ComS 114: Communication and American Culture
Crime, Entertainment, and American Culture
Professor Jenny Stark E-mail:
Summer Session B: July 10-Aug 20


5 Collaborative in-class group writing 6
pts each 30 pts total (There will be 5 and they can happen on any day--no make-ups)
10 Homework Assignments 2 points each 20 pts total. (Assignments will be completed on Sac Ct)
2 Midterm and Final Exam (non cumulative) 50 pts total


Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
Neil Postman
Adnan's Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial

Podcast: Serial Season 1
Various other podcasts and online content

Online readings also posted on syllabus.

All reading assignments should be completed before date on syllabus

Area E: Requirements

  • Enhances the student's understanding of the development of the individual as a social being
  • Includes a study of how internal and external influences interact in human development
  • Promotes critical self-understanding, and accordingly will involve consideration of such topics as individual behavior and the relation of the person to culture

Students will:

  • Recognize and critically examine the development of the individual as a member of American culture
  • Will recognize and analyze the effects of entertainment and storytelling on individual behavior and its relation to culture

Specifically in this course:

  • Critical analysis of the ways modern American media interact with the conduct of American life
  • Emphasizes the role of commercialism and other aspects of contemporary American capitalism, late capitalism, and neoliberalism
  • Examines the problem of personal development and relationships in the context of a commercially dominated media system.
  • Understanding of how different forms of media interact with American life
  • Understand how the crime narrative shapes our perspective on real-life events
  • Explain the role of commerce/entertainment and how it forms the American Identity

Personal development in this context includes:

  • Connection to others and the world around us
  • The ability to concentrate free of distraction
  • Increased awareness of issues that are relevant to our lives
  • To communicate clearly and effectively
  • Recoginition of the influence of entertainment on all aspects of America culture
  • The ability to determine when entertainment is appropriate and when it is inappropriate as a means to communicate-
  • The devolopment of a nuanced approach to understanding crime storytelling


This course is driven by a central question: How do different media shape, obscure, and influence American Culture? To answer this question, we will be looking at different forms of media:

Non-fiction Television
A Serialized podcast


This course will combine traditional lectures with other formats such as discussion, small group breakout sessions, outside reading and in-class screenings.

Screening and Lecture Schedule:

Intro to Class

Empathy and Entertainment (Distraction)
Device fast assignment given (Homework 1--due 7/12 before class)
The Thin Blue Line (first hour)

7/12 Intro to Entertainment as Communication
Amusing Ourselves to Death 1-29
Homework 1 Due
Sherry Turkle Lecture
Article about Neil Postman
This American Life, Podcast (only listen to Prologue and Act I)
This American Life, Podcast only listen to prologue and Act 1
Serial Season 1, Episode 1 The Alibi
The Thin Blue Line (second hour)
Presentation 2

Homework 2 Due (Sac CT) Midnight 7/16 (extra time due to experiment. Note: the rest of the Homework moving forward will be due the day after class.)

Spend anywhere between 8-24 hours completely disconnected from social media, non-essential texting and online entertainment. In 2 paragraphs describe your experience.

In another paragraph relate your experience (#technofasting) to either the Sherry Turkle lecture, the This American Life Podcast (about social media), or your Postman reading

7/17 Typographic Mind
Presentation 3
Amusing Ourselves to Death 30-63
Serial Season 1 Episodes 2 and 3
Adnan's Story: Chapter 1 & 2
Homework 3 Due Sac Ct before class 7/19

7/19 The Peekaboo World
Amusing Ourselves to Death 64-80
Hello all, I will be out today, because of a stomach virus.
Your "class discussion" will be set up as a homework assignment on Sac Ct
Please go to the discussion board and follow instructions. Also, respond to at least one other student's post.
Presentation 4
Mr. Robot (Pilot) (Please watch on your own via Amazon or Itunes)
Article on Addiction
Rat Park Cartoon
Serial Episode 4 and 5
Adnan's Story Chapter 3

Presentation 4_b
Benjamin, McLuhan, Baudrillard
Cindy Sherman
Amusing Ourselves to Death 83-98
Serial Episode 6
Adnan's Story Chapter 4

Homework 4
Presentation 5_A
Amusing Ourselves to Death 99-113
Serial Episode 7
"Now This"
Adnan's Story Chapter 5

Serial Episode 8
Adnan's Story Chapter 6
Rear Window 1 Hour 55 minutes

John Oliver: Entertainment and our Understanding of The Torture Ban
Postman: 114-163
Serial Episode 9
Adnan's Story Chapter 7
Homework 5 (completed before class)

Pres 5_6
The Danger of a Single Story
Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema
Serial Episode 11
Adnan's Story Chapter 8 and 9

Pres 5_6
CSI Pilot
The Real CSI
Panopticism 1
Panopticism 2
Serial Episode 12
Adnan's Story Chapter 10

Pres 5_6
Undisclosed: Jay's Day
Interview with FBI profiler (about Jay's interview--episode 133)
What Serial Missed
Adnan's Story Chapter 11-12

Pres 5_6
Adnan's Story Chapter 13
Undisclosed: Tina

Grade Breakdown: This grade breakdown refers to total points i.e.
if your total points are 80, then you will receive a B-

Letter Grade





Excellent Work



Nearly Excellent Work



Very Good Work



Good Work



Mostly Good Work



Above Average Work



Average Work



Mostly Average Work



Below Average Work



Poor Work



Failing Work