Violence and American Popular Culture

Dozent(in): Ken Boas, Ph. D.
Termin: 29.06-02.07 und 06.-08.07., jeweils 18:00-21:00 Uhr
Gebäude/Raum: Raum 1010 (Mathematik)
Anmeldung: Schriftliche Anmeldung bei Alma Durán-Merk (

Inhalt der Lehrveranstaltung:

In many essential ways, it is impossible to separate American culture from the violence that rests at the very heart of its history. Violence, like a virus, has spread itself throughout almost all aspects of American popular culture, from its children’s cartoons, to its multi-million dollar grossing film and television industry, to gangsta’ rap music and pulp fiction, to the billion dollar porn industry that revolves around violence and sexual degradation of women, to the high school mass murders taking place in middle class suburbs. 

This course, given the limited time we have, will not be able to study all of these aspects of violence and American popular culture, but we will look closely at a few of them:  film and television, rap music and black culture, and popular/pulp fiction.   We will read essays that critique these aspects of American culture, and spend our time in class discussing what we screen and read in order to deconstruct this endemic phenomenon of American popular culture from as many perspectives as we can and with as much insight as we can bring to the topic. 

We will pose certain seminal questions about violence and American culture, questions that both arise from our texts, but that also seem to reside within the culture itself.  First of all, violence would not be so present in popular culture if there was not such an overwhelming demand for it.  What gives rise to such a demand?    What is the dynamic within America that creates this “algebra of need” (as William Burroughs called the dynamic of drug addiction) for more and more graphic violence?  What role do women and black men play in the popular cultural formulas of violence?  Why are they such figures of victimization and exploitation?  Can the violence found in popular film, literature, music, and art serve as a transformative medium that counteracts the destructive reality of violence in the culture?  Does the violence so intrinsic to the creative forms of popular culture serve as a cathartic influence, or does it merely reinforce an already alarming psychology of violence within us?  In what ways do these texts become critical statements about American culture and serve as warnings about the downward spiral of violence that seems to hold America in its deadly grip?  How can we talk about the beauty and power of violence in terms that do not seem perverse but that recognizes ways in which art can be transformative of even our most violent reality.  

Our texts and these questions and others we will ask along the way will serve to create a discourse on this topic that will hopefully prove to be rich and productive.  I will expect your full participation in all of our discussions, so the class will not be primarily me lecturing you.  We will share in our ideas and perspectives, our insights and our critical opinion, teaching and learning together.   Violence is certainly not reserved for American popular culture, and your own cultural, historical, and personal experience will be an important influence in how you see these texts and respond to them.   If we can understand our intent in this course as a problem solving one, then we can bring our individual contexts to the texts and to our discussion in fruitful and enjoyable ways.  I am looking forward to seven inspiring evenings of conversation on an issue that is at the very center of lives in so many ways. 

Teilnahmevoraussetzung für das Seminar sind sehr gute Englischkenntnisse!

Literatur zur Lehrveranstaltung:

Bitte wenden Sie sich für die einführende Literatur an Alma Durán-Merk (

weitere Informationen zu der Lehrveranstaltung:

empfohlenes Studiensemester der Lehrveranstaltung: Hauptstudium
Fachrichtung Lehrveranstaltung: Anthropology/Literature/Sociology
Nummer der Lehrveranstaltung: 0
Beginn der Lehrveranstaltung: Verpflichtende Einführungsveranstaltung am 29.04.2009,18:00-19:00 Uhr in Raum 1010 (bei der Mathematik)
Dauer der Lehrveranstaltung: keine Angabe
Typ der Lehrveranstaltung: HS - Hauptseminar
Lehrveranstaltung ist fakultätsübergreifend: Ja
Semester: SS 2009