BIS 365 (LN 2143)

Exploring American Culture:

Popular and Consumer Culture

Spring 2006

Tuesday/Thursday 1:15-3:20 p.m., Rm. UW1-040

David S. Goldstein, Ph.D.

Click here <>
to contact instructor with or without identifying yourself. (My e-mail address is provided in class. No telephone calls, please.)

Office: UW1-137

Office hours: Tuesdays 11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.;
Thursdays 12:00  - 1:00 p.m.;
and by appointment

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American popular culture (including music, language, film, television, advertising, modes of dress, reading material, technology usage, and infinite other forms) is tightly interwoven with consumer culture.  In this course, we will learn how to analyze the complex world of American popular and consumer culture, aided by theoretical frameworks from culture studies and American studies.  By better understanding popular and consumer culture in the United States, students will better understand the society and culture in which they live and work.

Students will be expected to engage a considerable amount of material, including scholarly and popular books and articles, and several films and other media, sometimes outside of class. Some material will comprise "primary" sources that we will analyze individually or as a class; other material will comprise "secondary" sources, including other individuals' theories and analyses of popular and consumer culture. We then will discuss the material in class. Students, with the instructor's guidance, will be active participants in the course. Most learning will take place in collaboration with the instructor and fellow students, usually in small group discussions and in full-class discussions.

This course, in addition to counting toward the Culture, Literature, and the Arts concentration and the Society, Ethics, and Behavior concentration, and as a core or breadth course in the American Studies concentration in the Interdisciplinary Studies major, is open to all UW students. It will include careful consideration of issues and methods of studying popular culture, including theory and practice. Because any career you choose will require skills in critical textual analysis, in the synthesis of disparate kinds of information, and in written and oral communication--all of which are key components of critical thinking--this course should be valuable to students of any major. I strongly recommend that Interdisciplinary Studies students take BIS 300 before enrolling in this course.  Previous coursework in textual analysis (cinema or literature, for example) is helpful, but, because this is a 300-level course, I do not assume that students have a strong background in studying popular culture.  This course will provide a foundation.

Some course materials deal with mature subject matter that might make some students uncomfortable. Students who feel able to deal with emotional discomfort for the purpose of learning are welcome in this course.  Note, also, that university work typically entails encounters with materials and ideas that some may view as offensive in some way.  It is impossible for any one person to anticipate every way in which a member of a learning community will respond to any given stimulus.  As a professional, I promise to do my best to select materials that offer significant learning opportunities, and to explicate the learning outcomes that I hope for through the use of such materials.  You have a right to know why you are doing the work that I assign, and I have the responsibility to make my goals clear.  Your responsibility is to try to work through whatever discomfort or confusion or even offense that you might feel in order to learn as much as you can from the experience.  I recognize students' responses--cognitive, emotional, and evaluative--to be valid.  Ultimately, however, I ask you to recognize that stressing your mind makes it stronger, just as stressing a muscle makes it stronger.  Also, please recognize that I do not necessarily like or agree with materials that I present.  I present them only because I think that they offer learning opportunities.  Please do not assume that I advocate a point of view represented in the materials that I assign.

booksCourse texts (available in the UWB Bookstore [save your receipts for a patronage refund] and in library reserve/reference). Note: Click here <> to order books online. Click on the link for the appropriate quarter, then enter the line number (LN) shown at the top of this page for "UW SLN Code" (leave other spaces blank) and hit 'enter.' All items have been ordered; contact the bookstore if some materials are not listed.

Grading: Your grade will be based on these assignments, which are described on separate pages online (links will be activated when ready):

Research paper (due in final portfolio on May 30)

40 percent

Midterm exam (in class on April 18)

20 percent

Learning portfolio (including reflective essay of 600-1000 words, due May 30)

10 percent

In-class and online participation

30 percent


100 percent

A note about grades: I know that students often need to juggle school, work, family, and other obligations. I never second-guess students' priorities, and I never think less of students who choose to devote more time and effort to one of these other obligations rather than to an assignment or the course as a whole. I respect the maturity of students who establish their priorities, make difficult choices, and accept the consequences of those decisions. Also, remember that your grade is based solely on my professional assessment of the quantity and quality of your work, not on your effort or on my opinion of you as an individual.

For an explanation of the University of Washington grading system, see <>.  Your weighted grades on assignments will be converted to grade points according to the course grade scale in the "Course Documents" area of Blackboard.

Schedule (readings are cited by author and are listed below under "Reserves List"):

by beginning of class

Tu 03/28


Th 03/30

"Policy on Academic and Behavioral Conduct"*; Storey*; Featherstone, "Theories"*

Discuss Storey; Featherstone, "Theories"

Tu 04/04

Strinati*; Fiske, Reading, ch. 1

Discuss Strinati; Fiske, Reading, ch. 1; research paper assignment introduction

Th 04/06

Fiske, Understanding, ch. 1-2

Discuss Fiske, Understanding, ch. 1-2; learning portfolio assignment introduction

Tu 04/11

Fiske, Reading, ch. 2

Discuss Fiske, Reading, ch. 2

Th 04/13

McCracken, "Advertising"* and "Marketing"*

View Killing Us Softly 3 and Advertising and the End of the World

Tu 04/18

Giroux, "Consuming"*; Fiske, Understanding, ch. 3

Midterm exam; view Tough Guise

Th 04/20

Feathersone, "Lifestyle"*

Discuss McCracken, "Advertising" and "Marketing"; Giroux, "Consuming"; Fiske, Understanding, ch. 3; Featherstone, "Lifestyle"; Still Killing Us Softly; and Tough Guise

Tu 04/25

Work on portfolio

NO CLASS MEETING; work on portfolio

Th 04/27

Holbrook and Hirschman*; view Gremlins (Campus Media Center or rented); midquarter portfolio (including part of research paper) due online no later than 1:05 p.m.

Discuss Holbrook and Hirschman and Gremlins

Tu 05/02

Fiske, Understanding, ch. 5; Gordon*

Discuss Fiske, Understanding, ch. 5, and Gordon

Th 05/04

Fiske, Reading, ch. 3; Marling*; Giroux, "Politics"*

Discuss Fiske, Reading, ch. 3, Marling, and Giroux, "Politics"

Tu 05/09

Fiske, Reading, ch. 5a; hooks*

Discuss Fiske, Reading, ch. 5a, and hooks

Th 05/11

Fiske, Reading, ch. 5b

View Hype!

Tu 05/16

Lipsitz*; optional interim portfolio submission due online no later than 1:05 p.m.

Discuss Fiske, Reading, ch. 5b, Lipsitz, and Hype!

Th 05/18

Fiske, Understanding, ch. 6

View and discuss Merchants of Cool; discuss Fiske ch. 6

Tu 05/23

Fiske, Understanding, ch. 7

View and discuss No Logo: Brands, Globalization, Resistance

Th 05/25

Fiske, Reading, ch. 8

Discuss Fiske, Understanding, ch. 7; and Reading, ch. 8

Tu 05/30

Final portfolio due online no later than 1:05 p.m.

View and discuss Rich Media, Poor Democracy

Th 06/01


*Reserves list (except as noted, in "Course Documents" area of Blackboard):

Media list:

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This schedule is subject to change. The most current schedule will always be posted here <> for your reference, and changes will be announced in class, by e-mail, or both. This course has no final examination.

Keep a copy of all submitted work. No extra credit or paper re-writes will be permitted except as noted, but I will gladly assist you with your work. In-class exercises cannot be made up for any reason because the group interaction is irreproducible. (See below for information on contribution.) Keep all graded materials; Interdisciplinary Studies majors will need them for their senior seminar portfolio.

In accordance with University policy, I give Incompletes only if you are passing the course and attending class to within two weeks of the end of the quarter, and then only in extenuating circumstances that can be proven.

If you believe that you have a disability and would like academic accommodations, please contact Disability Support Services at (425) 352-5307 or at After an initial intake appointment, you should be prepared to provide documentation of your disability in order to receive assistance. See <> for more information.

I am very strict about deadlines, for two reasons: (1) I have very limited grading time, and late papers make it hard for me to return graded papers in a timely manner; and (2) I want everyone to have exactly the same amount of work time for the sake of fairness. Please do not put me in the position of trying to decide arbitrarily how late is "late." Take responsibility for submitting work when it is due, not ten minutes, two hours, or a day later. (Note that many assignments are due electronically on days and at times when we are not meeting in class.) Rest assured that everyone is being treated equally. Late assignments will be accepted only in extenuating circumstances that could not have been anticipated, and only as specified; disincentives will apply as specified.

alert icon IMPORTANT: I insist on academic integrity. You are responsible for understanding all aspects of University regulations regarding academic integrity. Breaches of academic integrity, including but not limited to cheating (e.g., copying another person's work or obtaining examination answers in a dishonest manner) and plagiarism (i.e., using another person's words or ideas without proper acknowledgment), whether intentional or accidental, will result in a zero for the assignment or examination; additional sanctions may be imposed by the University administration. Note that American rules regarding plagiarism might differ markedly from those in other countries. You can find more information in the University Handbook and in the document, "Avoiding Academic Misconduct" <>. I will help you any way I can so you can succeed while maintaining academic integrity. I truly want you to do well. Visit my office hours often!

About class communication:

Please carefully read the "Class Communication" document at <>, which I consider to be part of this syllabus.

About contribution:

Please carefully read the "Class Contribution" document at <>, which I consider to be part of this syllabus.

Be considerate of your instructors and classmates. Please turn off cell phones, pagers, and watch alarms before entering a classroom. Also, be aware that entering a classroom after class has started distracts your instructor and your classmates. If you must do it, please try to enter through a back door, if possible. That probably will distract your instructor (for which you should later apologize), but at least it will reduce the disruption you cause your classmates.  Laptop policy: You may use a laptop computer during class only for taking notes for this course.  Please do not use your laptop to work on other courses, check e-mail, or engage in other distracting activities.  I reserve the right to forbit laptop usage if it is abused or if it distracts me or other students.

If you need to drop: You and I both invest a significant amount of time and effort having you in this course, so it is unfortunate when students do not complete a course that they began, especially a course, like this one, in which other students were denied entry. Sometimes, however, students need to drop a course for good reasons. If that should become the case, I ask, as a favor, that you send me an e-mail message notifying me that you are dropping the course. Of course, I hope everyone who starts the course can complete it, so your work and time and mine are put to good use!

Continued enrollment in this course indicates your acceptance of the terms of this syllabus.  If you have questions or concerns about any of the assessment criteria, goals and learning outcomes, or materials, please let me know immediately so we can address them.

Welcome to the course!

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This page last updated April 8, 2006.

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