English N135

Literature of American Cultures: Three California Cultures -- Literature, Film, and Comedy

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Session Course Areas
2 Summer 2010 Genaro Padilla
MTuTh 4-6 220 Wheeler


This American Cultures course focuses on California representations of Chicana/o, Chinese American, and African American culture in literature and film (and some comedy!). Thanks to the media industry, which circulates its representations worldwide, the state occupies a central place in the nation’s imaginative life. California is typically framed in starkly dramatic terms as either paradise (a promised land of agricultural plenitude, sunny beaches, material bling) or nightmare (a concrete wasteland, mean neighborhoods with graffitied fences, crushing freeways, racial difficulty). It is, of course, all of this.

Like the rest of us, writers cannot help but be informed by these images.  In this course we will consider works across several novels, films and various elements of popular culture that offer their own visions of and arguments about life in the Golden State. To what extent do writers/film-makers provide us with alternative or revisionist histories of the state? How do the ideas about culture and character they develop in their work compare with the notions of self-making, self-invention and commodity culture we see and hear on the small and on the large screen? To what extent do these authors speak in dialogue with narratives of film and television? What counter stories do they tell? And how does comedy feed on common stereotypes to alleviate the pressure we too often put on ourselves over the serious social interactions we encounter daily? Is comedy helpful, or does it deepen stereotype?

These are some of the questions I have, and I expect to hear your questions/responses during the course. To that end, you will form small groups whose task it will be to organize and lead class discussion. You will be responsible for the course material, but you I encourage you to introduce material you find in media, the internet, and from family/neighborhood.

Note that this class satisfies U.C. Berkeley's American Cultures requirement. 

This course is taught in Session D, from July 6th to August 13th.

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