Honors Seminars Fall 2018

Honors seminars offered in Fall 2018

LA Stories

ENGL402 - Dr. Fran McDonald

Welcome to Hollywood. What’s your dream?

Overlooking the vast sprawl of Los Angeles, the 44-foot tall Hollywood sign is one of the most iconic cultural landmarks in America. It appears in countless films and novels as a shorthand for glitz, glamour, fame, money, and success. “Down there in the city,” the sign seems to whisper, “your wildest dreams can come true.” Scratch its glistening veneer, however, and the sign’s seductive promise quickly gives way to another, uglier story: it was erected in the early ‘20s as an advertisement for “Hollywoodland,” a segregated housing development that was being built nearby. Beginning here, we will read and watch an assortment of “LA Stories” to ask how they work to reinforce or unravel the various fantasies and fictions that the “celluloid city” tells about itself. In so doing, we will ask how recurrent themes of violence, disaster, and delusion allow us to reflect critically on some of the key historical and cultural issues of twentieth-century American life, from civil rights and second wave feminism, to global capitalism, the environmental movement, and immigration. We will see the city refracted through a series of imaginative genres—film noir, SF, cyberpunk, and slipstream fiction, to name but a few—but our guiding question will be this: is the “LA Story” a genre in itself? And if so, what are its social, aesthetic, and thematic dimensions? Authors and filmmakers may include: Francesca Lia Block, Octavia Butler, Raymond Chandler, Damien Chazelle, Wanda Coleman, Joan Didion, David Lynch, Walter Mosley, Salvador Plascencia, Roman Polanski, Thomas Pynchon, John Singleton, Nathanael West, Billy Wilder, and Karen Tei Yamashita.

The Rise of the Superheroine 

ENGL401 - Dr. Joe Turner

The last decade of popular culture might be remembered as “The Rise of the Superheroine,” as films and comics have embraced women in primary roles and as authors or producers. The dramatic successes of the Wonder Woman film, the reboot of Batgirl, and Ms. Marvel as Muslim American teenager Kamala Khan suggest that popular culture is finally catching up with the times. If the average comic book reader was once imagined as the socially unpleasant Comic Book Guy of The Simpsons, reading and discussing comics for and by men, then that image is in drastic need of an update.

This course traces the development of the superheroine in western culture and focuses primarily on American graphic narrative. Before we consider the superwomen of recent American comics, we will trace the competing western masculine and feminine heroic ideals that we’ve inherited from the past, beginning with the Roman epic the Aeneid. Once we’ve traced this history, we will turn to contemporary comics—Batgirl, Ms. Marvel, and others—to examine how these narratives complicate traditional understandings of masculine heroics. We will also turn to feminist theory and gender studies to help investigate how these comics are responding to, and enabling, the Rise of the Superheroine.