Course Descriptions

FYS 494 Lorraine Hansberry and James Baldwin: Young, Gifted, Black, and Queer

Lorraine Hansberry and James Baldwin were two of the most influential artists and public intellectuals of the twentieth century. Both produced works in a variety of genres-essay, drama, novel, oratory, film, and television. They championed the civil rights movement, promoted African American dignity and pride, and critiqued white supremacy throughout their careers. This course joins the new research on Hansberry and Baldwin that uses an intersectional approach to demonstrate how their identities as queer people of color influenced and shaped their enduring and powerful analyses of race, gender, sexuality, and social class in their art.

FYS 527 African American Religion in American Film

This seminar examines how significantly religion and cinema have interacted, taking into account the complex ways in which race, religion, and cinema have been interwoven in American movies. These movies include ones from classical Hollywood cinema of the early twentieth century, the “race movies” specifically created by and for African American audiences from the silent era to the mid-twentieth century, and the recent “strong black women” in the sin-and-salvation films of Tyler Perry, T. D. Jakes, and Queen Latifah.

FYS 547 Conspiracy Rhetoric: Power, Politics, and Pop-Culture

Once relegated to the fringe of society, conspiracy rhetoric has moved to the center of political and public discourse in the United States. This course examines the narratives, argumentative structures, and functions of conspiracy rhetoric. Students examine an array of conspiracy theories – both real and fictional – to critique the work that conspiracy theories do for the individual and communities to understand the role of language and visual media in creating and defining reality. In addition, students create texts in various media to elevate discourse in the public sphere around fake news and conspiracy theories.

RFSS 100 What is Rhetoric?

Although the oldest discipline, rhetoric may be the least understood. Aristotle defined rhetoric as “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.” In this course, students conduct a historical survey of rhetorical theory from classical times to the present to critique the role of language in establishing, perpetuating, and challenging power. Rhetorical artifacts examined include political speeches, television programs, print advertisements, editorials, music, film, and social media.

RFSS 120 Introduction to Screen Studies

This course is designed to introduce students to the production techniques, historical context, cultural function, and critical analysis of various film and television texts. Both film and television play an important role in defining, challenging, and reinforcing cultural norms and practices. By looking critically at a number of texts and artifacts, the course encourages students to develop a better understanding of the role film and television play in defining cultures and “reality.”

RFSS 162 White Redemption: Cinema and the Co-optation of African American History

Since its origins in the early twentieth century, film has debated how to represent black suffering. This course examines one aspect of that debate: the persistent themes of white goodness, innocence, and blamelessness in films that are allegedly about black history and culture. Historical and cultural topics examined in film include the enslavement of Africans, Reconstruction, and the civil rights movement.

RFSS 202 Coming of Age While Black

This course proceeds from the premise that coming of age while Black is fraught with the dangers created by a system of anti-black surveillance. Students examine “coming-of-age” memoirs and films that began during the era of the U.S. civil rights movement in the 1950s. Typically, the films and memoirs in this sub-genre feature a young Black protagonist, often a teen, navigating, sometimes successfully but not always, a world defined by intersecting oppressions created by race, class, gender, sexuality, and/or colonial identity. Prerequisite(s): a course in Africana or in Rhetoric, Film, and Screen Studies.

RFSS 219 Race, Gender, and International Cinema

This course investigates a number of films, filmmakers, film industries, and film movements that have changed the shape of movies and expanded our understanding of what is possible with cinema. Students gain a greater knowledge of the global cinematic landscape and discern the role that cinema plays in global and local cultures. The course is particularly sensitive to the representation of race and gender and asks how a sensitivity to local cultural traditions might challenge or change readings of specific texts. Films from Iran, Brazil, Senegal, France, Australia, Italy, Japan, India, China, and Germany may be considered. Prerequisite(s): one of the following: RFSS 100, RFSS 120, or AF/RF 162.

RFSS 220 Constructions of Italian American Men and Masculinities

From Rudolf Valentino to The Godfather to Jersey Shore, American media makers and audiences seem obsessed with the Italian American man. In challenging cultural conventions and brazenly refusing to conform to accepted social norms, the Italian American male in popular culture is simultaneously admired and feared. Representations of the Italian American male indulge fantasies of total freedom while providing a cautionary tale that endorses social conformity. This course examines representations of Italian American men to determine the cultural place of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class, with attention paid to the rhetorical usage of these overlapping identities. Prerequisite(s): one of the following: RFSS 100, RFSS 120, or AF/RF 162.

RFSS 240 Film Theory

What is a film? How should films be viewed? What cultural role do the movies play? As might be expected, such open-ended questions have yielded no shortage of answers. This intermediate-level film studies course introduces students to some of the dominant theoretical models that have surfaced throughout the history of film theory (including formal film analysis, realism, Soviet montage theory, documentary theory, and experimental film theory), while also exploring issues of cultural studies, authorship, ideology, representation, digital cinema, reception studies, and global and transnational cinema. In coming to an understanding of these approaches, students develop a deeper comprehension of the cultural place and artistic significance of the movies. Prerequisite(s): RFSS 100, 120, or AF/RF 162.

RFSS 242 Passing/Trespassing

This course examines the rhetoric of containing black bodies in cinematic and literary narratives. In passing narratives light-skinned people move across racial lines supposedly fixed by biology, custom, and law. In trespassing narratives black persons enter spaces denoted as white by law or custom. This course calls attention to fear, fantasy, punishment, and resistance as ongoing dimensions of race and white supremacy. Recommended background: at least one course with race as a central topic.

RFSS 252 Rhetorical Theory

While rhetoric is commonly perceived to be persuasion, rhetorical theorists have long studied the relationship between symbol systems and broader aspects of human identity. This course focuses on theories that explore the epistemological (how we know) and the ontological (being) aspects of language use. The course begins with general theories related to the topic and then moves to discussions of how language influences our understanding and embodiment of race, gender, sexuality, and citizenship. Prerequisite(s): RFSS 100, 120, or AF/RF 162.

RFSS 257 Rhetorical Criticism

In this course, students apply rhetorical theories to a variety of artifacts to understand the unique insights afforded by rhetorical studies. Students write, present, and discuss papers in which they apply and analyze different rhetorical perspectives. Rhetorical artifacts examined include political speeches, campaign advertising, television, print advertisements, editorials, music, film, Internet sites, and social-movement rhetoric. Prerequisite(s): RFSS 100.

RFSS 260 Lesbian and Gay Images in Film

This course investigates the representation of lesbians and gays in film from the Golden Age of Hollywood to the contemporary independent filmmaking movement. Topics may include the effect of the “closet” on Hollywood film, homophobic imagery, international queer films, “camp” as a visual and narrative code for homosexuality, the independent filmmaking movement, and the debates about queer visibility in contemporary mass-market and independent films.

RFSS 265 The Rhetoric of Women’s Rights

Throughout American history the roles and rights ascribed to women have differed from those ascribed to men. Because of their differing situations, women have had to use rhetorical means to attain their goals of equality and access to the public sphere. This course examines rhetorical strategies used by women to overcome the exigencies they faced. It considers the rhetoric of oppositional voices who have challenged the goals of the feminist movements and the rhetoric in the broader social environment that establishes the social norms and values in which the movement must operate. Students learn and apply the tools of rhetorical criticism in order to identify, describe, and evaluate the rhetorical strategies. Prerequisite(s): one of the following: RFSS 100, RFSS 120, or AF/RF 162.

RFSS 271 Film Noir, Its Influences, and Its Legacies

From private eyes, femme fatales, and criminal masterminds to byzantine plots, double crosses, and good old-fashioned nihilism, film noir has contributed much to cinematic history and contemporary film. This course considers its influences, such as pulp magazines’ hardboiled fiction and German expressionism, and examines its legacies into the twenty-first century. Students question what film noir actually is: A genre? An ethos? A lighting scheme? The course also interrogates film noir’s rhetorical constructions of gender, race, class, and sexuality from its heyday in the 1940s and 1950s into the present. Finally, the course considers why these films continue to be so influential. Prerequisite(s): AF/RF 162, RFSS 100, or RFSS 120.

RFSS 272 Intersectional Rhetorics

This course investigates intersectionality as an orientation toward critical practice for both scholars and activists. Students consider intersectionality as a theory, exploring its utility for understanding and explaining lived experiences of marginality and privilege. They explore intersectionality as a method for engaging in activism/advocacy as well as for analyzing and evaluating rhetorical texts. They also interrogate intersectionality as an issue of discipline, exploring the concept’s disciplinary roots in Black feminist theory and politics while also considering how the study of intersectionality has created an exigency in the discipline of rhetoric to amplify certain voices and issues. Prerequisite(s): AF/GS 201; AF/RF 162; GSS100; or RFSS 100 or 120.

RFSS 273 Monday Morning Quarterbacking: The Rhetoric of Sports

This course examines the ways in which discourse surrounding sports influences culture, politics, and one’s sense of self. Using rhetorical theories such as myth, metaphor, and narrative, students analyze the discourses surrounding topics such as the rhetorical construction of the athlete, sporting events, athletes as racialized and gendered bodies, the commodification of the athlete, athletes and activism, and fandom and identification. Prerequisite(s): RFSS 100, 120, or AF/RF 162.

RFSS 276 Television Criticism

This course examines the representational strategies employed by television to convey social messages. The goals of the course are twofold: first, to acquaint students with the basic theoretical premises of rhetorical approaches to television; and second, to provide students an opportunity for critical and original research. Students examine how representations of race, class, sexuality, ability, and other categories of analysis are articulated in science fiction and fantasy on television. Prerequisite (s): RFSS 100, 120, or AF/RF 162..

RFSS 360 Independent Study

Students, in consultation with a faculty advisor, individually design and plan a course of study or research not offered in the curriculum. Course work includes a reflective component, evaluation, and completion of an agreed-upon product. Sponsorship by a faculty member in the program/department, a course prospectus, and permission of the chair are required. Students may register for no more than one independent study per semester.

RFSS 365 Special Topics

Offered occasionally in selected subjects.

RFSS 391 Topics in Rhetorical and Film Criticism

Recommended for sophomores and juniors, the topic varies from semester to semester. The seminar relies largely upon individual student research, reports, and discussion. Instructor permission is required. Students should consult the departmental web page for petition form and process.

RFSS 391A The Rhetoric of Alien Abduction

This seminar examines the discourse surrounding UFOs and alien abduction. Texts are drawn from various media and include both fictional and nonfictional accounts of interaction with aliens. The course uses abduction/UFO discourse as a way to interrogate articulations of power, reality, control, rights, and identity as they are expressed both by abduction experiencers and popular culture. Topics include conspiracy, narrative, apocalyptic rhetoric, and myth. This seminar is recommended for sophomores and juniors. Prerequisite(s): one course in rhetoric, film and screen studies.

RFSS 391B Presidential Campaign Rhetoric

In this course, students explore the wide array of discourse surrounding presidential campaigns. Attention is paid to political speeches, advertisements, debates, news reporting, and the use of social media in campaigning. Students also participate in an extensive “mock campaign” complete with candidates, conventions, media, debates, and scandal. Special attention is paid to the evaluation of evidence and sources in the construction of political argument and image. This seminar is recommended for juniors and seniors. Prerequisite(s): one course in rhetoric, film, and screen studies.

RFSS 391E The Interracial Buddy Film

This course examines the intersections of race and gender in the interracial buddy film, an enduring genre that emerged in the civil rights era and has become one of the most profitable film formulas. Students examine how the films construct masculinity and race in political contexts. This course is recommended for sophomores and juniors. Prerequisite(s): one course in rhetoric, film and screen studies.

RFSS 391F Bollywood

This course develops a historical understanding of Bollywood while demonstrating that the economic realities of a globalized world have ethical implications for cultural production. The course considers the history of Bollywood productions from the 1950s to the 1990s, a time in which the aesthetic style and production practices of these films were established; special attention is paid to the gender, racial, sexual, and class politics of these movies. Next, students consider the industry’s global popularity and the lucrative potential of transnational audiences. Finally, they investigate how Hollywood and independent films have attempted to capture a more traditional Bollywood audience. Films under study include Mother India, Zanjeer, Dhoom 2, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, and Slumdog Millionaire. This seminar is recommended for sophomores and juniors. Prerequisite(s): one course in rhetoric, film and screen studies.

RFSS 391J Film Festival Studies

This course is structured around ongoing discussions within the academic field of festival studies and asks students to apply those conversations to the planning of an on-campus film festival. Throughout the course, students screen, discuss, and evaluate possible festival films and draw on the resources and connections of the Bates community to produce the event. They also engage in discussions about the history of film festivals, the promotion of festivals, the ways that festivals are accredited, the funding of festivals, the audience(s) of festivals, and the ways these realities create opportunities and constraints for festival organizers. This seminar is recommended for juniors and seniors. Prerequisite(s): one course in rhetoric, film and screen studies.

RFSS 391K Cyborgs on Screen

Some of the scariest and some of the most beloved characters in science fiction cinema and television are cyborgs. The simple equation of part human/part machine/all cyborg adds up to more than fiction, though; this course considers how disability, feminist, and cultural studies scholars engage with cyborgs’ rhetorical constructions. This course also considers the cyborg in its historical contexts through the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, examining the various cultural anxieties reflected in different rhetorical constructions of cyborgs on screen. Prerequisite(s): one rhetoric, film, and screen studies course.

RFSS 391L Screening Slavery: A Transnational Approach

This course takes a transnational approach to films about the four hundred years of the enterprise in trans-Atlantic slavery. A transnational approach emphasizes the creation of a global audience, and sometimes one that is specifically Black or Pan-African, for films about slavery and its aftermath. These films challenge and question the stereotypes about slavery and enslaved people that were the foundation for anti-Blackness in United States and other Western national cinemas. The filmmakers considered in this course are most often members of the African diaspora in the Americas, especially, from the United States, Cuba, Martinique, and Brazil. Prerequisite(s): AF/RF 162 or a course in Africana.

RFSS 391M Rhetorics of the Body: Intersections of Identity, Power, and Culture

Bodies are profoundly rhetorical: they compel audiences to act, think, and be in the world differently. Rhetoric is also profoundly embodied: rhetorical messages are articulated through bodies that exist at the intersection of various dynamics of identity and power. As both vehicles and artifacts of rhetoric, bodies hold the power to reveal, maintain, and disrupt the underlying beliefs, norms, and values of a given culture. This course explores the relationship between the body and rhetoric, including how bodies communicate rhetorical messages as well as how broader discourses enable, constrain, and define bodies in particular ways. Prerequisite(s): one course in rhetoric, film, and screen studies.

RFSS 457 Senior Thesis

A substantial academic or artistic project. Students register for RFSS 457 in the fall semester. Majors writing an honors thesis register for both RFSS 457 and 458.

RFSS 458 Senior Thesis

A substantial academic or artistic project. Students register for RFSS 458 in the winter semester. Majors writing an honors thesis register for both RFSS 457 and 458.

RFSS S16 Public Discourse

This course is designed to develop an awareness of and skill in the techniques needed by a speaker in varying situations, from the large gathering to the small group. Students analyze and compose public speeches on various political issues.

RFSS S17 Introduction to Argumentation

An examination of the theory and practice of argumentation. This course explores argument theory from antiquity to the present and gives students the opportunity to develop skills in structured academic debates.

RFSS S24 American Cinema in the 1990s: Historical Context for Contemporary Issues

The 1990s are widely regarded as the decade when independent features came to dominate American cinema, but many of the issues that are prominent in today’s social, cultural, and political landscape were also preoccupying filmmakers in the 1990s. Films made in this decade tackled environmental concerns, racial politics, gender equality, sexual harassment, technological innovations, sexual violence, and terrorism. These socially-minded themes were often complemented by an aesthetic daring that explored the possibilities of the medium. This course looks at a series of films from the 1990s to appreciate the formal possibilities of cinematic storytelling and historically contextualize various issues of the 2010s. Prerequisite(s): one course in rhetoric, film, and screen studies.

RFSS S50 Independent Study

Students, in consultation with a faculty advisor, individually design and plan a course of study or research not offered in the curriculum. Course work includes a reflective component, evaluation, and completion of an agreed-upon product. Sponsorship by a faculty member in the program/department, a course prospectus, and permission of the chair are required. Students may register for no more than one independent study during a Short Term.