Due via email before class, March 19th
This essay is an opportunity to open up our “theory toolbox” and apply some of these concepts to a specific example of popular culture. For this 4-5 page (1,250-1,600 word) essay, you will select a contemporary example of popular culture as a text to analyze—you might choose a film, television episode, song, music video, popular novel, advertisement, or the like. Please choose a text created since 2000 and that we have not viewed or discussed in class (and that you have not studied or written about in another course). If you’re not sure if an example applies, email Professor Mittell for clearance. If the example is available freely online, please provide a link in your essay (for instance, a YouTube link).
The goal of your essay is to apply the theories of semiotics, structuralism, ideology, and/or hegemony we have studied to better understand how your selected text operates as part of American culture. In analyzing this text, you should draw upon the concepts and theories offered in class and by readings that seem appropriate – there is no definitive “checklist” of required topics to address, but you should be sure that the specific concepts and theories you raise help us better understand the texts, not just demonstrate that you’ve done the reading. You should clearly explore how the different theoretical approaches offer varying insights into your text – the insights might be divergent or complimentary perspectives, but you must use at least two different theoretical ideas to analyze your text in depth.
Some questions that you might wish to explore regarding your text include:
- What can semiotic analysis tell us about this text?
- Are there particular myths or binary oppositions that underlie this text?
- How does this text link to the theories of the Frankfurt School approach of Adorno (like standardization, pseudo-individuality, etc.)?
- How does the Marxist approach to ideology apply to this text?
- Do Althusserian concepts like interpellation and subjectivity apply to this text?
- How do hegemony and negotiation theories apply to this text?
- What are the larger cultural implications of this text?
You should not (nor could you possibly) address all of these issues concerning your text – choose which of these topics (or others drawn from the readings) seems most applicable and best help you understand the text’s relation to American culture. Be sure to select an text that points to key issues we’ve addressed in class—don’t just pick the first example you find if you have nothing interesting to write about it!
You should be as specific as possible in citing detailed moments and examples in the texts that you are analyzing and drawing upon the precise ideas from the readings. Please do not quote from readings unless absolutely necessary (and then only use brief quotations) – if you do use a quotation, please provide the page number in parenthesis as a citation. Quotations from readings do not count toward the length requirement, so trying to “pad” your paper with generous quotes will doom your grade. No research is expected beyond the scope of gathering the example and reviewing the course readings. Your essay should be well-organized, clearly written (in a more formal analytical style than Essay #1), and precise in its use of details from both popular culture and theory. Good luck!
Your paper should include the Honor Code statement.