Instructor:  Dr. Richard F. Taflinger        Phone:  335-1530

Office:  Murrow 241 BC

Office Hours:  MWF 12:00 - 2:00; OBA

E-mail: (office); (home)

Home page:


Materials & Resources


Required Texts:  Berger, Media Analysis Techniques; Taflinger, Sitcom: What It Is, How It Works; Taflinger, Taking ADvantage.




Undoubtedly, the longest it'll ever be your misfortune to meet.

Read it!  You will be held responsible for everything in it.

Ignorance of the rules is no excuse.


Course Learning Goals


·       The purpose of this course is to foster critical thinking and promote skills for assessing and conducting original critical examination and research, either as an academic or as a professional in the field.

·       Demonstrate understanding of theories and concepts through written critiques and in-class discussions of mass media messages.


             In other words, by the end of the semester I expect you to be able to read a newspaper or magazine article or watch a program or observe a genre of mass media and put it into sociological and/or political and/or business and/or aesthetic perspective and be able to discuss it rationally, clearly, and with a minimum of academese or sociological gobbledygook, supporting your arguments with evidence; no more "I don't like it", "Why not?", "I don't know, I just don't".  We will be reading and examining various critical studies and methods, discussing them, and then applying them to the real world, usually through the use of video or overhead examples from the real world.

     This course is a seminar--thus I expect a few things from you as members:  1) show up for class--it is difficult to have a constructive conversation when you're alone (you may be awe-struck by the intelligence level but the arguments tend to be one-sided); 2) read the assignments on time and be prepared to talk--I tend to ask questions to which I expect answers in which the BS quotient is low; 3) do outside work, even if it is not assigned--read constantly, watch TV (yes, this is one course where GILLIGAN'S ISLAND is almost a requirement and GENERAL HOSPITAL can help you get a higher grade).

     Also bear in mind that since this is a discussion course it may not follow the course outline:  rigid structure is the last refuge of the mediocre and incompetent and we will follow a course of discussion that is effective rather than dogmatic.  If it takes longer to adequately cover a topic than allowed for, or if it gets particularly interesting and valuable to continue talking about a particular area, we will continue with that section.  You will also notice that many things that lead to big discussions are minuscule details, things you would never notice -- except I did and I expect you to as well.  It might be one brief image, or just a few words, or the order in which things are presented, during the course of a long presentation.  But, as Roald Amundsen (find out (extra credit (brief biography explaining why he))) said, "It's in the details."  The details are the essence of criticism.

     You may have noticed that the course description in the Bulletin says this course is about critical analysis of research in news and news determinants.  Wrong.  News will certainly be a part of the semester's offerings (using the term along the lines of "sacrifice") but we will also be discussing cognitive theory, symbology, psycho-. socio- , neuro- and sociobiology, newspapers, magazines, advertising, commercial and cable television, and anything else that comes to mind that is part of the worlds of mass media and the ability to criticize them.  It is not a course in literary, internet or film criticism, although we will discuss books and movies if they impact on mass media. 

             You will note that, at the end of this, there is a Course Outline.  It is a listing of the topics I hope to get to during the course of the semester, and the readings I expect you to do.  However, bear in mind this is a course in media criticism, which means things change constantly.  Thus, don't be surprised if we don't get to things on time, or indeed at all.  It all depends on what's happening in the world, and the world of media, during the course.  For example, during the Persian Gulf War, a once in a lifetime opportunity for examining the media, we devoted eight weeks to the coverage of the war.  That was the only semester when that was done. Media and the law courts is a thing of great importance now -- the summer of '95 was the first time we discussed it, and it will be part of this class.  Who knows what will be important this semester?  What we do will depend on what's happening; how long we spend on it will depend on the same. Thus, the course outline is what we will do if nothing happens -- and if I flap my arms and fly south for the winter.




     There will be no exams:  exams are designed so that the student can regurgitate that which rhe will forget fifteen minutes later but make the instructor think rhe's actually accomplished something.  At the senior/graduate level it is a foregone conclusion that you are all masters at this game.  Your grade (sorry, a necessary(?) evil) will be based upon 3 things:  class participation (don't worry if you're shy--I pick on people indiscriminately and at the least desirable moment (it's part of my charm) and Murphy will take care of the rest)(15%); a final paper, due Friday of Closed Week no later than 2 pmwhich will be a paper 8 to no more than 10 double-spaced pages (25%) ; and four other papers, due at the beginning of class every three weeks (Friday of weeks 3, 6, 9, and 12), two pages in length (4 X 15%=60%).

                 Class Participation:  I hope you will enjoy this course so much you'll look forward to coming and dread missing a day. I also hope my arms won't get tired when I fly south for the winter.  I'm not going to waste time or insult you by taking attendance to find out if you show up.  However, there are so many of you that this means you're going to have to get me to notice you and remember your name.  Naturally, those faces that are the most familiar to me, those that I see everyday, are going to do better than those faces I never see.  The best way to get noticed, of course, is to speak up, join the conversation, argue (with me or your classmates).  Just remember, when you do speak up, have something to say.  By that, I mean what you say should be germane to the topic and supported by some kind of evidence; try not to editorialize (see below).  I don't care if you agree with me; in fact, I'd prefer you didn't.  If you have questions, about anything, ask.  If you have comments, let's hear them.  I will also assume that you've done the readings, that you will refer to them and be able to answer questions about them.  I don't want this to be a lecture course, I want to talk about it. Think of it as an overloaded Socratic discussion -- the teacher on one end of the log, 50 students on the other (no comments about my weight), and they talk about it.


             Guidelines  for the papers:  The choice of topic and analysis technique for each paper will be up to you, with a few restrictions:  no more than two papers on the same media message type (advertising [e.g., two print ads or two commercials or one print ad, one commercial], politics, news, soap operas, religion, etc.), or using the same analysis technique (e.g., semiotics, psychoanalysis) -- a letter-grade drop for each paper beyond two on the same media message type or using the same analysis technique; facts, opinions, ideas, etc., must be supported by some kind of proof (in other words, endnotes and bibliographies are not only encouraged but required, if only as proof that no one else has had the good sense to think of your incredible insight first).  I will naturally expect the topics to have something to do with mass media criticism (not literary or cinema criticism), show a large degree of insight and thought, be concise and to the point, and be interesting.

             Papers that I find particularly interesting (either because they are so good or so bad, but rest assured I won't embarrass anyone with censure (or praise, for that matter)) may well form the basis for a discussion. 

                 THREE TYPES OF PAPERS ARE NOT ACCEPTABLE and, regardless of quality of writing, will not receive a grade higher than a "C":

              1) reviews -- reviews are your opinion of the quality of a media presentation and are concerned with whether or not your reader should like or dislike that presentation.  Reviews are not acceptable because they are simply your personal reaction to a presentation, and say nothing about how the presentation might affect the average audience.

             2) Editorials -- editorials are your personal opinions about what appears in the media, the contents of a media presentation, and how you believe other people should think about those contents.  Editorials are unacceptable because they are usually based on your gut reaction and a priori assumptions, are presented with a multitude of logical fallacies, including but not limited to circular arguments, ad hominem and ad populum attacks, and special pleading, and often ignore reality in favor of the way you would like things to be.  For example, you may not like the use of sex in advertising, but nonetheless it is used; don't waste time saying it shouldn't be used, talk about the possible effects on the audience of its use, and support those effects with independent evidence (quotes, statistics, content analysis, interviews, research)  rather than your personal opinion of what those effects might be (at no time may you assume that your reaction is universal -- you may be right, but you just may be weird (and being Comm students, the latter is the most likely)).

             The general rule to follow when writing your critiques is that no one cares what your opinion is, only what the evidence shows.  If you make a statement as though it was a fact, show that it is a fact with some kind of evidence.  For example, if you say The O.C. is extremely popular with young people, support that statement with 1) what do you mean by young people (to a 90-year-old 60 is young, to a five-year-old everybody is old), and 2) that Neilson or other ratings show that The O.C. is more popular that age group than other age groups.  "Extremely popular with young people" is an unacceptable opinion, ratings are facts.

             3)  Cinema or literary criticism -- This is a course in mass media criticism.  For the purposes of this course, movies and books are not mass media.  They may be used as examples for analyzing mass media, but you cannot write a paper about a movie unless it has had a major effect on another medium.  For example, Star Wars has had a large effect on other media, including its use of special effects that are now standard in TV and commercial production, its influence on science fiction on TV, etc.. However, you cannot write a paper on the movie Star Wars without the focus of the paper being on television.  (See “Why Not Movies” on my web page for a full explanation of why I don’t consider movies as a mass medium for this class.)

             I also strongly urge you to take advantage of the Writing Lab in the English Department.  Nothing will lower your grade on papers faster than poor grammar, syntax, spelling, punctuation, etc..  If you can't construct coherent sentences and paragraphs, spell, and properly punctuate, you can't write a critique, and your grade will reflect that fact.  It may be that you are one of those unfortunates whose English classes emphasized "personal growth" and "self-esteem" over following the basic rules of Standard Modern English, that little mistakes didn't matter as long as you "expressed yourself."  However, the lackadaisical attitude toward little mistakes such an approach fosters can, and often does, lead to a lackadaisical attitude toward bigger and bigger mistakes.  (This is why Com 295 instructors seem, and are, so picky -- you aren't allowed to make mistakes, since a "little mistake" can lead to a big lawsuit.)  When you're in the job market, employers are not as kindly disposed toward mistakes as English teachers (I know -- I've been both):  little mistakes lead to little unemployment checks. In other words, start early, rewrite often, and use that spell checker (remembering at all times that it doesn't catch all errors) and PROOFREAD!  Grammar,


syntax, spelling and punctuation will be taken into account when I grade your papers; poor English will result in a poor grade -- the most brilliant critical insight is worthless if you can't communicate it clearly.  On your first paper I will use diacritical marks to show where you have made errors and how they should be corrected ("it's" when it should be "its", "your" when it should be "you're", when you confuse "to," "too" and "two" or "there," "their" and "they're", I'll write "frag" in the margins when you've used a sentence fragment, “NAS” when what you wrote is “Not A Sentence,” etc.).  On all future papers I will only put a red circle around or a checkmark in the margin next to the error and it will be your job to find out what that error is and not repeat it in the future.  If there are too many errors, I will simply refuse to finish reading the paper, and you will receive an "F" (I've done that; you don't want that).  You may think this is harsh, or that you don't like writing, but a major part of your job in any field of communication or business will be writing for the rest of your life (the president of TBS said the first thing they look for in an employee is someone who can write), so you might as well get the practice in now, when an "F" means failure, not fired.

     There will be no excuses for late work:  late is defined as not turned in during the class period in which it is due. When an employer says rhe wants something at 10:00 am Wednesday, rhe wants it at 10:00 am Wednesday, not 2:00 or 5:00 or sometime Friday -- get used to the concept of submitting assignments when they are due.  Turned in late is the equivalent of not turned in at all.  Thus, it will be turned in on time by you or your proxy or your undertaker, or it will be an F.







Message type analyzed

Non-mass media message1

Media message taken from non-mass medium2

Mixed messages3

Clear choice of media message


Lack of understanding of analysis technique

Weak understanding of analysis technique

Acceptable understanding of analysis technique

Strong, clear understanding of analysis technique

Evidence supporting contentions

No evidence, just personal opinion

Minimum evidence, mostly personal opinion

Good evidence, minimum personal opinion

All contentions supported with evidence


No citations of supporting evidence

Minimum citations of supporting evidence

Most evidence cited

All evidence cited

Effect on audience

No discussion of effect on audience

Minimum discussion of effect on audience

Audience defined, adequate discussion of effect on audience

Audience clearly defined, clear explanation of effect on audience

Mechanical errors5

Almost unreadable due to errors

Major errors

Minimal major and minor errors

Very few inconsequential errors

1Acceptable media messages are those taken from mass media:  radio, television, newspapers, magazines.  Unacceptable message types include any interactive media message (e.g., Internet, video games, social media, etc.), books, movies.

2Media message has been taken from a non-mass medium (e.g., newspaper article taken from a newspaper's web site rather than the newspaper, commercial made for Youtube instead of seen on TV, etc.)

3Attempt to analyze more than one message (results in inadequate analysis of both messages)

4Understanding an analysis technique includes how it applies to the message, and uses correct terminologies

5Mechanical errors are those that interfere with clear communication, including spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, and paragraph and overall organization.  It is not my job to figure out what you're trying to say -- it's your job to clearly say it.



Although it may be hard to tell, I’m not a total moron.  If you plagiarize (e.g., copy out of a book or off the internet or someone else’s paper), the odds are I’ll catch it.  If I catch it, I’ll give you an “F” on the paper, turn it over to Student Affairs, and check everything else you do (i.e., I won’t trust a thing you do for the rest of your college career).  A second case of plagiarism, or plagiarizing your final paper, will result in an “F” for the course, and you will not be allowed to repeat the course (I’ve done that) and I’ll again turn it over to Student Affairs (this can, and has, resulted in loss of scholarships and even expulsion). ).  If I catch you plagiarizing and send the evidence to Student Affairs, you will have 21 days to appeal to the Office of Student Standards and Accountability at 509-335-4532. In other words, do your own work.




     There are several required texts, paperbacks where I could get them, but at this level in your careers you're going to want to keep them to use in the future.  I can almost guarantee that what you buy for this class you are not going to want to sell back at the end of the semester because you'll use them from now on.  Some of the reading assignments may appear on the surface to be carryovers from the Spanish Inquisition ("No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!" (what's that from?)), but I have taken some care to get only books that are at the least interesting and have a FOG number below 35.  You may also think that, since we don't specifically discuss in class the articles and books assigned, that you don't need to read them.  WRONG!  I have never been a believer in the lazy technique of reading the book to the class.  I will assume you have read the assignments by the time we reach them, that you know what they contain, and will use them to answer questions and as support for your comments in class and your papers.  For example, if you discuss advertising appeals (such as sex or self-esteem), you'd better have read Taking Advantage, because I'll assume you have, and that if you don't 1) agree and acknowledge, or 2) disagree and shoot down what it says with better evidence (not opinion, evidence), I'll have to believe you didn't do your research and that will hurt your grade.  (Whatever you read, whether I wrote it or not, I don't care if you agree or disagree with what is said -- just support your point of view.)

             The books for the course are:  Berger, A.A., Media Analysis Techniques; Taflinger, R., Taking ADvantage; Taflinger, R., Sitcom:  What it Is, How It Works (the latter is a photocopy available along with the other books at the Bookie).





Week 1Why bother?  This week will be spent in discussing why we should even bother criticizing mass media, and some basics in how to go about criticizing, including observation, examination, analysis, and communication of conclusions. (Berger, Preface, Ch. 1 (Semiotics))


Week 2:   Since we're bothering, how?  Continuing on methods, particularly semiotics.


Week 3:   How else?  (Berger, Ch. 4-8, Epilogue; Berger, Ch. 2, (Marxist Analysis), Ch. 3) Paper 1 due Friday.


Week 4:  OK! OK!  What else!?!  Jeez! (Psychoanalytic Criticism))


Week 5:  There’s more!?!  (Sociological Analysis and examples)


Week 6: And even more!  (in Sitcom, NeoAristotelian) Paper 2 due


Week 7: NeoAristotelian, Part Deux.



Week 8:  News--if that's what it is.  We will begin discussion of news media and what they consider news, how they present it, and how people react to it. 


Week 9:   Film at Eleven.  Television news (both national and local), news and the courts, documentaries, docudramas, and other forms of created real life. Paper 3 due


Week 10:   The Selling of the _________.  Political advertising and the packaging of the candidate. 


Week 11:   And now, a word from our sponsor.  Print and broadcast  advertising--its purpose, uses, abuses, and effects.  (Taflinger, Taking Advantage)


Week 12:   We'll be right back.  Continuation of the discussion of advertising.  Will include such things as institutional advertising, health (AIDS, smoking, fundraising, etc.). Paper 4 due


Week 13: Doing the Final Paper.  Actors in Blue.  Lawyer, cop and detective shows .


Week 14: Love in the Afternoon.  Soap operas.


Week 15:  The Giggle Box.  Sitcoms.  (Taflinger:  Sitcom) Final paper due Friday, no later than 2 p.m.  Any paper received after 2 p.m. will receive an F.





Discriminatory Conduct Statement

Discrimination, including discriminatory harassment, sexual harassment, and sexual misconduct (including stalking, intimate partner violence, and sexual violence) is prohibited at WSU (See WSU Policy Prohibiting Discrimination, Sexual Harassment, and Sexual Misconduct (Executive Policy 15) and WSU Standards of Conduct for Students).

If you feel you have experienced or have witnessed discriminatory conduct, you can contact the WSU Office for Equal Opportunity (OEO) and/or the WSU Title IX Coordinator at 509-335-8288 to discuss resources, including confidential resources, and reporting options. (Visit for more information).

Most WSU employees, including faculty, who have information regarding sexual harassment or sexual misconduct are required to report the information to OEO or a designated Title IX Coordinator or Liaison.  (Visit for more info).



Students with disabilities


Reasonable accommodations are available for students with a documented disability.  If you have a disability and may need accommodation to fully participate in the class, please either visit or call the Access Center (Washington Building 217; 509-335-3417) to schedule an appointment with an Access Advisor.  All accommodations must be approved through the DRC (Washington Building, Room 217). 




Personal conversations between students disrupt the class and interfere with other students’ ability to hear.  And TURN OFF YOUR CELL PHONE WHEN YOU WALK IN – a ringing phone is just as disruptive as talking.  Students who disrupt the class by talking will be asked to leave.  If a student is dismissed from class, he or she will not be permitted to return until after she or he has met with the University’s conduct board, that meeting has been noted in the student’s file, and a note is brought to class saying the student has met with the board.




This is a college class.  The purpose of a college class is to explore ideas and think about them.  So lectures and discussions may, and should, illuminate differing ideas and opinions.  Regardless of differing opinions or perspectives, students are required to treat all classmates with courtesy and respect.  You may not agree with someone – fine.  That does not give you license to go after that person with ad hominem attacks, belittling, or yelling.  Students who do not treat others, including the professor, with respect will be dismissed.




Academic Integrity and Student Conduct are central to our participation in an academic setting. Washington State University defines specific actions which constitute academic dishonesty. These include “cheating, falsification, fabrication, multiple submissions, plagiarism, abuse of academic materials, complicity, or misconduct in research.[1] Students in Com 460 are expected to uphold WSU standards of conduct (see WAC 504-26-010(3).  Violations of academic integrity on any assignment will involve (i) an academic penalty ranging from a minimum of both a zero on that assignment and the reduction of a full letter grade on your final grade to failure of the entire course, (ii) filing of case with the Office of Student Conduct, and per university regulations, (iii) inability to withdraw from the course.  It is strongly recommended that you read and understand these definitions:


It is your responsibility to 1) not cheat, 2) not help anyone else cheat, and 3) not to give the appearance that you are cheating.  University policy allows that students caught cheating may 1) receive an F on the assignment, 2) receive an F for the course, and 3) may be expelled from the University for a second offense or for a particularly egregious offense.  The policy of this course is to seek the most severe punishment from the University as a first response and to put the burden of appeal on the student.


Campus and Classroom Safety Statement

Classroom and campus safety are of paramount importance at Washington State University, and are the shared responsibility of the entire campus population.  WSU urges students to follow the "Alert, Assess, Act" protocol for all types of emergencies and the "Run, Hide, Fight" response for an active shooter incident.  Remain ALERT (through direct observation of emergency notification), ASSESS your specific situation, and ACT in the most appropriate way to assure your own safety (and the safety of others if you are able).


Please sign up for emergency alerts on your account at MyWSU.  For more information on this subject, campus safety, and related topics, please view the FBI's Run, Hide, Fight video and visit the WSU safety portal.


Communication with Students must occur via designated university channels. We will use the Angel and the platforms. If you write from an external address, I will not reply. [2]


First Week Class Attendance (Rule 72)

Students who do not attend class within the first week of the semester will likely be dropped from the course. Students with extenuating circumstances should notify the Office of Student Affairs personnel who will notify the instructor.[3]  Valid reasons for missing class do not reliueve the student of their responsibility for that missed work.


Academic Regulations, Rule 34a

Students may only repeat a course grade C- or below one time at WSU during fall or spring semesters.  Additional repeats are allowed from another institution or at WSU during summer terms or by special permission of the academic unit offering the course.


Academic Complaint Procedures include the following prescribed steps:

1) Contact the course supervisor (Richard Taflinger) for additional direction. If unresolved, 

2) Contact Dr. Bruce Pinkleton, Associate Dean for Academics, The Edward R. Murrow College of Communication.


Course Withdrawal

If you want to withdraw or need other important dates, please consult the Academic Calendar. [4] 


Course Policies


Class Attendance

Attendance is not mandatory (almost impossible to enforce in a class this size), but highly recommended.


University Communication with Students

Absolutely NO communication with be sent to external addresses (e.g., Yahoo, gmail, and so forth).  We will use either the email within Blackboard or "" system.


Instructor-Student Interaction

I will generally respond within 24 hours during the week.  My expectation is the same for students.  You need also to check your email regularly and respond within 24 hours.  I generally do not respond to emails during the weekend, and only sporadically during long vacations (e.g., Spring or Thanksgiving break).  Nor is it expected that you will respond over the weekend.  I generally do not discuss grades or any student records issues via email.  Please schedule a meeting with me to discuss these issues.  If necessary, I may ask you to submit a written petition together with your work in question.  The classroom is typically not an appropriate place for these discussions, especially since I don't carry a gradebook with me.


Research Activities


Research is central to the mission of Washington State University and the Murrow College of Communication.  Students at all levels are encouraged to participate in scholarly research.  When a research project becomes available, it will be announced in class.  Participating in project will add 1 percent to your final score.






[1]: Definitions of Student Conduct:


[2]: Academic Records per FERPA:


[3]: The Office of Student Affairs can be found at