Time Travel Narratives
M 3:00-5:50pm Helmerich Auditorium
Like most science fiction, “time travel” stories are often less about the futuristic technology itself (however fantastical or realistic in its presentation), and more about the genre’s ability to use those narrative possibilities as a means to explore deeper philosophical, political and emotional themes in film and television. For example, when reflecting back on his debut feature, the quirky sci-fi film, Safety Not Guaranteed (2013), director Colin Trevorrow suggested that this recent film was not about time travel so much as it was “about the emotional needs [that] the idea of time travel satisfies.” Indeed, time travel narratives are often structured around how to handle (constructively and destructively) a persistent haunting of frustration, regret and even hopelessness felt in the present time. The sub-genre of the time travel story almost always starts from the same assumption—that the present is in some way inadequate, and can only be understood if put in dialogue with the future or, more often, the past. Through sci-fi allegory, these stories imagine a narrative space to play out the individual and collective desires to change the present, as much as they foreground the romanticization of lost pasts or the utopic potential of imagined futures. This course will closely analyze a handful of representative examples from the time travel sub-genre, with attention to their thematic and narrative components, as well as to the broader historical, political and cultural challenges they may reflect. In addition to Safety Not Guaranteed, we will explore other time travel narratives, which may include more recent titles such as Primer, 2046, Triangle, Looper, Timecrimes and Hot Tub Time Machine, as well as classics such as La Jetee, Twilight Zone, Slaughterhouse-Five, Somewhere in Time, Time Bandits, Back to the Future, A Brief History of Time, Groundhog Day, Doctor Who and Star Trek IV. Lecture and discussion will be based on exploring these films, as well as accompanying essays and chapters by writers such as Vivian Sobchack, Constance Penley, John Cheng, Amy Taubin, Fredric Jameson, Bliss Cua Lim, David Wittenberg and others.
By the end of the term, students should be able to: 1) identify some of the dominant thematic, narrative and stylistic tendencies which help define the “time travel” story as a distinct sub-genre; 2) articulate in writing the larger aesthetic and cultural value of the genre; 3) have a working knowledge of the production and/or reception contexts for several of these films and television programs; and 4) articulate how some themes of time travel narratives may speak to larger historical, national and political concerns.
Final grade will be based on two short papers, one research essay and participation.
Required Class Materials:
Assigned readings will be posted to Blackboard.
Movies and television episodes will be screened in class.
History of Disney
TTh 1:00-2:50 Annenberg Hall G30
Despite the Walt Disney Company’s massive media presence today, little attention is paid to the rich history which built it, dating all the way back to its origins as Laugh-O-Gram Studios in Kansas City during the 1920s. What visible glimpses we have today tend to be shaped by the market imperatives of corporate re-branding and the sentimental simplicity of nostalgic hazes. As such, this course will focus on the many ups and downs over the decades of Disney’s slow aesthetic, economic, and cultural growth, providing a foundation for better understanding the company today. In addition to analyzing particular Disney texts (some well-known and many not well-known), special emphasis will be paid to the many facets of the studio’s first critical and commercial success in the 1930s, its struggles with bankruptcy throughout the 1940s, and its hugely successful re-branding as a prominent component of a new post-war leisure culture in the 1950s and 1960s. Extensive attention will also be paid to the company’s considerable revival and expansion under the “Team Disney” leadership of the 1980s and 1990s, as well as some reflection on the recent investment in once-competing brands such as Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm. This course is designed as a smaller-scale class for a limited number of freshmen and sophomores, which thus will require active and informed participation from all students who enroll. For instance, every student will be expected to lead discussion on a designated course reading during an assigned day. Students should also note that less attention will be paid to the Disney theme parks—a subject which will be more fully explored in a separate course on “vacation” narratives in the spring quarter.
By the end of the term, students should be able to: 1) identify the cultural, technological, and economic histories of the Disney Studios itself; 2) reflect critically and in writing on how these histories helped shape many of the well-known, but also lesser-known, films and television shows from the company’s past; 3) articulate the aesthetic and commercial particulars of the larger “Disney Universe” beyond individual texts; 4) engage critically on questions of race, gender/sexuality and class which are reflected, and often informed by, these aspects of the Disney empire; and 5) classify the aesthetic and thematic characteristics of the “classic” Disney text.
Final grade will be based on two short papers, one research essay, participation and serving as reading discussion leader on assigned days.
Required Class Materials
Smoodin, Eric, ed. Disney Discourse: Producing the Magic Kingdom. New York: Routledge, 1994.
Other assigned readings will be posted to Blackboard.
Movies and television episodes will be screened in class.