COMM 123: Critical Approaches to Popular Culture - University of Pennsylvania (2019)

Course Description

Popular culture has been dismissed as mere trivia: “just entertainment.” It has been condemned as propaganda, a tool of mass deception. Its consumers have been dubbed cultural dupes, fashion victims, and couch potatoes. Critical Approaches to Popular Culture introduces students to some of the most important critiques of culture since the 1930s, and to different kinds of research that can help us understand popular culture and its effects. We will take a step back from simply consuming popular culture to investigate how different cultural forms communicate ideas about the world.

Overarching questions for the course include: What is popular culture? What are the boundaries between popular and “high” culture and who polices them? How have intellectuals, artists and other cultural commentators responded to popular culture? How do we consume popular culture and why do we consume popular culture in the ways that we do? How do people create their own popular culture and how has this production changed in the digital age?

To answer these questions we will explore a range of media and genres, including television, film, journalism, advertising, music, books, and social media. We will also consider how popular culture operates in places both public (eg: stores) and private (eg: dorm rooms). Crucially, we will investigate both what popular culture does to people and what people do with popular culture. Throughout the semester students will learn to assess the value of different critiques of popular culture. The course will help you develop critical thinking skills that can be applied to both scholarly and popular texts across multiple disciplines.