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COURSE NAME: "Media and Cultural Analysis: Close Readings/Interpretations of Cultural Artifacts"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Spring 2019

INSTRUCTOR: Kwame Phillips
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 11:30-12:45 PM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: EN 110 with a grade of C or above; COM 220 recommended

From Andre Bazin’s analysis of de Sica’s Bicycle Thieves to Roland Barthes’ interpretation of a photo of a black soldier on the cover of Paris Match magazine, close readings of media texts have long been a valued aspect of the field of communications. This course offers students the unique opportunity to critically analyze a single, notable media text—be it an album, a TV series, a graphic novel, etc.—and explore in detail the expressive significance, the artistic merit, the social impact and influence, the cultural embeddedness, and associated historical, technological and aesthetic considerations. The course will focus on some of the dominant critical perspectives that have contributed to our understanding of these media texts and their role in society, and investigate this media through a variety of theories and methods.

The course is designed to provide an understanding of, and an ability to analyze and evaluate chosen media texts, where each iteration of the course will focus on a different singular media text. Students will deconstruct the text using a variety of critical strategies (e.g., from Marxism, feminism, poststructuralism, postmodernism, etc.) and situate the text in its social and historical contexts. Each student will work on a midterm and final project that expresses their individual voice and perspective, that involves careful research and a critical understanding of the course material. Students are required to read/listen/watch critically and class sessions will be structured as seminars where student engagement is essential. 


At the end of this course you will be able to:

•                Be a more critical consumer of media with requisite knowledge and skills                  

•                Have acquired advanced competence in contextualizing media objects in relationship to broader socio-cultural and historical processes

•                Be competent in advanced critical analysis of a media text

•                Be able to conduct your own research and critical interrogations of media texts.

•                Write a work of media criticism (2500-3000 words)

•                Create an academic audio essay

**It is highly recommended that you make use of the Communications Library Study Guide that is found at this link: https://johncabot.libguides.com/communications. It is an introductory guide for communication and media studies, journalism and cinema, and is extraordinarily valuable as a resource.

**Course homepage: http://moodle.johncabot.edu/. Enrollment key: CMS310S19

ParticipationParticipation means showing up, doing the reading, being willing to discuss, ask questions and be fully engaged on a daily level.15
Weekly reflections Every week, students are required to provide - via Moodle - a short reflection (a few sentences at most) based on the readings that will be due the night before each class. 10
Outlines One page outlines for the midterm and final papers/projects are required at least one week before those papers are due. 5
Midterm paper Students are required to write a research paper that is appropriate to the course material. Though the topic is open, it is highly recommended that students expand upon a topic from the weekly reflections that they are required to submit for the readings. Please note, failure to hand in the midterm paper will result in failing the course. 2500-3000 words. 1.5 spacing and 12 point font. APA formatting for in-text citations and bibliography. 25
Final Audio Essay Submission of an analytical audio essay, a maximum of 10 mins long. Please note, failure to hand in the audio essay will result in failing the course. Students will be required to play their audio essay during the exam session. 30
Final creative written project Submission and presentation of a creative project that takes inspiration from the media text analyzed. 10
Self-gradingStudents are required to fill out a self-grading rubric and turn it in with their midterm and final assignments.5

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the course.
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.

This class is about ideas, feedback, listening and participating, which means the student is expected to attend every class and to be on time. More than four unjustified absences will make your maximum grade a B.


Papers will be graded using the following criteria (and judged whether excellent, good, fair, needs work or insufficient):

1. Formatting (page numbers, bibliography, quotes, citations)
2. Sources (diverse, academic)
3. Organization (good transitions, definitions, structured argument)
4. Adherence to assignment guidelines (follows instructions, answers questions, covers topic)
5. Clarity (thesis stated and supported with examples, evidence, background, context)
6. Understanding terms and grasp of concepts
7. Originality
8. Style (readable, lucid, flow, makes sense, creative, academic, command of English)
9. Grammar, spelling, typos, sentence structure
10. Effort, passion, interest


Grading will be done with letter grades using the 4.0 system. At present, Moodle calculates this as a percentage, so a B is 3.0 and shows as 75% (3.0 out of 4.0). This means that percentages that you may be used to will not translate in the same way. The table below indicates how the grades are calculated.

A   ::  4.0  ::  100%
A-  ::  3.7  ::  93%
B+ ::  3.3  ::  83%
B   ::  3.0  ::  75%
B-  ::  2.7  ::  68%
C+ ::  2.3  ::  58%
C   ::  2.0  ::  50%
C-  ::  1.7  ::  43%
D+ ::  1.3  ::  33%
D   ::  1.0  ::  25%
D-  ::  0.7  ::  18%
F   ::  0.0  ::  0%
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.



The main text will be Alan Light's "Let's Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain." The text will be read throughout the semester and will be available as a pdf on Moodle. Other readings will be available with a course reader, online links and handouts. See course schedule for a list of readings.


•       Readings listed here might be subject to change

Week 1: Intro       
Mon: Course Overview and introduction
Wed: Prince and the Minneapolis Sound

·      Patricia Kain, “How to do a close reading” (1998) 
·      Sophia McClennen, “Close Reading Guide” (1998)
·      Antoine Hennion, The Production of Success - An Antimusicology of the Pop Song (1983)
·      Mike Crisolago, “Remembering Prince: 5 Ways He Changed Music Forever” (2017)

·      Prince – Super Bowl XLI Halftime Show 2007 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WYYlRArn3g)
·      Prince: A Purple Reign (BBC) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LlTwe9LxZ8w)

Week 2: Let’s Go Crazy       
Mon: Track analysis and discussion
Wed: Socio-cultural discussion (The 80s)

·      Alan Light, Chapter One: We Are Gathered Here Today (pp.1-21); 
·      Will Straw, “Popular Music and Post-modernism in the 1980s” (1993)

·      Incubus cover (Monuments and Melodies, 2009): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4f-6TVMKOs

·      The Eighties: “Video Killed the Radio Star”
·      Prince - Little Red Corvette

**Question/Observation 1 and 2 due

Week 3: Take Me With U        
Mon: Track analysis and discussion 
Wed: Socio-cultural discussion (Gender)

·       Alan Light, Chapter Two: Alone in a World So Cold (pp.22-52)
·       Kobena Mercer,"Black Masculinity and the Sexual Politics of Race" (2013)

**Question/Observation 3 and 4 due

Week 4: The Beautiful Ones       
Mon: Track analysis and discussion 
Wed: Socio-cultural discussion (Sexuality)

·      Alan Light, Chapter Three: Bring 2 Life a Vision (pp.53-89)
·      Audre Lorde, The Uses of the Erotic. (1984)
·      Donald Horton, The Dialogue of Courtship in Popular Song (1957)
·      Mark Anthony Neal, Shana Redmond and Kwame Phillips, Pleasure/Liberation: https://www.newblackmaninexile.net/2016/02/pleasureliberation-mixtape-experience.html

·      Mariah Carey and Dru Hill cover (Butterfly, 1997): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zpn7Mw4DwXs

**Question/Observation 5 and 6 due

Week 5: Computer Blue 
Mon: Track analysis and discussion 
Wed: Socio-cultural discussion (Audience)  

·      Alan Light, Chapter Four: Sign Your Name on the Dotted Line (pp.90-110)
·      C. Nathan DeWall, et al., Tuning into psychological change: linguistic markers of psychological traits and emotions over time in popular U.S. song lyrics (2011)

Additional Music: 
·      Hallway Speech version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JyMuQtmfkYQ

**Question/Observation 7 and 8 due

Week 6: Darling Nikki             
Mon: Track analysis and discussion 
Wed: Socio-cultural discussion (Censorship and Moral Panic)

·       Alan Light, Chapter Five: Reach Out 4 Something New (pp. 111-135)
·       Claude Chastagner, The Parents' Music Resource Center: From Information to Censorship (1999)
·       Angela McRobbie and Sarah L. Thornton, Rethinking 'Moral Panic' for Multi-Mediated Social Worlds (1995)

·      WDEF TV Report: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNT4DikDdQw
·      Tipper Gore Interview About Parents Music Resource Council: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vjxe2lj1DZc
·      Darling Nikki backwards message: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVunT4u9A0I

·      Foo Fighters cover (Have It All B-Side, 2003): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTpHOgcorSw

**Question/Observation 9 and 10 due


Week 7: When Doves Cry
Mon: Track analysis and discussion
Wed: Socio-cultural discussion (Youth)

·       Alan Light, Chapter Six: Don’t Break Up the Connection (pp.136-157)
·       Stuart R. Poyntz and Jennesia Pedri, Youth and Media Culture - Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education (2018)
·       Nancy J. Holland, Purple Passion: Images of Female Desire in "When Doves Cry" (1988)

·       Ginuwine cover (Ginuwine…the Bachelor, 1996): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FVhDdY7lOc8

**Question/Observation 11 and 12 due


Week 8: I Would Die 4 U       
Mon: Track analysis and discussion 
Wed: Socio-cultural discussion (Religion)

·       Alan Light, Chapter Seven: Something That You’ll Never Comprehend (pp.158-189)
·       Carla Schriever, In this Church-Sized Stage, You can Guess the Offering - Theological Reception in Prince’s Fan Culture (2018)
·       Rupert Till, The Personality Cult of Prince: Purple Rain, Sex and the Sacred, and the Implicit Religion Surrounding a Popular Icon (2010)

·      Space Cowboy cover (Across the Sky, 2003): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aet7AEaF98I
·      Trey McLaughlin cover (YouTube, 2016): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eT-cswUAq1g

**Question/Observation 13 and 14 due

Week 9: Baby I’m a Star
Mon: Track analysis and discussion 
Wed: Socio-cultural discussion (Spectacle and Celebrity)

·       Alan Light, Chapter Eight: Dig If U Will (pp.190-210)
·       Douglas Kellner, Media culture and the triumph of the spectacle (2003)

**Question/Observation 15 and 16 due

Week 10: Purple Rain
Mon: Track analysis and discussion 
Wed: Socio-cultural discussion (The album)

·       Alan Light, Chapter Nine: Let Me Guide You (pp.211-234) 
·       Todd Decker, Fancy Meeting You Here: Pioneers of the Concept Album (2013)

**Question/Observation 17 and 18 due

Week 11: Interlude
Mon: Audio Essay Overview 
Wed: The Clip Class

·       Alan Light, Chapter Ten: Why Must We Play This Game? (pp.235-250)
·       Digital Writing 101, Writing Process for Audio Essays

Week 12: Purple Rain (The Motion Picture)
Mon: Film Screening 
Wed: Continuation of screening and discussion

·      Siskel & Ebert review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hX--MPXFGjc AND https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntLrgwinivA

**Question/Observation 19 and 20 due


Week 13: The Nigerien Film
Mon: Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai (Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red in it) screening

Week 14: The B-Sides (17 Days, Erotic City, God and Another Lonely Christmas) and Outro 
Mon: Track analysis and socio-cultural discussion (Impact)
Wed: Wrap up and Review

·      Alan Light, Chapter Eleven: Thank U 4 a Funky Time (pp.251-277)
·      Claire L. Evans, “Prince, the Only Influence a Musician Will Ever Need” (2016)
·      The Quietus, “On Prince” (2018)