Communication and Culture | Topics in Performance and Culture
C414 | 0154 | Courtney Bailey

Although we often proclaim that “appearances don’t matter” and remind
ourselves “not to judge a book by its cover,” questions about bodily
appearance continue to vex us:  Do women have to be thin to be
beautiful?  Are men increasingly expected to live up to ideals of male
beauty?  Can you tell whether someone is gay just by looking at them?
Is wearing the veil a sign of Muslim women’s oppression?  Is cosmetic
surgery a way of gaining self-esteem or a dangerous, unnecessary
practice?  We are surrounded by a myriad of images in our everyday
lives, which often put different kinds of bodies on display.
Sometimes we are encouraged to emulate, admire, or envy the bodies
that we see, while at other times, we are encouraged to pity,
disparage, or despise them.  The attitudes propagated by visual
culture affect our attitudes towards other people, as well as how we
feel about our own bodies.

This course asks us to interrogate the relationships among visual
imagery, bodies, social identities, and power.  We will investigate
theories about how different bodies are visually represented, as well
as various sites in contemporary U.S. visual culture that prominently
feature bodies (including TV shows, movies, advertising, the news
media, and cyberspace).  The goal is to take appearances seriously as
a place where cultural meanings, identities, and practices are
produced, while also asking how particular appearances contribute to
dominance, resistance, and social change.

We will explore a variety of visual media and texts, such as Queer Eye
for the Straight Guy, Go Fish, diet advertisements, National
Geographic, TIME magazine, The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and
CSI.  Students will have a chance to develop a detailed proposal for a
traditional research paper, website, photo essay, short film, etc.
that engages the concepts and material from the course.