High or low, mass or niche, absorbing or distracting, informative or trash, social glue or atomizer, art or opiate—since its inception at the turn of the twentieth century, the social, cultural, and aesthetic values of television have been contested by experts, critics, fans, and viewers in discourse that tends to these extremes. This course charts out the values and possibilities in between, using the writing process, different research methods, and critical inquiry to explore the ambivalent uses, meanings, and effects of a medium characterized by mutability and ubiquity.

The first unit of the course dives into the historical and theoretical dimensions of television as a socio-cultural form and forum; readings, viewings, and discussions here build toward the composition of an argumentative essay that tracks the metaphors assigned to television in one of three seminal essays on the medium, and considers how these meanings have mutated in the twenty-first century. “Factual” television, particularly in the form of the local and national news, serves as the focus of the second, research-intensive unit; working in groups, you will explore a digital local news archive and a national news archive, and present your findings about how the news coverage in each constructs values of significance and community. Continuing the examination of narrative initiated in our study of the news, the third and final unit pursues questions related to seriality, quality, and complexity; for your final project, you will compose an essay that undertakes a fine-tuned analysis of Twin Peaks.

This sampling of key concepts, issues, and developments related to television’s past, present, and future is designed to raise questions that will prove particularly provocative to write about and—ideally—will transform your understanding and appreciation of a medium with which you are deeply familiar.