If the proliferation of floral print and crop tops or the planned remake of Point Break weren’t convincing enough, this fall’s fashion week paid homage to Sassy (beloved periodical of nineties teens), and the men’s magazine GQ joined the growing number of headlines in national newspapers and periodicals declaring that “we are likely entering a prolonged period of ’90s monomania.”
This summer we’ll take our cue from this apparent pop culture imperative and examine novels, poetry, drama, film, television shows, albums, artworks, government documents, and the output of American news media as we analyze the roughly decade-long period between the falls of the Berlin Wall and the Twin Towers. We’ll attempt to complicate facile accounts of the decade as we place the post-Cold-War dot-com-boom alongside the decade’s spectacular violence from Operation Desert Storm to the beating of Rodney King and subsequent LA Riots and many other events and scandals. We will place particular emphasis on literary, artistic, and philosophical works and their relationship to popular culture, and our approach will be selective rather than exhaustive. We’ll focus especially on race, ethnicity, and gender in the 1990s and on the aesthetics of grunge culture and Gen-X malaise.
An abiding concern through our entire course will be in considering how the 1990s understood itself and how, or if, the apparent nostalgia for the ’90s in our present moment amounts to a longing for the decade George F. Will named, on September 12, 2001, “a holiday from history” (and we’ll test the legitimacy of Will’s assessment). We’ll use close reading and rhetorical analysis to unfold texts literary and social, but we’ll also pose questions about periodization and ask how the invention of the Internet and the media of the 1990s constructed our perception of that historical moment, of the “real,” and of the continuities and discontinuities of the 1990s with the present.
Assignments will include two short papers, a project, and several small assignments and creative exercises.
In addition to some in-class screenings of TV episodes (e.g., My So-Called Life, Twin Peaks), music videos, and film, there will be weekly film screenings outside of our scheduled class time. Students will be required to attend at least three of these outside screenings. Some possible films for this series include: Greg Araki, The Living End (1992); Cameron Crowe, Singles (1992); Spike Lee, Get on the Bus (1996); Jennie Livingston, Paris is Burning (1990); Todd Solondz, Happiness (1998); Quentin Tarantino, Pulp Fiction (1994); and Larry and Andy Wachowski, The Matrix (1999).
Required Works (available for purchase at ASUC Bookstore)
Denis Johnson, Jesus’ Son
Alice Notley, The Descent of Alette
Anna Deveare Smith, Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992
Most of the required texts for this class will be made available in a large course reader, which will include philosophical, theoretical, and literary-critical texts (e.g., Baudrillard, Butler, Jameson, Zizek); selected short stories, poetry, excerpts from longer works of fiction, and reproductions of artworks (e.g., Ellis, Monette, Moore, Wallace); newspaper and magazine articles; legislation, judicial decisions, and other government reports relevant to our course’s themes; and contextualizing selections from histories of the period. (Interested students should feel free to contact the instructor for a full list of the texts likely to appear in the course reader.)
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