Television’s modes of content creation, distribution, and consumption are changing rapidly. Some would argue that television has usurped film as the preeminent visual medium of our age, while others would suggest that television and film are converging to the point that these very labels are becoming meaningless. Regardless, alternative modes of production and distribution allow for a plethora of diverse shows that no longer have to “play in Peoria.” Concurrently, issues of race, gender, and class on television are more prominent and pervasive than ever. But is increased representation—of minority, female, and LGBTQ characters—enough? What is “good” or “bad” representation, or should we eliminate this binary altogether? How do we define quality and/or relevant television? The purpose of this course is to collect the tools that we need in order to think critically about what we watch.
Contrary to popular belief, the study of television is not a worthless endeavor for students hoping to take the easy route through college. Television is an unwieldy, unbounded combination of industry, text, and audience that defies attempts by scholars from many disciplines to tame it. By delving into television studies as a discrete discipline, we will investigate the attributes that make the televisual form unique. From there, we will engage with a variety of shows, from dramas deemed “highbrow” and worthy of study (i.e. The Wire, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Transparent) to sitcoms (i.e. Black-ish) to “lowbrow” genres such as melodrama, teen television, and reality television (i.e. Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, Sex and the City, Gossip Girl, Riverdale, Veronica Mars, The Real Housewives of Atlanta). Though this course will focus primarily on contemporary shows, we will also use a historical lens to trace the lineages of race, gender, and class on the small screen.
Through readings in Critical Race Theory, Feminist theory, and Marxist theory, we will build a toolbox that allows us to analyze the medium of television and televisual representations in interesting and novel ways. We will complicate traditional ideas about which televisual objects are worthy of study while honing our analytical writing skills through collaborative and creative projects.
Students will come to understand television studies as a discrete discipline, separate from that of film and literary studies. They will gain the tools to be able to “read” television narratives as texts, pairing sustained textual analysis with readings in Critical Race Theory, Feminist theory, and Marxist theory. With these tools, students will be able to crack future texts open as well, turning themselves into active viewers and critics. They will also be able to chart the shift from network television to internet-distributed television, and what that means for them as consumers and critics of the medium going forward.
Prerequisites: This course is open to students with either a passion for or hatred of one or more television shows. It assumes no previous familiarity with television studies or theories of race, gender, and class.
Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2020.Visit Program Page Information Sessions Learn How to Apply