Gender, Sexuality, + Media/CTCS 412 (18116R):


Professor Tara McPherson,
Tuesdays 10-1:50/SCA 258, Spring 2016
Office: SCA 327
Office Hours:  Weds: 2-3 + by appt.
TA: Jennifer Cho,
From talk shows to the internet to The Enquirer to the countless star biographies scattered across cable and bookstores, fascination with celebrities permeates our culture.  We can all name favorite stars, and our desire to learn more about them can fuel our engagements with popular media.  Throughout the twentieth century, much of the popular writing on cinema has consisted of star biographies and tell-all memoirs, but scholarly investigations of the star are more recent.  This course revolves around a critical investigation of the role of the star in historical and contemporary U.S. culture.  In an attempt to analyze the star phenomenon, this class will focus on the role of the star within the ‘machinery’ of cinema – the ways in which stars function in the entertainment industry, within cinematic and extra-cinematic texts, and at the level of individual fantasy and desire.

How are the images of stars created and circulated, guaranteeing both audiences and profits for media producers, distributors, and exhibitors?  How do stars act as organizing presences within cinematic fictions?  What is the relationship between character and star image – does the star image bind the spectator into the fictional world of the film or does it threaten to escape or exceed it?  How are our own desires and fantasies mobilized or managed by classical Hollywood texts?  What are the ideological effects and cultural consequences of the star phenomenon?  Do stars help underwrite particular cultural notions of gender, class, sexuality and race?  How do they model modes of femininity and masculinity?  How do stars fuel consumerism?  Can certain audiences read stars ‘against the grain,’ reclaiming the star for their own communities?  How do stars crossover from one medium to another or between fan bases?

As this list of questions makes clear, the paradoxes posed by cinematic stars – figures who are represented as both like and unlike us, mythical yet real, public but intimately known, commodities as well as people – suggest a number of important issues which are crucial to the understanding of film as an industrial, textual, cultural and psychological product.  By employing historical, feminist, psychoanalytic, and sociological theories of the cinema and of acting, we’ll explore some of the many issues raised by the Hollywood star machine.

This course also focuses on many forms of difference, including class, gender, race and sexuality. Throughout the term, we will reflect upon complex and diverse aspects of gender and examine how they relate to issues of power. Students will also learn about race and representation in media, including the political aspects of identity, race and media economies, and race as it intersects with issues of sexuality and gender.  Sexuality is explored as ideological and political construction.  The course will draw on multiple levels of discursive analysis and theory.  While we will certainly not answer all the questions raised by the phenomenon of stars in the course of one semester, you will, upon completion of the course, have a better sense of the complicated ways stars have functioned within the Hollywood industry, within U.S. culture, and within our imaginations.  You will also develop skills in the close reading of scholarly and media texts and will have an understanding of the ways in which stars and celebrity have been examined within film and media studies.

Note on course content:  The screenings for our course address issues of femininity, masculinity, sexuality, race, racism and other potentially sensitive subjects.  Our discussions in class will also include these topics.  If you have concerns about course content, please feel free to discuss your concerns with me. 


This course is designed as a discussion-based seminar and to work effectively it will require faithful preparation and active participation from all class members.  You should do all assigned readings before class and also actively watch television and film and survey the web, looking for examples from the contemporary media to supplement course materials.  Class time will be divided between brief lectures, longer discussions, group work, and screenings.  Your grade will be determined as follows:

1.  Participation and attendance are required.  Missing more than two classes will significantly lower your grade.  In addition to being physically present, you'll be expected to contribute to discussions each week.  I will call on you at random, so be prepared to contribute. (10%)

2.  Online Blog participation:  During the semester, you will be required to post to a class blog at least 12 times.  Five of these posts should be in the form of weekly reading responses (approximately 350-400 words).  These “core” responses should engage critically with the course reading for that day and should demonstrate both a grasp of the material and your own considered response to the same.  Simply saying you liked or didn't like something or providing a straight summary of the readings is not sufficient; you should demonstrate careful, analytical thinking. You may also pose questions for group discussion for the next class. Feel free to draw on class screenings or materials outside of the course as well, integrating them into your discussions and analyses but do address course readings.  These 5 “core” responses should be posted by 9 p.m. on the Monday evening before class.  You will sign up in advance for these posts.  Your other 7 “supplemental” posts can take the form of meaningful responses to your peers’ posts, star sighting stories, links to interesting celebrity sites or tales, reactions to screenings or readings, etc.  These should be posted by midnight on the Monday evening before class and can be posted throughout the semester, preferably not all at the end of term.  Ideally, the blog will become a communal space for the class, one used to address and ponder course themes and to point your peers to interesting materials.  You are, of course, expected to read the blog regularly and are encouraged to post more frequently if the spirit moves you.  The quality of your posts is the most important aspect of your grade for this portion of the class. The blog is at ; you will soon be receiving an invitation to join the blog; follow the instructions in that email.  Please post a photo of yourself in your profile. (30%)

3.  A multi-media mid-term project.  We'll discuss it in more detail later.  (30%) 

4. A final project that applies insights and topics from the class to a creative or analytical investigation that you will choose in consultation with me.  These projects might take many forms, ranging from websites to short films to board games to essays.  We will discuss them in more detail later this term.  (30%)


* Richard Dyer, Stars
* Richard Dyer, Heavenly Bodies (HB)
* Christine Gledhill, ed., Stardom: Industry of Desire  (SID)
* Readings marked “RESERVE” in the syllabus will be available online on Blackboard.


1/12: Seeing Stars:  An Introduction
       Screenings: All About Eve 1950 J. Mankiewicz 138m.
                   Selected shorts

1/19:  The Star Phenomenon
               Dyer, Stars, pgs. 1-30, 87-131       
       Screenings: The Sheik 1921 George Melford 80m.
                   Selected silent shorts with Mary Pickford

1/26: Early Stars: Our Girl vs. the Sheik
               Staiger, deCordova, and Hansen in SID   
       Screening: Now, Voyager 1942 Irving Rapper 117m.

2/2: Consuming Stars: Stars and Studios
        Dyer, Stars, pgs. 33-63
        Laplace, “Producing and Consuming the Woman’s Film”
        Eckert, SID, pgs. 30-39
       Screening: Stagecoach 1939 John Ford 96m.

2/9:  Multimedia Workshop 1
         Screening: North by Northwest, Alfred Hitchcock, 1959, 136 m.

2/16:  Big Men:  Masculinity & Genre
           Gary Willis, Prologue and Introduction to John Wayne’s
           America (RESERVE)
           Steven Cohan, “The Spy in the Gray Flannel Suit” from
           Masked Men (RESERVE)
           Britton, SID, pgs. 198-206
       Screening: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes 1953 H. Hawkes 91m.

********************RECEIVE MIDTERM PROJECT******************

2/23:  Big Women:  Femininity and the Fifties
        Harris, SID, pgs. 40-44
        Dyer, HB, pgs. 20-66
        Brown, “Audrey Hepburn: The Film Star as Event” (RESERVE)
       Screening: A Streetcar Named Desire 1951 Elia Kazan 122m.

3/1:  The Method Men: Acting and Masculinity
        King, SID, pgs. 167-182
        Dyer, Stars, pgs. 132-150
        Gledhill, SID, pgs. 207-229
       Screenings: Viva Las Vegas 1964 George Sidney 86m.
                   Assorted Elvis
3/8: Elvis Sightings: Whiteness, Taste, and Southern Boys
               Sweeney, “The King of White Trash Culture” (RESERVE)
               Doss, excerpts from Elvis Culture  (RESERVE) 
Multimedia workshop 2: OPTIONAL

******MID-TERM DUE BY Friday. 3/11 at 5 p.m. via email ********

3/15: Spring Break

       Screenings Only: Showboat 1936, James Whale 113 m.
                                   Here I Stand, 1999, St. Clair Bourne, 90 m

3/29:  Black Masculinities and Popular Culture
               Dyer, HB, pgs. 68-140
               Mercer, SID, pgs. 300-316       
       Screening: Terminator 2 1991 James Cameron 136 m.

4/5:  Hardcore Masculinity in the 1980s and 1990s
               Jeffords, “Terminal Masculinity: Men in the Early  1990s” (RESERVE)
               Bukatman, “Terminal Resistance/Cyborg Acceptance” (RESERVE)
               Dyer (McDonald), Stars, pgs. 180-186
      Screenings: Truth or Dare 1991 Alek Keshishian 118m.


4/19: Softcore Femininity:  The Many Faces of Madonna
        hooks, “Madonna: Plantation Mistress or Soul Sister”                (RESERVE)
        Cvetkovich, “The Powers of Seeing and Being Seen”                   (RESERVE)
       Screening: Out of Sight 1998 Steven Soderbergh 122m.

4/26: Global Stars: Consuming Latino/a Culture
      Roberts, “The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat” (RESERVE)
      Beltran, “The Hollywood Latina Body as Site of Social Struggle…” (RESERVE)
      Frances Negron-Muntaner, “Jennifer’s Butt” (RESERVE) 
      No screening
Final Project Presentations will take place during the scheduled exam period on Tuesday, May 10th from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Required University Caveats + Info:

Academic Conduct

Plagiarism – presenting someone else’s ideas as your own, either verbatim or recast in your own words – is a serious academic offense with serious consequences. Please familiarize yourself with the discussion of plagiarism in SCampus in Section 11, Behavior Violating University Standards Other forms of academic dishonesty are equally unacceptable. See additional information in SCampus and university policies on scientific misconduct,

Discrimination, sexual assault, and harassment are not tolerated by the university. You are encouraged to report any incidents to the Office of Equity and Diversity or to the Department of Public Safety
safety/online-forms/contact-us. This is important for the safety of the whole USC community. Another member of the university community – such as a friend, classmate, advisor, or faculty member – can help initiate the report, or can initiate the report on behalf of another person. The Center for Women and Men provides 24/7 confidential support, and the sexual assault resource center webpage describes reporting options and other resources.

Support Systems

A number of USC’s schools provide support for students who need help with scholarly writing. Check with your advisor or program staff to find out more. Students whose primary language is not English should check with the American Language Institute, which sponsors courses and workshops specifically for international graduate students.

The Office of Disability Services and Programs provides certification for students with disabilities and helps arrange the relevant accommodations.

If an officially declared emergency makes travel to campus infeasible, USC Emergency Information will provide safety and other updates, including ways in which instruction will be continued by means of blackboard, teleconferencing, and other technology.

Course Exam, Project and Paper Retention Policy

It is the responsibility of all students in Critical Studies courses to retrieve all papers, projects, assignments and/or exams within one academic year of completion of a course. These records may be essential in resolving grade disputes and incompletes as well as assist in verifying that course requirements have been met. The Critical Studies Division will dispose of all records from the previous academic year in May of the current academic year. No exceptions. Please be in contact with your TA or professor about collecting these documents while you are taking the course.

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