Professor Allen Woll
Robeson Library 298 (6670/6671)

If you would like a general introduction to the course, see:  Jim Cullen, The Art of Democracy

For information on library research resouces, go here:

September 10         Introduction

September 17         Clifford Geertz, “Deep Play, Notes on the Balinese Cockfight”
                                Michael Kammen, American Culture, American Taste

September 24         Levine, Highbrow, Lowbrow

October 1               Susan Douglas, Listening In

October 8               Henry Jenkins, What made Pistachio Nuts?

October 15             Popular Culture, Censorship, and the Movies:

                                Doherty, Pre-Code Hollywood
                                Black, Hollywood Censored
                                Couvares, Movie Censorship and American Culture

October 22                Aniko Bodroghkozy, Groove Tube

October 29               David Stowe, Swing Changes

November 5              Bradford Wright, Comic Book Nation

See also:

(“Hearts and Minds”)

Scott McCloud, Reinventing Comics and Understanding Comics

November 12         No class

November 19         Rogin, Black Face, White Noise
                               OR  Ely, The Adventures of Amos ‘n’ Andy
                               OR Donald Bogle, Prime Time Blues

November 26          No Class (Thanksgiving)

December 3            Final Presentations (preparation day--in class meetings)

December 10          Final Presentations

Short papers on the readings will be announced two weeks in advance.  Class participation will be evaluated both in terms of quantity and quality.


September 17:     According to Clifford Geertz and Michael Kammen, what is popular culture and why should we study it?

September 24: Using examples from L. Levine’s book, explain the meaning and relevance of the title Highbrow, Lowbrow.

October 1  : Susan Douglas introduces the question of gender and popular culture in her study of radio, Listening In.  How did gender issues shape the development of radio in the United States?  (paper)

October 8:  According to Henry Jenkins (What Made Pistachio Nuts?), what is the relationship between vaudeville and early sound film?  View one of the films he discusses, and explain how it supports his ideas.  Bring a clip of the film to class, and be prepared to discuss it.  (no paper)

October 15:  As discussed in class last night, it seems that cries for censorship follow popular culture through the 19th and 20th centuries.  Music, films, and television have all faced this challenge.  You will read one of three books on censorship and film [which were assigned in class].  Your task, as a group, will be to explain  why this happens.  Each group should also provide background information on the author or editor, as well as scholarly reviews of the books you consider.  Each group will be allowed up to 30 minutes for the presentation.  After the three presentations, each group may question or challenge the other based on your point of view and the information/interpretation from your text.  You should certainly contact each other (within the group) during the next two weeks so individuals will not repeat what others in the group have said.  (no paper--the next paper will be due on the 22nd)

October 22:  We'll be working a bit backwards this week.  [Paper Topic:]  Before you read Groove Tube, what questions do you think one should ask about the relationship between 1960s television and the youth rebellion?  Why are these questions important?  What evidence should one consider in order to answer questions concerning this relationship?  Then read Groove Tube.  To what extent does Aniko Bodroghkozy succeed or fail in answering your questions?  To what extent does she address questions and issues that you hadn't envisioned?

In order to answer these questions, consider your earlier readings and what the authors explain are important issues in the study of popular (or is it mass) culture.

October 29:  Using Swing Changes as an example, how does the study of music as popular culture differ from earlier case studies in this course?  How is it similar?  Are (should) different questions be asked of music?  What would Stowe reply?  What would you say?  [Paper Topic]

November 5:    Questions for each group:    What does Comic Book Nation argue about the importance of comic books in American Culture?  Does Wright belong to a particular school of analysis?  Which earlier author does he most resemble?  (Of course, someone should provide background information on Wright, and critical reviews of the book.)

McCloud group:  Who is McCloud and why is he important to those who wish to study comic art?  What are his major theories?

Internet group:  How will the internet change the future of comic art?  (It might be helpful to talk to the McCloud group [or look at the books] to see how one might answer this question.)

November 19:  You will be reading three books which address the same issue:  How does popular culture shape our perceptions of the society around us.  In particular, these books look at the ways that the media presents images of African Americans on the screen, on television, and on the radio.  Each group will try to answer the following questions:  Who is the author?  What is his argument about the the history of African American images in popular culture?  How have these images changed over time?  How do these images shape our perceptions of African Americans?

Remember, we have not all read the three books.   Your presentations should present a clear overview of the author's main themes and issues.  Feel free to provide an example if one is available to you.  (By the way, I have an "Amos 'n' Andy" tape should anyone be interested).

Enjoy your Thanksgiving!