Communication and Culture | Media Genres (Documentary on Television: From Victory at Sea to The Jersey Shore)
C392 | 31025 | Vogan, T

CMCL-C 392: Media Genres
(Topic: Documentary on Television: From Victory at Sea to The Jersey
Class Number: 31025

MW, 5:45 PM-7:00 PM, C2 100

Fulfills College A&H Requirement

Instructor: Travis Vogan

Though not typically the most popular or profitable genre,
documentary has been a staple on television since the medium’s
inception. The form is often distinguished from other programming by
appealing to its presumed informative, historical, civic, and
political functions.  Documentaries, unlike variety shows, sitcoms,
and sports broadcasts, are not considered merely to entertain, but
to enrich and enlighten.  The form is often treated as a glimmer of
culture within the “lowbrow” medium that FCC Chairperson Newton
Minow famously derided as a “vast wasteland” in his 1961 speech to
the National Association of Broadcasters.  At the same time, this
presumably refined and sober genre established several of the
aesthetic and thematic practices that mark contemporary Reality TV,
a genre that is often considered to be rather smutty and unrefined.

This course will trace the relationship between television and
documentary from the medium’s beginning until the present day. In
addition to examining a vast array of productions that will include
Victory at Sea, CBS’ 20th Century, ABC’s Wide World of Sports,
several Jacques Cousteau productions, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild
Kingdom, Ken Burns’ Jazz and The Civil War, and ESPN’s 30 For 30
series, we will consider the cultural, epistemological, political,
and industrial functions documentaries serve on television and
investigate how those functions shift over time and in different
institutional and industrial contexts.  We will investigate, for
example, how particular television outlets, such as CBS, HBO, ESPN,
PBS, and MTV, have used documentaries to manufacture their
institutional images, distinguish themselves from their competition,
and reach out to particular audiences.  We will also examine the
similarities between documentary’s formal dynamics and those that
mark contemporary Reality TV and question how these similarities
might affect the television documentary’s cultural value,
reliability, and political potency.  Reality TV programs we will
consider include The Real World, Cops, Cheaters, Hard Knocks,
Hoarders, and The Jersey Shore.

Students will be evaluated based on a midterm exam, final exam,
quizzes, two short theme papers, and a final research project.