Watching Television
May 7, 2010 11:02 AM   Subscribe

Rounding out my summer syllabus: Favorite studies, statistics, theories, essays, short stories, comics, poetry and other short readings about television?

I'm finishing up the syllabus for my summer course (called "Watching Television") and I thought it might be good to mine the hive mind for any particularly good readings on the subject I might still be missing. While I'm in a Literature department, the course is cross-listed with the film and new media departments -- but I'm also trying to cast my net fairly wide and sample approaches from multiple disciplines. So please don't hold anything back for fear of lack of interest; a scientific study could be as interesting to me as a good poem.

Something like a whole book, on the other hand, would be much too long; there's not that much space left in the syllabus given what I already have planned. A chapter from a book could be okay.

Here is the official course description:

According to a study from Nielsen Media Research, as of 2006 the average American home had more television sets than people. Over 98% of American households have at least one TV, and Americans watch an average of almost five hours per day, not only in their homes but also in their workplaces, restaurants, schools, stadiums, and even in their cars. Television has become so omnipresent that it is now almost invisible; watching TV is understood as a default state, synonymous somehow with doing nothing at all. This course will consider what it is to watch television, both as consumer and as cultural critic. We will begin with critical theories about television viewing, contrasting Theodor Adorno's deep suspicion of television as a medium of passive stupification against Marshall McLuhan's utopian vision of a "global village" retribalized by shared televisual experience. In the second half of the course we will turn to a sustained study of such key genres of television viewing as soap opera, sitcom, science fiction, police procedural, cable news, reality, and sport, analyzing how the unique properties of the medium have been used at various historical moments to achieve specific aesthetic, political, and economic effects in diverse audiences. In addition to selected theoretical and critical readings, the course will include academic consideration of such programs as The Twilight Zone, I Love Lucy, St. Elsewhere, Sesame Street, Star Trek, The Simpsons, The Sopranos, The Daily Show, and Lost. We will also consider international television productions from nations such as France and Japan.

Thanks folks.
posted by gerryblog to Education (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Chuck Klosterman would probably go over well in this kind of course. Not too academic, but his essay on the Real World was pretty entertaining. It would be a refreshing essay after the deadening prose of Adorno in my opinion.
posted by Think_Long at 11:31 AM on May 7, 2010

Best answer: David Foster Wallace, "E Unibus Pluram." (PDF).
posted by Skot at 11:53 AM on May 7, 2010

Best answer: There was this article, linked in an answer on the green awhile back.
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 12:05 PM on May 7, 2010

Best answer: The Un-TV Experiment

Link to J-Stor, for PDF. Run the experiment. Then have them read what McGrane wrote about doing this with his class back in 1993.
posted by bilabial at 12:06 PM on May 7, 2010

Best answer: not exactly poetry...
posted by larry_darrell at 1:29 PM on May 7, 2010

Best answer: White Dot is ancient now, but it makes a good point about television viewing and how manipulative and addictive it is. There's a (hugely expensive) book out there too.
posted by hnnrs at 3:11 PM on May 7, 2010

Best answer: The article "The Changing Face of Literacy" by Eric McLuhan (yes, son of that McLuhan) discusses ways in which television has changed the way we read and write. Might be useful discussion for the first part of your course.

Unfortunately, the article isn't available on the internet anywhere, but it can be found in the anthology Reader's Choice (6th Canadian edition). I have assigned this essay in my composition class for the last couple of semesters, and the students always have plenty to say about it.

A non-essay suggestion: Michael Franti and The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy's music video Television: The Drug of a Nation.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:42 PM on May 7, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks folks, this is really helpful.
posted by gerryblog at 5:14 PM on May 7, 2010

Best answer: Oh! You can also have them analyze tv ads for ethos, pathos, various logical fallacies, evidence, audience, and all sorts of other literary things.

(I give talks about media awareness to freshman comp students, but I use print ads.)
posted by bilabial at 3:56 PM on May 8, 2010

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