Primetime Politics

I’ve been out of the loop for the last few weeks, but several people have requested that I post my syllabus for my junior seminar, “Primetime Politics,” which focuses on representations of Washington D.C., in Hollywood films and TV series. Obviously there is way too much out there to cover, especially in a junior level course, so I decided to focus on a few major strains: historical films (and some documentaries) depicting actual presidents or public figures; backstage narratives that look at the behind the scenes aspects of DC culture (Scandal, Thank You for Smoking, and House of Cards all fall into this admittedly broad category); and finally parodies and satires of DC life (Colbert and Stewart are big, but I’ll also cover SNL’s depiction of politicians from Chevy Chase’s Gerald Ford to Tina Fey’s uncanny depiction of Sarah Palin). I’m trying to avoid a fully straight-forward chronological organization, so I will start with John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln before doubling back to Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

At one time, I was leaning toward teaching only texts that were available on Netflix. When I discovered that Netflix’s selection was too thin for what I needed, I did decide to put personal DVD copies on reserve for a few films, but in making that choice, I ended up leaving out a couple of films (Bob Roberts, in particular) that I think would have worked well. I strongly considered including something like The Parallax View to reflect Watergate-era cynicism, but couldn’t quite work it in. I also considered using JFK as an alternate form of myth-making (to compare to Lincoln), but Oliver Stone’s direction typically gives me a headache. The class starts tomorrow (Tuesday, January 14), so I have time to do some last minute tweaks if you have any suggestions.

Course Schedule:
Key: IA=Internet Archive
DVD=DVD version at Media Center

Week One:
January 14-16: Historicizing the Presidency
Introduction to Course
Watch: selected Thomas Edison shorts, IA.
Read: Jonathan Auerbach, “McKinley at Home: How Early American Cinema Made News,” American Quarterly 51.4 (1999): 797=832.

Week Two:
January 21-23:
Watch: Young Mr. Lincoln, DVD or NFX?
Read: J. E. Smyth, “Young Mr. Lincoln: Between Myth and History in 1939,” Rethinking History 7:2 (2003): 193-214.

Week Three:
January 28-30:
Watch: Lincoln (2012), dir. Steven Speilberg, DVD.
Read: Wai Chee Dimock, “Crowdsourcing History: Ishmael Reed, Tony Kushner, and Steven Spielberg Update the Civil War,” American Literary History, lib.
David Bromwich, “How Close to Lincoln?” New York Review of Books, OL.

Week Four:
February 4-6:
Watch: CSA: The Confederate States of America, NFX.
Read: Catherine Gallagher, “When Did the Confederate States of America Free the Slaves?,” Representations, lib.
Cynthia Fuchs, “CSA: The Confederate States of America,” Pop Matters, OL.

Week Five:
February 11-13:
Watch: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, DVD.
Read: Eric Smoodin, “‘Compulsory’ Viewing for Every Citizen: ‘Mr. Smith’ and the Rhetoric of Reception,” Cinema Journal 35.2 (1996): 3-23, OL.

Week Six:
February 18-20:
Watch: The West Wing (debate episode), NFX.
Read: Lance Holbert, et al, “The West Wing and Depictions of the American Presidency: Expanding the Domains of Framing in Political Communication,” Communication Quarterly 53.4 (2005).

Week Seven:
February 25-27:
Watch: Dr. Strangelove, DVD.
Read: Fred Kaplan, “Truth Stranger than Strangelove,” The New York Times, OL.
Paper 1 due.

Week Eight:
March 4-6:
Watch: The West Wing (terrorism episode), NFX.
Read: Rachel Gans-Boriskin and Russ Tisinger, “The Bushlet Administration: Terrorism and War on the West Wing,” Journal of American Culture 28.1 (2005): lib.
Greg Smith, “The Left Takes Back the Flag,” ER.
Midterm: March 6.

March 11-13: No Class, Spring Break.
Week Nine:
March 18-20: Gender, Race, Power
Watch: Political Animals (Pilot episode), NFX
Scandal, Season 1, episodes 7-8, HU/NFX.
Alpha House (pilot episode), Amazon.
Read: Ryan McGee, “Scandal: ‘Grant: For the People,’” AV Club, OL.
Mark Harris, “After the Antihero,” Grantland, OL.

Week Ten:
March 25-27:
Watch: House of Cards (episodes 1-3), NFX
Read: Andy Greenwald, “Isolated Power,” Grantland, OL.
Ari Melber, “The Terrible, True Insight of ‘House of Cards’: Bad People Run D.C.,” The Atlantic, OL

Week Eleven:
April 1-3: Corruption/Cynicism:
Watch: Good Night and Good Luck
Read: Brian Faucette, “George Clooney on U.S. Television, History, and Politics,” Jump Cut 50 (2008) OL.

Week Twelve:
April 8-10:
Watch: Wag the Dog, DVD.
Read: Tom Stempel, “The Collaborative Dog: Wag the Dog,” Film and History, lib.
Paper 2 Rough Draft due April 8.

Week Thirteen:
April 15-17:
Watch: Thank You for Smoking, DVD.
Read: Thomas Doherty, “Thank You for Smoking,” Cineaste, lib.
Stacy Thompson, “Consumer Ethics in Thank You for Smoking,” Film-Philosophy, lib.

Week Fourteen:
April 22-24: Satire, Past and Present
Watch: The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, clips online.
Read: Amber Day, “And Now…the News? Mimesis and the Real in The Daily Show,” ER.
Joanne Morreale, “Jon Stewart and : I Thought You Were Going to be Funny,” ER.
Geoffrey Baym, “Stephen Colbert’s Parody of the Postmodern,” ER.
Paper 2 Final Draft due April 24.

Week Fifteen:
April 29-May 1:
Watch: Saturday Night Live and Funny or Die, HU/online.
Read: Diane Carlin and Kelly Winfrey, “Have You Come a Long Way, Baby? Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and Sexism in 2008 Campaign Coverage,” Communication Studies, lib.
Jeffrey Jones, “With all Due Respect,” ER.

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