Got all your “have-to” classes lined up for fall semester and now you’re looking for something that’s more “want-to”? Here are a few courses that might fit the bill, but you need to jump on them quickly because the sign-up deadline is Friday, Aug. 25.
“Women in Comics and Graphic Novels” (WSTU 4550)
In 1972, the premiere issue of Ms. magazine, a publication aimed at liberal, feminism-oriented women, used an iconic character to introduce itself — Wonder Woman, under the banner “Wonder Woman for President.”
Inside the magazine, an essay used the superhero as an example of both the ultimate power of women and also as a symbol of how that power could be taken away by men, in this case, how the men at DC Comics had taken away Wonder Woman’s powers, a choice she made to stay in the “regular” world with her boyfriend, and turned her into a boutique owner with fabulous martial arts skills. Eventually her super-powers were returned to her.
The “Amazing Amazon” is one of the characters that Tom Balazs will focus on in “Women in Comics and Graphic Novels,” a course under Women’s Studies.
“Wonder Woman is an interesting character because she was meant to be a feminist superhero, very consciously. The guy who invented her was a feminist,” says Balazs, senior associate head of the Department of English. But when you look at her skin-revealing, curve-conscious costume, “she’s also sexualized at the same time,” he adds.
Topics in the course will range from the Little Orphan Annie comic strip of the 1920s, with its “very spunky” main character, into comics from the ’50s to the ’70s, when most women were either buxom superheroes with basically perfect bodies or buxom victims needing to be saved by male superheroes with basically perfect bodies.
It will examine “underground” comics such as It Ain’t Me Babe and Wimmen’s Comix, started in the 1970s as answers to the male-oriented “underground” comic scene. It will delve into such graphic novels as Persepolis, an autobiography by Marjane Sartipi that details her life after the Iranian revolution of 1979, and Monstress, a fantasy graphic novel series about a world in which women hold all the positions of power and leadership.
“The idea is to look at the history of women in comics and graphic novels, also comic strips, and see both how women have contributed as writers and artists but also to look at how women have been portrayed by both men and women,” Balazs says.
“There’s a lot that’s been going on over the years. Sometimes there’s been a lot of sexploitation—even in things such as Wonder Woman—where the strips and comic books are focusing inordinately on women’s bodies. At the same time, there’s been a counter-effort to present women in more balanced ways, in more feminine ways.”
While seen by many as little more than a diversion for a mostly male audience, comics and graphic novels reach far more deeply into society, even into the development of their readers, he says.
“Comic books are surprisingly important in the way they shape our ideas, maybe in part because we do read them as children so they are like formative in our notions about sex and gender.”
His hope is that students in the class will leave with “a broad knowledge of the history of women’s role in producing comic books as well as the variety of ways in which women have been represented. They’ll also have some critical tools to use to think about and talk about those things.”
“American Independent Cinema” (THSP 1999)
Karen Henderson has seen enough Hollywood films to know one thing: “I’ve seen enough buildings blow up.”
An aversion to anarchy is one of the reasons she has taught her “American Independent Cinema” class over the years. She wants students to understand and appreciate the smaller films, the ones that aren’t easy-to-digest romcoms or everything-blows-up-real-good blockbusters.
“Hollywood has sort of trained us to want the same thing every time,” says Henderson, a lecturer in the Theatre and Speech Arts Department. “I am moved by provocative stories that you wouldn’t see in a mainstream film because they’re not going to make a gazillion dollars.
“There’s a wide range as to what ‘independent’ means, but we know what it doesn’t mean,” she says. “‘Titanic’ is not going to be an independent film.”
In her class, she prefers films such as “Sling Blade” with Billy Bob Thornton, or “Matewan” by director John Sayles or even George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead,” one of the original zombies-take-over-the-world movies.
For most students, the 1968 film “is not scary, but a lot of them are ‘The Walking Dead’ fans and we talk about how there wouldn’t be ‘The Walking Dead’ without George Romero,” says Henderson, who has performed onstage in more than 10 productions at the Chattanooga Theatre Center.
She screens about a film a week in the class and a good bit of time is spent discussing and dissecting each film, getting students to think deeply about what they’ve seen and how it made them feel.
Along with the films in class, students also pick two films to watch at home, then bring a PowerPoint presentation and explain their thoughts on the films to the class. Her hope is that, after the presentations, other students might become interested in seeing a specific film.
At the end of the semester, she hopes students will be willing to turn away from some of Hollywood’s big-boomer films and search for something more unique.
“I hope students demand more from movies after they’ve had this class, that they’re just a little bit more hungry for rare stories that Hollywood’s just not going to put $100 million behind.”
“Geography of the Southeast U.S.” (GEOG 3060)
Barbecue. Southerners take great pride in it, sometimes to the point of fighting over which cut of meat is best or which sauce is proper and which is sacrilege.
But according to Dr. Craig Laing, barbecue is also a roadmap for a trip through the cultural diversity of the South,
“The South is very diverse physically, but it’s pretty diverse culturally, too,” says Laing, an associated professor of geography.
Food is a topic that he touches on in his “Geography of the Southeast U.S.” class, which examines the way the physical lay of the land influences the cultural elements, be they gustatory, political, social, religious or economic.
Many Americans — including those who grew up in the South — see it as a vast, homogenous slab, one populated by rednecks, racism and Rebel flags. Conservative rather than liberal. Country more than cosmopolitan. But that’s like looking at a single leaf on a family tree.
“I think many students have this perception of what the South is — and things that happen in Charlottesville don’t help it,” he says.
To quickly illustrate the difference between the two regions, he asks students one question: What’s the difference between a redneck and a hillbilly? It leaves some students bewildered; aren’t they both kind of the same?
Socio-economically, yes, they’re both low on the ladder, but their cultures are intimately influenced by where they live. Rednecks are from the Lowland South, basically the area that stretches from South Carolina to the Mississippi River and from the Florida Panhandle, up through Middle Tennessee and into western Kentucky. Because its land is mostly flat, it’s dominated by agriculture.
Hillbillies, on the other hand, are from the Upland South, mountainous areas that include the Great Smoky Mountains in eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina, the Ozarks in Arkansas and the coalfields of Kentucky. It’s hard to grow crops on a mountain, Laing says, so the area is dominated by mining.
Then there are the coastal areas along the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. They preserve some of the Lowland South culture, Laing says, but because they focus so much on tourism from other parts of the country, they’ve swung a bit more liberal and lost some regional flavor.
Getting back to barbecue, Laing points to North Carolina, where the debate over which kind is best is “a point of culture divide” and a microcosm of the South. For instance, while the eastern part of the state cooks whole hog — everything but the squeal — the west prefers pork shoulders.
But sauces are the key difference. The east swears by vinegar-based sauce with black and cayenne pepper, brought essentially unchanged from the Western Caribbean. In the central Piedmont area, sauces are still vinegar-based with the peppers but some ketchup is added, too, making it a bit sweeter. In the west, it’s thick and tomato-based, the kind the rest of the country thinks of as barbecue sauce.
In other words, Southern culture is not just one flavor.