What is popular culture? This is a great sociological question on many levels. For instance, when we refer to popular culture, are we thinking about things like Justin Bieber, the Oakland Raiders and South Park? Or are we thinking more broadly about things like advertisements, consumerism, television, the internet and media technology? Even more broadly, should we consider entire media systems and how they operate, or are governed by, other major social institutions such as government, politics, education, religion and health care?
Although a comprehensive course on media systems and communication technology is beyond the scope of this class, it does seem entirely relevant to any sociological investigation into popular culture in American society today. As such, this course has been designed to introduce you to the media process, but also to media production and consumption, including a critical look at who controls the media and the current dynamic between private, multinational media conglomerates and non-profit, free speech, public media. Media messages are also examined from a social constructionist point of view, in that we endeavor to understand the exchange of attitudes, values and beliefs between these media systems and society itself. What do these media messages say about us as a society? How is society shaped by these messages?
In this class, we will answer these kinds of questions pertaining to popular culture from both a theoretical and pragmatic perspective. First, we will examine the theoretical basis of media and cultural studies from both a critical and constructionist perspective, taking a closer look at the production and consumption of culture, including the societal impacts of corporate media systems vs. public media outlets, reflecting on relevant ethical and social justice issues. Then, from a more pragmatic standpoint, we’ll examine how popular culture in the U.S., manifest in our daily lives through the media and other social institutions, actually reflects and perpetuates social inequity, including class, race, religious, regional, age and gender differences. We will actively search for these messages within our social institutions, focusing on popular culture to illustrate our analysis and engaging in observational activities designed to reflect responsible democratic citizenship in the U.S. As such, this course has been constructed to offer a critical perspective on mass media systems but also engages the student in the world of popular culture as a venue for understanding the role of media systems on society.
After completing this course, students will be able to:
- Define basic terms and concepts in sociology related to culture.
- Analyze and discuss important theoretical perspectives associated with media studies and critical theory.
- Discuss the significance of cultural production through the mass media.
- Understand and identify consumerism and capitalistic ideology in the mass media.
- Identify and discuss contemporary ideology surrounding crime and justice in the mass media.
- Identify and discuss contemporary ideology surrounding race in the mass media.
- Identify and discuss contemporary ideology surrounding gender and sexual orientation in the mass media.
IN 251 Learning Goals:
1. Analyze social structures within the U.S. through the use of contemporary media theory.
2. Use ethical reasoning to make a judgment about the current organizational, social and political structure of mass media systems in the United States.
3. Reflect on your responsibilities as a consumer of mass media and as a democratic citizen in the U.S.