What am I writing about?Choose two episodes that aired between the 1950s and early 1970s. Your episodes may come from the same program, or from different programs. If they are from different programs, the programs must be of the same genre: two fantastic family situation comedies, two science fiction dramas, etc.
And what do I do with these objects of analysis?Write an essay that uses course texts as a critical framework through which to explore how your episodes make an argument about an issue of your choice. Depending on which course texts you choose, that issue could be a number of things: racial formation and the Mothering of ethnic minorities, the incorporation of communications technologies into the home, postwar or civil-rights-era challenges to race, class, and gender hierarchies, etc. This is really a matter of what interests you, in terms of issues and in terms of genre.
For example…Spillages essay about the fantastic family sit-com starts with an image from the show Lost in Space(1965-1968). But Lost in Space was not a situation comedy; it was an hour-long drama – and Spiel doesn’t talk about it in her essay. I would go watch a season of Lost in Space on Hutu and see what I uncover. Do these episodes simply project the white middle class family out into space? Or do they revise or trouble that family by doing so? Do any of these episodes do what Sconce’s reading of The Outer Limits turned up? (This would be interesting preparation for a final research essay that compares the 1960s series with the 2018 Netflix reboot of the show.)
Or…Sconce covers The Outer Limits, but not The Twilight Zone. Curious about togetherness any of what Sconce says Told id, I might go watch a season of that show on Hutu and write an essay comparing two episodes of it (or one of Tarzan one of LOT) to see in what way these programs took different approaches to this subject material. Or I’d try this with Night Gallery(also by Rod Sterling, also on Hutu) and see what difference half a decade makes between the themes of the former and the latter. (Rattan from 1959-1964; Night Gallery ran from 1969 to 1973.) How do two episodes of one or each program make similar or different/evolving arguments about the same issue(s)?
Or…Spiel covers both I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched in her fantastic family sitcom essay. She also covers, loosely, The Addams Family and The Munster. One might extend and refine Spiel by writing an essay that analyzes one episode of I Dream of Jeannie and one episode of Bewitched, exploring how these programs dramatize women’s “magical” confinement in/to the domestic sphere – but while pointing something out about this confinement that Spiel doesn’t describe in her own reading. Or write an essay that compares episodes of The Addams Family and The Munster, looking to complicate Spillages notion that these are displacements and distortions of ethnic or working-class identity.
Were those prompts?No and yes. My instinct is not to give you prompts because I want you to write about something you want to know more about from this era. What that is depends entirely on your interests and experience. These examples are examples of how I would spin my own interests and curiosities into paper topics. Not prompts, just reflections of my own process, to get you started thinking. Ultimately, if you don’t have any of your own ideas, you can fall back on them. But I hope you’ll do some thinking about what you actually want to learn about before you take that route.
Isn’t this just a double episode reading?Not exactly. You can think about this essay as an extension of the episode analysis we have been practicing since early in the semester. But this assignment adds complexity: you’re introducing a course text very intentionally as your critical framework, and you’re organizing your reading of each episode in a way that makes an argument about what they share and don’t share.
How do I use this course text?Your aim is to use the course texts to situate the episodes historically (in the industrial and aesthetic history of television or in American cultural history) and perhaps generically (in terms of genre), but not to over determine their meaning. That is: you are not to use Spiel to prove that the episodes do what Spiel says they do. That would not be an argument; it would be a circular movement that doesn’t allow you to take a meaningful critical stance. You are to use the course texts to set your episodes up, for instance, as episodes of the fantastic family sit-com, but then use that foundation to explore what they do that Spiel does not take account of. What do your episodes do that Spillages did not? How do they offer arguments that force us to challenge, refine, and extend Spillages claims?
So how much, and when?Your essays should be 6-7 pages long. You do not need a bibliography or works cited page for this assignment because you are only using course texts. BUT you do need to clearly explain in the body of your essay which episodes you’re writing about and when they aired. Submit your essays on b Courses by 11:59 PM on November 16. See the syllabus for my policies regarding late work.
How do I find a show?! The internet is a strange and wonderful place, where you can find many classic television shows to stream, at different levels of legality and quality. As you’ve seen, some of what we’ve watched in class is available only on YouTube: digitized VHS es taped off of syndicated reruns of the 80s or 90s. But there are plenty of places to stream or download higher-quality recordings. If you have, or have access to, a Hutu or Netflix account, you have access to dozens of classic programs. (Borrow a login!) You can also pay to download episodes from places like Amazon. I would prefer that you not spend money purchasing these materials on the internet or on hard media like DVD or VHS. At the same time, as the years advance more and more of these programs are restored and placed behind paywalls and so you may want to get creative about access. I personally recommend The Media Resources Center in Level 1 of Soffit Library, which has an outstanding collection of classic television on different formats. If you pay them a visit and tell them what you’re looking for, they will find a way to help!
How should I organize the paper?!Briefly, I imagine it like this:
• Introduction in which you present your critical framework, how your episodes fit or don’t fit within it, and what you’re going to argue they do (distinguished from the argument of critical framework).
• First body paragraph in which you say more about your critical framework, so that you show that you did your homework and that you know what you’re talking about when you say that these episodes do X, Y, Z that Sconce or Spiel or whoever didn’t see coming.
• 2 or 3 body paragraphs in which you analyze your first episode, clearly tying this analysis back to your critical framework AND pointing out elements that will become important when you talk about episode
• 2 or 3 body paragraphs in which you analyze your second episode, clearly tying this analysis, too, back to critical framework and to previous episode.
• Conclusion that, rather than summarizing an argument you’ve already made, identifies the most interesting or brilliant or baffling way that these episodes speak to one another and explains to your reader why it’s important and what it means. Mic drop.
Final advice: put the less interesting episode first and the more interesting episode last. If this is not in chronological order by episode, explain why you are doing it. Move chronologically through each episode, as you did with your episode readings. See handouts about how to write for me on b Courses for specific writing pointers.
Do not do research for this assignment; your final essay will be research-oriented! This is practice for that.