Franchise Fictions: Course Materials

I proposed a new class for our department last year, the catalog title for which is “Popular Culture, Critical Reading.” That title is intended to be broad enough for other people to teach, important in that the course is offered at the 2000 (or 2nd-year) level and is aimed at non-English majors.

However, I always thought of it as a class that examines the nature of franchise as an object of interpretation and all of the baggage that franchises come with (the nostalgias of different audiences, the OBVIOUS relation franchise has to capitalism and production, the size of many franchises and the shifting nature of the megatexts they produce, and so on).

In any case, I wanted to share my materials for the class, both some of the original proposal materials and the specific materials for the class.

First, here is the catalog description forthe course, from the proposal:

Studies of multimedia franchises of the 20th and 21st centuries (such as James Bond, Game of Thrones, Star Wars, and Assassin’s Creed), the scholarly discourse on them, and the impact of fan culture on their reception and production.

Second, here is the course description, from the proposal:

Twenty-first-century audiences have witnessed the birth and rebirth of countless tentpole properties and multimedia franchises. Old favorites such as James Bond, Star Wars, and Star Trek have continued to be popular even as they reboot themselves and challenge their own histories. New franchises such as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Twilight saga, and Assassin’s Creed demonstrate again and again how Hollywood, major publishers, and video game developers have come to focus on big budget, sprawling narratives and worlds to the exclusion, and detriment, of smaller, more personal, and original productions. However, even as cultural production became increasingly focused on spectacle and seriality, blogs and social media offered fans and amateur critics opportunity and means to voice their opinions—often directly to the producers themselves—to a degree never possible during the twentieth century.

This class will study franchises such as Star Wars, Watchmen, and The Legend of Zelda, the history and theory of the franchise model in scholarship on media, and, most importantly, how fans have shaped the discourse on franchises and, in certain cases, the directions these franchises take as they continue to develop. The goal of the course is to provide students with a survey of twenty-first-century mass culture and the means by which to intervene into it through their own writing and commentary. Evaluation will comprise weekly quizzes; short response papers; the creation of memes, YouTube videos, and other online critical content; and class participation.

Finally, here is the PROPOSED syllabus (not what I am actually teaching: Proposed Syllabus (PDF).

Now, here comes the stuff I am actually teaching. As you will see, the syllabus I am actually using is very different from the one I proposed in several ways:

  • We are only focusing on three franchises: Star Wars, the MCU, and Disney princesses (the last of which is perhaps not a franchise in the strict sense of the term). I had wanted to include a game-based franchise (Pokemon was a recommendation, and great one). However, two factors limited what I could teach: 1) I don’t know a ton about many of those franchises (or many other franchises) and I discovered how hard it can be to catch up with franchises you did not organically encounter and learn throughout your life; 2) money: so many franchises are spread out in media that can be expensive to acquire or license (All of the aforementioned franchises are available through Disney+, which is both a problem and a boon in this context).
  • There is no secondary reading. I realized that I wanted to focus more on ongoing online conversations about these franchises and to focus more on how non-scholars discuss pop culture more generally. I will introduce scholarly concepts and encourage students to look for sources for presentations and projects, but I did not want the class to be about understanding any technical definition of “worldbuilding” or the history of canonicity.
  • Most of the projects are collaborative. I think this is important because, again, I want to focus on conversation, which individual papers do not foster.
  • Lots of response work. I want students to come in with things to say. And, so far, the responses have been very productive. I will include some of the prompts we have used and will use below.

So, with that all said, here are the documents (all PDFs):

I am happy to answer any questions here or on Twitter or to provide more materials if people ask.

One Response to “Franchise Fictions: Course Materials”

  1. Reblogged this on the treehouse recluse and commented:
    So exciting!

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