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Latest revision as of 21:06, 24 November 2010

Due by December 9 at noon, submitted via email

The final essay for this course will offer you an opportunity to examine a specific television program using the concepts we’ve explored throughout the semester. You may select any American television program you find interesting with a few restrictions: do not select a show that we have screened in class or that your group wrote about for your group projects. If you pick a show we read about, discussed, or watched a clip from, be sure to choose a different episode and make arguments that go beyond what we have already discussed. You must choose an American television program that you have access to, either currently airing, available legitimately online, or through video collection at the library – to browse the library’s TV collection, search for keyword “television” in MidCat while limiting for videos. If the program is from your personal video collection and it is not available in the library or online, please provide a copy of the episode to Professor Mittell, either on a disc or downloadable from a Middlebury server (not via a link to an illegal site!). If it is available online legitimately, please include the link in your email. Limit yourself to one episode of the program to keep your analysis manageable, although you may wish to view multiple episodes to understand the broader context of the show. If you have any questions about the applicability of a given program, please ask Professor Mittell – if you choose a text that does not adequately meet the assignment, your grade will suffer, so ask first if you are at all unsure.

In analyzing the program, you should answer the question: How does this episode function as a site of cultural representation? Your analysis should present an argument about the show’s cultural function, using specific details drawn from your viewing the program. Do not offer detailed summaries of the theoretical ideas you draw upon – your understanding of the theories should be evident from your analysis of the program, but you should reference the relevant terms, ideas, and previous examples from the course as appropriate to demonstrate your understanding of these approaches to cultural representation. Your essay should be able to “stand alone” from the assignment, not structured like an exam answer – imagine that your hypothetical reader is interested in the program and it is your job to provide them with your interpretation of the show’s cultural function. Depending on the program, you might decide to focus on its representation of national culture, race or gender identity, ties to ideology and/or cultural forum theories, consumerist appeals, constructions of audiences, use of satire and parody, or other facets of American culture that seem relevant; while you need not address every relevant point or argument tying the show to the course, be sure to make the strongest analysis and connections that you can. Make sure that you situate your analysis within the show’s historical moment – if writing about an episode from 1985, discuss the representations as they pertain to the cultural context of ‘80s America, not today’s cultural norms. And if you’re writing about a show that takes place in an era different from its production, you should analyze it for what it says about its contemporary moment – for instance, if you were writing about Mad Men, you should analyze its representations in terms of how they speak to the 2000s, not the 1960s. Note that talking about satire can be challenging, so be sure to review the relevant readings if you choose an explicitly satirical program.

Be as specific as possible in citing detailed moments and examples in the program that you are analyzing and drawing upon the precise ideas and vocabulary from our lectures and readings. Although you should provide specific context and details from the program, plot or scenario summaries should be included only as necessary for comprehension of the points you make – the goal is to analyze the text, not summarize it. Throughout the essay, be sure to link specific details and analytical points to the larger question of the cultural impact of your program. Simply pointing out elements of the text you find interesting should be discouraged unless you tie them to your argument concerning the show. A successful essay will offer specific insights into the particular program, connect with a range of relevant material from the course, and suggest broader importance for our understanding of television and American culture.


While this is not a research paper, you may draw upon supporting materials, either from course readings or independent research, as long as they are properly cited in your paper. It is due by December 9 at noon, to be received as an email attachment (in .pdf, .doc, or .rtf format) to Professor Mittell, but can be submitted anytime before this at your convenience – if you email the essay and do not receive confirmation within 24 hours, assume that the email has not been received. It is the student’s responsibility to ensure that essays have been received by Professor Mittell, as essays not received on time will be penalized per the policy detailed below.

Please do not quote from readings unless absolutely necessary (and then only use brief quotations) – if you do use a quotation, please provide the page number in parenthesis as a citation. Quotations from readings do not count toward the word requirement, so trying to “pad” your paper with generous quotes will reap no rewards. Rather you should paraphrase any ideas drawn from readings in your own words, while providing citations of the source of these ideas. No other sources need be consulted (aside from basic background information about a program). Include a list of Works Cited at the end of your paper, providing bibliographic information in MLA or Chicago style.

Your essay should be clearly written and well-detailed. Your writing should be analytical and serious in tone, evoking the specific ideas, experiences, and arguments you bring forward from the text. The paper should run 4 to 5 pages (1,250-1,600 words), double-spaced – papers that are too short (or extremely long) will be severely penalized in their grade. Titles of television programs or films should be italicized (Charlie’s Angels) consistently; episode titles are written in quotation marks (“Angels in Chains”).

Late papers will be severely penalized at the rate of one full grade per day received after the deadline unless accompanied by a Dean’s excuse or cleared in advance by Professor Mittell. Even if the reason for the late paper is due to technological difficulties, the lateness penalty will still apply – it is in your best interest to finish and submit the essay early to ensure receipt via email. If you have any questions about writing this paper, please ask Professor Mittell as soon as possible. Your paper must include the honor code pledge with your name & ID# (a digital “signature”). Good luck!