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COURSE NAME: "Race and Gender in Popular Media"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2020

INSTRUCTOR: Peter Sarram
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: MW 3:05-4:25 PM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: COM 220
OFFICE HOURS: M/W 10-11 or by appointment

Using contemporary theoretical approaches, this course examines both Race and Gender as social constructions, and the role and function of Cinema and Television texts in circulating and contesting those constructions. Focusing on analyzing Cinema and Television texts for their construction of meaning, this course looks at the complex ideological operations at stake in the operations, maintenance, and resistance to meanings constructed around race and gender.


The course uses contemporary theoretical approaches in order to examine both race and gender as social constructions. The role and function of cinema and television texts (and visual media in general) in contesting and circulating those constructions will be the central concern of the course. Focusing on analyzing cinema and television texts for their construction of meaning, the course investigates the complex ideological operations at stake in the operations, maintenance and resistance to meanings constructed around race and gender.


Cinema and television texts –including such forms as talk shows, music videos, soap operas, television sitcoms, dramatic series, advertising, genre films and experimental/avantgarde cinema --will be analyzed from a variety of critical perspectives. Issues of power related to gender and race, of privilege and discrimination, of cultural capital and modes of reading and spectatorship will be integrated through readings, screenings and discussions. The economic and cultural implications of the mass media as institutions, as sites of production, as actual texts and of the diverse forms of consumption will also be analyzed.


Course Organization:

The course will be run as a seminar. Students are highly encouraged to cultivate their own perspective on the points raised in the assigned readings, those they encounter as part of their own research and interest and those raised by others during class discussion. There will be regular screenings during class time. Students are responsible for the materials missed due to unexcused absences.

Course Readings:


The readings are critical to your understanding of the material. I have tried to select readings that will introduce you to important theoretical concepts and also provide concrete examples from the mass media. In some cases, the readings will provide valuable background for issues we will discuss further in class. At other times, the readings will supplement what we discuss in class by addressing issues and concepts that we do not have time to cover in class sessions. I will try to regularly propose as series of key questions to keep in mind as you do the readings and I will introduce these as we move through the semester. Please complete the readings BEFORE coming to class.


Learning Outcomes:


By the end of this course, you should be able to:


  • Critically deconstruct the representations of race, class, sexuality, and gender in the media and articulate how media representation connects to issues of power and privilege.
  • Explain the influence of media industries’ economic imperatives and working norms on representations of race, gender, and sexual orientation.
  • Discuss the effects of media representation on audiences, and how audience members might interpret the meanings of media representations.
  • Develop ideas about how to improve or challenge entertainment and news media to better reflect the nation’s true diversity. 

Assignments are listed below:Course grade will be determined by two “reading” quizzes (10% each), a final analysis paper (25%), a midterm (20%) and a final exam (20%). Attendance and participation are also key factors in the course (15%). See below for unexcused absences and tardiness policy. 

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.


Please note that frequent absences automatically lower your participation grade.

Also consider that three unexcused absences (those not justified by a medical certificate or a note from the administration) will result in your final grade for the course to be dropped by one letter grade. Anything above five unexcused absences will result in failure.


Lateness: Students more than 10 minutes late are marked as absent. Late arrival (less than 10 minutes) is marked as such, and 3 late arrivals are counted as one absence.

Class procedure:   Students are requested to make sure their cell phones are turned off (and not just muted) at the start of class.

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.


Week 1:

Power, Privilege and Discrimination

Cultural Studies and Representation

Week 2:

Semiotics: Popular Culture and Critical Media Literacy

Ideology and Hegemony

Week 3:

Stereotypes and the Active Audience

Political Economy and Consumer Culture

Week 4:

Gender Construction and Performance

Week 5:

Constructing Masculinity

Week 6:

Feminist Media Activism

Week 7:

The Social Construction of Race

Discourses of Race

Week 8:

Race, Gender and Consumerism in Children’s Media

Week 9:

Rock, Hip-Hop, Race, Gender and Sexuality

Week 10:

Gay, Lesbian and Queer Representation in Film: A Historical Perspective

Week 11:

Queer Television

Week 12:

Riot Grrrl and Alternative Networks

Week 13:

Race, Gender and Sexuality in Digital Media Contexts

Week 14:

Conclusions and Review

READINGS: All readings will be made available as electronic resources and reserve readings. If need information on the readings before the beginning of the course and the reading schedule that will be distributed please get in touch. [email protected]

Sample Readings:

Kellner, Douglas.  “Cultural Studies, Multiculturalism, and Media Culture.” 
Hall, Stuart.  “The Whites of Their Eyes: Racist Ideologies and the Media.”
Lull, James.  “Hegemony.”
Radway, Janice A.  “Women Read the Romance: The Interaction of Text and Context.”
Katz, Jackson.  “Advertising and the Construction of Violent White Masculinity: From Eminem to Clinique for Men.”
Coleman, Robin R. Means.  “Black Sitcom Portrayals.”
Perry, Imani.  “Who(se) Am I?: Identity and Image of Women in Hip-Hop.”
Dyer, “In Defense of Disco” 
Hart, Kylo-Patrick R.  “Representing Gay Men on American Television.”.
Raymond, Diane.  “Popular Culture and Queer Representation: A Critical Perspective.”
Hubert, Susan J.  “What’s Wrong With This Picture: The Politics of Ellen’s Coming Out Party.”
Fejes, Fred.  “Advertising and the Political Economy of Lesbian/Gay Identity.”