics – but these debates must always remain civil and thoughtful. When emotions run high it becomes easy to dismiss other points of view, but in doing so we learn nothing. We must listen to the other side (if for no other, than to develop arguments against it), and try to understand why those in opposition to us feel the way they do. Civilized intellectual discourse is what college, and life for that matter, is all about, and more often than not, we will learn more from listening than from shouting.

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