English 147mc: Media Culture: Film, Radio, Television, and the Internet

Professor Warner

UC/ Santa Barbara, Winter, 2004

| overview | schedule | assignments |student pages | links | UCSB English
Conceptual Overview

The American 20th century was marked by the development of successive waves of new media for communication and entertainment. At the same time, cultural critics developed theories to explain, shape, and speculate about the nature of media. In this course we will focus on four media: film, radio, television and the networked computer. Each has become a central part of media culture and each has demonstrated rich new possibilities for narrative.

Because this is a potentially vast topic, we will approach these media through the prism of three topics and issues:

I: When Each Medium Was New: We will pay close attention to the forces at work in the years when each of the four media emerged as a media institution with broad influence within culture. Who are the evangelists for each new medium? (e.g. David Sarnoff, Bill Gates) What do they promise? Who were the critics? What possibilities for each medium are foreclosed by the institutionalization of media? Do the demonic duo of corporate interests and government policy bind and stifle our media? If so, are there ways to free the media?

II: Critical Media Theory: We will study the most important critical theories developed to comprehend new media. This will mean close reading of challenging theoretical essays written by Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Jurgen Habermas, Roland Barthes, Marshall McLuhan, Guy Debord, Stuart Hall, and others.

III: Narrative and Aesthetic Implications of Media: New media have transformed the visual and aural culture of the 20th century and expanded our ways of telling stories and conceptualizing aesthetic value. In this course we will study influential examples of each media form, paying particular attention to examples of radio, film, television and the Internet that reflect upon their own status as a media form. Here are some of the media texts we will study: W.D. Griffith, The Birth of a Nation; Orson Welles, ; The War of the Worlds (the radio play); Frank Capra, Meet John Doe; I Love Lucy, and The Simpsons (TV sitcom).

Our class will take place in the English department’s new Media Room (SH 1415). There we have 5 networked laptops (with network connections for at least 10 more). In addition to a digital projector, VCR and DVD, and software allowing "Netmeeting" among class members, we have equipment allowing digital photography, digital video, digital voice recording, and advanced web editing and certain kinds of sound and video editing. No previous knowledge of media making or web editing is necessary but it will be most welcome. The course will include informal workshops on web editing. I’m hoping that the web pages that each team will produce will offer on-line examples of the media studied. In this way, we can practice the forms of media inscription we are studying.

I have given a detailed account of class in hopes of attracting students who love media, who are intellectually ambitious, and who have the time to put into reading difficult theoretical texts and developing team projects on media in a web environment.


Professor Warner
Office: South Hall, 2507
Office hours, Thursday, 3:30-4:30 PM, and by appointment
email: warner@english.ucsb.edu

Meeting room: English Department Media Classroom, South Hall 1415
Meeting time: Tuesday and Thursday, 12:30-3:15PM

Tech Help
Jeremy Douglass, Transcriptions Studio (SH 2509) Drop-in Hours
By appointment jdouglas@umail.ucsb.edu

Web editing overview


  • George Orwell. 1984. New York: Signet Classic, 1950.
  • The Medium is the Massage, Marshall McLuhan, Quentin Fiore, Jerome Agel (Producer) Publisher: Gingko Press Inc.; ISBN: 1584230703; (June 2001)
  • English 147 Media Culture Reader, The Alternative Copy Shop,  6556 Pardall Road; Isla Vista, CA 93117, 968-1055

Media texts

  • Alfred Hitchcock, Rear Window (1954)
  • W.D. Griffith,The Birth of a Nation (1915);
  • Orson Welles, The War of the Worlds (the radio play; 1938);
  • Frank Capra, Meet John Doe (1941) ;
  • TV sitcoms: I Love Lucy, Matt Groening, The Simpsons

Assignments and their weighting for grading:

1: Five short papers : [25%] : state some of the central ideas of the reading, and then develop your response to those ideas (with a main thesis and several supporting ideas). Here is a description of a "response paper" using the example of our first assignment: Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"

  1. Doing a response paper of a course reading:
    It should focus on, and engage throughout your paper, with the text being read (Benjamin's "Work of Art") Two components of your engagement with text: WHAT does Benjamin say? How do you EVALUATE or CRITIQUE what Benjamin says (about image, actor, film)?
  2. Length: use the whole 2 pagers and limit your paper to no more than two pages (why?: there is an art to concision--and if you want to go long, just look back and you will almost always find unnecessary words or repetition; if not long enough, offer more analysis of your quote; this can help you learn to edit and fine-tune your essay)
  3. Citation: give page number for text in parenthesis (e.g. for our reader: R-5; McLuhan-x)
  4. One central idea of your paper: in a paper this short, I would recommend making this the first sentence of the essay--or, as is traditional, the last sentence of the first paragraph. [metaphor: this is like the cable or back-bone of your paper--the central idea around which you will develop your other ideas]
  5. The 2 or 3 or 4 paragraphs of your two page paper develop the main thesis; explains, offers quotes from the text, give examples of your point from your knowledge or experience (e.g. statue of David having aura); you extend the implications of the main thesis. (Here you will want to avoid repeating the same idea; but also don't diverge into completely new territory).

2: 3 (or 2) people form a team. [25%]

Each team chooses a general area of interest with implications for the theory and practices of media culture. [See sample topics below*.]
The web site will include:

  1. Overview page: the topic, scope, and leading issues that the page will explore
  2. Links/ bibliography: annotated: author/organization; topic and scope of the page; your evaluation of its quaity
  3. History/ Timeline: it should focus on your topic and develop it
  4. Media samples: digitize and present, then analyze each
  5. Essays: put single paragraph descriptions of each essay, an
    individually written 8-page paper on some aspect of your team topic.

*Topics that might be developed into a more specific team project:

  • Media and war
  • Queer media
  • Women Return the Gaze
  • Media and Pornography
  • The media matrix for the invention of Rock video
  • Youth culture and media culture
  • Science fiction and media
  • Media Concentration and the FCC
  • Cyborg sex
  • Radio and fascism
  • Celebrity scandals and television
  • Special effects and kung fu films
  • Race and media: the case of Michael Jackson

Last year's projects: Team Web Project


  •  Conferences with Prof Warner will take place in early Feb.
  • Team prospectus is presented to the class on Feb 26th for critique.
  • Each student should write a one paragraph overview of their individual paper topic, and put it up on your website. This should be done as soon as you can, but no later than March 5th.
  • Final presentation to the class will take place Tuesday March 16, 12:00-3:00 PM, SH 1415

3: Exam [25%]: March 9: matching, quote identification, 2 short essays
Recommended steps in studying for the exam, which functions as the course's check on how well you have understood the reading.

  • Read each assigned essay in the class
  • Use your class notes and the on-line slide lectures to focus in on key passages
  • Outline the central concepts and themes of the main theorists we have read: Benjamin, Mulvey, Frankfurt school, Habermas, Chopsky, McLuhan, Hall, Weber, Hall
  • Reading the text on our web site (along with the assigned writings of Czitrom, Sarnoff, Spigel) identify the main steps by which film, radio, and television become influential media institutions.
  • Develop examples of these concepts from the media texts of the course (e.g. "The War of the Worlds"; "I Love Lucy"; "The Simpsons")

4: Individually written term paper (5-pages). [10%] This carefully written essay should be embedded in your team project, and extend and develop the ideas of your web-page.

5: Class participation and attendance [15%]

Ground rules for the course:

A well functioning class is a collaborative endeavor. For this reason I ask you to respect these ground rules:

1) Class attendance is a required part of the class. More than 2 misses and your grade is lowered by 1/3rd of your final letter grade; more than 3 misses, 2/3rd of the final letter grade, and so on.  [If you miss a class, it is your responsibility to get notes and assignments from another class member, so you know where we are with our work.]

2) Please arrive on time for a full class. Please take care of any personal needs—for food or a visit to the restroom—before or after class. We will have a break during each 2 1/2 hour class period.

3) Reading assignments are an essential part of class work; the care and quality of your reading will reflect itself in your participation in class discussion and exams; I urge you to keep a notebook for your readings, writing down key ideas as you read, and general thoughts and questions to bring to class.

4) Format: Your short papers and term paper should be typed on 8 ½ X 11” paper, with 1” margins in (12 point) font. Papers should have a works cited list in MLA format. No unexcused late papers will be accepted.

5) I enjoy getting to know you and talking with students. After our first paper, I will schedule an extensive conference with each project team. In addition, feel free to come by my office hours (Thursday, 3:30-4:30 PM), or email me to make an appointment to talk…about the content of the course, a special problem, or just to talk.

LCI course: This course meets the requirement for English majors specializing in the Literature and the Culture of Information (LCI).

| overview | schedule | assignments |student pages | links | UCSB English