- Course Description
JI HAE KOO
TOPIC: Representations of the Robot in Popular Culture: Cyborgs, Andriods, and Artificial Intelligence
Ex Machina. Her. Siri. In popular culture and in daily life, robots have become our companions, our helpers, and our sources of entertainment. In this course, we will develop the skills for analytical thinking, reading, and writing through engagement with various media to explore the cultural phenomena surrounding the representative figure of the robot. We'll ask questions such as: How do we define robots? Why have these figures become such a source of fascination? Why are robots often gendered, and in what context? What do they suggest about our relationship to technology and the environment? To what extent are they tied to current developments in technology? How do these representations relate to present concerns about ourselves and the issues that surround us? By the end of the course, students will be prepared to compose a research-based essay on a primary source of their choosing from among texts (popular books, comics, films, video games, TV shows, and more) that depict robots.
TOPIC: The Detective: Reader, Writer, Thinker
Whether looking back to nineteenth century short stories or listening to the latest podcasts online, the detective has been a towering figure in various forms of popular culture. The detective represents our satisfaction with putting every detail under the magnifying glass in order to make meaning out of mystery and chaos. Today, in the post-truth moment that we are facing, there is a genuine need to find a sensible foundation on which we can build. In this course, we will investigate who is the detective and what detectives have to tell us about the world.
TOPIC: Trekkies, Twihards and Potterheads: Fanfiction as Cultural Object.
What Hogwarts house are you? Do you ship Spirk or Spones? What if Bella and Edward were in a coffeeshop AU? Fandom is changing the way we engage with media, identify ourselves, and view the world, and fanfiction is its primary cultural product. This course will take up fanfiction as an object of analysis from a cultural studies perspective, examining the complex interrelationships of fans and producers, individual and community, identity and authorship, subtext and intertext present in fan works. The course will explore the definitions and functions of fanfiction for its writers and readers, as well as its larger impact within fan communities and mainstream culture.
TOPIC: All Monsters are Human: The Grotesque in American Culture
Why do drivers slow down to look at traffic accidents? Why do we flock to scary movies in order to be freaked out...on purpose? Why would anyone ever watch a TV show called Monsters Inside Me? This class interrogates these questions, and others like it. The grotesque is loosely defined as the fascinating yet repulsive quality seen in much of our entertainment today, from reality TV shows to Coen Brothers films. The grotesque, in its many forms, has haunted American culture and art for centuries. It has infiltrated literature from Nathaniel Hawthorne to Anne Rice, and it continues to permeate popular culture, making us deliberately uncomfortable in TV shows like American Horror Story, Dexter, and many more. Evidently, the grotesque is everywhere—but what exactly is it, and why is it so popular?
The texts we will analyze over the course of the semester will respond to our Inquiry Question: What is the grotesque, and how has it shaped contemporary culture? In grappling with this question, some essential questions we address will include:
- When and why is the grotesque implemented in works of art?
- What effects can the presence of the grotesque produce? Specifically, how does the grotesque potentially produce both attraction and repulsion in its viewers?
These questions will connect the art of the grotesque to its present cultural moments, as well as the prevalence of the grotesque in American entertainment. The grotesque has a deeply disruptive appeal that taps into unspoken fascinations, and in this class we will venture toward the root of this experience. By the end of the course, you will be equipped to examine, interrogate, and write analytically about some of the scaffolding behind modern American culture, and you will have a firm understanding of the forms the grotesque can take.
TOPIC: I Yam What I Am: Representations of Food and Cultural Identity in the U.S.
What does an ordinary act such as eating food have to do with meaty subjects such as race, gender, and nation? American culture is filled with symbolically powerful representations of eating food that explore identity. Take Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, who indulges in the Southern delicacy of a hot buttered yam on the streets of Harlem and declares, “I Yam What I Am.” Joining Invisible Man is novelist and food journalist Monique Truong, whose love of barbecue allows her to forge a sense of home in an American South that is inhospitable to Vietnamese refugees like herself. In yet another example, comedian Aziz Ansari’s fictional doppelganger, Dev of Master of None relishes pork, as much a gustatory act as a renunciation of his parents’ Muslim faith. While representations of food abound in our narratives about cultural identity, how do we understand these representations? This course will trace the representation of food in American culture, asking, what are some of the literary, cinematic, and visual conventions for representing food? How might the presence of food in American culture serve a rhetorical function? What might be some of the cultural, social, and political significance of these representations of food? To address these questions, we will examine a range of literary, cinematic, and visual texts, including short selections from texts by Ralph Ellison, Monique Truong, and Roxane Gay and films such as Precious and The Help. By examining representations of food and its cognate concepts of consumption, hunger, and appetite, this course will explore how food informs our understanding of larger social categories such as nation, race, and gender. This course emphasizes critical thinking, reading, and writing skills and culminates in a research-based essay on a text of your own choosing.
TOPIC: Slaying Dragons for Pleasure and Profit: Dragons and Slayers in Pop Culture.
"The ground shakes; a roar pierces the night; flame erupts on the horizon. It can mean only one thing: dragons! We encounter them everywhere— movies, novels, and video games alike. Our pop culture is soaked in medievalism, and no medievalism is complete without a dragon. This longing for an imagined medieval past is behind some of the most commercially successful texts of the last two decades—from The Hobbit and How to Train Your Dragon movies to games like Skyrim or Dragon Age. Yet we cannot seem to make up our minds about dragons—are they friends or foes? Threatening or therapeutic? How are they like and unlike humans? How do we use medievalism and dragons to think through these complicated questions of alterity? This course examines the ways in which medievalism works in modern dragon tales to serve current cultural purposes. Each text establishes a new interpretation of the same hoard of inconsistent dragon imagery: the greedy serpent, the super-intelligent speaker, the dumb brute. But texts also solve their dragon problems differently: should they be vanquished by a valiant warrior? Robbed by an unconventional hero? Or befriended by a more complicated protagonist? Our enduring fascination with these flying reptiles and responses to them inform our views on issues like gender performance, violence, nationalism, disability and more. This course asks, “how did medieval texts define the dragon problem?” through a reading of The Saga of the Volsungs, the influential Icelandic saga that has inspired Tolkien and countless other fantasy writers. Then we will analyze them in modern texts such as the graphic novelization of The Hobbit and the 2010 film How to Train Your Dragon. The course fulfills the English Composition requirement through a focus on critical reading and thinking, textual and filmic analysis, and modes of academic writing."
TOPIC: The Final Girl: Cultural Analysis and Representations of Gender in the Slasher Film
Like its thematic precursors from gothic novels to the noir films of the early twentieth century, the slasher flick employs conventions that recur throughout the horror genre. Over the years, slasher conventions have seen several subversions, revisions, and parodies. One such convention, the character type of the Final Girl, has likewise undergone many transformations and evolutions. Unlike the genre’s other figures, she is the one who does not die: she is the Final Girl. A victim-hero, she embodies a certain set of characteristics and due to her resourcefulness ultimately vanquishes the killer. What makes the Final Girl different from (or, indeed, similar to) other character types? This course will offer an investigation of several slasher film conventions, asking: what about them do audiences find so engrossing? What larger cultural concerns do they address or complicate? For example, at times the Final Girl seems to bolster traditional gender norms; at others, she dismantles them. We will consider these tensions and other lines of inquiry through our use of scholarly essays, films such as Scream and It Follows, recent articles, new media such as computer games, and even graphic novels. Warning: this course deals with scenes of graphic violence.
Topic: Is Hollywood Out of Ideas?: An Exploration of the Reboot
From the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the recent female-led Ghostbusters film, reboots and reimagining’s of popular stories have become nearly inescapable. In this course, we will consider what it means to consistently revisit beloved cultural objects in this way. We will begin by defining the reboot and exploring its connections to similar categories such as remakes (Disney’s live action Beauty and the Beast, for example) and belated sequels (like Star Wars: The Force Awakens). Throughout the rest of the course we will ask: What makes these texts so compelling, and what can they tell us about our own cultural moment? Our exploration of these issues and of the ways in which representations of familiar characters, figures, and narratives change over time will culminate in a final research project on a course related text of your own choosing.
TOPIC: When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die: Representations of the Medieval in Popular Culture
In 2011 HBO’s Game of Thrones took the world by storm as a high-fantasy series that broke every high-fantasy trope. A self-described history buff, George R.R. Martin has claimed that he has drawn his most shocking storylines straight from medieval history. However, Game of Thrones is not the only popular series to engage the Middle Ages; Lord of the Rings, The Witcher, Skyrim, even the most recent Transformers movie, all use aspects of the medieval in their world building. As Game of Thrones enters its eighth and final season, and a fascination with the medieval is increasingly a part of our popular culture, it begs the question: why the Middle Ages? What is it about the Middle Ages that continues to captivate and draw our imaginations? What aspects of the Middle Ages make their way into our popular imaginations and to what ends? How might modern representations of the medieval hold a mirror to our modern culture and what is it we might see in that mirror? This course will investigate these questions through the King Arthur legends, Game of Thrones, and a range of other medieval-influenced texts. This course will investigate the cultural hold of the Middle Ages and how this period supports or subverts anxieties and desires related to national and cultural identity. This course will fulfill the English Composition Requirement through a focus on critical reading and thinking, textual and film analysis, and modes of academic writing.
TOPIC: Just a Game?: Nation, Identity, and Protest in American Sports
The claim that sports and politics just don’t mix has been made by athletes, commentators, and fans alike. For many, sports, America’s favorite pastime(s), are an escape from the difficult realities that surround us. Nonetheless, throughout American history sports have repeatedly found themselves at the crux of social debates. Today, the conversation about the relationship between sports, society, and politics is as vibrant and controversial as ever. From the NFL’s response to player protests during the playing of the national anthem, to some of the NBA’s biggest stars’ outspoken remarks on social inequality, sports seem to be at the heart of how we understand American society. In this course, we will question the extent to which sports shape the way we think about society, each other, and ourselves. We will engage with multiple sides of this conversation to ask: how have sports helped define what it means to be an American? What, if any, ideologies do American sports reflect, promote, or prevent? We will use sports to consider the ways in which identity markers like gender, race, and class intersect with questions of collective identity. And lastly, we will tackle the question: do (and should) sports offer a platform for social and political action? Drawing on academic essays from multiple disciplines and on articles from the world of sports journalism, we will foster a conversation that will allow us to develop analytical modes of reading, thinking, and writing. We will focus on sports, particularly the big three American games—Football, Basketball, and Baseball--and on representations of sports, tentatively in films Spike Lee’s He Got Game, Gina Prince-Bythewood’s Love and Basketball, and Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky IV. This course will afford us a more profound understanding of the connections between society and the sports many of us love.
TOPIC: Supers and Spies: Heroism in Modern Culture
Why are the superhero and the spy two of our culture’s most important hero figures? Is it because they entertain us with their unordinary abilities? Or do they teach us how to become more politically engaged and to repair our ordinary world? Does it even make sense to think of Batman and James Bond as similar types of heroes? This course seeks to explore these and other questions surrounding our two models of modern heroism. We will begin with a brief genealogy of heroism itself: in particular, the hero’s transformation over time from a god to a warrior, to a secularly local hero, and (by the twentieth-century) to the super and the spy. We will then set out to define and compare these two heroic types, paying particular attention to the ways in which they have begun to shift in recent years. Literary and filmic analysis will help us focus on the heroes’ gender identities, but we will also employ many other interpretive frameworks such as history, film genre, and 2017 politics. Heroic figures of particular focus will likely include Captain America, James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Catwoman. Texts of interest will include but are not limited to the anthology What is a superhero? and the films Skyfall and Wonder Woman. The course emphasizes college-level reading and writing but will also likely interest those in media, cultural, and comics studies. Assignments will consist of short written pieces which build to a final research essay on a particular hero of the student’s choice.