The central goal of this class will be to explore the relationship between “originals” and “copies” in visual culture as a means to develop and practice the skills of good writing. The ease of making copies today (copying is just two clicks away) seems to threaten long celebrated American ideals like individuality and innovation. Newspaper headlines that offer examples of American public figures caught plagiarizing lines from opponent’s speeches or lifting language from Wikipedia demonstrate the trouble copying can cause. The warnings at the beginning of Blu-rays about the illegality of copying film and television content remind us that copying can be “bad.” But copies and copying is also quite popular and incredibly lucrative. From pop music remixes to Hollywood superhero remakes, so much of our popular culture relies on copying. In this course we will ask: what are the values associated with copies? How do ideas of authenticity and originality relate to media production and consumption? What impact does the copy have on the meaning of the original? How might the copy also be a powerful social tool to critique the status quo?
While we won’t be able to answer these questions definitively, the pleasure will be in exploring their possible answers collectively. To understand the different approaches to copying in visual culture we will study two types of copying in film and media: replicas and remakes. We will begin the course by pulling from instances of copying in our everyday media environment (media piracy, memes, reposting). We will then draw on our discussion about contemporary copying practices to compare early film scholarship that expressed both anxiety and optimism about the cinema’s ability to replicate the world. We will then consider how the practice of copying in film and media has changed over time and across different types of media technology (film, television, digital). Moving into a unit on remakes, we will ground our discussion in examples of recent Hollywood remakes (Ghostbusters (1984, 2016)), global remakes of Hollywood classics, and the American adaptation of Latin American telenovela classic Yo Soy Betty, la Fea (Colombia, 1999–2001)). We will ask how the remake reworks the original for a contemporary audience and what the remake reveals about the original.
Along with short weekly writing exercises designed to help you generate new thought and practice your writing skills, in this class you will be asked to complete two formal writing projects. In the first writing project you will analyze a film sequence. The goal of this project will be to practice noticing the elements of film art (mise-en-scène, composition, editing, and sound) in order to articulate how film creates meaning your your second writing project you will use the writing skills that you develop in your first project to “follow a copy” across multiple texts. Since this is an introduction to college writing course, our collective work reading, watching, and questioning ideas of “the copy” will give you the tools to become strong critical thinkers and will also provide the groundwork for developing well-formed and persuasive written arguments. Expect to find in this class the critical exchange of ideas, rigorous and fun debate, and generous feedback all in the pursuit of discovering and pushing the limits of our collective knowledge.