Communication and Culture | Production as Criticism
C335 | 1162 | Robert Clift

Course Description

Mockumentaries—fictional films made to “look like” documentaries—first
became popularized as a distinct genre in reviews of Rob Reiner’s 1984
film This Is Spinal Tap, a fictionalized account of a rock band’s
concert tour. Since then, the genre has evolved to treat a range of
subjects—varying from straightforward hoaxes (The Blair Witch Project)
to social parodies (Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman) to sharp
criticisms of documentary film form and ethics (The Falls, Bob
Roberts)—and has led some film scholars to argue that it undermines
the already blurry line between fact and fiction.

In this class, we will investigate the mockumentary as a form of
social criticism uniquely positioned by its form and content to
challenge dominant cultural discourses (constructed systems of
knowledge that determine truth). To this end, we will look at how the
appropriation of conventional cinematic and non-cinematic codes of
communication can potentially disrupt notions of truth. Our central
question will be: does the mockumentary—in its attempt to fictionalize
non-fictional modes of communication—disrupt an audience’s ability to
accept conventional truth claims by rendering them suspect?

In order to respond to this question, we will read key texts on the
rhetoric of documentary film, including Bill Nichols’s Representing
Reality, Jane Roscoe’s Faking It: Mock-Documentary and the Subversion
of Factuality, and selections from an edited volume entitled
Documenting the Documentary. We will also consider literature outside
the immediate scope of film theory, including Erving Goffman’s
dramatistic paradigm of human performance (aren’t we always “acting?”
), Oscar Wilde’s “The Critic as Artist,” and George Meredith’s
analysis of humor as a mode of criticism.

And remember, this class intends to combine theory and production,
with equal weight to each—not some of one, more of the other.
Therefore, you must consistently think of how the theory and the
production portions of the class interact and shape each other. Though
the mockumentary genre naturally lends itself to such a consideration
(“mocking” implies a certain level of intentionality), you will be
expected to be able to articulate that relationship when reflecting on
your video work.