Communication and popular culture  
Special topics in communication theory Comm 5110-002
Prof. Gil Rodman Tu Th 9:45-11:00a
253 Ford / 612.626.7721 305 Lind Fall 2005

Course description and objectives

This is a course on communication and popular culture, but it is not designed to be just a four-month long celebration of comic books, hip hop, the Internet, and the like. Instead, our primary focus will be on the politics of popular culture and we will spend our time exploring several different critical and analytical perspectives on the subject. In particular, we will address such questions as:

Bear in mind that few (if any) of the questions we’ll address this semester have easy answers. How well you do in this class will depend on your ability to think critically about the role of popular culture in contemporary society and your to argue your position(s) well, not your ability to memorize and repeat the “right” answers.


The following required books are available at the University Bookstore in Coffman Union.

There are also several articles available as PDF and HTML files on the course’s WebCT site.

Graduate students

If you are a graduate student, a slightly different set of course rules applies to you. In particular:


Your final course grade will be based on two factors: attendance/participation (20%) and a major research project (80%). Grade point totals will translate to letter grades as follows:

A   93-100 B   83-86 C   73-76 D+    67-69 F   0-59
A-   90-92 B-   80-82 C-   70-72 D   63-66 N   0-59
B+   87-89 C+   77-79 S   70-100 D   60-62 I   n/a


I will take attendance every time we meet. Unexcused absences, late arrivals, and early departures will all affect your grade. In general, the only absences that will count as “excused” are those resulting from:

Our class meetings will be structured around discussions rather than lectures. As such, this is not a course that will reward passive spectators, and you will be expected to make significant contributions to our discussions -- both in class and online -- on a regular basis. Ideally, you should aim to:

Meeting all the goals above will earn you an A for attendance/participation. Should you fall short in one of these areas, you can make up for it with extra work in one of the others . . . but bear in mind that:

Research project

Your major assignment for this course is a research project that culminates in a 5000+ word paper. This paper must be on a topic appropriate to the course’s central theme and it should make a persuasive, well-supported argument about your topic. Your final paper is due by 9:45 am on 15 Dec. There are several mandatory intermediate deadlines (29 Sep, 13 Oct, 27 Oct, 10 Nov) that will help you complete this project in a timely and satisfactory fashion.

This assignment is explicitly designed so that it can be used to satisfy the Senior Paper requirement for Communication Studies majors. If you intend to use this project for this purpose, you will need to:


We will use WebCT for several things this semester:

WebCT is accessible from the My U Portal via the “my Toolkit” tab. To use WebCT, your browser must have both Java and cookies enabled, and it must allow pop-up windows. Recent versions of Firefox, Netscape, and Internet Explorer (but, sadly, not Opera) should all work.

Academic integrity

I assume that the vast majority of students are honest, but to help us avoid potentially disastrous misunderstandings, the following is a partial list of major examples of academic dishonesty:

The minimum penalty for academic dishonesty is a zero for the assignment in question . . . and, of course, in cases that involve your final research paper, such a penalty will result in a final course grade of F.

Further information about the University’s official policies with respect to academic dishonesty -- including more detailed explanations of what constitutes “plagiarism” and “cheating” -- can be found online at



Reading/assignment schedule

Gray-shaded dates denote Graduate Seminar Days, which are optional attendance days for undergraduates, but the readings listed in the lefthand column are still required.

date required reading (all)
due dates (undergraduate)
required reading (graduate)
due dates (graduate)
6 Sep
  • no readings
  • no readings
8 Sep
  • Williams, “Defining a Democratic Culture”
  • Anderson, “Reflections on Magnum, P.I.
  • Grossberg, “Cultural Studies: What’s in a Name (One More Time)”
  • Hall, “Notes on Deconstructing ‘The Popular’”
  • Ross, “No Respect: An Introduction”
13 Sep
  • Understanding Comics [pp. 1-137]
  • Grossberg, “Teaching the Popular”
  • Frith, “The Good, the Bad, and the Indifferent: Defending Popular Culture From the Populists”
15 Sep
  • Understanding Comics [pp. 138-215]
  • Popular Culture and High Culture [pp. vii-26]
  • Adorno, “On Popular Music”
  • Gendron, “Theodor Adorno Meets the Cadillacs”
20 Sep
  • Popular Culture and High Culture [pp. 27-160]
  • Rodman, “Elvis Culture”
  • Kipnis, “Disgust and Desire: Hustler Magazine”
22 Sep
  • Popular Culture and High Culture [pp. 161-210]
  • Sammond, “A Brief and Unnecessary Defense of Professional Wrestling”
  • Mazer, “‘Real’ Wrestling / ‘Real’ Life”
27 Sep
  • Decoding Advertisements [pp. 6-70]
  • Monaco, “The Language of Film: Signs and Syntax”
  • McClary & Walser, “Start Making Sense!: Musicology Wrestles With Rock”
29 Sep
  • paper topic
  • 5-item bibliography
  • Decoding Advertisements [pp. 71-137]
  • paper topic
  • Barthes, “Myth Today”
  • Rodman, “Elvis Myths”
4 Oct
  • Decoding Advertisements [pp. 138-179]
  • Nobrow [pp. 3-63]
  • Fiske, “British Cultural Studies and Television”
  • Morris, “Banality in Cultural Studies”
6 Oct
  • Nobrow [pp. 64-130]
  • Radway, “Mail-Order Culture and Its Critics: The Book-of-the-Month Club, Commodification and Consumption, and the Problem of Cultural Authority”
  • Morris, “Things to Do With Shopping Centers”
11 Oct
  • Nobrow [pp. 131-221]
  • Makagon, “The Lure of Flickering Images”
  • Hamilton, “Alternative Media: Conceptual Difficulties, Critical Possibilities”
13 Oct
  • thesis paragraph
  • Team Rodent [all]
  • McChesney, “U.S. Media at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century”
  • Hebdige, “Dis-gnosis: Disney and the Retooling of Knowledge, Art, Culture, Life, Etc.”
18 Oct
  • In the Beginning Was the Command Line... [pp. 1-80]
  • Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”
  • Williams, “The Technology and the Society”
20 Oct
  • In the Beginning Was the Command Line... [pp. 81-150]
  • Johnson, Interface Culture [selections]
  • Auslander, “Tryin’ to Make It Real: Live Performance, Simulation, and the Discourse of Authenticity in Rock Culture”
25 Oct
  • Reinventing Comics [pp. 1-125]
  • Park, “The Kefauver Comic Book Hearings as Show Trial: Decency, Authority, and the Dominated Expert”
  • Berman, “The Internet, Community Definition, and the Social Meaning of Legal Jurisdiction”
27 Oct
  • annotated 10-item bibliography
  • Reinventing Comics [pp. 126-242]
  • Critical Perspectives on the Internet [pp. ix-48]
  • Rodman, “The Net Effect: The Public’s Fear and the Public Sphere”
  • Sterne, “Thinking the Internet: Cultural Studies Versus the Millennium”
1 Nov
  • Critical Perspectives on the Internet [pp. 49-128]
  • Marvin, “Dazzling the Multitude: Original Media Spectacles”
  • Spigel, “Media Homes: Then and Now”
3 Nov
  • Critical Perspectives on the Internet [pp. 129-202]
  • Tetzlaff, “Yo-Ho-Ho and a Server of Warez: Internet Software Piracy and the New Global Information Economy”
  • Lessig, “Balances”
8 Nov
  • Owning Culture [pp. ix-108]
  • Gladwell, “Something Borrowed”
  • Gaines, “Superman and the Protective Strength of the Trademark”
  • Keil, “On Civilization, Cultural Studies, and Copyright”
10 Nov
  • rough draft
  • Owning Culture [pp. 109-156]
  • Condry, “Cultures of Music Piracy: An Ethnographic Comparison of the US and Japan”
  • Nel, “The Disneyfication of Dr. Seuss: Faithful to Profit, One Hundred Percent?”
15 Nov
  • Owning Culture [pp. 157-264]
  • Wang, “Recontextualizing Copyright: Piracy, Hollywood, the State, and Globalization”
  • Pang, “Copying Kill Bill
17 Nov
  • The Audience in Everyday Life [pp. 1-50]
  • Hall, “Encoding/Decoding”
  • Hall, “Reflections Upon the Encoding/Decoding Model”
  • Gurevitch & Scannell, “Canonization Achieved?: Stuart Hall’s ‘Encoding/Decoding’”
22 Nov
  • The Audience in Everyday Life [pp. 51-117]
  • Radway, “Reception Study: Ethnography and the Problems of Dispersed Audiences and Nomadic Subjects”
  • Grossberg, “Wandering Audiences, Nomadic Critics”
24 Nov
  • The Audience in Everyday Life [pp. 118-163]
  • Gray, “New Audiences, New Textualities: Anti-Fans and Non-Fans”
  • Jancovich, “Cult Fictions: Cult Movies, Subcultural Capital and the Production of Cultural Distinctions”
29 Nov
  • The Audience in Everyday Life [pp. 163-192]
  • Bratich, “Amassing the Multitude: Revisiting Early Audience Studies”
  • Gibson, “Beyond Cultural Populism: Notes Toward the Critical Ethnography of Media Audiences”
1 Dec
  • High Fidelity [pp. 1-75]
  • Seigworth, “Sound Affects”
  • Frith, “Towards an Aesthetic of Popular Music”
  • Frith, “Why Music Matters”
  • Feld, “Communication, Music, and Speech About Music”
6 Dec
  • High Fidelity [pp. 76-170]
  • Rodman & Vanderdonckt, “Music for Nothing or, I Want My MP3: The Regulation and Recirculation of Affect”
  • Bell, “Do You Believe in Fairies?: Peter Pan, Walt Disney, and Me”
8 Dec
  • High Fidelity [pp. 171-258]
  • Straw, “Sizing Up Record Collections: Gender and Connoisseurship in Music Culture”
  • Hill, “Why Isn’t Country Music ‘Youth’ Culture?”
  • Wald, “Just a Girl?: Rock Music, Feminism, and the Cultural Construction of Female Youth”
13 Dec
  • High Fidelity [pp. 259-323]
  • Neumann & Simpson, “Smuggled Sound: Bootleg Recording and the Pursuit of Popular Memory”
  • Jones, “Music That Moves: Popular Music, Distribution and Network Technologies”
  • Bull, “The World According to Sound: Investigating the World of Walkman Users”
15 Dec
  • final paper
  • final paper