M 1:15-4 Lang Center Seminar Room office hours: T Th 9-10:30
Screenings Th 7-10 pm Science Center 101 and by appointment
FYS: Women and Popular Culture: Fiction, Film, and Television “Yet it is the masculine values that prevail. Speaking crudely, football and sport are ‘important’; the worship of fashion, the buying of clothes ‘trivial.’ And these values are inevitably transferred from life to fiction. This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing room.”—Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own When popular culture is denigrated, it is often because it is associated with such “feminine” qualities as emotion rather than with a distanced critical appraisal. This course challenges this association by positing that women producers, consumers, and heroines of U.S. popular fiction, film and television exercise significant cultural power and that popular texts reward close analysis. We will look at the endurance of melodrama and romance across historical genres considered to have a particular appeal to women: 19th century female-authored didactic novels and contemporary “chick lit”; Hollywood “women’s picture” or “weepies” produced during the mid-twentieth century and their “postfeminist” counterparts; contemporary soap operas, serial dramas, sitcoms, talk and reality shows. These genres offer tears, romantic love, and maternal sacrifice in abundance. They also represent the strength and ambivalence of the mother/daughter bond, problems of autonomy and independence, the contradictions of heterosexuality, the frustrations of women’s powerlessness and confinement in the domestic sphere, and ideologies of the body and sexual desire and racial and national identity. Do they reflect or make room for social change, or do they reconcile women to their lot? How should the cultural critic approach such texts and their readers?
This first-year seminar is an introduction to the English Literature curriculum and it is recognized for credit in the interdisciplinary programs in Women’s/Gender and Sexuality Studies and Film and Media Studies. Critical and theoretical readings are as central as the primary texts, which are literary and audiovisual.
The course is also designated as a writing course, and it will focus on academic composition and revision skills through a range of informal and formal assignments. We will spend time in class working with paper drafts; you will do peer writing and revising exercises; and we will schedule paper conferences. My aim is to foster a supportive environment in which to build college-level writing and critical thinking skills. Sharing your work, as well as respectful, constructive critiques with others, will be a large part of the learning process.
Please feel free to let me know if you have questions about any of the material or class meetings. Chances are others are having similar questions, so raise them at any time in class. My office hours are listed above, and you can arrange another time to see me. Feel free to contact me by e-mail; I will respond but not always immediately.
Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca (1938). NY: Avon, 1971.
Tania Modleski, Loving with a Vengeance: Mass-Produced Fantasies for Women. NY:
Routledge, 2008 (2nd edition).
Dawn Rodrigues, A Norton Pocket Guide to Grammar and Punctuation. NY: Norton, 2006.
Book Club texts:
Students will sign up for one of the following but we’ll all read at least one chapter. We may add another choice to these options.
Terry McMillan, Waiting to Exhale. New York: Viking, 1992.
Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club. New York: Putnam’s, 1989.
Stephanie Mayer, Twilight. New York: Little, Brown, 2005.
Recommended literary texts:
We will read a couple of chapters in each and they are timeless classics.
Louisa May Alcott, Little Women. (1875). Ed. Anne K. Phillips and Gregory Eiselein. New York: Norton, 2004.
Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind. New York: Macmillan, 1936.
Optional critical texts:
You will have access to pdfs of most assigned chapters, but if you are interested in them, books are much nicer than print-outs, plus the authors deserve the income:
Timothy Corrigan. Short Guide to Writing About Film. 6th Edition. NY: Longman, 2006.
Lauren Berlant, The Female Complaint: Charlotte Brundson, Julie D’Acci, and Lynn Spigel, eds. Feminist Television Criticism. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997.
Lynn Spigel and Denise Mann, eds., Private Screenings: Television and the Female Consumer. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992.
Linda Williams, Playing the Race Card: Melodramas of Black and White from Uncle Tom to O.J. Simpson. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.
Virginia Woolf. A Room of One’s Own (1928). San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1981.
Central to this course are theoretical articles and critical readings of the novels, films, and shows we will be looking at. These course readings, marked (X) on the syllabus, can be found in Course Documents on our Moodle. Please print them out and bring to class. You will also use the Discussion Board feature in the Communications section and post short writings to an individual blog. I will frequently post announcements on the site as well.
Screenings and Course Meetings
Tuesdays will generally be participatory lectures and discussions of readings, and Thursdays will be more open discussions of films, readings, and the writing process. Student presentations and discussion facilitation are scheduled for Thursdays.
Weekly screenings are mandatory and you will be expected to take notes (we will discuss this in class). Screenings will normally not last the full three hours (check running times when listed). Screenings are open to your friends. There will be some additional required viewing of supplemental films or television shows. All films and shows required for class will be on reserve at McCabe library. You may check them out overnight, but please do not do so on days they are needed for class.
Course requirements: Regular attendance, including at weekly screenings, and participation in discussion.
Journals to be assigned occasionally throughout the semester
Responses to course readings and films, one-two pages, assigned by group, to be posted to the Discussion Board before Thursday’s class.
3 short papers (literary, cinematic, and televisual texts), with revisions.
Group Book Club presentation and write-up (post on blackboard)
Writing about popular culture can help free your critical voice while distinguishing between opinion and analysis. Responding to challenging critical essays will prepare you for written argumentation strategies across the curriculum. The assignments are designed to combine informal and formal writing and to teach you to move from observation to interpretation, to work collaboratively, to perform close textual analysis, and to incorporate critical sources. In-class discussion of skills and expectations, peer review, and written feedback from and meetings with the instructor will enhance the writing process.
The syllabus is subject to adjustment during the course of the semester. I will announce all changes on Blackboard.
English 9P: Women and Popular Culture: Fiction, Film, and Television Week 1 Women’s Genres 9/3 Introduction: Little Feminists?
Handout: Hollander on Little Women (X)
Clips: Little Women (George Cukor, 1933), Little Women (Mervyn Leroy, 1949)
Modleski, “Mass Produced Fantasies for Women” and
Screening: Little Women (Gillian Armstrong, 1994, 115 min.)
9/6 Read: Louisa May Alcott, Little Women, chs 1 & 2
Clips: Jane Eyre (Robert Stevenson, 1944), The Piano (Jane Campion, 1993), The Governess (Sandra Goldbacher, 1998)
Due: Revision of Uncle Tom’s Cabin close reading
Watch with your mom or someone else willing: Stella Dallas (King Vidor, 1937, 106 min.)
Week 7 Maternal Melodrama 10/23 Read: Williams, “Something Else Besides a Mother”
10/24 Screening: Now, Voyager (Irving Rapper, Warner Bros., 1942, 117 min.)
10/25 Read: LaPlace, “Producing and Consuming the Woman’s Film”
Week 8 The Feminine Fifties 10/30 Read: Spigel, “Domestic Ideals and Family Amusements” (X) and “The Suburban Home Companion” in Feminist Television Criticism 10/31 Screening: All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk, 1955, 89 min.)
11/1 Read: Mulvey, “Notes on Sirk and Melodrama” (X)
Joyrich, “All That Television Allows: TV Melodrama, Postmodernism, and
Consumer Culture” in Private Screenings
Clip: Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, 2002)
Due: Close analysis section, film paper
Unit III: Daytime, Nighttime, Lifetime: Women and TV Week 9 To Be Continued ... : Storytelling, Soap-Opera Style 11/6 Read: Flitterman-Lewis, “All’s Well That Doesn’t End: Soap Opera and the Marriage
Motif,” in Private Screenings
Mumford, from Love in the Afternoon (X)
Election day: don’t forget to vote!
11/7 Screening: All My Children, Dynasty, The L Word 11/8 Read: Ang, “Melodramatic Identifications” in Feminist Television Criticism
selections from online journal Flow
Due: Film Paper
Week 10Sitcoms and their Stars 11/13 Read: Feuer “Narrative Form in American Network Television” (CR)
Lipsitz, “The Meaning of Memory: Family, Class, and Ethnicity in Early Network Television Programs”(X)
Dow, “1970s Lifestyle Feminism, the Single Woman, and The Mary Tyler Moore
11/14 Screening: I Love Lucy, Mary Tyler Moore, Julia, Roseanne, Ellen
11/15 Read: Bodroghkozy “ ‘Is This What You Meant by Color TV?” in Private Screenings
Rowe, “Roseanne: Unruly Woman as Domestic Goddess”
McCarthy, “Ellen: Making Queer Television History”
Due: TV paper topics
Week 11Real Women 11/20 Read: Shattuc, “The Oprahfication of America” in Feminist Television Criticism
Squire, “Empowering Women? The Oprah Winfrey Show
Ouellette and Murray, “Introduction,” Reality TV
White, from Tele-advising
Watch Oprah, The View, and one reality show
UNIT IV: Women’s Culture in the Era of (Post) Feminism Week 12Chick Lit and Identity Politics 11/27 Read: Tasker, “Female Friendship: Melodrama, Romance, Feminism”
11/28 Screening: Waiting to Exhale (Forest Whitaker, 1995, 127 min.)
The Joy Luck Club (Wayne Wang, 1993, 135 min.)
11/29 Read: Hilary Radner, “Girl Friends: Waiting to Exhale”
Book Club presentation: Waiting to Exhale
Due: TV paper draft
Week 13 Postfeminist Popular Culture 12/4 Read: Marina Heung, “Daughter-Text, Mother-Text: Matrilineage in Joy Luck Club”
Book Club presentation: Joy Luck Club
12/5 Screening: Bridget Jones’s Diary (Sharon Maguire, 2001, 97 min.), Sex and the City, GG 12/6 Read: Tasker and Negra, “Introduction” Interrogating Postfeminism
Book Club presentation: Bridget Jones’s Diary
Week 14 Postnetwork Television and Third Wave Feminism Watch on your own: “Becoming, Parts 1 & 2,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Nickelodeon network
12/11Read: Selections from Undead Television
Selections from Kids Rule!
Bitch: Feminist Response to Popular Culture (online or print magazine)
Due: TV Paper
12/18 Due: Book club write-ups