Comm 121 Introduction To Media And Culture

COURSE DESCRIPTION: This course is designed to be an introduction into the workings of the Western media: their goals and values, their organization, and, most importantly, their effects on the way we “construct reality.” The course proposes that the mass-media (including print, broadcast, the Internet, and cinema) are a tremendously powerful influence on the manner in which people perceive the world around them, interpret its meaning, come up with plans for action, relate to each other, and construct their own identities. The course will consider several theoretical approaches to the study of media influence, but will also be grounded in “real-life” examples and case-studies.

• Required text: David Croteau and William Hoynes, Media Society: Industries, Images, and
Audiences. The textbook is available at the “Food for Thought Bookstore” in downtown Amherst (106 North Pleasant Street, 413-253-5432). There will also be a copy on reserve in the library.
• On occasion, you will be asked to read handouts distributed by the instructor, as well as various materials on the Internet.

• Attendance: Given that this is a communication class, everyone’s contribution to group discussions and analyses is crucial. You will be permitted TWO unexcused absences without penalty. Emergencies will, of course, receive due consideration.
• Deadlines: Please keep all deadlines. One way we communicate in this class is through your assignments and my feedback. Failure to keep a deadline = failure to communicate = lower chances of getting a good grade.
• Participation: The class is designed in such a way as to give each student the opportunity to contribute to class discussion. Participation is expected of everyone on a regular basis. This course will emphasize class discussion over lecturing (which means that you must come to class ready to discuss the readings).
• Academic honesty: Your student handbook has formal statements on plagiarism. Please familiarize yourselves with them.

CONSULTATION: I respond to my e-mail daily. I am available for consultation after class for as long as necessary. Please do not hesitate to ask for my help with any kind of matters. At some point in the semester, I will conduct an anonymous survey with regards to possible improvements to the course.

ASSIGNMENTS: To be determined during the first class session.

• Please bring to class any questions or observations you might have about your interactions with the media, or the day’s news.
• The material discussed in class will be adapted to whatever outside event manages to catch our collective attention (e.g., elections, something in the news, some movie that has just come out).

This course is divided into six parts (plus one week of Introduction at the beginning of the semester):

This section traces the historical development of the American media system, from the age of newspapers to the age of blogs. We will analyze the way modern communication systems have been shaped by - and, in turn, themselves have shaped - the larger cultural, political, and ideological processes in the American society. The print media, the radio, the cinema, the television, the Internet, and the phenomenon of advertising will each receive a significant amount of attention.

In a sense, this section is the “heart” of the course, as it directly addresses the issue which this course is mainly concerned with: the manner in which the institution of mass-media provides us with (ideological) clues and guidelines in terms of the choices that are available to us in a society, the values that we cherish, and the attitudes that we adopt. We do not argue here that television viewers, for example, are helpless lemmings waiting for the “people inside the box” to tell them what to buy and what to think of world affairs. Instead, we argue that the media influence our lives in a much more subtle way, by creating and reinforcing society’s rules of “normality.” A commercial for blue jeans, for example, does not determine us to go out and buy that particular brand of jeans as much as shape our expectations for what people should wear by way of “normality” (e.g., “cool” young men should wear jeans and not skirts). Several theoretical approaches to media effects will be examined in this section.

This section shifts the focus from the media systems themselves to the receiver of the media message. How do people “read” media messages, and what do they do with them? We will be looking at theories of media consumption, as well as the media’s role in the political system/ideology we call “democracy.”

In this section, we return our gaze to the manner in which the media work. Some of the material covered here could constitute a “Journalism 101” crash course, while other parts will examine issues of media regulation, media ethics, the business of media (media ownership), and newsroom dynamics.

This section aims to make you aware of the way in which the American media is shaping and is, in turn, shaped by international media systems, and, on a larger scale, by international economic and political processes. Special attention will be given to alternative media (i.e., media which function along different ideological lines than the mainstream American media establishment), both inside the United States and throughout the world.

No 21st century discussion of mass-media would be complete without an in-depth look at how the electronic media (e.g., cable, the Internet, cell phones, computer games) have modified the way we think about and consume such things as news and entertainment.