Essay Assignment

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Jefferson, GWRTC 103
Fall 2009

Paper #2 prompt:  The T.V. Said What?

Due in class on Monday, October 19, the final draft of a 4-5 page paper, formatted as shown on your syllabus, that engages a current popular television show in order to bring an issue to your audience’s attention, or to show how your audience should understand a particular issue. You must introduce, engage, and correctly cite at least three sources, including at least one relevant database source, and should include a Works Cited (or References, if you’re using APA style) page at the end of your paper.

You have two options for this paper:

  1. Identify a show as influential in or at the forefront of a particular concern. It must be a current show that has garnered a buzz, that your audience knows, or at least that your audience’s friends would know (and talk about). Analyze the show to argue what it implies, teaches, establishes (for good or ill).

    Example: You have been influenced by the popular television series 24 whether or not you have ever seen an episode. Through its seven seasons of non-stop threats to America, 24 has subtly shaped our culture’s debate on torture by introducing a likeable hero who tortures successfully and for the “right reasons.”

  2. Choose an element of a show, a show, or even a whole genre as emblematic of a larger concern that you will argue we should be aware of, or should understand in a certain way.

    Example: While watching the American League playoff series between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays, I noticed that Fox Television had added a soundtrack to each pitch, almost like a tiny race car whizzing past. By the 200th time this sound effect disturbed my attempts at devotion in the church of baseball, I was convinced that the apocalypse was upon us. It seemed the final indignity in a culture that continually encroaches on our efforts to concentrate on the simple, beautiful, important things in the world.

    Example: The low bar for intelligence set by Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? is an index of our culture’s willingness to wallow in intellectual poverty. Our pleasure in answering “yes” to the show’s central question—and our willingness to laugh at those who fail the test—perfectly exemplifies a culture which delights in its “virulent mixture of anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism, and low expectations” (Jacoby B1).

The first option here would zero in on a show, analyze it as a central focus, and make an argument about that show for our culture. The particular show does something to us or for us. The second option would use a show (perhaps only briefly, perhaps as a framing device) to make a larger argument about our culture. My examples above are not very representative of the range of angles you can take: you can argue about what a show does without necessarily judging it as good or bad, and there are great arguments to be made in the course of celebrating a show. The position paper and proposal you write will give you two different opportunities to try out topics and arguments. With some hesitation, I’ll say that recent movies are fair game. As always, if you have an idea you want to pursue, ask me. I’ll almost certainly say yes.

Central Premises:

  1. Popular culture MATTERS as our main window for encountering the world. What is presented (or not presented) and how it is presented shapes our understandings of the world.
  2. Popular culture matters TO US. It influences intelligent, mature, rational people like you. So avoid arguments that inevitably conclude with a call for parents to be better at monitoring what their children watch.
  3. Popular culture matters because it often affects us IN SUBTLE WAYS. The concerns that we haven’t quite recognized or thought through are the ones that are most dangerous / most interesting.

You must target a specific, real audience for this project. Your audience will help you define your “rhetorical stance”: your purpose, the concerns your audience will need to have addressed, the assumptions you can make about what your audience knows, and the tone (the degree of formality or informality) you adopt.

You’re aiming for a narrow, manageable subject that will allow you to advance a clear argument that is at issue for your selected audience. Your subject must be at issue: reasonable people should be both concerned by and able to disagree with the argument you advance.

One of the most useful research tools at your disposal is the library’s subscription databases. For this assignment, you must introduce, quote (or paraphrase/summarize), and correctly cite at least one relevant database source. You must do the same with at least two other sources, for a total of at least three sources (yes, you can conduct primary research). Keep in mind that the sources you find can figure in your paper in a number of different ways. They might help you hook your audience, define the issue, offer your thesis, explain the issue or problem (who it affects, its limits, its implications), argue your perspective, show other ways that the issue can be understood or approached, or address potential counterarguments.

Once you’ve done your thinking and your research, try to formulate your sense of the issue as a strong thesis. In other words, try to establish a very clear claim followed by your single best reason for believing that claim to be true. When it comes time to actually write your paper, you can certainly decide that the “claim + reason” form makes for a really awkward sounding sentence that has no place in your writing (this often happens when we try to jam complex ideas into single sentences). You may also decide that you don’t want to state an explicit thesis early on (or anywhere, for that matter) in your paper. In the prewriting stage, though, and in the position paper you will write, your love of beauty should not deter you from composing and working through a strong, focused, logical thesis. 



Works Cited

Jacoby, Susan. “The Dumbing of America.” Washington Post 17 Feb. 2008: B1.

17 Feb. 2008. 10 March 2008 <>.


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