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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Michael L. Goldberg
BIS 418
Bothell Campus

Masculinity, Homoeroticism, and Queer Theory in American Culture

Exploration of the shifting and contradictory images and ideas of masculinity in American culture, focusing especially on the way masculinities are constructed in relations between men. Emphasizes advanced methods in American Studies.

Class description

When I first designed this course, "queer" was a word that raised many hackles and generated a fair amount of discomfort. With at least two hit TV shows using it in their names ("Queer as Folk" and "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," and a number of TV shows with prominent (and positively presented) gay characters, it seems less likely to spark concern. Thankfully, I still have "homoeroticism" in the title, guaranteed to produce a certain level of anxiety and (possibly) prurient interest. So what's it all about? It's about the way a word like"QUEER" starts to transform from the snarled epithet for "queer bashers" as they beat up both actual and assumed homosexuals to being the hip slang used in TV promos (i.e.: Jay's got "Queer Guy" Carson tonight, plus Jaywalkers!). It's about 2 hours long, 2 days a week. It's about (from the last syllabus): In the past 30 years, feminist scholars have helped us to understand the ways cultures construct ideas and assumptions about gender. For most of this time, feminist scholars concentrated on concerns about women, or considered men in relation to these concerns. In the last 10 years, however, feminist scholars have begun to consider the way masculinity is constructed. At the same time, men wishing to view masculinity from a male perspective developed "critical men's studies" (to differentiate their work from past scholarship which had almost uniformly taken men as the norm, but had not examined them critically), which was in part inspired by feminism and in part a reaction against it. Finally, the rise of gay and lesbian studies (which owed its academic and political sensibilities in part to feminist studies and in part to gay liberation movements) has challenged the heterocentrist focus on "straight"/"normal" men and complicated our understanding of sexual identities. This course draws on some of these insights to consider how images of masculinity are represented in American film and literature. We will apply these theoretical insights to our critical readings of particular texts in order to help us understand the underlying and often contradictory assumptions contained in images of masculinity. As the course title indicates, we will pay special attention to the way masculinity is constructed in relation to other men. While we will be paying some attention to historical processes, we will mainly be considering these texts as part of the "modern hegemonic sexual regime," in George Chauncy's words, which "consolidated and enforced a hetero-homosexual binarism." This course seeks to look beyond the rigidly constructed concepts of "straight" and "gay," "male" and "female" to consider the complicated and often messy ways that masculinity is represented in cultural texts."

As a course in literary and film analysis, students will be asked to go beneath the surface meanings in the texts and to consider their language, structure, and form. Students who have no interest in or are hostile to this type of interpretive analysis should not take the course. Further, this course considers topics and issues that some may consider offensive to their sensibilities. Students should come to the course with an open mind and a willingness to consider ideas that might seem, well, "queer." At no time, however, will they be asked or expected to accept any particular ideology or perspective.

Possible films: Midnight Cowboy; Top Gun; Powwow Highway; Shaft; Dirty Harry My Own Private Idaho; The Apartment; To Sleep With Anger

Possible novels: Ceremony; The Big Sleep; Devil With a Blue Dress; A Boy's Own Story; The Sun Also Rises

Student learning goals

1. Draw useful conceptual frameworks from works of history and cultural theory.

2. Effectively interpret cultural texts, including feature films, novels and short stories.

3. Combine historical/theoretical concepts with figurative analysis of films and literature to gain a better understanding of the changing conceptions of masculinity in 20th century American culture, including heterosexuality, homoeroticism, homosexuality and queerness.

4. Participate effectively in class discussion.

5. Participate effectively in an online asynchronous discussion forum (Blackboard), including analytical writing.

6. Create a multimedia project and analytical essay/presentation that demonstrates your command of the first three course objectives and draws on your understanding gained from #4 and #5.

General method of instruction

After the first week, we will usually watch a film on Tuesday and have discussion about the film and assigned reading on Thursday. We will also make extensive use of a web discussion board. This is a course that will emphasize oral and online participation.

Recommended preparation

Students should have taken at least one upper-division course that covers textual interpretation (especially film or literature). Familiarity with cultural studies theories regarding gender, power, and discourse is helpful but not required.

Class assignments and grading

Class discussion. Weekly online discussion postings. Argumentative essay or multimedia project. Class presentation.

Students will receive explicit criteria for all assignments.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
2004 version of the course (will be changed)
Last Update by Michael L. Goldberg
Date: 09/27/2011