Senior Honors Tutorial: The Rhetoric of Popular Culture

This course will ask students to critically evaluate the rhetorical work of popular culture in US mass media, especially that in print, on television, and on the world wide web–as a way to understand how politics, information, entertainment, and social values are thoroughly intertwined and how they get (re)constructed and (re)produced in contemporary society. Students in the course will investigate the functions of popular forms of media production by reading and responding to both academic and popular-press theories of media, rhetoric, and pop culture. Students will also examine artifacts of popular culture itself vis-à-vis a range of films, webtexts, and television productions, analyzing and evaluating them for their social, political, and entertainment functions. Finally, students in this course will not only analyze and critique media that is made for mass consumption, but they will also attempt to intervene in the production and circulation of such  media by collaboratively developing an online forum–specifically a blog that will be open to public read/write access–for their and others’ responses to media, modeled potentially upon sites such as MediaWatch.

Students will work together through seminar-style discussions, presentations, debates, and web-based projects. Students will have common readings to write about (25%) and discuss, as well as separate readings to summarize, respond to, and present to the class in teams (25%). As the course progresses, students will rely on such shared knowledge to develop individual major projects, which will involve researching a contemporary media production (an advertising campaign, or a single news source’s reporting on a specific issue, for examples) and attempting to intervene in that production by (a) publishing their research on our online forum in the form of a major paper (40%) and (b) communicating directly with the producers and/or distributors responsible for the production (10%).

No prior knowledge of rhetoric, media theory, or cultural studies is required, but it will certainly serve as an effective foundation, as will previous study in English.

The texts listed below are LIKELY course texts that will be purchased along with a course pack of additional articles; please do not attempt to purchase them in advance, as the list may change before the start of the semester.

  • Hal Niedzviecki: THE PEEP DIARIES
  • Croteau, David, and William Hoynes. MEDIA/SOCIETY: INDUSTRIES, IMAGES, AND AUDIENCES.