T C 301 • Critiquing the Critics: Readings and Composition in Popular CultureW
5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Americans have a conflicted relationship to pop culture. More than any civilization in history, we have cocooned ourselves in entertainment. The development of the World Wide Web, MP3 technology, and satellite dishes insure that we can receive audio or video signals from just about any place and watch and listen to them just about anywhere. We can also send them just about anywhere; movies and music are two of our country's biggest exports, part of what Fox Mulder calls "the military-industrial-entertainment complex." At the same time, Americans are anxious about this cornucopia of power chords and canned laughter. No sooner does some act of random violence occur in one of our nations high schools than pundits and activists from the left, right, and center appear on the national news shows to point fingers at video games, heavy metal records, and kung-fu action films. Somewhere between these two extremes, one hopes, lies a sensible, useful way of approaching popular culture. Over the course of this semester, we will watch, listen to, read about and discuss pop music, television, movies 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 art they are already familiar with. But the primary goal of the course will be to improve everybodys writing. A healthy number of small papers most of them critical prose will be assigned, and all of them will be edited with a sharp pen. Students will then 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 scholarly attitude toward the material will be encouraged, jargon-filled academese will not. If anyone finishes the semester feeling they have not grown as a writer, 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 will account for the rest. Students will also have to watch a handful of films and television shows and listen to a few songs.
Due to the nature of the courses subject matter, readings will consist of a Xerox package of contemporary newspaper and magazine reviews as well as 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 cant make it to the screenings will be responsible for finding time to see the movies on their own.