Watching Television in First-Year Composition

Chuck Tryon's picture

I’ve decided to revamp my first-year composition class to focus very broadly on the issue of “watching television.” The courses have already met once, so I likely can’t do any tweaking, but I would welcome any suggestions readers might have about assignments and readings that I might use in the future (and if anyone is interested in poaching ideas, feel free). I’ve designed this course with some specific institutional needs and contexts in mind, so I’ll explain those here and leave the weekly calendar for the class below the fold.

First, this is the second course of our composition requirements, so it (a) focuses on the research paper and (b) requires students to learn APA format. in the past, I’ve taught the course via different kinds of debates about specific issues (the role of steroids in sports, Michael Bloomberg’s soda laws) that might open themselves up to a range of arguments where writers would have to identify different forms of effective evidence to support their arguments. Thus, they could consult nursing journals if they wanted to write an argument about the health issues associated with sodas or could find legal arguments about the effects of such laws on small businesses, to name a couple of approaches. The problem is that I didn’t have enough disciplinary background to guide students on how to enter that kind of conversation.

So, even though my class is a core requirement with few (if any) communication or English majors, I decided, somewhat late, that I would do a TV theme. The students will write four papers (which they can revise). The first will be a paper that uses Heather Hendershot’s insightful updating of Horace Newcomb’s “cultural forum” idea to look at a TV show of their choice. I’ve included a couple of other recent examples (including the debates about how Saturday Night Live cast the roles of Michelle and Barack Obama) that might overlap with this thesis. The second paper will invite students to develop an argument about TV news. I’ll provide some of the classic key terms (framing, etc) and allow my students to pick a relatively current case study to analyze. This assignment will be well-timed to look at some of the election narratives, but it also would work well to look at the events in Ferguson, Missouri, or other major news events (Gaza, Iraq, etc). The third paper is a little more diffuse and looks at the idea of media and citizenship through several lenses (reality TV, news, etc). I may need a stronger hook, but that should emerge from class discussions.

The final paper remains somewhat open, and I’d welcome some suggestions here. Given that I will have taught John Oliver’s monologue on Citzens United, I am now leaning toward having students discuss the effects of political humor. Can a John Oliver monologue change public policy? Does Colbert’s satire of right-wing TV pundits diminish the credibility of Fox News? But I’d like to go beyond news parody shows, if there is time, so SNL or Key & Peele or even something old school like Richard Pryor might work well here, too.  Since I only have a week or so for this unit, the final unit has to be something they can grasp quickly. To be clear, this is not an “intro to TV studies” course or anything that would belong in a media studies major, but it is a course that encourages students to reflect on the significance of TV from a variety of perspectives. Thoughts, recommendations, and suggestions are definitely welcome here or on Facebook or Twitter.

Week One:
August 19: Introduction to course
August 21: Tom Nichols, “The Death of Expertise,” The Federalist, OL.
Patrick Stokes, “No, You’re Not Entitled to Your Opinion,” The Conversation, OL.

Week Two:
August 26: Reading: Heather Hendershot, “Parks and Recreation: The Cultural Forum,” How to Watch Television, OL.
Elana Levine, “Grey’s Anatomy: Feminism,” How to Watch Television, OL.
August 28: Reading: SMH 14-35, “College Writing” and “Reading, Writing, Research.”

Week Three:
September 2: Mary Beltrán, “SNL’s ‘Fauxbama’ Debate: Facing Off Over Millennial (Mixed-) Racial Impersonation,” Saturday Night and American TV, OL.
Willa Paskin, “Saturday Night Live Addressed Its Race Problem With Humor. That’s
Not Enough,” Slate, OL.
September 4: Reading: SMH 54-80, “Exploring, Planning, Drafting.”
Reading: SMH 146-67, “Analyzing Arguments.”

Week Four:
September 9: Reading: SMH 81-109, “Reviewing, Revising, Editing.”
Paper I (Representations) Draft Due. Bring copies of your rough draft to class.
September 11: Mark Jurkowitz, “The Changing TV News Landscape, Pew Research Center,” OL.

Week Five:
September 16: Victoria Johnson, “Monday Night Football: Brand Identity,” OL.
Paper I (Representations) Due.
September 18: Reading: SMH 177-210, “Constructing Arguments.”
Reading: SMH 270-87: “Integrating Sources” and “Avoiding Plagiarism.”

Week Six:
September 23: Lance Bennett, News: The Politics of Illusion, 5th ed, selections, OL.
Shanto Iyengar, Media Politics: A Citizen’s Guide, 2nd ed, selections, OL.
September 25: Reading: SMH 222-48, “Conducting Research.”

Week Seven:
September 30: Alan Martin, “The web’s ‘echo chamber’ leaves us none the wiser,” Wired, OL.
October 2: Reading: SMH 249-69: “Evaluating Sources and Taking Notes.”

Week Eight:
October 7: Robin Andersen, “Hypercommercialism,” Battleground: The Media, OL.
October 9: Paper II (News) draft due. Meet in computer lab.

Week Nine:
October 14: Reading: SMH 288-99, “Writing a Research Project.”
Paper II (News) Due.October 16: Fall Break, no class.

Week Ten:
October 21: Jon Kraszewski, “Country Hicks and Urban Cliques: Mediating Race, Reality, and Liberalism on MTV’s The Real World, ” OL
October 23: Library Overview

Week Eleven:
October 28: Research Day, Meet in computer lab.
October 30: John McMurria, “Desperate Citizens and Good Samaritans: Neoliberalism and Makeover Reality TV,” Television & New Media, OL.

Week Twelve:
November 4: Research Day, Meet in computer lab.
November 6: John Oliver, “Citizens United,” HBO, OL.
Matt Bai, “How Much Has Citizens United Changed the Political Game,” New York Times.
Annotated Bibliography due.

Week Thirteen:
November 11: No class: Veterans Day
November 14: Paper III draft due. Bring rough drafts to class.

Week Fourteen:
November 18: Pew Research Center, “The Media and Campaign 2012.”
November 20: Paper III (Media and Politics) Draft Workshop #2 Reading TBA

Week Fifteen:
November 25: Paper III (Media and Politics) due.
Reading TBA
November 27: Thanksgiving

Week Sixteen:
December 2: Paper IV draft due. Meet in the computer lab.
December 4: Paper IV Due, In-class Post-test
Final Exam: TBA

Chuck