Unit Two: Critically Reading and Analyzing the Cultural Function of Television

Goals of Unit Two: Unit Two is designed to build on the writing skills from unit I (focus, thesis, development, audience analysis, and critical reading) while extending the concepts of critical reading into more cultural realms (television, advertising, etc.) and introducing audiences and contexts outside the academy (potential viewers of a television show). This unit, then, once again highlights the key questions of context, purpose, and audience the entire course emphasizes, while beginning to introduce the idea of critical literacy skills (i.e. skills for "reading and writing the world" not just school texts).

Writing Skills Emphasized: The academic writing skills from Unit One-summary, focus, thesis, audience awareness, and development-will be re-emphasized in this paper. This paper does, however, put a different "spin" on some of these elements, upping the complexity level. For example, the audience is more distant and unknown to the writer, making audience analysis more important. Similarly, the types of proof are more textual and less based in personal experience (i.e., examples from the TV show in question). Thus, the new writing skills in this paper primarily involve a new purpose for analysis and types of proof; however, the changes in writing context affect all the other skills that are being re-emphasized as students need to make decisions about focus, thesis, and coherence appropriate to their analysis of the audience's needs.

Role of Reading: The main reading goal of unit 2 is a cultural rather than academic one: i.e., a critical reading of a cultural text. As a result, the print readings in this unit will be approached differently than in Unit One. The readings assigned in this unit are meant primarily to generate ideas, introduce students to ways of thinking about media culture, and offer sample analyses. The goal in discussions and activities is not to ensure every aspect of the essay is covered or even, in some cases, understood. Instead, the reading goals stay on a more abstract level of discussions of analysis techniques, relationships between culture and media, effect of texts on audiences, and rhetorical analyses of focus, purpose, audience and development

in this kind of writing.

Tips from Experience

- Some students will most likely claim that they do not watch or like television. Be prepared to offer these students other options such as print advertising in a specific magazine, a movie/film of their choice, children's literature, etc. Decide how "open" you are willing to be. Decide such changes on a case by case basis, however, since opening up a choice of genre to all students will make teaching this unit much more difficult.

- Students will have difficulty thinking of television as more than entertainment, especially their favorite shows. Many of the classes work against this assumption, but a conference is required here so that you can deal with such issues one-on-one. Be prepared for students to come to conference with only the most surface-level analyses.

- Some of the readings in this unit tend to take a very "liberal" perspective, conducting analyses that will seem to your students to "bash" many aspects of American culture. Remind your students continually that their own analyses can be more positive--they need not see reinforcement of a dominant cultural myth, for example, as a bad thing if they think it has a positive effect on the viewer.

- One of the most difficult parts of this paper, once students begin to analyze, is what, for lack of a better term, might be called the "so what" factor. Students will need to imagine why the audience might care to have the "hidden" meanings of a television show explained to them. Emphasizing the potentially detrimental and/or positive effects television might have on its viewers is one way to address this issue.

- Students have also had some trouble narrowing their focus on this essay, so keep that in mind as well. Often they think that once they've narrowed to a single show they can write on several aspects of the show. They might try to write about myths concerning gender, class, and race all in one essay. Given the amount of detail we're asking for in proving both the myth or anxiety they're dealing with and then what the show does with that myth or anxiety, they need to focus on one myth or anxiety. It might, though, have a few parts. For example, they could focus on a gender myth about what a "normal" woman should be - thin, beautiful, domestic, subservient to men, etc. Just make sure they don't try to take too much on.