T C 301 • Movies, Music, Moesha and More: Writing About Popular Culture-W
5:30 PM-7:00 PM
More than any civilization in history, America has cocooned itself in entertainment. The development of the Internet, mp3 technology, and satellite dishes ensure that we can receive audio or video signals from just about any place and watch and listen to them just about anywhere. But if gaining access to popular culture is easier than ever, thinking and writing intelligently about it is as difficult as ever. In fact, thinking and writing intelligently about almost anything remains a constant source of difficulty--even for those of us who make our living thinking and writing. The nifty thing about popular culture, though, is how approachable it is. Because few of us feel daunted by the prospect of watching a sitcom, listening to a Jack Johnson album or reading a Dilbert strip, penning pop culture criticism provides us with a unique opportunity to grow as writers. By grappling with things most of us are already familiar with, we are able to direct our focus to the task of crafting our prose. Over the course of this semester, we will watch, listen to, read about and discuss music, television, movies, comic books and perhaps a few other mass mediums that catch our fancy. Students should expect to be exposed to a great deal of art they are unaware of and discover new ways of looking at and listening to art they are already familiar with. But the primary goal will be to improve everybody's writing. A healthy number of small papers will be assigned, and all of them will be edited with a sharp pen--even good papers will likely be covered in red ink. Students will be encouraged to rethink almost every aspect of their writing: their word choices, sentence structures, rhetorical strategies and use of evidence. And they will have the opportunity to rewrite each paper. The development of critical thought and vivid, accessible prose will be the twin foci of the class; though serious-mindedness will be encouraged, wit will be favored over jargon-filled academese. If any students finish the semester thinking the professor has terrible taste in music, the professor will be dismayed but not defeated. If any students finish the semester feeling they have not grown as writers, the professor will have failed at his task.
About the Professor A native New Yorker, Jeff Salamon spent five years as a Senior Editor at The Village Voice newspaper, where he handled reviews, features, and columns. Since 1996, he has lived in Austin, where he is the former Arts Editor and the current Books Editor of the Austin American-Statesman. He spends most of his spare time walking his dog, mowing his lawn and contributing occasionally to the likes of Rolling Stone, Spin, Blender and The New York Times. His first piece of lengthy criticism, a review of Talking Heads's "Remain in Light," was nominated by the editor of his high school newspaper for a Columbia Journalism Award. It did not win.
This course contains a substantial writing component. Students will write (and, in most cases, rewrite) seven papers of short to moderate length. (Students who wish--and are granted permission--to write a lengthy research paper instead may reduce that number.) These papers will account for most of the grade; class participation (including a few in-class "deadline" assignments) will account for the rest. Students will also come under intense pressure to watch a handful of films and television shows and listen to a few songs.
Readings will consist of a Xerox package of contemporary newspaper and magazine reviews as well as a few scholarly essays on mass culture. During the "movie" portion of the course, students will be expected to show up for weekly screenings on a night that is decided by class vote. Anyone who can't make it to the screenings will be responsible for finding time to see the movies on their own.