Politics 119: Politics and Popular Culture
Spring Semester 2009
Walton Hall Room 235
TuTh 9:40-11:10

Prof. Michael Marks
Office: Smullin 332
Office Tel. 503-370-6932
E-mail: mmarks@willamette.edu
Home Page: http://www.willamette.edu/~mmarks
Office Hours: MWF: 10:15-11:15, TTh: 11:15-12:15 

Course Description

This course examines the connections between politics and popular culture. It looks at how politics and culture have evolved over time, and how current popular culture reflects the practice of politics today. The course introduces students to theoretical writings on politics and culture, and also discusses methodologies for reading cultural texts for their political meanings. Students will debate the changing nature of the relationship between popular culture and politics, and will compare politics in a variety of countries. They will also be engaged in daily interpreting of a variety of popular cultural forms of expression, including advertisements, popular music, radio, and television.

This course also carries an Interpreting Texts mode of inquiry designation. Therefore, the course will ask students to examine a wide variety of texts. Modern politics are substantiated through a variety of means, including formal writing, journalistic reporting, critical analysis, political satire, "official" artistic representations, and counter-cultural artistic imagery. Students will be expected to read texts for the different ways that they capture political dialogue both within a single culture and in a cross-cultural context. Students will be allowed to bring to class cultural texts that reflect political culture, but they will also be asked to defend their identification of political aspects of these cultural texts.

Course Organization

This is a Freshman seminar course. Class will meet two times a week. Classroom format will consist of a combination of teacher-led lessons and student discussions.

Essay and Oral Presentation Assignments

1. One essay with assigned themes: Students will write one essay based on the reading assignments and classroom discussions. This essay is designed to allow students to analyze the course material and the theoretical approaches presented in the readings. No research is required for this take-home writing assignment.

2. One essay with a theme chosen by each student: Each student will be required to select one or more popular cultural texts which they will interpret on their own. In the essay, students will develop a thesis around their interpretation of these texts.

3. One in-class oral presentation: Each student will be responsible for choosing and interpreting a popular cultural text in the final weeks of the semester. The cultural text must be different from the one chosen for the second writing assignment. A sign-up sheet will be passed out at the beginning of the semester for this purpose.


Please note that the two essay assignments are due on Mondays, although class does not meet on those days. This will allow the instructor to return essays by the end of the week.

Incompletes will only be given under exceptional circumstances such as serious illness. You may appeal any of your grades during office hours only after you have handed in a typed, reasoned memorandum detailing the specific reasons why you think the grade you received is not justified.

Late writing assignments will be assessed a one-third grade penalty per day (e.g., a B+ paper handed in a day late receives a B, two days late a B-, etc.).

The final grade will be computed as follows: Each of the two essays, 40%; In-class oral presentation, 20%. In addition, the instructor reserves the right to raise final grades for superior classroom participation, and lower final grades for deficient classroom attendance.

About Class Participation

The large size of this class is not particularly suited to classroom discussion. However, people tend to learn better when they verbalize new material. Therefore, students should be prepared to discuss the readings the weeks they are assigned. Shyness will be respected, but silence will not be allowed. I also thus reserve the right to raise final grades for superior classroom participation, and lower final grades for unpreparedness, disruptiveness, and deficient classroom attendance.

Electronic Devices in the Classroom

Laptop computers can assist in note taking and wireless Internet access on campus can aid in organized classroom exercises. However, laptop computers can also be a classroom distraction. Laptop computers are permitted in class for note taking purposes. Additionally, there may be occasions when the class as a whole may want to use the campus wireless network to look things up online. However, please refrain from checking e-mail, online chatting, websurfing, game playing, etc. during class. If you are observed doing so during class time, you will asked to no longer bring your laptop to class. Additionally, cell phones should be turned off prior to class.


Students should purchase the following three books:

David A. SCHULTZ (ed.), It's Show Time! Media, Politics, and Popular Culture, (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2000).

Daniel M. SHEA (ed.), Mass Politics: The Politics of Popular Culture, (New York: Worth Publishers/St. Martin's Press, 1999).

John STREET, Politics and Popular Culture, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997).

The readings are noted as in the syllabus as "SCHULTZ," "SHEA," and "STREET," respectively.

Course Schedule and Weekly Reading Assignments

January 20–22: Course Introduction

No readings

January 27–29: Basic Concepts

STREET: Chapters 1–3
SHEA: Introduction (pages 1–14)

February 3–5: Politics and Popular Culture Locally and in the World

STREET: Chapters 4–6

February 10–12: Theories of Politics and Popular Culture

STREET: Chapters 7–10

February 17–19: The News Media, Politics, and Popular Culture

SCHULTZ: Chapters 1–4


February 24–26: How the News Media Depict Politics

SCHULTZ: Chapters 6–9

March 3–5: The Changing Nature of Media

SCHULTZ: Chapters 11–14

March 10–12: Gender Politics in Popular Culture

SHEA: Chapters 1–3

March 17–19: Race Relations and the Politics of Fun and Games

SHEA: Chapters 4–7

March 23–27: Spring Break

Spring Break

March 31–April 2: Entertainment and the Politics of Class

SCHULTZ: Chapter 5
SHEA: Chapters 8–10


April 7–9: Popular Culture and the Decline of Civil Society

SCHULTZ: Chapter 10
SHEA: Chapters 11–14

April 14–16: Student Oral Presentations

Student presentations

April 21–23: Student Oral Presentations

Student presentations

April 28
30: Student Oral Presentations

Student presentations

May 5: Student Oral Presentations

Student presentations