Today, genealogy is big business. In 2015, Ancestry.com earned a revenue of $683 million, MyHeritage.com claimed 80 million registered members, and FindMyPast.com boasted records dating back to AD 1200. Boosting these numbers are popular televised documentary series like Who Do You Think You Are? (NBC/BBC), Finding Your Roots (PBS), and Genealogy Roadshow (PBS)—all of which Ancestry.com very visibly sponsors. (There’s even a drinking game!)
Along with these three shows, this class will consider documentary films and web series spawned by this latest interest in genealogy. As we relate the works to larger historical issues and examine some of the political, racial, economic, and nationalist sensibilities that surround tracing one’s roots, we will ask questions like the following:
Kelli Marshall, Winter 2017
When Seinfeld aired on NBC in 1989 it was panned as “sophomoric talk radio” and “mildly amusing.” Even comedian Roseanne Barr, whose sitcom ran contemporaneously with Seinfeld, found the show about four Manhattanites rather pretentious: “They think they’re doing Samuel Beckett instead of a sitcom,” she asserted. However, by the end of its run (1998), Seinfeld was praised as “an authentic American comedy of manners” and “the defining sitcom of our age.”
This term, we will explore the series from its early shaky period—when its own studio executives considered it “too New York, too Jewish”—to its news-making series finale. We will also look at the show’s extraordinary and profitable afterlife via syndication, Curb your Enthusiasm (2000– ), Jerry Seinfeld’s web series (2012– ), and Twitter accounts like @SeinfeldToday.
Finally, so that students will understand that Seinfeld—like all media texts—is a product of the time period (and industry) in which it was created, we will place the series in its historical and cultural contexts; for the same reason, students will be introduced to several critical and theoretical perspectives to the show.
This course examines the rise and growth of documentary forms including audio, film, television, photography, literary journalism, and ethnography. Our primary focus in this class will be film and its transference to television after WWII. But students will study representative works from the other documentary approaches and learn to analyze the techniques of observation and representation at use in these pieces. Finally, students will become familiar with major theoretical constructions of documentary and be able to use these analytical tools to critique documentary forms.
This course familiarizes students with American television comedy from 1990-present, focusing specifically on sitcom, satire, and sketch (some subgenres will necessarily overlap). We will consider the history of each comedy type as well as its cultural significance then and now. Finally, we will explore the ways American TV comedy represents race, gender, age, religion, politics, sexuality, and even the industry itself. Classes will consist of lectures, screenings, and discussion.