Comm 499 Special Topic: Communication Technology in the Futuristic Imagination

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COMM 499

Special Topic: Communication Technology in the Futuristic Imagination
Professor Stephen O’Leary

ASC 206B

Telephone: 323.712.5869
This course will focus on the way societies of the future have been depicted in film and literature, with emphasis on the way literature and cinema have predicted, anticipated, and sometimes opposed technologies of film, television, surveillance, robotics, genetic engineering, networking, and virtual reality. The course aims to demonstrate the impact of science fiction on society, and to show how literary and cinematic imagination have not only played a role in forecasting and even shaping new technologies, but have also served the social function of critiquing present trends by extending and revealing their utopian and dystopian possibilities. The required readings include some of the most famous and important works of the science fiction genre; wherever possible, we will view movies that have been made from these novels and stories to see how the same issues are treated differently in literature and film.
Requirements: One short (2-3 pages) paper; final examination; one in-class report/presentation (10-15 minutes); final research paper (12-15 pages).
Academic integrity is important:

The Annenberg School for Communication is committed to upholding the University’s Academic Integrity code as detailed in the Scampus guide. It is the policy of the School of Communication to report all violations of the code. Any serious violations or pattern of violations of the Academic Integrity Code will result in the student’s expulsion from the Communication major or minor.


“Any student requesting academic accommodations based on a disability is required to register with Disability Services and Programs (DSP) each semester. A letter of verification for approved accommodations can be obtained from DSP. Please be sure the letter is delivered to me as early in the semester as possible. DSP is located in STU 301 and is open 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. The phone number for DSP is (213) 740-0776."

Required Reading:
H.G. Wells, The Time Machine

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

George Orwell, 1984

Karel Čapek, R.U.R.

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

William Gibson, Neuromancer

Neil Stephenson, Snow Crash

Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game
Thomas Moylan, Scraps of the Untainted Sky: Science Fiction, Utopia, Dystopia

(Westview Press, 2000)

Scott Bukatman, Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction

(Duke U Press, 1993)

Carl D. Malmgren, Worlds Apart (Indiana U Press, 1991)
Other readings, in the form of articles, chapters, and web pages, may be assigned as appropriate by the instructor.
Films: “Metropolis,” “The Time Machine,””Brazil,” “Fahrenheit 451,” “1984,” “War Games,” “Bladerunner,” “Total Recall,” “Gattica,” “Minority Report”
Week 1 Introduction: Imagining the Future (no reading)

Selections and clips from “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” “Planet of the Apes,” “Terminator”

Week 2 Utopia and Dystopia I

Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward

Thomas More, Utopia (selections)

Moylan, Scraps of the Untainted Sky pp. 3-110

Film: “The Time Machine”
Week 3 Utopia and Dystopia II

Moylan, Scraps of the Untainted Sky pp. 111-202

Film: “Metropolis”
Week 4 Surveillance I

Bentham, “Panopticon, or The Inspection-House” (handout)

Michel Foucault, “Panopticism” (handout)

George Orwell, 1984

Film: “1984”
Week 5 Surveillance II

Frederic Jameson, “Archaeologies of the future” (handout)

Film: “Brazil”
Week 6 Media

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Henry Jenkins, “Media and Imagination: A Short History of

American Science Fiction” (handout)

Film: “Fahrenheit 451”
Week 7 Robots, Androids, and Cyborgs I

Isaac Bashevis Singer, “The Golem” (handout)

Scott Bukatman, Terminal Identity, pp. 1-73, 130-137, 241-261

Karel Čapek, R.U.R.

Films: selections from “Frankenstein” and “Terminator”
Week 8 Robots, Androids, and Cyborgs II

Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Film: “Bladerunner”
Week 9 Robots, Androids, and Cyborgs III

Brian Aldiss, “Super Toys Last All Summer Long” (handout)

Scott Bukatman, Terminal Identity, pp. 261-331

Donna Haraway, “The Cyborg Manifesto” (handout)

Films: selections from “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “AI”
Week 10 War

Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game

Jean Baudrillard, “The Gulf War Did Not Take Place” (handout)

Film: “War Games”

Week 11 Cyberspace and Virtual Reality I

Plato, Republic (Book VII, handout)

Michael Heim's "The Erotic Ontology of Cyberspace" (handout)

William Gibson, Neuromancer

Philip K. Dick, “We Can Remember it for you Wholesale”


Scott Bukatman, Terminal Identity, pp. 146-153

Film: “Total Recall”

Week 12 Cyberspace and Virtual Reality II

Neil Stephenson, Snow Crash

“Second Life” demonstration in class
Week 13 Cloning and Genetics

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Film: “Gattica”
Week 14 Future/Present: SciFi as Social Critique

Carl D. Malmgren, Worlds Apart

Film: “Minority Report”
Week 15 Class presentations
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