Prof. Michael Goldberg
Spring 2004
Room UW1-119      Office phone: 352-5362
Office Hours: MW 2-3:30

BIS 418: Masculinity, Homoeroticism, and Queer Theory in American Culture

Course Description
When I first designed this course, "queer" was a word that raised many hackles and generated a fair amount of discomfort. With at least two hit TV shows using it in their names ("Queer as Folk" and "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy") and another show playing with viewers assumptions about who is who (“Playing It Straight”), it seems less likely to spark concern. Thankfully, I still have "homoeroticism" in the title, guaranteed to produce a certain level of anxiety and (possibly) prurient interest.  So what's it all about? It's about the way a word like "QUEER" starts to transform from the snarled epithet for "queer bashers" as they beat up both actual and assumed homosexuals to being the hip slang used in TV promos (i.e.: Jay's got "Queer Guy" Carson tonight, plus Jaywalkers!). It’s about the constantly shifting assumptions about what it means to “be a man” even as those who hold these assumptions assume they are timeless and “natural.”  It’s about the way discourses of straight white masculinity constantly attempt to re-position men as the dominant group in American society even as the discourse limits their options.  It’s about the way “women” as a category is used to frame assumptions about “men” and masculinity while claiming an inviolable barrier between the two groups.  And it’s about examining your own assumptions about masculinity and it’s relation to your life and the way you envision the world.

In the past 30 years, feminist scholars have helped us to understand the ways cultures construct ideas and assumptions about gender. For most of this time, feminist scholars concentrated on concerns about women, or considered men in relation to these concerns. In the last 10 years, however, feminist scholars have begun to consider the way masculinity is constructed. At the same time, men wishing to view masculinity from a male perspective developed "critical men's studies" (to differentiate their work from past scholarship which had almost uniformly taken men as the norm, but had not examined them critically), which was in part inspired by feminism and in part a reaction against it. Finally, the rise of gay and lesbian studies (which owed its academic and political sensibilities in part to feminist studies and in part to gay liberation movements) has challenged the heterocentrist focus on "straight"/"normal" men and complicated our understanding of sexual identities. This course draws on some of these insights to consider how images of masculinity are represented in American film and literature. We will apply these theoretical insights to our critical readings of cinematic  and literary texts to help us understand the underlying and often contradictory assumptions contained in images of masculinity. As the course title indicates, we will pay special attention to the way masculinity is constructed in relation to other men. While we will examine some historical contexts, we will mainly be considering these texts as part of the "modern hegemonic sexual regime," in George Chauncy's words, which "consolidated and enforced a hetero-homosexual binarism." This course seeks to look beyond the rigidly constructed concepts of "straight" and "gay," "male" and "female" to consider the complicated and often messy ways that masculinity is represented in cultural texts."

As a course in literary and film  interpretation, students will be asked to go beneath the surface meanings in the texts and to consider their language, structure, and form. Students who have no interest in or are hostile to this type of interpretive approach should not take the course. Further, this course considers topics and issues that some may consider offensive to their sensibilities. Students should come to the course with an open mind and a willingness to consider ideas that might seem, well, "queer." At no time, however, will they be asked or expected to accept any particular ideology or perspective.

Organization of the Course:
On Mondays, we will watch a film in UW2-005.  You should have completed most of your reading for the week by then.  Students will then post at least one comment about the film on the Blackboard discussion board (see below).  On Wednesdays, we will meet in room UW1-041 and discuss the readings and film for the week.  We will then continue our discussion on Blackboard.

Recommended preparation
Students should have taken at least one upper-division course that covers textual interpretation (especially film or literature). Familiarity with cultural studies theories regarding gender, power, and discourse is helpful but not required.

Learning Objectives:
Students will advance their interpretive abilities through ongoing classroom discussion, web-based asynchronous discussion, an in-class group presentation, and a longer argumentative essay.  These activities are meant to be progressive and continuous, with the shorter assignments and classroom discussion intended to lay the basis for a successful final essay.

Course Requirements
1. Participation in class discussion (20% of grade).
Your individual participation during class is integral to both your and your peers’ learning success.  Learning is a collaborative exercise, despite the practice of assessing instructors and students separately.  It is my hope that students will develop a sense of shared responsibility for the course.  To accomplish this, students should plan on reading the material carefully and critically, which means taking analytical notes (not simply copying content but responding to it, questioning or challenging it when appropriate).  There are a number of ways one might EFFECTIVELY take notes (written or oral, linear or mapping, etc.) but highlighting or scribbling in the margins is not one of them.  While these activities can enhance note-taking, they are no substitute for your critical engagement with the material.

Your notes from the first two weeks of reading should focus on the analytical tools they offer, rather than on specific content (this is particularly true for Gay New York.)  For the literature, you should note your observations and interpretive ideas as you read.  During the movie, note key scenes, bits of dialogue, narrative elements, and interpretive ideas.   Bring all texts to be discussed to class, along with your notes.  Your notes will be due on the final day of the class, and will be graded excellent, good, or unsatisfactory, based on the diligence demonstrated in taking the notes.  Do not dress them up in a fancy folder, correct grammar or spelling, or type them (unless you normally type your notes).  Simply submit them as is.

You will receive a midterm and final grade and evaluation based on your in-class participation, which you will receive via email.  Be prepared to make at least one substantive comment per class that demonstrates your engagement with the readings.

2. Participation in a web-based discussion board (Blackboard)  (20% of grade).  You must post at least two messages on the Blackboard discussion board each week: one on the film (Tuesday at 10pm following the film) and one on the reading assigned that week, which may also include some discussion of the film.  The postings should be carefully thought out, clearly written, and should either initiate a topic or offer a reasoned response to an ongoing discussion.   The posting must deal with the texts from the course in some way, although you may also include outside texts/events, etc.  Do not simply write that a particular passage or scene was "interesting" or "confusing."  Instead, you should work out what you thought was interesting or why it was confusing and what questions it raised.  I will let you know if a comment does not count towards the participation grade.  Since this is not a course in aesthetics, your posting should not be about whether you like a film or novel, but what your interpretation of the text was.  You are also encouraged to participate in the discussion on an ongoing basis—additional thoughtful postings will add to your participation grade, although you will not be penalized for posting twice per week.  The discussion board is a good place to work out ideas for your essay and to become comfortable with the theoretical and interpretive concepts of the course. You will receive a midterm and final grade and evaluation based on your in-class participation, which you will receive via email. 

Postings will begin the second week of class. I will hand out a description of the assignment in class on Wednesday, March 31.

3. Group Presentation.  (20% of grade) Each group will present some initial thoughts about the film or literary texts to be discussed that day.  Sign ups will begin after class on Wednesday, March 31.  Click here for guidelines to this assignment.

4. 7-10 page argumentative essay (40% of grade) focusing on at least 3 texts (at least one of them a novel and film) which addresses one of the themes raised in the course. For the complete explanation, click here.   If you are interested in participating in a two-credit  writing course linked to this course which will involve several visits to the writing center, some additional pre-writing assignments, and peer critiques of other students’ work, please see me after class.

ACADEMIC DISHONESTY OF ANY KIND WILL NOT BE TOLERATED IN THIS CLASS. It is your responsibility to be knowledgeable about this topic. Please be aware that there are numerous ways to detect plagiarism beyond the instructor actually identifying the source of the plagiarism. Plagiarism wastes my time and yours—if you are experiencing any kind of difficulty in completing an assignment, PLEASE see me as soon as possible. As with all other courses at UWB, this course is now guided by the new campus-wide policy on academic dishonesty. All suspected cases of academic dishonesty will immediately be referred to the UWB Factfinder for Academic Dishonesty.

STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES—I gladly accommodate all documented disabilities as directed by Disability Student Services at UWB. You must be a documented DSS student to receive accommodations. I encourage anyone believing themselves to be covered by DSS guidelines to visit the UWB DSS web page. Accommodations are not "extra help"—they are actions taken to provide people with disabilities an educational environment similar to those who enjoy the benefits of a system designed to cater to the needs of the non-disabled majority.

Books (available at UW Bothell University Bookstore)
George Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940
Earnest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep
Walter Mosley, Devil With a Blue Dress
Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony
Louis Chu, Eat a Bowl of Tea
Edmund White, A Boy’s Own Story

Readings marked with an asterisk (*) are available through the UWB E-Res page.  There will also be a link through the course web site.

Week 1:   Introduction: Masculinities in Textual Representations
*Alexander Doty, selection from Making Things Perfectly Queer: Interpreting Mass Culture ("What Makes Queerness Most?")
Film: Love and Death on Long Island

Week 2:    Rethinking "Normal" and "Queer"
Chauncey, Gay New York,  Introduction, Part I, Part III, Epilogue
Film: Midnight Cowboy

Week 3:  Male Masochism in Corporate America
*John Cheever, "The Housebreaker of Shady Hill": "The Swimmer"
*Barbara Ehrenreich, selection from The Hearts of Men
Film: The Apartment

Week 4:   Homoeroticism and Heterosexual Desire
Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
Film: Top Gun

Week 5:  Queer is Queer: Homosexuality and Queerness
White, A Boy’s Own Story
Film: My Own Private Idaho

Week 6:  The Hard-Boiled, the Straight, and the Queer
Chandler, The Big Sleep
Film: Dirty Harry

Week 7:  Hard-Boiled Revisited: A Different Shade of Noir
Mosley, Devil With a Blue Dress
Film: Shaft

Week 8:   Once We Were Warriors
Silko, Ceremony
Film: Pow Wow Highway

Week 9: Locating Masculinity in a New Land
Chu, Eat a Bowl of Tea
Film: The Wedding Banquet  

Week 10: Final Paper Due Wednesday

Monday: No class (Memorial Day)

Paper due in my office  Wednesday, June 2, at 11am

(Final draft due for students participating in the linked writing course)