HUM 415 | Contemporary Culture
Fall 2014
Dr. Robert C. Thomas
W 7-9:45 PM in HUM 408
Office: HUM 416, Office Hour: Wednesdays 6-7PM


This version of Contemporary Culture is organized under the rubric of imagining the political. If you have no idea what that means, you’re not alone. A quick look around confirms that thinking imaginatively or even differently about the political—or even considering doing so—is something seemingly banished from our everyday lives.  As someone once said: it’s easier for us to imagine the end of the world than it is for us to imagine the end of capitalism.  So, what kind of system do we have where so much energy is expended on preventing us from even thinking about, let alone imagining, any alternatives to what currently exists? This course poses these and other questions at the intersection of thought, aesthetics, and politics. Rather than definitively answer these questions, the course is intended as a guided study of this problematic in diverse areas—e.g. time, education, and work—and through the example and study of diverse forms of expression, such as music (including file sharing, 8-tracks, and psychedelic children’s music), science fiction and horror film, the Situationist International, and contemporary theory and philosophy. As if to demonstrate the efficacy (and, frankly, the lulling seductiveness) of our main thesis, we will spend a great deal of time analyzing dystopian “end of the world,” science fiction, and horror film in relation to the historical present. What do these films teach us about contemporary culture? What are these films imagining? We will read difficult work by theorists such as Mark Fisher, Evan Calder Williams, McKenzie Wark, Guy Debord, and Jonathan Crary and study films by Chris Marker, George Romero, Dan O’ Bannon, John Carpenter, Frederick Wiseman, and Vincenzo Natali.

REQUIRED BOOKS (available at the bookstore):
Jonathan Crary – 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep
Mark Fisher – Capitalist Realism
Douglas Lain – Billy Moon
Mckenzie Wark – The Spectacle of Disintegration
Evan Calder Williams – Combined and Uneven Apocalypse

REQUIRED ESSAYS (print, read, bring to class) Note: “Online” essays are linked in this section of the syllabus on the course website. “Articles” are under the “Articles” tab on the website.
Guy Debord – “Separation Perfected” from Society of the Spectacle
Guy Debord – “Theory of the Dérive”
Hassler-Forest – “Neoliberal Capitalism and the End of the World” from Capitalist Superheroes: Caped Crusaders in the Neoliberal Age
Barry Keith Grant – Film Genre: From Iconography to Ideology (selections)
Steven Shaviro – “Splice”
Mckenzie Wark –“The Vectoral Class and Its Antipodes” from Telesthesia
Situationist International – “Definitions,” “Introduction to the Critique of Urban Geography,” “User’s Guide to Détournement”
Research and Destroy – “Communique from an Absent Future”

REQUIRED FILMS (shown in class):
John Carpenter – They Live (USA, 1988)
Russ Forster – So Wrong, They’re Right (USA, 1995)
Philip Kaufman – Invasion of the Body Snatchers (USA, 1978)
Rob Kuhns – Birth of the Living Dead (USA, 2013)
Chris Marker – La Jetée (France, 1962)
Vincenzo Natali – Splice (USA, 2010)
Dan O’ Bannon – Return of the Living Dead (USA, 1985)
George Romero – Diary of the Dead (USA, 2007)
George Romero – Night of the Living Dead (USA, 1968)
Frederick Wiseman – High School (USA, 1968)

Attendance and participation: 10%
Midterm Essay: 40%
Final Essay: 40%
Final Exam: 10

Fallen Fruit

A KCET Report

Play Video
The absolute abdication of responsibility for living is indicated by the titles of the many bestselling guides that tell us with a grim fatality, the 1000 movies to see before we die, the 100 tourist destinations to visit before we die, the 500 books to read before we die.
Jonathan Crary
Be realistic, demand the impossible.
Anonymous Graffiti
May '68

"I'd Like to Be Your For a Day"
Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster

Play Video
The concept of the state of exception is sweet.
Giorgio Agamben
"The Time That is Left"
Seminar at UC Berkeley, 1999.

A Playlist of Psychedelic Children's Music

  • "Toytown Cocktail Jazz" – 
    Today's Pop Symphony
  • "Love is a Rainy Sunday" –
    Monday Sinclair
  • "Marnie" –
    Today's Pop Symphony
  • "Dreams and Reveries" –
    Maria Napoleon
  • "Estridentistas" –
    Maria Napoleon
  • "Thru Spray Colored Glasses" - Dino, Desi, & Billy 00:00
  • "Mrs. Bluebird" –
    Sunshine Day
  • "Porpoise Song" –
    Lollipop Train
  • "Where Do I Go?" – 
    Charles Fox

Music from Algebra Spaghetti: A Children's Fantasy Pop Compilation and Simultaneous Ice-Cream: A Sunshine Children's Fantasy by Louis Phillipe and Richard Preston (Siesta Records, 1999). "Where Do I Go?" from the soundtrack to Love, American Style (Capitol, 1973). "Thur Spray Colored Glasses" from The Mad, Mad World of Film Soundtracks (Motor Music, 1997).