Communication and Culture | Media Criticism (Topic: Documentary and/or Television)
C606 | 28834 | Malitsky, J.


As the first book-length theoretical analysis of documentary film
and video, Bill Nichols’ 1991 book Representing Reality spurred
considerable interest in documentary as a field of critical
inquiry.  Expanding on a tradition of scholarship centered on the
historical, the concrete, and with a decidedly liberal political
bent, Nichols and other scholars such as Michael Renov and Brian
Winston redirected the focus of the field by addressing questions of
postmodernity.  They asked what happens to a practice that (most
often) aims to objectively represent the real during an era in which
the image has apparently lost its referent?  Moreover, they ask how
the emergence of the digital further troubles what Nichols’ has
described as documentary’s “double whammy”—the combination of its
indexical status as a cinematic sign and its existence in lived
reality.  At the same time, scholars have recognized an apparent
contradiction in the relationship between audience response to
representations of the real and theoretical assertions about the
decay of referentiality.  It seems likely that even as digital
images proliferate, representations of the real hold more power than
ever to shape attitudes, values, and beliefs.  The explosion of
documentary images and situations in film, television, on the
internet, in journals, in museums, in galleries, and on billboards,
requires a range of theoretical and methodological approaches
necessary to deal with diverse objects such as film, video,
photography, radio, digital arts, and even non-digital animation.

If documentary’s core values were thought to be troubled by
postmodern culture, television with its popularity, mass production,
eclecticism, cultural specificity, and interactivity has often been
seen as the quintessence of postmodernism.  This seminar has two
aims.  First, we will explore the genealogy and present state of the
interdisciplinary field of documentary studies.  Second, we will do
so with a particular emphasis on the historical role that
documentary has played on television as well as the theoretical
conjunctures between documentary and television. We will maintain a
dual focus on ontological questions (what documentary and television
are or what they are uniquely suited for) and questions of praxis.
Throughout the semester, we will test the theory against a variety
of documentary media texts, carefully interrogating the relationship
between screen theory and screen practice.