This course poses the question “What is the meaning of the “American Dream” in the 21st Century?” Is this popularly constructed concept of the “American Dream” from the 20th Century still relevant today? Has the idea of the “American Dream” simply been “remixed” to accommodate current events? This course will focus on various representations of the “American Dream” in the context of contemporary cinema and popular culture. Not to be mistaken for a course interested in affirming the concept of the “American Dream,” the focus in this class will involve interrogating this manufactured concept to ascertain how such an idea has influenced and continues to influence American society. Using a series of recent films that address issues relating to money, technology, and cultural identity, this course will question, analyze, and critique various representations of the “American Dream” across popular culture. Further, the course will investigate other related concerns such as adding “fame” to a list of desirable accomplishments in this remixing of the American Dream. What, for instance, is implied by the phrase “famous for being famous”? How does one define their own identity in the age of “the profile” and “the selfie”? Cinema will be the focus of the course, but examples from the worlds of music, social media, and popular culture, will also be considered. Themes relating to issues of racial identity, class anxiety, social mobility, economic collapse and corruption, excess, privacy, fame and celebrity, among other themes and topics, will be explored.
Midterm Exam (October 16) – 50%
Final Exam (December 16) – 50%
[The midterm and final exams must be taken at the established date and time. The class cannot accommodate requests to alter the established date and time of the exams based on the personal schedule of individual students. There are no makeup exams. If there is an unexpected illness or other emergency that would prevent you from taking the exam at the established date and time, appropriate documentation must be submitted PRIOR TO the beginning of the exam. The legitimacy of unexpected illness and/or other emergency requests in this regard will be determined as acceptable or unacceptable at the discretion of the Professor.]
Class attendance is required and will be monitored. A sign-in sheet will be made available during the break between the end of lecture and the beginning of the screening. It is your responsibility to sign-in as proof of your attendance each week. You can only sign-in for yourself. There are no retroactive sign-ins.
Matt Taibbi, Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell, The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement Ben Mezrich, The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal Sherry Turkel, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other George Packer, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New AmericaAmerican Dream: The Remix course reader (CR)
[course reader available @ Magic Machine, 2820 S. Vermont Ave #12, between 28th & 29th St. 3 blocks north of USC]
Reading: George Packer, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America (CR): “Frears Finds the Heart of London’s Underground,” Philip French, The Observer, December 14, 2002.
“ Between the Dirty and the Pretty: Bodies in Utopia in Dirty Pretty Things,” Tom Whittaker, International Journal of Cultural Studies, 2011.
“Working Stiffs,” Cynthia Fuchs, Arts & Opinion, November 5, 2003.
“Dirty Pretty Things Movie Review,” Roger Ebert, 2003.
Screening: There Will Be Blood (P.T. Anderson, 2007)
Reading: Packer, cont.
(CR): “An American Primitive, Forged in a Crucible of Blood and Oil,” Manohla Dargis, The New York Times, December 26, 2007.
“Hard Life,” David Denby, The New Yorker, December 17, 2007.
“Sonic Isolation: Jonny Greenwood’s Score for There Will Blood,” Clare Nina Norelli, May 18, 2010.
“Best Films of the Noughties No 1: There Will Be Blood,” Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, January 1, 2010.
“There Will Be Blood (Review),” Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, February 7, 2008.
Screening: The Tillman Story (Amir Bar-Lev, 2010)
Reading: “Truths Blurred by a Free-Fall of Tears,” Todd Boyd, Los Angeles Times, December 18, 2005 (AVAILABLE ON BLACKBOARD)
“Pat Tillman, Our Hero” – Dave Zirin, The Nation, October 6, 2005 (AVAILABLE ON BLACKBOARD)
“The Decline and Fall of the American Empire”– Alfred W. McCoy, The Nation, December 6, 2010 (AVAILABLE ON BLACKBOARD)
“An Un-American Tragedy” Parts 1-4, Mike Fish, ESPN.com (AVAILABLE ON BLACKBOARD)
Screening: Margin Call (J.C. Chandor, 2011)
Reading: Matt Taibbi, Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History (CR): “Margin Call (Review),” James Berardinelli, October 19, 2011.
“Number Crunching at the Apocalypse,” A. O. Scott, The New York Times, October 20, 2011.
“Too Late to Succeed: Dramatizing the Financial Crisis in Margin Call,” Melissa Anderson, Village Voice, October 19, 2011.
Screening: Arbitrage (Nicholas Jarecki, 2012)
Reading: Taibbi, cont.
(CR): “Review: Richard Gere’s Rich Villain Fun to Watch in ‘Arbitrage,’” Betsy Sharkey, LA Times, September 13, 2012.
“Movie Review: In Arbitrage, Richard Gere Makes Us Root for a Madoffian Villain,” Bilge Ebiri, September 13, 2012.
“Arbitrage (Review),” Peter Travers, Rolling Stone, September 13, 2012.
“Gere Humanizes A Steely 1-Percenter In ‘Arbitrage,’” Jeannette Catsoulis, NPR, September 13, 2012.
Screening: The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2013)
Reading (CR): “The Wild, Brilliant ‘Wolf of Wall Street,’” Richard Brody, The New Yorker, December 24, 2013.
“The Wolf of Wall Street Can’t Sleep,” Geoffrey Gray, New York Magazine, November 24, 2013.
“Meet The Real ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ In Forbes’ Original Takedown of Jordan Belfort,” Brian Solomon, Forbes, December 28, 2013.
Screening: The Queen of Versailles (Lauren Greenfield, 2012)
Reading (CR): ‘The Queen of Versailles’: The Best Film on the Great Recession,” Ezra Klein, The Washington Post, November 12, 2012.
“Let Them Eat Crow,” A. O. Scott, The New York Times, July 19, 2012.
“The Queen of Versailles: The Nouveau Crash,” Karina Longworth, Village Voice, July 18, 2012.
Midterm Exam Screening: Blue Jasmine(Woody Allen, 2013)
Reading (CR): ‘Blue Jasmine’ Review: Cate Blanchett Mesmerizes in Woody Allen’s Latest Film,” Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post, August, 1, 2013.
“Annie and Her Sisters: Woody Allen’s Distinctive Female Characters,” Dave Itzkoff, The New York Times, July 17, 2013.
“Pride Stays, Even After the Fall,” Manohla Dargis, The New York Times, July 25, 2013.
Reading: Ben Mezrich, The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal (CR): “The Face of Facebook: Mark Zuckerberg Opens Up,” Jose Antonio Vargas, The New Yorker, September 20, 2010.
“Generation Why?” Zadie Smith, The New York Review of Books, November 25, 2010.
“The Tweaker: The Real Genius of Steve Jobs,” Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker, November 14, 2011.
Screening: We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks (Alex Gibney, 2013)
Reading: Sherry Turkel, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (CR): “Review: Provocative Doc ‘We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks’ Is Essential Immediate Viewing,” Gabe Toro, May 22, 2013.
“Why the Whistle Blows,” David Edelstein, New York Magazine, March 23, 2014.
“One Built a Pipeline for Secrets, and the Other Pumped Them Out,” Nicolas Rapold, The New York Times, May 23, 2013.
“We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks: Sundance Review,” David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter, January 23, 2013.
Reading (CR): “Riddle? Yes. Enigma? Sure. Documentary?” Melena Ryzik, The New York Times, April 13, 2010.
“Getting at the Truth of ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop,’” Jason Flech, Los Angeles Times, February 22, 2011.
“Exit Through the Gift Shop: Cavemen to the Right,” Norman Ball, November 2011.
Screening: The Bling Ring (Sofia Coppola, 2013)
Reading: Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell, The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement (CR): “The Suspects Wore Louboutins,” Nancy Jo Sales, Vanity Fair, March 2010.
“The Listless Boredom of the Bling Ring,” Michelle Dean, The Nation, June 25, 2013.
“Q&A: Nancy Jo Sales Dishes on the Bling Ring,” Rebecca Sacks, Vanity Fair, February 5, 2010.
“Sofia Coppola’s ‘The Bling Ring,’” Richard Brody, The New Yorker, June 13, 2013.
Screening: American Gangster (Ridley Scott, 2007)
Reading: Jay-Z, Decoded (CR):“The Return of Superfly,” Mark Jacobson, New York Magazine, August 14, 2000.
“Lords of Dopetown,” Mark Jacobson, New York Magazine, 2007.
“CEO of Smack: Ridley Scott’s Portrait of ‘70s Dope Visionary Frank Lucas May Not Be Epic, but It’s Still Super-Fly,” J. Hoberman, Village Voice, October 23, 2007.
Thanksgiving Break December 5
Final Class Lecture
11:00am – 1:00pm SCA 108
Students with special needs
Any student requesting academic accommodations based on a disability should register with Disability Services and Programs (DSP) each semester and obtain a letter of verification. Please deliver that letter to the TA as early in the semester as possible. DSP is located in STU 301 (8:30-5:00 pm, Monday-Friday; (213) 740-0776).