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Special Topics in Environmental Policy and Culture (390-0-24)


Media and the Environment


Jacob Arnaud Smith

Meeting Info

Louis Hall 119: Mon, Wed 10:00AM - 11:20AM

Overview of class

With daily reports of super storms, heat records, species declines, and melting arctic ice, there is a global recognition that we are living in an era of environmental crisis. What role does the media play in that crisis? Media production depends upon the expenditure of large amounts of energy and natural resources. Media devices contain toxic materials and take part in a culture of obsolescence that sends increasing amounts of "high tech trash" to the landfill. Media content has often developed in close connection to advertising, and so has taken part in the creation of an unsustainable consumer culture. Despite marketing rhetoric that characterizes digital technologies as weightless, virtual, and environmentally clean, there are vast energy, resource, and labor costs that undergird the Internet. At the same time, media communication can function to increase awareness about environmental issues, can substitute for other kinds of high-carbon activities like international travel, can foster understanding of the more-than-human world, and can aid in the fight for environmental justice, as well as a host of other social and cultural benefits. How can we make sense of the complicated equation of environmental cost and benefit in media culture? This course will explore intersections of media and environment, considering media about the environment, media in the environment, and media as environment. It will cover a variety of media forms and examine how they shape our perception of the environment and foster environmental action. We will consider topics such as theories of media ecology; definitions of the "Anthropocene" epoch; the materiality of media infrastructure; media's role in raising environmental consciousness and promoting environmental justice; advertising and consumer culture; wildlife documentary; ecocritical aesthetics; environmental history; indigenous media; representations of landscape and soundscape; and animals as media performers. We will assess multiple forms of media (film, television, videogames, podcasting, sound art, infographics, and more) from a range of critical frameworks. We will consider numerous genres of environmental media as well, including apocalyptic eco-disaster narratives, eco-comedies, "toxic" dramas, environmental melodrama, conspiracy thrillers, documentary, and animation.

Learning Objectives

The goals of the course are: 1) to introduce students to scholarship at the intersection of media studies and environmental studies; 2) to gain experience in an ecocritical mode of media analysis; and 3) to think about the practical application of course content by developing a media strategy for a specific environmental organization.

Evaluation Method

Course assessments will consist of a number of short papers that respond to readings and screenings; a longer paper that engages in an ecocritical analysis of a media text; and a project in which you make a media plan for an environmental organization of your choice.

Class Materials (Required)

All readings and media for the course are available via Canvas.