Saturday, January 24, 2015

Renewal Recipes & Danger Zones

This week's prompt asks us to think about renewal, and something that we intend to implement this semester. For me, the biggest change is that I'm going to start teaching some episodes of television as source text for critical analysis. 

As Archer would say: So, it's come to this.

(Actually, in the spirit of Archer, I've just always really liked that line.) 

It's funny, because I've been teaching composition and critical analysis for fifteen years now, and I don't think that I have taught an episode of television more than a handful of times. What's funny about this is that I have actually published more academic scholarship on television than on any other medium. Why haven't I been teaching it? Is my need for approval and ingrained impostor syndrome really that deep?

So, I'm finally getting brave. I have two sections of English 116 this section, for the first time in a few years. I usually teach a few films, and then some written texts--a mix of poetry and narrative. This semester, in keeping with the 50-minute sessions, I'm going to open with some television episodes, and then move on to Kurt Vonnegut short stories. 

I love television as a text. It's accessible, familiar and easy to talk about for students. It's also complex, driven by writers, frequently subversive of censors and cultural norms, and immediately reactive to and participating in narrating the events of the day. It's temporally specific and universal at once. Students have deeply formed opinions and emotions about it, which makes it a great road into the lessons of "get over yourself" that are such a part of critical analysis. 

We will watch an episode on Monday, talk about it on Wednesday, and write about it on Friday. I will step-ladder the analysis from basic evaluation of success, to structure, to layers of meaning, to interpretive message, and finally to critical evaluation of message. This should take about a month, or roughly five episodes.

So, that's my plan to keep it interesting, for me and for students. I'm swapping out film for TV, and will keep you all posted on how that analysis develops. I'm also collecting potential episodes, so I'll leave a list of episodes currently in contention, and if you have any suggestions, please share. If you have any thoughts about TV in the classroom, I'm very happy to hear them. I'm screening lots of things and narrowing it down still. I love this feeling--like new things are going to happen. It makes me excited about starting again, and from what the students have suggested, they are looking forward to it also.

Current contenders:
  • Archer, "Diversity Hire" (satire of both structural inequity and bureaucratic amelioration efforts)
  • Dollhouse, "Man on the Street" (urban legends in journalism, and ethical issues galore)
  • South Park, "Cherokee Hair Tampons" (satire of eco-marketing, cultural appropriation, and the ironies of tribal/U.S. relations)
  • Firefly, "Jaynestown" (examines the gap between myth and reality, and asks which matters more, and for what audiences)
  • The Newsroom, "The Greater Fool" (what are the obligations of news media? How does one measure individual conscience against economic and social duty?)
  • Scrubs, "My Own Personal Jesus" (faith/science in a hospital, personal crisis of faith, the perception of the miraculous)
  • Parks and Recreation, "Sister City" (satire of condescending diplomatic delegations, awkward international PR stunts, and ideological enmity)
  • Bones, "The Pain in the Heart" (argues that logic without morality leads to evil actions; raises ethical questions about justice, collusion, and legal culpability)