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.