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CLT 594: The Social Politics of Indie (Fall 2015)


Course Information

Schedule Number 20565
Class Days: Mondays and Wednesdays
Class Times: 2:00–3:15pm
Class Location: North Education 172

Instructor: Dr. Adam Hammond
Office Hours: Mondays and Wednesdays, 12:00–1:00pm and by appointment
Office Hours Location: Arts and Letters 213
Email: ahammond@mail.sdsu.edu

Course Overview

This course investigates the relationship between socially progressive movements in the arts and the material conditions that make them possible. We proceed through close investigations of key cultural moments when independent production became possible in three separate art forms. We begin with experimental modernist literature, focusing on the role that small-run, often self-published magazines like Blast, Fire!!, and The Freewoman played in spreading avant-garde movements that attacked sexism, homophobia, racism, and imperialism. Then we move to music, where we investigate the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) movement that grew out of punk (late 1970s-early 1990s), with particular focus on pre-punk New York City, the diverse early period of London punk, post-punk on the Rough Trade label, and the riot grrrl musical/political movement. Finally, we consider the recent emergence of independently produced videogames (2008–present). Approaching the movement through the Gamergate controversy, we will evaluate the social impact of experimental, ambitious, often explicitly political “indie games” like Gone Home, Depression Quest,and Sword and Sworcery. Reading modernism, listening to punk, and playing indie games, we will explore the continuities between these diverse independent movements, and ask what lessons indie games can take from their precursors to attain maximum social impact today.

In this course, you will

  • Learn about the relationship between material conditions (new artistic technologies), artistic expression, and social change — that artistic expression doesn’t just happen in a vacuum, but is made possible by concrete material, social, and technological conditions
  • Participate in discussions, online and in-class, about the history of modernist little magazines, punk and post-punk, riot grrrl, and indie games
  • Apply what you’ve learned to create your own zine, record, or game — or, if you choose, write a research paper
  • Acquire basic computer programming skills by using the Twine game-creation tool

Taking this course will allow you to participate in the ongoing discussions about diversity and social politics in the still-emerging art form of the videogame. Since videogames are still so young, you have the chance to become actively involved in shaping what they will become. Understanding earlier movements like modernist zines, punk, and riot grrrl will help you to place indie games in their historical context. Writing and thinking about relevant genres like these may help you find work in arts journalism and give you an edge in applying to grad school. Learning Twine will allow you to put “programming skills” on your CV.

Course Materials

The following required texts are available from the SDSU Bookstore:

  • Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (Broadview Press)
  • Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas (Harcourt)
  • Patti Smith, Just Kids (HarperCollins)

The following games are required:

Zines and modernist magazines will be linked from the syllabus.
Songs are linked from the syllabus.
Additional readings will be posted in Blackboard.

Course Structure and Conduct

This is a lecture-discussion course. Generally speaking, we will begin our sessions with discussions, and I will end the session with a lecture to set up your next batch of reading/listening/playing — which will, in turn, provide the basis for our next discussion. Participation and attendance are very important in this course. Participation in online discussions is also very important.

There are numerous opportunities for group work in this course, but no one will be forced to work in a group for marked assignments. Those students who choose to work in groups will be evaluated as follows: half of the grade for each group project will be shared by everyone in the group, and half of the grade will be assigned individually based on the individual’s written response. Consider the following scenario: two students work together on a music EP for their final project, and this EP is given a grade of 80%. Student A submits a written response, which receives a mark of 100%; student B receives a mark of 60%. For the project as a whole, Student A receives a mark of 90% while student B receives a mark of 70%.

We will discuss sensitive subjects in this course. I expect all students to respect all other students during these discussions. In accordance with California state law, discrimination based on the following categories will not be tolerated: race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, age, genetic information, marital status, sexual orientation and identity, AIDS/HIV, medical condition, political activities or affiliations, military or veteran status, or status as a victim of domestic violence, assault, or stalking.

Course Assessment and Grading

Your final grade will be based on the following:

Participation (21%)

  • This grade is determined equally by (a) your in-person contributions during lecture as well as by (b) your contributions to the course discussion board on Blackboard. You are expected to make one post per week (approximately 250 words) and to comment on one other student’s post. Your posts can be on any topic related to that week’s course material: something you liked, something you hated, something you noticed, etc. They should demonstrate that you’ve engaged thoughtfully with the assigned materials. Posts and comments must be submitted by 11:59pm Sunday; no late submissions are accepted.

Case Studies or Mini-Zines (27%)

  • Twice this term you will submit either (a) a short case study or (b) a mini-zine. The first will focus on modernist magazines and the second on punk, post-punk, or riot grrrl. Each is worth 13.5%

Research Paper or Creative Project (26%)

  • On December 2nd, you will submit your final project. This will be either:
    • A 2,000-word research paper
    • A substantial zine, a record, or a game. Group work is possible here. Each person (i.e. each individual member of a group) who chooses the Creative Project must submit a 1,000-word reflective piece along with his or her project.

Final Exam (26%)

Late policy

All late assignments will be reduced 3% per day, including weekends. Assignments will not be accepted more than one week after the due date. Online discussion and commentary is not accepted past the weekly deadline of Sunday at 11:59pm.

Attendance and Participation

Each student is permitted to miss up to three weeks of online discussion and commentary. Every week beyond this will reduce your overall participation grade by 10% (e.g., missing four weeks [3 + 1] of online discussion will reduce your participation grade by 10%; missing five weeks [3 + 2] will reduce your participation grade by 20%).

Attendance in lecture is necessary. If you anticipate missing more than three class sessions, please drop this course. If you are a campus athlete, please provide a complete list of classes you will miss by September 14th.

Students with Disabilities

If you are a student with a disability and believe you will need accommodations for this class, it is your responsibility to contact Student Disability Services at (619) 594-6473. To avoid any delay in the receipt of your accommodations, you should contact Student Disability Services as soon as possible. Please note that accommodations are not retroactive, and that accommodations based upon disability cannot be provided until you have presented your instructor with an accommodation letter from Student Disability Services. Your cooperation is appreciated.

Academic Honesty

The University adheres to a strict policy regarding cheating and plagiarism. These activities will not be tolerated in this class. Become familiar with the policy (http://www.sa.sdsu.edu/srr/conduct1.html). Any cheating or plagiarism will result in failing this class and a disciplinary review by Student Affairs.
Examples of Plagiarism include but are not limited to:

  • Using sources verbatim or paraphrasing without giving proper attribution (this can include phrases, sentences, paragraphs and/or pages of work)
  • Copying and pasting work from an online or offline source directly and calling it your own
  • Using information you find from an online or offline source without giving the author credit
  • Replacing words or phrases from another source and inserting your own words or phrases
  • Submitting a piece of work you did for one class to another class

If you have questions on what is plagiarism, please consult the policy (http://www.sa.sdsu.edu/srr/conduct1.html) and this helpful guide from the Library: (http://infodome.sdsu.edu/infolit/exploratorium/Standard_5/plagiarism.pdf)

Course Schedule

Date Readings/listenings/playings Assignment
August 24 Introduction
August 26 Introduction to Modernist Magazines. Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
August 31 The Picture of Dorian Gray
September 2 The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Yellow Book 1. Skim, look at the pictures (especially those by Beardsley), read “Stella Maris” by Arthur Symons, read a bit of Max Beerbohm’s “A Defence of Cosmetics,” and try to figure out how it could possibly have inspired this reaction.
September 7 No class (Labor Day)
September 9 Blast 1: “Long Live the Vortex!,” “Manifesto—I,” “Manifesto—2,” “To Suffragettes.” Look at every page!
September 14 The Freewoman 1:1, The New Freewoman 1:1 and 1:13, and The Egoist 1:3. (On Sep. 9th, you will be assigned a specific volume to analyze.)
September 16 The Little Review 1:1, 4:1, 4:11, and 7:3. (Specific volume assigned in class.) Bonus issue: 3:6.
September 21 Fire!! Be sure to read the Foreword, “Cordelia the Crude” by Wallace Thurman, “Color Struck” by Zora Neale Hurston, “Wedding Day, A Story” by Gwendolyn Bennett, both poems by Langston Hughes, and “Smoke, Lilies, and Jade” by Richard Bruce.
September 23 Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas, sections 1 and 2.
September 28 Three Guineas, section 3.
September 30 Introduction to Punk and Post-Punk
Patti Smith, Just Kids and New York in the late 1960s.

October 5 Just Kids and American pre-punk

October 7 Just Kids and the CBGB scene

Case Study / Zine #1 due
October 12 English punk

October 14 English (post-)punk and the “Access Aesthetic”

October 19 Rough Trade

Rather than listening to these individually, listen to the playlist.

I highly recommend this BBC documentary, “Do It Yourself: the Story of Rough Trade” (despite all the irrelevant Duffy content).

October 21 K Records, Beat Happening, and the Olympia Scene

October 26 Riot grrrl

  • Various riot grrrl zines (on Blackboard)
  • Bikini Kill: “Rebel Girl,” “Feels Blind,” “Sugar”
  • Bratmobile: “Cool Schmool,” “Girl Germs”
  • Heavens to Betsy: “My Secret,” “Complicated”

All songs available in this playlist, which also includes some interesting live versions.

October 28 Visit to Special Collections: riot grrrl in SoCal

  • Presentation by Anna Culbertson of SDSU Special Collections on their impressive riot grrrl/zine collection.
November 2 Riot grrrl zines and political activism cont’d

  • Discussion of selected riot grrrl zines (on Blackboard)
November 4 The indie punk spirit, alive in the O.C.: Burger Records

  • Discussion with Sean Bohrman, co-founder of Burger Records
  • Special session in the Love Library, Room 430. Free and open to the public
November 9 Indie Games
Indie Game: The Movie
Anna Anthropy, Rise of the Videogame Zinesters (excerpt on Blackboard)
Case Study / Zine #2 due
November 11 No class (Veterans Day)
November 16 Gone Home
November 18 Gone Home and “Gamergate”
November 23 Depression Quest and Zoe Quinn, “A Game I Had to Make” (on Blackboard)
November 25 No class (Thanksgiving)
November 30 We learn how to make a very simple game in Twine
December 2 Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery
December 7 Sworcery
December 9 In class: Exam review.

Later: Final Projects showcase at 7-9pm, Lestat’s Coffee House, Adams Avenue.

Research Paper / Creative Project due
December 14 Final exam, 1-3pm, NE 172.

Additional Notes

This syllabus is subject to change.
Your remaining in this class constitutes acceptance of the conditions outlined in this syllabus.
Please be aware that we will discuss sensitive issues in the course, related to topics such as race, gender, sexual orientation, and politics.