Clause 61: The Pushback Blog

Because ideas have consequences

Imagining American Studies

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I went out looking to see what college students are studying. I chose the University of Texas, whose students are sufficiently educated to walk around in public carrying dildos; besides, as a Texas taxpayer, I have some skin in the game here. I visited the American Studies course offerings, where I found courses on American history, and also courses like these:

AMS 311S • America’s Reality TV

30545 • Kantor, Julie
Meets MWF 2:00PM-3:00PM BUR 436A

Reality Television is the most ubiquitous and popular programming on American Television, garnering 50 percent of prime time viewers in 2013. Though most Americans claim hatred of reality shows, the influence of the programming and its reflection of American culture is undeniable; the shows’ mediated narratives reverberate with American’s desires, fears, and showcase our discourses and discursive production. Through the study of reality television, we can understand ideals and forms of American citizenship, race, gender, sexuality and class. This class will use a variety of disciplines, including American studies, media studies, anthropology, sociology, psychoanalysis, and theoretical lenses, such as affect, performance, and Foulcauldian genealogy to unpack the narratives produced by and around these shows. The class will look at a variety of reality programs, including makeover, identity-based (i.e. The Real Housewives, Shahs of Sunset), competition, and therapeutic shows (Hoarders, Intervention, Couples Therapy) to ask questions about American social life and culture. This class will also explore realms of culture and life where we can follow the bleed over of reality television; that these reality stars’ real lives are continually followed on and off the shows speaks to cultural obsessions and fixations that are a part of the reality of American lives.

This is porn. Students can watch reality TV and then come to class and signal their virtues by unpacking the narratives with the appropriate attitude of Foulcaudian disdain.

AMS 311S • Imagining Public Education

30565 • Pinkston, Caroline
Meets MWF 1:00PM-2:00PM BUR 436A

The last sixty years have been a remarkable and tumultuous period for American public education. From the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision to desegregate schools to the more recent controversies over charter schools and high-stakes testing, public education has spent much of the last half-century right in the middle of national debates about equality, justice, and democracy. A recurring narrative in these debates is that our public schools are failing, and that fixing them is crucial to solving other longstanding issues of poverty and racial injustice.

Where does this narrative come from?  What stories and images contribute to the way we understand the importance of public schooling and its apparent failures? What’s at stake when we imagine a “failing” public school – or, for that matter, a successful one?

This course will examine contesting representations of public school in American culture from the 1960’s to the present day.  This will not be a course in the history American education. Our main purpose, instead, will be to investigate cultural perceptions of the state of public education, in pop culture, in the news, and beyond. What’s the relationship between the stories we tell about public education, the policy that determines what happens in schools, and broader cultural anxieties about race, childhood, and social justice? We will consider sources including film and television, policy briefs & journalism, nonfiction texts & memoir, children’s literature & school curriculum.

Well, then a course in the history of American education is a necessary prerequisite, to provide some context for evaluating the various cultural perceptions rather than simply cataloging them and engaging in bull sessions about them.

AMS 321 • Bad Lang: Race, Class, Gender

30640 • Garza, Thomas
Meets MW 11:30AM-1:00PM CLA 0.126
(also listed as C L 323, LIN 350, MAS 374, REE 325, WGS 340)

Maledicta: (Latin. n., pl. maledictum, sg.), curse words, insults; profane language of all kinds.

When is a word “bad”? Why can one person use a “bad” word with impunity, and another cannot? What marks such usage as acceptable or not?  How do race, socioeconomic class, and gender play into the use of “bad” language in the US? This course undertakes the examination of modern usage of language that has been designated as “bad” through social convention. Usage of forms of obscenities and profanity in popular usage will be examined in an attempt to come to an understanding of how the products of US popular culture portray maledicta in situational contexts. Through an examination of various texts culled from print, film, and music, participants will study the context and use of “bad” language and attempt to determine the underlying principles that dictate its affect and determine its impact on the audience. Though the majority of texts and usage will be taken from English-language sources, several non-English examples of maledicta from Mexican Spanish and Russian will also be examined for contrast and comparison.

NB: This course examines texts that contain usage of obscenities, profanity, and offensive language. Students who do not wish to be exposed to such language in use should not sign up for this course.

From this you make a living?

If American Studies is meant to encompass contemporary as well as historical subject matter, I fail to see how it can be complete without understanding the area that is central to most Americans’ lives: working. In this light, I have some courses I would like to see offered that may deepen the students’ practical understanding of contemporary America:

AMS 330 • Crap Jobs

Students will work in retail and experience a rotating shift schedule, and will be expected to move their other commitments around to meet the demands of their assigned shifts. Students will interact with the public, reporting to sets of assistant managers with a variety of skill levels in management and personal interaction. The student must be employed at the job at the end of the term to receive a passing grade.

AMS 340 • The Job Site

Summer only

Students will work directly with skilled tradespeople in an open-air job site under the hot Texas sun. Students will experience the culture of the job site, where they will be outnumbered by people who do this for a living, and learn how the tradespeople transmit, uphold and enforce their cultural and behavioral norms on newcomers.The student must be employed at the job at the end of the term to receive a passing grade, and the workers will be aware of this.

Courses such as this might cause college students to learn a new meaning of the word privileged: being in college, you are privileged to have options other than these to look forward to for the rest of your life.

 

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Written by srojak

August 28, 2016 at 11:50 am

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