A common criticism of American movies is that they are obsessed with violence; this criticism has become even more acute in the wake of the recent killings at Columbine High School. In this course, we will consider that criticism as we focus on violence as a theme in a range of contemporary films. Our discussions of the films will center around a number of related questions: first, what is the "mythical" role of violence? What role does violence play in creating the myth of "America"? What role does it play in defining "masculinity" and "femininity"? Where and why do we draw the line between "serious" and "gratuitous" depictions of violence? And, finally, what is effect of screen violence on its audience? Is seeing violence on screen bad for us? Good for us?
The primary texts for the course will be films, many of which have been considered "pornographically violent" by at least part of their audience: Shane, The Wild Bunch, Raging Bull, Freeway, Once Were Warriors, Taxi Driver, Pulp Fiction, A Clockwork Orange, Natural Born Killers and others. We will supplement the films with secondary reading in film criticism and violence theory.
Our approach to writing this semester will be informed by two simple ideas, often recited but even oftener forgotten: first, that writing is an act of communication between the writer and his or her audience; second, that writing is a process, not a product. Consider the first idea: a writer must always know his or her audience -- and the best way to learn to know them is to talk to them. So in this class all of your writing will be read by a number of people, and all of those people will be asked to respond to it. Now, consider the second idea: we often think of a paper (or a dissertation, or a novel) as the product of some brief and fevered inspiration; we also often assume that other people's words somehow explode onto paper, in perfect order and making perfect sense, the first time they sit down to write -- and we call ourselves talentless (or at least uninspired) because ours do not. Nothing could be further from the truth: writing is a process of thought, and that process requires revision. So in this class you will be asked to rethink each of your papers several times in light of the comments you receive from your readers, and you will be given the chance to make all of your writing as good as you can make it.
Minimum Course Requirements (see "Course Schedule"):
The Grade Contract:
When you register for the class, you're agreeing to the following contract:
If you want to pass ( with a C- or better), you will. . .
If you want to get a B+ or better, you will. . .
The first time you are late with a draft, I will ask you what the problem is. The second time, I will ask you to drop the class and take it when you are better prepared for it; if you stay, the best grade you can expect for the course is a C plus. Three late drafts means automatic course failure.
Papers will be graded on a 4.0 scale (0 - 1.0 is an F, 1.0 - 2.0 is a D, 2:0 - 2.7 is a C, 2.8 - 3.4 is a B, 3.5 - 4.0 is an A). You will revise each paper at least once. First drafts will not be graded. You can revise your papers as often as you want, but you can only revise a paper once to improve your grade.
Format for Writing:
People turning in triple-spaced papers in really big type will be asked who they think they are kidding. People asking whether a bibliography counts as a page for the length requirement will be brusquely waved away. People asking whether a title page counts will be taken out and shot.
The Five Criteria:
Below I've set out the criteria I use when grading your essays; as you will notice, these are simply an abbreviated version of the criteria used in evaluating portfolios submitted for the Clear Writing Requirement. When you get your final revisions (i.e., 1.2, 2.2, 3.2, etc.) back, they will include not only my comments, but also a grid that lays out where the paper stands with respect to these criteria. Pay close attention to that grid: it is meant to help you isolate areas of your writing that you may need to work on when you revise the paper, either for the class or for your portfolio.
1. Concept addresses the strength and clarity of the paper overall. Is the paper's topic clearly laid out? Have you introduced your reader to the questions about that topic that the paper is trying to answer? Are your answers to those questions also clear? Is the argument that drives the paper worth making, or does it seem simplistic? (That is, are you arguing that the sky is blue, or that water is wet?)
2. Analysis addresses how well you've developed and supported your paper. Does the paper make the reader feel that you really know your topic and your sources? Have you followed your analysis of the topic as far as it could go, or have you left your reader saying, "Well, that's true, but what about this?" Have you shown your readers how you arrived at your position, or have you simply told them? Are your assertions backed up with references (in the form of quotes, paraphrases or summaries) to your sources? When you quote a source, do you then interpret the quotation -- or do you leave it sitting there, hoping it will speak for itself?
3. Structure addresses how well you've led the reader through your paper. Does your paper follow a clear and logical progression from idea to idea? Have you prepared your reader early in the paper for the arguments you are going to make? Do you make logical transitions from idea to idea, or do your peer reviewers often ask you, "How did you get from this paragraph to THIS paragraph?" Does your paper address all the issues you bring up in its introduction? Does your paper conclude, or does it just stop?
4. Style addresses how the paper sounds. Does the paper's introduction really introduce the paper, or does it just spin its wheels? Do parts of the paper strike the reader as superfluous, as "dead wood?" Does the paper often rely on the passive voice? Does the paper use the right words at the right time, or does it seem "thesaurusized?" Does the paper seem wordy, or its tone overly weighty, to its readers?
5. Presentation and Documentation (P&D) addresses how the paper looks and reads. Does the paper exhibit consistent grammatical or mechanical mistakes (i.e., sentence fragments, clumsy syntax, shifts in tense, incorrect punctuation or spelling)? Are your readers stopped by sentences they either don't understand or have to spend time figuring out? Are your sources clearly and accurately documented in both the footnotes and the bibliography? Does the paper make the reader feel that you are paying attention to details, or that you've rushed to print without reading the paper yourself?