Communication And Culture | Methods of Media Research
C506 | 1127 | Anderson

Professor  Christopher Anderson  (

Today one scarcely can read a newspaper or magazine, or watch the news
on television, without seeing a report about the media's corrosive influence
on modern life. The press in the age of William Jefferson Clinton has eroded
civic life and deformed the political process. TV's tabloid talk shows,
fetid swamps of human desire, degrade anyone who gazes upon them. Music
videos exploit and disparage women.  Movie blockbusters pander to a
generation of post-literate teenagers schooled in point-and-shoot,
post-Nintendo aesthetics.  Fashion advertising finds glamour in barely
disguised images of child pornography or junkie chic. The Internet is a
cesspool of lust and sedition where any clever child can download hard-core
porn (the Starr report, for instance) along with the instructions for
building a pipe bomb. And television, the demon tube, spews forth wave upon
wave of violence that engulfs our children and renders ours the most violent
society in the industrialized world.

Under these conditions, why would anyone go to graduate school to practice
media criticism? Only Rupert Murdoch and the shareholders at Time-Warner
seem capable of mustering sufficient enthusiasm to defend the media. For
anyone whose income is not dependent on last night's Nielsen ratings, the
media provoke a skepticism worthy of the Frankfurt school. As the products
of the media industries infect our cultural environment, anxiety about the
media becomes the air we breathe. We inhabit a culture suffused by an almost
commonplace "mediaphobia" -- a fear that society is being inexorably
poisoned by the very forms of news and entertainment to which we willingly
devote vast portions of our daily lives. Public mistrust is so pervasive
that academic criticism seems altogether superfluous.

This course will question both the social role of the media and of critical
media studies in an age of popular skepticism. The course will introduce
students to methods of cultural analysis that are applied to the study of
the media -- including methods of textual and discourse analysis,
institutional analysis, audience research, and historiography.  Our goal
will be to examine the procedures for moving from theoretical inquiry to
applied research.  We will attempt to identify key problems in media
studies, to formulate research questions and locate useful sites of
analysis, to organize and conduct research, and to construct a convincing
argument in one's writing.  Above all, we will attempt to identify the
social position, the politics, and the professional practices of the
academic media critic at the dawn of the century.