November 7: Theory A/B

Today marks the beginning of your work on project 3, which asks you to develop a viewing guide for the entire Black Mirror series.

The theoretical framework of the project will be based upon Guy Debord’s book The Society of the Spectacle (1967; trans. 1995).

Today, we will discuss the episode Fifteen Million Merits (S1E2), and the various ways we can interpret this episode and how that can make summary difficult.

Your CWR (#17) today will be composed here.

The slides for today’s class are viewable here.

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October 31: Shadow Puppets

Today marks our final day for project II. We will be returning back to Marie’s persona (a type of Plato’s Ideal Forms?) and watching some of the episode again, ensuring we all understand context of use. As you finish your project, note the language on the syllabus:

In terms of assessment, this project will be evaluated by its attention to formatting techniques for manuals, accuracy of design in relation to tablet interface on episode, attention to audience, and grasp of procedural discourse. The manual will be submitted as one PDF file to Blackboard.

In terms of your CWR (#16), respond to the following: Is “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” more about the themes in Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” or Disney/Pixar’s “Toy Story”? Make an argument for either, not both.

October 29: Forms

Today we will speak of “forms,” in the Platonic sense, as it applies to epistemology and Black Mirror but also how the notion might apply to technical writing genres. Your CWR (#15) for the day, and which is due by the end of class: How are instruction manuals as a genre a type of “form” in the sense Plato means?

Feel free to watch the video below for extra context with the reading.

October 24: …And Why?

We’ll continue working on our manuals today, with an emphasis on the written component.

We will cover Foucault and his Discipline and Punish‘s relationship to Black Mirror, specifically “White Bear” (S2E2). “Smithereens” (S5E2), and “Crocodile (S4E3). Read only Part III, Chapter 3 (pgs. 195-230) of Foucault’s book.

October 17: Ease of Use

Today, as with all of next week, we’ll be in Publisher working towards completing the Arkangel manual. You can start by taking the CWR you produced on Oct. 10 (opening or closing corporate language) and placing that language somewhere in the document.

Your CWR (#13) for today: Connect Bloom and Jordan’s thesis of “Are We All ‘Harmless Torturers’ Now?” to any of the Black Mirror episodes we’ve watched so far.

In preparation for next week, I suggest students bring have ready by Tuesday the overall design infrastructure of the manual, as well as about 1/4 to 1/3 of the language (maybe 2 of the 6 sections done, for example).

October 10: Anarchy

Today we will be working in Publisher, drafting out our first iteration of the Arkangel user manual. In fact, the remainder of all our classes for this project will be spent doing work in Publisher.

The CWR for today will take place at the end of class and will be due Friday by 5pm.

October 3: [No class]

There will be no class today (Thursday, the 3rd). The CWR10 for October 3 is the following:

Put into your own words what McLuhan means by “the medium is the message.” And how might this apply to Black Mirror? This is due Friday, Oct. 4 by 5:00pm.

We’ll pick back up on the manual writing when we resume on Tuesday, October 8th. Be sure to read through Chapter 3 (pp. 26-53) of Robert Nozick’s book, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1968), with specific emphasis on the portion entitled “The Experience Machine” (pp. 42-45) This portion, like biscotti to a Merlot, pairs quite well with San Junipero (BM S3E4). I trust you can foresee what CWR11 will ask of you.

October 1: The Message

Let’s start drafting our manual for Arkangel.

We’ll also speak about how McLuhan plays into our thematic and critical discussions so far.

Your CWR9 for today: List the 10 steps for a user of the Arkangel tablet, in order of operation. This is due by 12:30pm Tuesday (Oct 1).

Note: There will be no class Thursday, as I’ll be traveling (again). The CWR10 for Thursday will be to put into your own words what McLuhan means by the medium being the message (due Friday, Oct. 4 by 5:00pm).

September 24: Procedural Writing

In what I think is one of the better acted episodes in the entire series, “The Entire History of You” challenges viewers to consider the potential—inevitable?—pitfalls of digitizing our memory. Plato warned us millennia ago in his dialogue, Phaedrus, that our distrust of memory along with advances in technology (then the written word) would erode our sense of selves and our sense of culture. With all the known fabrications that our mind commits in processing memory, are they all still worth maintaining some semblance of distance between ourselves and our past?

And what of, H. G. Wells, asks, our future? Insights into our recorded past might bring to the surface harmful lies, but how would gleaning insight into our futures change our behavior today? And is exploring the possibility of bending time worth our technological effort?

Along this trope of time, you will be introduced to the concept of procedural discourse—the mode of writing required for effective instructional manuals.

NB: Wait for guidance on posting today’s response.

Featured Image: “Morlock taking an Eloi child,” from the gothic cartoon book Kaibutsu Gensō Gashū,  illustrated by Tatsuya Morino.

September 19: Making Interfaces

Well, that was a tense episode (S4E5), wasn’t it? Certainly not much in the way of context or operations in Metalhead, so we were forced to focus right in on “Bella” and her pursuing foe. But who is this foe, and what does Brooker want us to draw parallels with? Enter: Boston Dynamics:

What messages ought we draw form the episode then? Why dogs? And why teddy bears?

Aside from discussing this episode, we’ll start building the interface from Arkangel.

September 5: What of the Other?

In watching Black Mirror‘s “Men Against Fire” (S3E5), we see derivative, or evergreen, themes connected to Wells’s novel and Serling’s commentary in “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.” What connections do you see? This Vox article by Alissa Wilkinson makes the best case for how “Men Against Fire” is both about our past and our future in ways that are glaringly obvious but also more subtle. This New Yorker article by Paul Bloom—which is on your reading list for next week—covers the “dehumanization thesis” in relation to the episode, asking us to consider whether our cruelty towards others is really about us seeing “others” as inferior, even animalistic and not about power over those who we very much see as human.

In today’s class, we will be discussing the episode’s message, building off of last class’s discussion of “us v. them” rhetorics and “othering” as a manifestation of cultural anxieties.

We will also spend considerable time working on project one, as this is the last meeting we have before the project is due.

For today’s post, you will write a response to the following question: What do you think happened in the final scene of “Men Against Fire” and what might it mean in relation to the episode’s larger message?

September 3: Invading Lit?

Artwork for the book “The War of the Worlds” of a 1906 Belgian edition by the Brazilian artist Henrique Alvim Corréa. The image shows the Martian fighting-machines destroying a town in England.

This class is divided into two parts. First we will discuss H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds (1898), which was written in the height of the emerging invasion literature genre but was the first of its kind to explore the plots and tropes of invasion from extraterrestrials.

Invasion literature, like other modes of science and speculative fiction, was influential in its predictive and generative potential. These often fantastical stories prodded readers—mainly Britons—to finally ask: What would it be like to be invaded by a foreign entity? Another country? Another species? These readers, of course, included politicians and these speculative tales would often bleed into decisions pertaining to policy and protectionism. As the narrator of The Twilight Zone‘s episode “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” (S1E22) concludes:

The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own—for the children and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is that these things cannot be confined to the Twilight Zone.

Invasion literature then can be of the visceral or the mundane. Either way, these stories impact our lives and politics but they also reflect our cultural anxieties.

In the second part of class, we will talk more about project one, namely how to format a memo and, more challenging, how to do so within the historical time frame of their original exigency.

Note: Your response for today’s class is to share the resources you have found to help with the completion of the memoranda project.

August 29: What Is SF?

Morrissey (The Smiths) doing Morrissey things—performing “Panic.”

Today we will cover what is meant by “science fiction” and/or “speculative fiction” and why these categories are useful or meaningful. This conversation will be situated within Isaac Asimov’s introduction to H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds, in which Asimov provides some semblance of a definition. We will then connect this categorization to the episode “Hang the DJ” (Black Mirror, S4E4) and unpack how this episode fits within this categorization. Students will also be given time to work on the “Bank Memo” portion of Project I.

As for the episode title, consider the following lyrics to The Smiths’ “Panic”:

Panic on the streets of London
Panic on the streets of Birmingham
I wonder to myself
Could life ever be sane again?
The leeds side-streets that you slip down
I wonder to myself

Hopes may rise on the grasmere
But honey pie, you’re not safe here
So you run down
To the safety of the town
But there’s panic on the streets of Carlisle
Dublin, Dundee, Humberside
I wonder to myself

Burn down the disco
Hang the blessed DJ
Because the music that they constantly play
It says nothing to me about my life
Hang the blessed DJ
Because the music they constantly play

On the Leeds side-streets that you slip down
The provincial towns you jog ’round
Hang the DJ, hang the DJ, hang the DJ
Hang the DJ, hang the DJ, hang the DJ


August 27: Why This Class?

Students will be introduced to the theme, nature, and scope of the course and why it was designed this way. We will watch TZ S1E8 in class, as an introduction to the students’ first project.

Be sure to read the Brooker article from 2011 beforehand. It will be a good primer for discussion.

For your first post below, you can either (a) start a new thread or (b) comment on an existing response.

writing our futures clearly, concisely, purposefully