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Essay question options for first year media students - Terri Senft

Terri Senft
Date: 2010-11-10 14:29
Subject: Essay question options for first year media students
Security: Public
So, it is November, which means that some of you teaching Media classes will be cooking up questions for students, and some of you will be trying to think up ideas for papers. I'm doing neither this semester (phew) but in the interest of knowledge-sharing, here are the class essay options for my first year Media Meanings students. Feel free to steal, riff, and otherwise work with this stuff. Let me know how it goes!







MEDIA MEANINGS

ASSESSMENT GUIDELINES


MS1402: Semester B, 2009-2010
Module Leader: Terri Senft
Coursework 2: ESSAY Length: 2500 words
Percent of Mark: 70%
Due: Friday 21 May, 2010, by 4PM


For this assessment, you are to write a 2500 word essay in which you respond to ONE of the options below. The essay should make an argument, demonstrate familiarity with class vocabulary appropriate to the option chosen, and explicitly draw on at least two class readings. All essays must be written in 12 pt. font, double-spaced, and page numbered.


OPTION ONE: APPLY THEORIES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY TO MUSIC


In class, we discussed the Marxist argument that whomever controls base (means of production) controls superstructure (the content of cultural objects and commodities.) We also talked about the Frankfurt School argument that culture industries ideologically “inoculate” consumers through homogeneity and predictability. Some of us felt resistance to this process was futile, while others pointed to ‘indie’ and underground movements in arts and media that have proved otherwise. Write an essay in which you discuss your views, drawing on evidence from the music industries. There are many ways one might go about doing this, but if you’d like a guideline, we’ve provided one below:

1. Look up the Top 20 Songs in the UK according to iTunes downloads at: http://www.doipod.com/itunes-chart/top-100-itunes-songs-uk.html

2. Look at the Top 20 Songs according to Last.FM at http://www.last.fm/charts/track
(Note: If you aren’t familiar with LastFM, you should read this: http://www.last.fm/help/faq )

These 40 songs will serve as your evidence to write this essay.

3. Your next step is to find out which company of the “Big Six” owns each of the top 20 songs on each chart. You start this process by looking under “copyright” on the Web site in question. If one of the Big 6 isn’t instantly listed as a copyright holder, do some Google searching to find the ultimate copyright holder for the song in question (e.g. Google “who owns Island Def Jam Music” and you’ll find out quickly that it is part of the Universal conglomerate.)

4. Now, listen at least once to every song listed in each Top 20, but try to do it in a specific way. First, divide the songs into recognizable commercial genres, such as ‘hip hop,’ ‘country,’ ‘pop,’ etc. This information is marked on the web site. Next, listen to all the songs in each genre, trying to note significant differences between each song marked ‘pop,’ each song marked ‘rap’ and so forth. Remember to use what you’ve learned in semiotics to note special signs enabling markets to converge (i.e. an ‘alternative’ song that seems to have ‘country’ elements, or sampling that shows crossover collaboration between artists.)

5. You are now ready to write your essay. Begin by explaining what Marx mean by “base” and “superstructure” and then provide us an overview of the “corporate family tree” you’ve just discovered in your analysis of the top twenty songs in the UK. Would you say your findings prove or disprove what Marx asserts? Are there exceptions to “Big 6” ownership you noted in your research? Do you think these exceptions are significant with regard to Marx’s argument?

6. Now, move to the Frankfurt School argument that all commercial products are homogeneous and predictable. Explain why the Frankfurt School felt homogeneity and predictability worked to control the masses. Based on your listening analysis, do you agree? What seems predictable about the songs in each genre? Do you hear any differences between songs in a given genre? If so, what are those differences? Do you feel those differences are significant enough to alter the Frankfurt School’s assessment of the culture industries?

7. Write a conclusion that summarizes your findings and you are done with this essay.



OPTION TWO: APPLY PSYCHOANALYTIC THEORY TO A FILM STILL



Here’s a scenario: You are a photographer working for a film director who, in her own words, “Likes to make movies about moods, rather than plot.” One of the ways this director gets inspiration is by asking photographers to shoot “imaginary stills” that she then reworks into scenes for her films. The director has given you the assignment to compose two stills. The first should demonstrate ‘the thrill of watching something or someone.” The second is “the creepy feeling you get when you know you are being watched.”

For this class assignment, we’d like to see an essay explaining your thought processes as you compose your photograph for this client. In class, we’ve spent time discussing the connotative, denotative, mythic, ideological, discursive, unconscious, race and gender-based nature of visual and textual language. Now it’s time to apply that theoretical learning. USING THE VOCABULARY OF THIS CLASS, explain the logic of your photo composition. Which lighting, point of view, camera angles, human subjects, props, set pieces did you consider, which did you reject, and which did you end up using? USING YOUR READING, talk about how these choices intersect with Freudian notions of the unconscious and/or scopophilia, Mulvey’s ideas regarding the gaze, and any other ideas from class that interest you. We need to see that you’ve read at least two texts deeply.

For our reference, we’d also like to see copies of your photo, just so we can use it to follow along with your essay. Please bear in mind that we are NOT testing your photography skills, here. A good-looking photo will not get a better mark than a poor looking one. What we are looking for is a sophisticated consideration of your composition decisions in light of the readings for this class.

Please note: Anyone who chooses this assessment option will be ‘on your own’ with regard to technical training (e.g. if you want to do a video piece but don’t know how to edit video, we will not be teaching those skills in this module.) Nor will you be able to access MPC production facilities unless you are enrolled on a production module. That said, if you have production skills from elsewhere (you don’t need many for these assignments, and we aren’t marking the production, just the essay) you are welcome to choose this assessment option.

Students in Cinematics and Media Production 2: This option has been designed to help you think more closely about the relationship between media theory and production. Although you are marked solely on your essay for this class, you may be able to use elements of your photography, sound design, poster composition, etc. in your production modules. Please speak to your tutors in those classes for more information on ‘dovetailing’ this assignment with one in your production classes.


OPTION THREE: APPLY DISCOURSE THEORY TO NON-NARRATIVE VIDEO

Here’s a scenario: You are an aspiring video editor working for a director who is interested in identity and the visual. He has asked you to make a super-short (1 minute) video montage entitled, “What it means to be ___________.” You fill in the blank. Possible ideas: “What it means to be a girl,” “What it means to be grime,” “What it means to be from Croydon,” etc.

For this class assignment, we’d like to see an essay explaining your thought processes as you compose your video. In class, we’ve spent time discussing the connotative, denotative, mythic, ideological, discursive, unconscious, race and gender-based nature of visual and textual language. Now it’s time to apply that theoretical learning. USING THE VOCABULARY OF THIS CLASS, explain the logic of your video editing process. Which images, words, video clips, voice over narration, music did you consider, which did you reject, and which did you end up using?

Now, USING YOUR READING, talk about how these choices intersect with Foucault’s ideas about discourse constructing the subject, or any other material from class that interests you. We need to see that you’ve read at least two texts deeply.

For our reference, we’d also like to see copies of your video, just so we can use it to follow along with your essay. Please bear in mind that we are NOT testing your video editing skills, here. A good-looking video will not get a better mark than a poor looking one. What we are looking for is a sophisticated consideration of your editing decisions in light of the readings for this class.

Please note: Anyone who chooses this assessment option will be ‘on your own’ with regard to technical training (e.g. if you want to do a video piece but don’t know how to edit video, we will not be teaching those skills in this module.) Nor will you be able to access MPC production facilities unless you are enrolled on a production module. That said, if you have production skills from elsewhere (you don’t need many for these assignments, and we aren’t marking the production, just the essay) you are welcome to choose this assessment option.

Students in Cinematics and Media Production 2: This option has been designed to help you think more closely about the relationship between media theory and production. Although you are marked solely on your essay for this class, you may be able to use elements of your photography, sound design, poster composition, etc. in your production modules. Please speak to your tutors in those classes for more information on ‘dovetailing’ this assignment with one in your production classes.


OPTION FOUR: APPLYING DISCOURSE ANALYSIS TO A TV “DEBATE” CLIP


According to Michel Foucault, discourse, knowledge and social power are linked. For this option, we’d like you to write an essay in which you perform a discourse analysis of a five-minute clip from a morning talk show GMTV filmed in 2007. The topic of the clip is the Labor administration’s original underestimation the number of jobs in the UK that that went to migrant workers over the last decade. In the clip, presenter John Stapleton speaks with guests Caroline Flint (then Labor’s Employment Minister) and Chris Grayling (then Tory Shadow Department for Work and Pensions Minister.) In this particular five-minute skirmish, who do you think wins the debate, and how? Please back up your observations with evidence taken from your log, and with quotations drawn from class reading materials on discourse.

There are multiple approaches to conducting a discourse analysis, but if you’d like help getting started, here are some recommendations below:

1. To write this essay, you need to watch this clip online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43FQFB5GWcI

2. The first step in writing this essay is to divide it into analyzable sections with a time counter notation for each section (i.e. the section where Stapleton presents the newspaper headlines at 0:05; the section where Flint begins discussing the figures at 0:49; the point where Grayling interrupts Flint at 1:39.) Note: there is no right or wrong way to log the clip; this is basically a way to gather evidence to support your claims later on in your essay.

3. When you are finished doing this, take a look at the clip again. Out of these three people, who seems to have the most on-camera time during this five-minute slot? Who seems to be controlling the flow of the conversation? Who speaks? Who listens? Who interrupts, and when? If you had to talk about the power dynamics on display here, how would you describe them? What evidence can you provide from your log to back up your analysis?

4. Next, watch the clip through again, taking note of how language functions throughout. Make note of how specific vocabularies are deployed in the debate being had, as in ‘foreign nationals,’ ‘UK nationals’ and so forth. How does the fight for control of these terms stand in for a larger battle between the Labor and Conservative parties?

5. In this particular fight-minute skirmish, who do you think wins the debate, and how? Were there any moments that felt decisive for you? Again, please back up your observations with evidence taken from your log, and with quotations drawn from class reading materials on discourse.


OPTION FIVE: APPLY RACE AND GENDER THEORY TO A POSTER


Here’s a scenario: You’re a designer who has been hired by “Earth 4 Haitian Mothers” an imaginary non-profit activist group who want to assist Haiti mothers with rebuilding after its earthquake. The group wants to develop a poster that encourages people to donate to Earth 4 Haiti. You have free reign in your choice of colors, fonts, images, and text, but the group has three demands: The mission of the group and should be clear, people must feel compelled by the poster to help, AND you must try as hard as you to not represent this region or its people in ways that are clichéd.

For this class assignment, we’d like to see an essay explaining your thought processes as you develop your poster for this client. In class, we’ve spent time discussing the connotative, denotative, mythic, ideological, discursive, unconscious, discursive, race and gender-based nature of visual and textual language. Now it’s time to apply that theoretical learning. USING THE VOCABULARY OF THIS CLASS, explain the logic of your design process. Which images, fonts, colors and text did you consider, which did you reject, and which did you end up using? USING YOUR READING, talk about the challenge of delivering a message that is clear, compelling AND without visual or textual clichés regarding gender or race.

For our reference, we’d also like to see a copy of your poster, just so we can use it to follow along with your essay. Please bear in mind that we are NOT testing your design skills, here. A good-looking mock-up will not get a better mark than a poor looking one. What we are looking for is a sophisticated consideration of your design decisions in light of the readings for this class.

Please note: Anyone who chooses this assessment option will be ‘on your own’ with regard to technical training (e.g. if you want to do a video piece but don’t know how to edit video, we will not be teaching those skills in this module.) Nor will you be able to access MPC production facilities unless you are enrolled on a production module. That said, if you have production skills from elsewhere (you don’t need many for these assignments, and we aren’t marking the production, just the essay) you are welcome to choose this assessment option.

Students in Cinematics and Media Production 2: This option has been designed to help you think more closely about the relationship between media theory and production. Although you are marked solely on your essay for this class, you may be able to use elements of your photography, sound design, poster composition, etc. in your production modules. Please speak to your tutors in those classes for more information on ‘dovetailing’ this assignment with one in your production classes.

Students in Web Design: If you wish, you can use some of your design choices for this to help you with your web design class, where your assignment is to make a web site with the them of “Earth.” See Mary Newman to discuss this further.


OPTION SIX : APPLY POSTMODERN THEORY TO EVERYDAY MEDIATED EXPERIENCES


In class, we discussed Jean Baudrillard’s argument that we now live in a time that doesn’t feel as authentic or ‘real’ to us without our technological mediations. This option requires you to evaluate Baudrillard’s thoughts in light of empirical evidence gained in your day-to-day life. Based on your observations of your own behaviors over two weeks, do you feel our increasingly mediated emotional states might pose some dangers for us as a society?

There are multiple ways to approach this essay, but here are some suggested guidelines:

1. Keep a log of your electronic media use for a period of two weeks. This includes mobile phone use (calls and texts); music listening; video gaming; Internet use (Web surfing habits, Facebook checking, online game play, etc.); video viewing and digital television consumption (i.e. non-terrestrial.)

2. At the end of two weeks, sit down and look at your log. Pick five times when you used media to feel more energized, more connected to others, more protected from others, or any other strong feeling. Write at least one paragraph detailing each of these episodes. Where were you? Who was with you? What time was it? What did you do/watch/listen to? Who did you call/message/text? What was the experience like for you?

3. Now apply some of the theoretical terms we’ve learned in class to some of these experiences. Where was the ‘original’ in each? Where was the simulation? How did technological mediation alter your experience of reality? Did you experience anything that Baudrillard might call “hyper-real”? On balance, would you classify the mediation of your experiences as a positive or a negative thing? Why or why not?

4. Next, imagine what it might be like to live those two weeks without all the mediated experiences you’ve logged. What would be different? What would have stayed the same? What might be better? What might be worse?

5. Finally, and in light of what you’ve just written, go back and evaluate Baudrillard’s original claims regarding simulation. Do you agree with his assessment or do you disagree with it? Based on your observations of your own behaviors over two weeks, do you feel our increasingly mediated emotional states might pose some dangers for us as a society? If so, what dangers do you see? If not, why not?


OPTION SEVEN: STUDENT-DEVELOPED ESSAY


For this option, you can create your own essay question, as long as it engages with one or more of the following topics:

a. Media power as economic power
b. Pyschoanalytic theories of the unconscious
c. Scopophilia/the gaze
d. Discourse, knowledge and power
e. Gender and media theory
f. Race and media theory
g. Theories of simulation and/or the hyper-real

Note: This option is only for students who have an idea in mind that does not fit into any of the options above, and it is not for students who require lots of tutor direction or assistance.

This essay must engage at length with at least two readings assigned in this class. You will need your tutor’s permission in writing (email is fine) to undertake this option. Students who create their own questions without tutor permission will receive a mark of “0”. Students who decide too late that they’d like to create their own question will not be given permission to do so.


COMPLETE BIBLIOGRAPHY OF EVERYTHING WE’VE READ FOR CLASS

• Berger, A.A. (2005) Media analysis techniques, Sage.

• Croteau, D. & Hoynes, W., 2006. The business of media, Pine Forge Press. Hall, S. & University, O. (1997) Representation, Sage.

• Ignatieff, M. (1985) Is Nothing Sacred? The Ethics of Television. Daedalus, 114(4), 57-78. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20025010 [Accessed January 20, 2010].

• Kelly, L. (2009) Casting The Wire: Complicating Notions of Performance, Authenticity, and ‘Otherness’. dark matter, (Wire Issue). Available at: http://www.darkmatter101.org/site/author/lisa-k/ [Accessed January 1, 2010].

• Long, P. & Wall, T. (2009) Media Studies, Pearson Longman.

• Machin, D. (2004) “Building the world's visual language: The increasing global importance of image banks in corporate media.” Visual Communication, 3(3), 316.

• Mulvey, L. (1975) “Visual pleasure and narrative cinema.” Screen, 16(3), 6–18.

• O’Day, M. (2005) “Postmodernism and Television” in The Routledge companion to postmodernism. Sim, S. Editor. Routledge.

• Petersen, A.H. (2010) “Smut Goes Corporate: TMZ and the Conglomerate, Convergent Face of Celebrity Gossip.” Television New Media, 11(1), 62-81. Available at: http://tvn.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/11/1/62 [Accessed January 18, 2010].

• Sandvoss, C., 2004. Technological Evolution or Revolution? Sport Online Live Internet Commentary as Postmodern Cultural Form. Convergence, 10(3), 39.
• Sultze, K. (2003) “Women, Power, and Photography in the New York Times Magazine.” Journal of Communication Inquiry, 27(3), 274.
• Todd, S. (1998) “Veiling the" Other," Unveiling Our" Selves": Reading Media Images of the Hijab Psychoanalytically to Move beyond Tolerance.”Canadian Journal of Education/Revue canadienne de l'éducation, 23(4), 438–451.

• Wayne, M. et al. (2008) “Television news and the symbolic criminalisation of young people.” Journalism Studies, 9(1), 75–90.


WHAT YOU NEED TO SHOW TO PASS AN ASSESSMENT IN THIS CLASS


• To pass this essay, you must demonstrate that you can construct an analysis supported with visual and textual evidence drawn from the material in question. Remember: you must provide evidence for your assertions. Essays full of unsupported opinion will not receive a passing mark.

• To pass this essay, you must demonstrate that you are familiar with the major vocabulary covered in this class that applies to your particular analysis. You indicate your familiarity with these terms not by simply ‘name checking’ them in your paper, but by showing you understand what they mean in relation to the material you are analyzing in your essay.

• To pass this essay, you must show that you have done a reasonable amount of assigned reading. The means you need to have engaged with at least two of the assigned texts for class, although to do well on this essay, you would be well served to be familiar with more than two. Note: students who refuse to engage with an assigned text in this class will fail the assessment.

• To pass this essay, you need to write at an approved University English level. Electronic spell-check is a bare minimum requirement for work submitted at university. If there are more than ten words in an essay (or three on a page) that could have been caught with an electronic spell-checker, we reserve the right to award you a mark of “0” for your work.

• To pass this essay, you must cite and reference all your sources. Any essays that lack proper citation must be treated as plagiarism cases, will automatically fail the assessment, and will result in a disciplinary mark on your permanent record.


OTHER THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND


• Do not quote my lecture notes back to me in your essays, even with attribution. Use required and recommended readings.

• Do not quote encyclopedias, dictionaries or Wikipedia in your essays, unless you are referencing basic facts regarding media ownership, or you are writing about a ‘cutting edge’ technology and these are the only available sources (extremely rare—see Terri first.)

• If you receive negative comments on your work regarding your grammar and/or punctuation, you are expected to have your next essay reviewed at the Writing Center before handing it in for assessment. At bare minimum, you will be expected to have addressed issues that would turn up on a Microsoft Word grammar check. To check your documents in Word, go to Tools –Spelling and Grammar. Note: MS Word provides an extremely rudimentary grammar checker, and does not substitute for getting worked checked at the Writing Center. If you are a strong writer, you can (and should) often override MS Word’s grammar suggestions. This is why we suggest it as a bare minimum. If your tutor discovers multiple errors in your essay (for instance, subject/verb agreement) that clearly would have been caught by a grammar checker, s/he retains the right to request that you resubmit your work.

• Titles of books, films, music videos, electronic games and televisions series are placed in italics. Titles of journal articles, book chapters, episodes of tv shows, and songs go in “quotation marks.”

• The first time you mention a writer, include both first name and surname. Thereafter, use surname. Never say something like “Smith, John” in the body of an essay. The appropriate way to discuss the author is as “John Smith” (first time you mention him) and “Smith” thereafter.

• In-text citations of non-electronic materials are written as (author, year: page). If you use the author’s name in the sentence attached to the citation (preferable) you omit the name in the in-text citation.

• In-text citations of web based materials are written as (<www.urlgoeshere.com>)

• For help putting your bibliography in Harvard format, visit the following sites:

o non-internet sources (e.g. print, film, video, music, etc) http://www.usq.edu.au/library/help/ehelp/ref_guides/harvard.htm

o Guide for citing sources you find on the internet (e.g. web sites, e-mail lists, etc.):
http://www.usq.edu.au/library/help/ehelp/ref_guides/harvardonline.htm

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