Core 112: Writing Seminar II (Section 63546) The Genius of the System? The Culture Industry and Its Discontents

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University of Southern California, Spring 2017

CORE 112: Writing Seminar II (Section 63546)

The Genius of the System? The Culture Industry and Its Discontents

Instructor: Dr. Michael Petitti

Office: AHF 403


Course Location: AHF 410g

Course Times: M/W 3-4:20pm

Office Hours: M 1:30pm-2:30pm, and by appointment

Motion Pictures on my TV screen / A home away from home / and I’m living in-between

—Neil Young, “Motion Pictures” (1974)

For Binx Bolling, life is rarely as memorable as the movies. Claiming his personal history is “not much to remember,” Bolling states, “What I remember is the time John Wayne killed three men with a carbine as he was falling to the dusty street in Stagecoach, and the time the kitten found Orson Welles in the doorway in The Third Man.” Many of us might shudder at the notion of a disconnection between the moments of our lives and the media of our lives as experienced by Bolling, the protagonist of Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer. How has the Culture Industry—a phrase for our interrelated web of media—erased our natural lives in meaningful and insidious ways? For this course, we will explore the Culture Industry, inside and out. We will look at media makers and producers, and the people caught in its wake. We will consider the influence of the Culture Industry on sovereign citizens—stockbrokers, businessmen, and janitors—and its treatment of its own—writers, producers, and actors. Our exploration begins on the backlots (and in the projection booths) of Hollywood with Day of the Locust and Sherlock Jr., before peeking into the lives (Singin’ in the Rain) and afterlives (Sunset Blvd.) of actors within the Culture Industry. Next, we will examine the Culture Industry’s fringe figures, burnouts, and employees from the movie fanatic of The Moviegoer, to the dilettante of Play it as it Lays and the struggling titular writer of Barton Fink. Through this detour, we will arrive at the meta-figure within the Culture Industry, the murderous producer in The Player. Our examination of the Culture Industry will culminate in satirical approaches, both the production disaster of Tropic Thunder and the surreal quest at the heart of The Sellout. The concept of the Culture Industry, since being articulated by German critical theorists Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, has been touted as pervasively influential and venomous. But, through Adorno and Horkheimer, as well as the commentary of Karl Marx, we will consider its immense influence on the effects of modern life. In a world saturated by screens, we will peek through several to see, for better or worse, if we can reveal the true attributes of the dreaded, beloved Culture Industry.
Required Reading:

Beatty, Paul. The Sellout. 2015. [1250083257]

Didion, Joan. Play it as it Lays. 1970. [0374529949]

Percy, Walker. The Moviegoer. 1961. [0375701966]

Tolkin, Michael. The Player. 1988. [0802135137]

West, Nathanael. Day of the Locust. 1939. [0811218228]

Required Films:

Barton Fink. Dir. Joel Coen. 1991.

Singin’ in the Rain. Dirs. Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly. 1952.

Sunset Blvd. Dir. Billy Wilder. 1950.

Tropic Thunder. Dir. Ben Stiller. 2005.
All films are available to rent or purchase on multiple websites (most especially iTunes and Amazon), and many may be available through the USC library. Please buy the correct edition of each literary text, and please bring the appropriate book(s) to every class.
Other Required Materials:

*A designated notebook for CORE 112.

*Multiple copies of your own work (prewriting, outlines, rough drafts, final drafts) for review in class and in tutorials. I may also ask you to print out short supplemental readings, including the course short fiction. Please plan for this in your printing or photocopying budget.
Course Objectives

Our principle objectives in CORE 112 coincide with those of CORE 111: first, to learn how to be better critical readers and thinkers; and second, to learn how to communicate our ideas in a more elegant and persuasive manner. In CORE 111, you learned the prerequisites of scholarly writing: analyzing language, formulating and structuring an argument, revising your work for clarity and persuasiveness. In CORE 112, you will build on those skills by joining a larger conversation about literature and ideas. To that end, we will be exploring selected critical theories and secondary source material to supplement our engagement with the primary texts. However, as we venture into the realms of history, culture, and literary theory, please remember that close reading will still be the foundation of everything we do.

Course Requirements

Writing Assignments: We will work together on six writing assignments, as well as smaller writing exercises, throughout the semester. Each finished assignment you turn in for my feedback will be the culmination of an extensive writing process, in which you will produce multiple artifacts (such as invention exercises, outlines, rough drafts, etc.); I will occasionally ask you to submit these artifacts with your final assignments. Unless otherwise stated, all assignments should be double-spaced, typed in 12-point Times New Roman font with one-inch margins. Pages should be numbered in the upper-right corner—with the exception of the first page. I will usually ask you to submit your completed assignments through Blackboard.
Schedule of Formal Written Assignments

A1 (Critical Lens Exercise) 2-3 pages Due Week 2

A2 (Theoretical Critique Essay) 5-6 pages Due Week 5

A3 (Annotated Bibliography) 2-3 pages Due Week 7

A4 (Paper Proposal) 2 pages Due Week 9

A5 (Seminar Paper) 8-12 pages Due Week 11

A6 (Oral Presentation Essay) 4-5 pages Due Week 14
Tutorials: Over the course of the semester, you will attend six tutorials with me in order to discuss your writing in a one-on-one setting. Many students feel that these meetings are the most beneficial part of the CORE 112 experience. To fully reap the benefits of a tutorial, however, you have to extensively prepare. As you’ll be guiding our conversation, make sure to decide in advance what you need help with or wish to discuss. Try to formulate specific questions about recent in-class activities or discussions, previous assignments or the current assignment, so that you’ll walk away from our tutorials a more confident writer. Please note that tutorials are designed primarily to improve your writing process—they are no editing sessions in which I “fix” your paper. Additionally, there will always be specific instructions for the minimum writing you should bring with you to each tutorial. Always be on time and bring two copies of your written work, as well as all appropriate texts. Missed tutorials count as absences and will not be rescheduled unless you have arranged an alternative meeting with me in advance.
Attendance & Participation: You are expected to be present and actively engaged in every scheduled class session (including tutorials). This means arriving on time with all the relevant course materials in hand. It means having done the assigned reading—and having thought thoroughly about the assigned reading—in advance, so that you’re prepared to ask questions, express opinions, and respond to the comments of your classmates with respect and intelligence.
CORE 112 meets twice a week, and the participation of every student is vital for its—and your—success. If you find that you must miss a class, tutorial, or other deadline, please e-mail me in advance. You are allowed two absences for any reason. (You do not need to tell me the reason or obtain a doctor’s note, etc.) If you miss more than two classes or tutorials, your attendance and participation grade will be affected. Missing six or more class periods puts you at risk of failure and you will be asked to withdraw from the course. Please note that there are no make-up assignments for work missed.

Reading Responses: For each week’s reading, you will write a one-page response and bring a printed copy to class. Be prepared to work from the ideas on your reading response; you may need to defend them, or perhaps to read from them. These responses not only give us a place to begin our discussion when we meet, but you might also find ideas from your longer assignments grow out of these shorter, more casual responses.

The Thematic Option Undergraduate Research Conference: Each year, T.O. holds a themed research conference and invites submissions from undergraduates. The conference takes place near the end of the semester; this year on April 17 & 18. The T.O. Undergraduate Research conference is attended by a number of faculty and students affiliated with the program, and is always a wonderful experience for all involved. Around the mid-point of the semester, you will all produce a 2-page proposal that articulates the argument of a paper that you would like to present at the conference. We will talk extensively in class and in tutorial about how to write a proposal and how to present your work at an academic conference. While not every student will present at the conference, everyone must attend at least two panels and produce a short write-up of one panel.

Course Policies

Email & Blackboard: Please check your email daily as I will use email to alert you to changes in the schedule, clarify assignments, etc. In addition, I may post assignments and copies of additional readings on Blackboard. Furthermore, you may get in touch with me over email to request clarification of the assignments or to inform me of any problems. Fair warning: I try and respond to emails in a timely fashion, but I also tend to be asleep well before 1am-3am…

Technology: Generally, we will not use laptops, tablets, or other electronic devices in class; cellphones especially will never be necessary for class. Please take all notes on paper, unless you have a documented physical or learning difference that requires you to use a computer. I will always let you know well in advance when you might need to bring a laptop or tablet to class.

Plagiarism: Don’t turn in any work that isn’t completely yours. Presenting another writer’s ideas or words as your own is plagiarism. Do not submit a paper for this course that was originally written for another course. These and any other forms of plagiarism—even “accidental”—will result in serious disciplinary action by the university, the least of which will be failing this class.

Grading: Your grade will be weighed in the following manner,

Writing Assignments (A1-A6) 55%

In-class Participation 15%

Tutorials 10%

Reading Responses and other Ancillary Work 20%

My primary concern is how you improve over time. Please don’t ask about grades during the semester. I reward hard work.

Statement for Students with Disabilities: Any student requesting academic accommodations based on a disability is required to register with Disability Services and Programs (DSP) each semester. A letter of verification for approved accommodations can be obtained from DSP. Please be sure the letter is delivered to me (or to TA) as early in the semester as possible. DSP is located in STU 301 and is open 8:30 a.m.–5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Website for DSP and contact information: (213) 740-0776 (Phone), (213) 740-6948 (TDD only), (213) 740-8216 (FAX)
Statement on Academic Integrity: USC seeks to maintain an optimal learning environment. General principles of academic honesty include the concept of respect for the intellectual property of others, the expectation that individual work will be submitted unless otherwise allowed by an instructor, and the obligations both to protect one’s own academic work from misuse by others as well as to avoid using another’s work as one’s own. All students are expected to understand and abide by these principles. SCampus, the Student Guidebook, contains the University Student Conduct Code (see University Governance, Section 11.00), while the recommended sanctions are located in Appendix A.
Emergency Preparedness/Course Continuity in a Crisis: In case of a declared emergency if travel to campus is not feasible, USC executive leadership will announce an electronic way for instructors to teach students in their residence halls or homes using a combination of Blackboard, teleconferencing, and other technologies. See the university’s site on Campus Safety and Emergency Preparedness.


Class Date

Text (Mon.)

Text (Weds.)





Sherlock Jr. (in class) / The Day of the Locust




(No Class)

The Day of the Locust

A1 (Critical Lens Essay) due 1/20 by noon



Singin’ in the Rain

Singin’ in the Rain




The Moviegoer

The Moviegoer




The Moviegoer

Library Session

A2 (Theoretical Critique Essay) due 2/8 by noon



Sunset Blvd.

Sunset Blvd.




(No Class)

Play it as it Lays

A3 (Annotated Bibliography) due 2/24 by noon




Play it as it Lays

Play it as it Lays




Barton Fink

Barton Fink

A4 (Paper Proposal) due to T.O. and Blackboard


Spring Break


The Player

The Player



The Sellout

The Sellout

A5 (Seminar Paper) due 3/31 by noon



The Sellout

The Sellout

Oral Presentation Paper Abstract Due to T.O. and me




Tropic Thunder

Tropic Thunder



T.O. Conference 4/17 & 4/18

A6 (Oral Presentation Paper) in-class presentations



In-class presentations

1 Elements of our schedule are likely to change. I’ll announce any revisions in class.

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