This Spring, the English department is offering a new Group A course, ENGL 167, "Fighting the Future from The Hunger Games to The Matrix: The Dystopian Tradition in the 21st Century" (MWF 2:30-3:20pm). The course will cover classics such as George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale alongside popular recent works like Neal Stephanenson's Snow Crash. The course will also cover recent films such as Gattaca, The Matrix, and The Hunger Games, as well as the contemporary television show, Revolution.
The course will be taught by Prof. Siobhan Carroll, a favorite of students since joining the faculty in 2009.
According to Associate Chair Peter X Feng, even though ENGL 167 does not require students to write papers, the course is still an excellent introduction to the English major. "Students from across the University come to the English department looking for courses that fulfill breadth requirements, and we think that majors and non-majors alike get a lot out of Group A courses like ENGL 210 Intro to the Short Story, ENGL 217 Intro to Film, and ENGL 324 Shakespeare, as well as Group B courses like ENGL 204 American Lit and ENGL 206 British Literature from 1660 to the Present. But we know that some students are wary of classes that require a lot of writing, so we tried to develop a course that taught basic concepts in literature and media studies without relying heavily on papers."
Professors Feng and Carroll have been planning this course since last Spring: the following conversation took place over e-mail.
Feng: ENGL 167 does not count toward the major, but is it a good way to get an introduction to what happens in other English courses?
Carroll: This course serves as a stepping-stone towards the English major. Students often come to English classrooms with sophisticated ideas about texts, but they don't know how to express them. For example, you can take 5 minutes, or 5 pages, trying to explain the weird portrayal of the villains in the film 300. Or you can use the word "orientalist" and have your audience instantly know what you mean. Similarly, you can describe an action scene in terms of its "invisible cutting," a poem in terms of its use of "metaphor," and a science fiction story in terms of its opening "hook." Knowing a critical vocabulary enables you to better understand the texts you encounter and express your ideas about them more effectively.
Feng: There's no writing for this course; what kinds of things will the exams cover?
Carroll: I'll be asking people to participate in on-line forums and to do small group-work, but there aren't any essays. The exams will test mastery of the readings and of lecture material.
Feng: As a film and television scholar, I'm excited that you're looking at recent movies and TV shows. Can you say something about Revolution and how including TV adds to the course?
Carroll: We'll be comparing Revolution to other "scarcity dystopias," like the post-oil future of the Mad Max movies. Scarcity dystopias play on our fears (what if we run out of gas?), but also on our fantasies (what if my interest in history suddenly became really valuable?). So they differ from dystopias like The Matrix, in which technology literally takes over our lives. Television is one of the major ways we consume stories, so it's fair game in this class. We'll be watching episodes and clips from shows like The Prisoner and Doctor Who to round out our sense of the dystopian tradition.
Feng: How did you became interested in S.F. generally, and dystopian fiction in particular?
Carroll: As a kid I loved books about animals. I picked up Orwell's Animal Farm thinking it was a cute story like The Sheep-Pig (which became the movie, Babe). I ended up (a) hopelessly confused and (b) really hating pigs. My aunt had to explain to me mid-pig rant that this was actually a dystopian fable about Stalinism. I trace my fondness for dystopias back to that moment. Also, my love of bacon.
ENGL 167 meets MWF 2:30-3:20 in the Spring semester; there are no pre-requisites. ENGL 167 satisfies the College of Arts & Sciences "Creative Arts and Humanities" (Group A) requirement.