Dr. Paul Mullins
Office: Cavanaugh 413B; phone 317-274-9847
Office Hours: Tuesday, Thursday 1:00-2:30 and by appointment most weekdays
The notion of popular culture has been taken to encompass
almost everything in public space from everyday Medieval life to Homer Simpson's
philosophical reflections. Some scholars consider popular culture to be
focused on the lives of "ordinary people"; others see it as a commercial
phenomenon rooted in mass media; and some celebrate it as an expression of mass
consumer resistance. In this course we approach
popular culture as a body of widely shared and contested beliefs, practices, and
material objects that presents ordinary social life’s extraordinary
possibilities: the "popular" accents the potentially remarkable dimensions of
"ordinary" practices, such as style, literature, and music. In this sense,
popular culture mirrors real life, but it is a distorted and selective
reflection that presents familiar realities in their most spectacular forms.
Popular culture illuminates how we are all ordinary yet desire to be
extraordinary or can at least envision extraordinary possibilities within ourselves.
|Until quite recently, anthropologists
were somewhat ambivalent about popular culture. Ethnographers and
archaeologists have been among a century of scholars scrutinizing the spread
of Western social, cultural, and material practices throughout the world,
but many anthropologists were dismayed by the arrival of Western popular
practices and commodities that apparently spelled the death rites of
traditional cultures. Anthropologists tended to observe a notion of
culture as unified and bounded sets of practices rooted in discrete social
collectives and see our subjects as "Others" whose lives and stable
sociocultural heritage contrasted with the dynamicism of the Western world.
Increasingly, though, anthropologists have led a broad scholarly charge
examining globalization, transnationalism, and the social and material
blurring of boundaries between groups that has tempered the facile
opposition of Other to the West and the suggestion that anthropologists
appropriately should study the "Other." Contemporary popular culture
research is thoroughly interdisciplinary, international, and sophisticated,
and anthropology brings to this research an ethnographic commitment to
illuminating peoples' experiences, contextualizing them in a breadth of
forms, and assessing the complex material dimensions of popular culture.
There are a wide range of ways we could structure a class on popular culture, and I've chosen to have this course revolve around a series of issues linked in various ways to Elvis Presley. This course will devote little or no time to the minutia of Elvis biographies or the merits of Clambake. However, discourses about Elvis Presley harbor many of the most pivotal currents of late-twentieth century Western society: class, racism, regional difference, sexuality, subcultural identities, materialism, and civil religion all routinely figure in public and private dialogue about Elvis. In this course we will probe popular culture by examining Elvis as a subject that has been constructed and contested in a wide range of forms since the mid-1950's. We will approach Elvis discourses as ways both mass and elite audiences talk about themselves and their society through Elvis symbolism. By studying Presley discourses this way, the course will probe underlying anthropological problems that the subject Elvis variously masks, redefines, and subverts. The course should underscore how traditional anthropological insight can be amplified to dissect the social and political complexities of contemporary popular cultural phenomena like Elvis, examining popular cultural subjects including music subcultures, popular religion, and consumer culture. We will examine how Elvis discourses function within popular culture as rich anthropological intersections between facets of cultural identity such as regionalism, civil religion, consumption, and class tension and probe how such currents are part of many other popular cultural phenomena.
The Facts of Life
Your final grade will be based on attendance (5%); two exams (15% each); a class presentation on a course reading (5%); an article review (15%); a web page analysis (15%); and a term paper (30%). The mid-term will be a take-home essay exam and the final will be an in-class open-notes exam.
Participation in class discussion and attendance at lecture are key to comprehension. All students who attend class and miss three or fewer class meetings will receive the full five points toward attendance. If you miss four class meetings one point will be deducted from your attendance score (i.e., you would receive four attendance points); miss five days and two points will be deducted from the final score, and so on. Attendance will be taken at the beginning of each class meeting on a course roster that circulates through class. If you come in late, you must ensure that you sign this roster at the end of class; at the end of the semester I will not negotiate over the days you actually attended but forgot to sign the attendance roster. I will not allow students to sign the roster if they arrive halfway through the class meeting; please discuss any delays outside your control with me (e.g., caught in traffic jam, but not an errant alarm clock). An excused absence is a documented illness (i.e., a physician's note, not simply sniffles in the next class or sounding really crappy on the phone), a religious holiday recognized in the calendars of some reasonably well-documented faith, or an absence for participation in an Athletic Department-excused event. I will be reasonably forgiving about things over which you have no control, like flat tires and sick children. I will negotiate these things on a case-by-case basis, but please let me know immediately via email and do not plan to barter over these absences at semester's end.
|In addition to readings from the course's assigned texts, a group of required readings will be on the class' Oncourse page. We will discuss readings weekly in a classroom discussion led by students. You are responsible for reading each week's articles prior to their discussion in class; please let me know if you have any problems accessing readings online. Students will each present one of these readings to the class during the course of the semester, summarizing the article and examining its relevance to our thinking. You will be expected to know your presentation article thoroughly--a quick skim will not be sufficient--and be prepared to provide a set of questions and critiques to guide subsequent classroom discussion. I will require that you hand in an outline review of the article when you present, or you will receive only half credit for the presentation. You may elect to present a particular reading; readings will be assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis and can be requested before or after class or via email (email requests should suggest at least a couple readings in order of preference, since you may be beaten to your preferred article). You can check on available readings, the presentation schedule, or remind yourself of when you're presenting on the readings page. Otherwise, unassigned readings will be distributed to remaining students at random. You are encouraged to discuss your ideas about your presentation article with me prior to class. I am happy to discuss any paper during office hours, arranged times, or email if it will help clarify some thoughts, provide some background information on the paper or topic, or provide assistance structuring your ideas.|
The term paper will examine a popular cultural subject using the anthropological insights presented during the semester. You will be expected to produce a paper at least 15 double-spaced pages in length which refers to course readings and outside literature. Paper topics are due by SEPTEMBER 25; any topics that are not approved at this time may be rejected at semester's end. Anybody who does not turn in a paper proposal SEPTEMBER 25 will have a full letter grade deducted from the final grade on their term paper, so I strongly suggest turning in a proposal. The papers must draw on scholarly literature and popular literature (e.g., newspapers, MTV, etc.); regardless of eloquence, no postmodern musings without citations or structure will be acceptable. A detailed guide to preparation and format of the paper will be handed out in the early semester and is on the term paper page. Any papers that are not turned in by the due date will be penalized significantly.
Graduate students are welcome to join the course, and a separate syllabus is available for those students who wish to take the course for graduate credit.
|If you cannot complete an assignment on
time for any reason, you should contact me as soon as possible. I can always
be contacted before or after class, you can schedule an appointment, and I
check my email virtually everyday.
Late assignments will be penalized a letter grade each day if you do not negotiate an extension with me beforehand. You may email me late assignments, but please provide other assignments to me in paper form. You also can leave assignments in my mailbox in the Anthropology office in Cavanaugh Hall; you should ask a member of the office staff to mark the exercise with the date so that you are credited for turning it in on time. Even if you miss a due date, contact me so that you can complete a partial credit makeup: to miss any assignments is, at best, mathematically ill-advised.
|This syllabus includes deadlines for all assignments and test dates: it is your responsibility to know when assignments are due and tests are scheduled. There will not be any extra credit material. If you do not complete course work by semester's end you will not pass the course unless you have a substantial reason for tardiness. You can monitor your grades over the semester at Oncourse. You cannot access your grades unless you have a university password.|
All work in the course is conducted in accordance with the University’s academic misconduct policy. Cheating includes dishonesty of any kind with respect to exams or assignments. Plagiarism is the offering of someone else’s work as your own: this includes taking un-cited material from books, web pages, or other students, turning in the same or substantially similar work as other students, sneaking a peek at the neighbor's exam, or failing to properly cite other research. If you are suspected of any form of academic misconduct you will be called in for a meeting at which you will be informed of the accusation and given adequate opportunity to respond. A report will be submitted to the Dean of Students, who will decide on further disciplinary action. Please consult the University Bulletin’s academic misconduct policy or me if you have any questions.
Be absolutely certain to keep a copy of any emailed assignments you send to me should the email disappear or not arrive at my end, and save every single assignment in two places until grades have been assigned: Don't just save it on your laptop or one thumb drive, since they can crash, get lost, or be purloined by somebody who undervalues your commitment to education, and do not delete assignments instantly after their due date until their grades have been posted to Oncourse. Even if you miss a due date, contact me so that you can complete a partial credit makeup. Even if it is embarrassing to acknowledge that you simply forgot an assignment due date or your boss unexpectedly demanded a long shift when you planned to do the assignment, please come see me and I will do my very best to resolve it in some way that doesn't mean you receive no credit at all.
The Office of Adaptive Educational Services (AES) ensures that students with disabilities receive appropriate accommodations from the University and their professors. Students must register with the AES office in order to receive such services.
Portable electronic devices, such as cell phones, pagers, two-ways, and PDA’s, should be turned off before entering the classroom. You can use a laptop in class for note-taking but should silence it; do not surf the web in class or listen to ITunes. Let me know in advance if you carry around a communication device for familial reasons (e.g., pregnancy monitoring, disabled family, or contact with kids--not to stay in touch with a significant other who just loves your voice, buddies planning a pub crawl, and so on). Anyone whose electronic device continually disturbs class will be asked to meet with me if they cannot remember to silence themselves.
The classroom is a safe speech situation in which it is your responsibility to treat other classmates fairly and with mutual respect, even if they have the audacity to disagree with you, champion an opinion that is inconsistent with your worldview, or simply bore you. Anyone who talks when someone else is talking, is hostile, or otherwise violates classroom etiquette (e.g., does other homework, reads the newspaper) will be considered to be in violation of this policy. Students who fail to adhere to these guidelines will be asked to meet with me.
All work in this course is intended to fulfill the University's Principles of Undergraduate Learning. The class focuses on critical, self-reflective thinking, integrates knowledge from a variety of disciplinary and sociocultural perspectives, examines social and cultural complexity, and probes the impact of knowledge on our everyday decision-making. Do let me know if the course does not satisfy any of the missions included in the Principles.
A basic requirement of this course is that you will participate in class and conscientiously complete writing and reading assignments. If you miss more than half our class meetings within the first four weeks of the semester without contacting me, you will be administratively withdrawn from this section. If you miss more than four classes in the first four weeks, you may be withdrawn. Administrative withdrawal may have academic, financial, and financial aid implications. Administrative withdrawal will take place after the full refund period, and if you are administratively withdrawn from the course you will not be eligible for a tuition refund. If you have questions about the administrative withdrawal policy at any point during the semester, please contact me.
The course has three required texts: In Search of Elvis: Music, Race, Art, Religion; Subculture: The Meaning of Style; and "Planet of the Apes" as American Myth. You can order these online, or you can find them in the campus bookstore and The Textbook Alternative. Subculture is also available as an electronic book for free to all IUPUI students at ebrary.
Additional required readings are available on Oncourse; full citations and where you can find each week's readings are included in the reading schedule. Readings will be discussed in weekly discussions and included in test material, and they should be cited in your term paper. All course readings will be cited below as being available in ISE (i.e., In Search of Elvis), Hebdige (i.e.,Subculture), Planet of the Apes (POTA), online with the link provided here, or on Oncourse. We are using several chapters out of Simon Frith's now out-of-print Sound Effects, which is available online for as cheap as you can photocopy a handful of chapters.
Readings for the review essay are on Oncourse. You will be responsible for reading any one of the review essay readings and preparing a written review of the paper. You may choose to use one of these review essay papers for your paper, but you will NOT be responsible for reading the essays that you do not choose for your review essay.
Click the book titles to search for these books from online retailers.
Chadwick, Vernon (editor)
1997 In Search of Elvis: Music, Race, Art, Religion. Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado.
1979 Subculture: The Meaning of Style. Routledge, New York.
1996 "Planet of the Apes" as American Myth: Race and Politics in the Films and Television Series. McFarland, Jefferson, North Carolina.
"Hell, they don't teach you anything nowadays." (Elvis, on school)
August 21, 26, 28
Ways to Think about a Polysemic Elvis
Why Elvis?: Elvis memory as our distorted mirror
Elvis, God or Devil?: complicating mass myth
Elvis Presley and Elvis the subject position
An Elvis Primer: Biography, History, and Hagiography
Reading: Chadwick, "Introduction: Ole Massa's Dead, Long Live the King of Rock'n'Roll," in ISE
Anthropology and Popular Culture: is there Culture in mass
The monolith of Culture: retooling modernism's Cultural categories
Sentimental education and popular culture
Elvis or Shakespeare?: the complications of academic Elvis-ology
Reading: Frith, "Rock and Mass Culture," Oncourse; and Hebdige, "Subculture: The unnatural break."
The revolution will be on the radio: popular politics
Social protest and genre synthesis in popular music
Subaltern resistance and artistic bricolage
Grassroots and mass music: marketing culture? Sam Philips and the Colonel
Subculture and musical politics: the Sex Pistols, Grateful Dead, and subcultural musical movements
Readings: Hebdige, "Style as Intentional Communication"; and Frith, "Youth."
Term paper topic proposal due September 25
Horatio Alger with a drawl: Southern history and Southern
Jim Crow and racial construction: Reconstruction legacies
The Great Migration: Flight from Tupelo
Memphis: Sodom of the South
Fighting modernity: transition and tradition in Southern identity
Readings: Reed, "Elvis as Southerner," in ISE; Pratt, "Elvis, or the Ironies of a Southern Identity"
WEB PAGE ANALYSIS DUE SEPTEMBER 30
September 30, October 2
"White Trash": Racializing Class in the South
Class, Kitsch, and Materialism in the Jungle Room
"So they loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly": The South in popular culture
Readings: Sweeney, "The King of White Trash Culture: Elvis Presley and the Aesthetics of Excess," on Oncourse; and Campbell, "Elvis Presley as Redneck," in ISE
Synthesis in Popular Culture: Who Made the King?
Evangelicism and the Pentecostal South
I'm a Little Bit Country: Bluegrass, Country, and the Rockabilly Moment
Readings: Tucker, "Rethinking Elvis and the Rockabilly Moment," in ISE; Adams, The Englishness of English Punk: Sex Pistols, Subcultures, and Nostalgia; Greene, "Planet of the Apes" in POTA.
REVIEW ESSAY DUE OCTOBER 16
"I Want the Negro Sound": the contradictions of race
Transgressing Race: Rock-and-roll and Civil Rights
Black rhythm in the White South
Elvis as Racist: Thieving African-American musical tradition
Readings: Spencer, "A Revolutionary Sexual Persona: Elvis Presley and the White Acquiescence of Black Rhythms," in ISE; Greene, "Urban Riots and Ape Revolution" in POTA
MID-TERM DUE Tuesday October 28
Young and Beautiful: Video, Cinema, and the Aesthetics of
Hollywood Hillbilly: Cinematic Elvis
Youth Subculture and Video
Readings: Frith, "Youth/Music/Television," on Oncourse; Fraser and Brown, Media, Celebrities and Social Influence: Identification with Elvis Presley; and Greene, "Ape has Killed Ape" in POTA
Body as subject: The ambiguities of a heterosexual hepcat
Sexual liminality and taboo in Elvis
Living with Mama and the Memphis Mafia: Manhood and familial devotion in Elvis myth
Elvis and Priscilla's 50 nights: sexual discipline and display
Readings: Frith, "Rock and Sexuality," Oncourse; and Duffett Caught in a Trap? Beyond Pop Theory's "Butch" Construction of Male Elvuis Fans
Dead Elvis: Elvis as Religion
Preserving the Body: media coverage of Elvis' death
Elvis is at the Burger King: tales of the resurrection
Readings: Rodman, "Elvis Space" Oncourse; Gregory and Gregory, "When Elvis Died: Enshrining a Legend," in ISE
The Cult of Elvis: Civil Religion and Elvis Memories
A piece of the true cross: pilgrimage and the road to Graceland
Reading: Vikan, "Graceland as Locus Sanctus," Oncourse; and Duffett False Faith or False Comparison? A Critique of the Religious Interpretation of Elvis Fan Culture
November 18-20, November 26
Elvis as Simulacra: the impersonators and Life after Death
Reading: Marcus, "Still Dead: Elvis Presley without Music," Oncourse; and Pattie, 4 Real: Authenticity, Performance, and Rock Music
THANKSGIVING BREAK NOVEMBER 26-30
TERM PAPER DUE DECEMBER 2
More Real than Real: The hermeneutics of Elvis
FINAL EXAM December 11 1:00-3:00
You may choose any one of these readings for your review essay. These readings are on Oncourse or can be directly linked to from this page. You are NOT responsible for reading articles that you do not choose to review. Visit the review guidelines page for full directions.
1999 Subcultures or Neo-Tribes? Rethinking the Relationship between Youth, Style, and Musical Taste. Sociology 33(3):599-617.
Best, Steven and Douglas Kellner
1999 Rap, Black Rage, and Racial Difference. Enculturation 2(2). http://enculturation.gmu.edu/2_2/best-kellner.html
Bielby, William T.
2004 Rock in a Hard Place: Grassroots Cultural Production in the Post-Elvis Era. American Sociological Review 69(1):1-13.
2008 Narratives of Value and the Antiques Roadshow: "A Game of Recognitions." The Journal of Popular Culture 41(1):3-20.
1992 Betrayal and Fear: Press Coverage of Canadian Skinheads. Canadian Journal of Communication 17(2).
2007 "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility": Cold War Culture and the Birth of Marvel Comics. The Journal of Popular Culture 40(6):953-978.
Halnon, Karen Bettez and Saundra Cohen
2006 Muscles, Motorcycles, and Tattoos: Gentrification in a New Frontier. Journal of Consumer Culture 6(1):33-56.
2007 "Don't Ask Me, I'm Just a Girl": Feminism, Female Identity, and The Simpsons. The Journal of Popular Culture 40(2):272-303.
Kozinets, Robert V.
1997 "I Want to Believe": A Netnography of X-Philes' Subculture of Consumption. Advances in Consumer Research 24:470-475.
1975 Elvis: Presliad. In Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock' n' Roll Music, pp.120-175. 4th edition. Penguin, New York. Oncourse
2006 "We are the Champions": Masculinities, Sports and Popular Music. Popular Music and Society 29(5):531-547.
Schouten, John W. and James H. McAlexander
1995 Subcultures of Consumption: An Ethnography of the New Bikers. The Journal of Consumer Research 22(1):43-61.
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Last updated December 1, 2008