Fall 2001                                                                                                                      T/Th 12:35-1:50 pm

San Francisco State University                                                                                                           3 Units


Instructor: Nerissa S. Balce

Office:  HUM 427

Voicemail:  (415) 338-3155

Office hours: Tuesday and Thursday, 2:00-3:00 pm and by appointment

E-mail: balce2001@hotmail.com


The Course:

How does popular culture shape our common sense notions regarding women, men, sexuality, and citizenship? Why are forms of popular culture loved, feared, revered and reviled? What are the images that we see in popular culture and how do we read them? Who creates and disseminates these images? Who benefits from them? These questions will serve as the basis for our conversations regarding the forms and function of popular culture. A central idea we will explore in our class is the notion that knowledge is political. We will begin with the debatable assumption that images are not neutral: our ideas about men and women, ethnic groups, sexualities, and civil society are formed by cultural texts. For our class, the cultural texts to be discussed are:

·         Hollywood movies

·         television

·         advertising and fashion magazines

·         disco and club cultures

·         icons


By examining an image and the meanings behind images, we will view these forms of popular culture as political texts that influence and/or inform our opinions and choices.


In our class, we will view popular culture as a "pedagogical tool" by examining how popular culture socializes and disciplines us even as it entertains us. As the feminist critic bell hooks reminds us, movies are more than images: "Movies not only provide a narrative for specific discourses of race, sex and class, they provide a shared experience, a common starting point from which diverse audiences can dialogue about these charged issues." Our class will be a space for critical engagement and dialogue regarding how forms of popular culture work and how we can become critical consumers of culture.


Texts: Course Reader is available at Copy Edge, 1508 Ocean at Miramar (415) 587-5345.



1. Class Participation - Bring the assigned readings to each class sessions and be ready to discuss the following: key arguments; theoretical concept or term presented by the author; your critique. Some of the readings are demanding and require patience, attentiveness and repeated reading (20%)

2. Attendance - You are allowed three absences. An excess of three absences lowers your grade by one letter grade. (20%)

3. Mid-term quiz - The quiz will cover the critical concepts from the assigned readings from weeks 1 to 7. The format of the quiz will be a definition of terms and a brief analysis of visual texts. (10%)

4. In-class Group Presentation (10%)

5. Popular Culture Interview and Analysis Paper (20%)

6. Final Exam (20%)


In-class Group Presentation

Students will be required to give an in-class presentation of approximately 15-20 minutes on one of the assigned readings. Besides presenting the key points of the said reading, students are expected to use the article to analyze a popular cultural form. Choices include but are not limited to: music videos, science fiction novels, comic books, reality tv, newspaper articles, cop dramas, tabloids, contemporary song lyrics, visual and print advertising, talk shows, ethnic variety shows and pop culture icons.


Popular Culture Interview and Analysis (double-spaced, Times 12 pt. font, 1 inch margins)

For this paper, I would like you to interview an older member of your family (or a friend of the family). Find out her or his favorite song, movie, dance, band, television show or celebrity from the period 1965 to 2000. Discover why this text or cultural form meant so much to her or him in the context of personal life. Then research the creation of that popular artifact, who created it, how popular it was, why it gained popularity. In this context, what do you think is the meaning--or multiple meanings--of this artifact? Place your interview in this context. How does your relative's experience illuminate the meaning of this popular artifact, and how does the cultural/historical context illuminate the artifact's meaning for your relative? Our readings and class discussions will prepare you to do this assignment. Pay close attention to the methods of analysis of the authors you read.


Write up your findings in an essay of not more than eight typed pages due Nov. 20, Thursday at the beginning of class. Please come to me with any questions. The grade for this essay will be calculated by adding together the percentage points earned from the following: paper proposal (5%), bibliography and detailed outline (5%), final draft (10%). (20%)








Week 1 Aug 30 Th        Reading Gender and Popular Culture

Text for discussion: scenes from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000)


Week 2 Sept 4 T            Representation, Icon and Index

Texts: Stuart Hall, “Representation, meaning and language;” bell hooks, “Mock Feminism, Waiting to Exhale;” scenes from Waiting to Exhale (Forest Whitaker, 1995)


Sept 6 Th                      Sign, Signifier, Signified

Texts: Stuart Hall, “Saussure’s legacy;” Gina Marchetti, “White Knights in Hong Kong: Love is a Many-Splendored Thing and The World of Suzie Wong;” screening of Picturing Oriental Girls: A (Re)educational Videotape (Valerie Soe, 1992)


Week 3 Sept 11 T             Denotation, Connotation, Myth

Texts: Stuart Hall, “From language to culture: linguistics to semiotics;” Ana M. López, “Are All Latins from Manhattan? Hollywood, Ethnography, and Cultural Colonialism;” scenes from Carmen Miranda: Bananas is My Business” (Helena Solberg, 1996)


Sept 13 Th                    Discourse, Hegemony and Regime of truth

Texts: Stuart Hall, “Discourse, power and the subject;” Vine Deloria, Jr. “Indians Today, The Real and Unreal;” scenes from Smoke Signals (Chris Eyre, 1998)



Week 4 Sept 18 T            Eurocentrism and the Quincentennial

Robert Stam, “Eurocentrism, Polycentrism, and Multicultural Pedagogy: Film and the Quincentennial;” scenes from Columbus and the Age of Discovery


Sept 20 Th                    Reading Rodney King

Kimberlé Crenshaw and Gary Peller, “Reel Time/Real Justice;” Sumi K. Cho, “Korean Americans vs. African Americans: Conflict and Construction;” scenes from Sa-I-Gu


Week 5 Sept 25 T          Gaze and the O.J Simpson Case

Text: Ann duCille: “The Unbearable Darkness of Being: ‘Fresh’ Thoughts on Race, Sex and the Simpsons;” Crystal H. Weston, “Orenthal James Simpson and Gender, Class, and Race: In That Order”           

Sept 27 Th                    News shows and tabloid television

John Fiske, “Popularity and the Politics of Information;” Nancy Franklin, “Fright Nights: Prime time becomes slime time”                       


Week 6 Oct 2 T          Queer Sci-Fi

Henry Jenkins, “Out of the Closet and into the Universe”: Queers and Star Trek


Oct 4 Th                       Food and Our Bodies

                                    Susan Bordo, “Hunger as Ideology”                                                     



Week 7 Oct 9 T            Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto”; scenes from Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982);

Guest lecturer: Mia Ople Ong, PhD. Candidate, UC Berkeley (Feminist studies of science scholar)


Oct 11 Th                     Blackness and Hair Style

Kobena Mercer, “Black Hair/Style Politics”

Guest lecturer: Caroline A. Streeter, PhD. (Postdoctoral fellow, Center for Cultural Studies at UC Santa Cruz)


Week 8 Oct 16 T          Race and fashion

                                    Dorinne Kondo, “Orientalizing: Fashioning ‘Japan’”


Oct 18 Th                     Reading Advertising and Heteronormativity

Raymond Williams, “Advertising: The Magic System”; Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner, “Sex in Public”


Week 9 Oct 23 T          The Politics of Shopping

                                    Meaghan Morris, “Things to do with Shopping Centres”


Oct 25 Th                     The Politics of “Oriental” Groceries

Rick Bonus, “Marking and Marketing Identities in Filipino ‘Oriental’ Stores



Week 10 Oct 30 T            Richard Dyer, “In Defense of Disco;” scenes from Summer of Sam (Spike Lee, 1999)


Nov 1 Th                      Walter Hughes, “In the Empire of the Beat: Discipline and Disco”


Week 11 Nov 6 T          Sarah Thornton, “The Distinctions of Cultures without Distinction”


Nov 8 Th                      Sunaina Maira, “Henna and Hip Hop: The Politics of Cultural Production and the Work of Cultural Studies”





Week 12 Nov 13 T            Marjorie Garber, “The Transvestite Continuum: Liberace-Valentino-Elvis;”


Nov 15 Th                    Martin Manalansan, “Speaking of AIDS: Language and the Filipino Gay Experience in America”


Week 13 Nov 20         Vivian Ng, “Race Matters”; listening to songs from Miss Saigon (1990)

Nov 22 Th                    THANKSGIVING HOLIDAY


Week 14 Nov 27 T            Ramona Liera-Schwichtenberg, “Crossing Over: Selena’s Tejano Music and the Discourse of the Borderlands;” scenes from Selena (Gregory Nava, 1997)


Nov 29 Th                    Rachael Miyung Joo, “(Trans)national Pastimes and Korean American Subjectivities: Reading Chan Ho Park”



Week 15 Dec 4 T             Screening of Pink Palace (Jessica Hagedorn and John Woo, 2000) and Sex, Love and Kung-Fu (Kip Fulbeck, 2000); N. Balce’s reading of Pink Palace and Sex, Love and Kung-Fu

Student presentations


Dec 6 Th                      Houston Baker, Jr., “Handling ‘Crisis’: Great Books, Rap Music and the End of Western Homogeneity (Reflections on the Humanities in America”

Student presentations


Week 16 Dec 11 T            Umberto Eco, “Travels in Hyperreality”

Student presentations


Dec 13 Th                    Eva Vieth, “The Future is Present: American Cultural Studies on the Net;” Student presentations;

                                    My Parting Shots