V for Vendetta

  See  samples of our work this term:
Dominique Marmeno’s midterm project,  Melodramatic Portraits(website) and her final, My Trump, My Melodrama;  Edward Hernandez’s Melo-Out, a website devoted to melodrama in Peele’s Get Out; first-year student Elizabeth Daley’s website Melodrama in Anti-Suffragette Cartoons;  Lekha Thangada’s two papers on melodrama in Indian soap opera  and in Trump’s groupthink rhetoric;  Alex Harrold’s two papers on The Melodramatic Foundations of Consumer Capitalist Society and Donald Trump: Winning over a Consumer-Capitalist Society; Jeff Dillon’s Metallurgy: A Closer Look at Melodramatic Themes in Extreme Metal;  Toby Teitel’s Club Kids video (especially 3:30 and after).  These are just samples. Much more good work was done, despite the many challenges facing student digital publication at Emory! 

Melodrama, Politics & Culture

Media Studies 392, Emory University

Traditional melodramas of good vs evil are the dominant art form of modern, industrialized and globalized societies. It’s the foundation of Hollywood film, much television, and nearly all global blockbuster franchises today, such as Harry Potter, Star Wars, Twilight and The Hunger Games.  The course aims to get beyond simplistic assessments of the mode (ie, whether melodrama is itself intrinsically “good” or “bad” art and politics).
Classic melodrama can be quite complex and politically progressive, as in V for Vendetta. Globally, melodrama shapes other cultural forms, including journalism, political speech, and historiography. The powerful sense of victimization in the films of good vs evil provides a political and cultural rhetoric for the buildup to actual or metaphorical wars such as “the war against evil” or “the war on drugs,” the “war on poverty,” etc.

The rhetoric addressing social or political “evils”–and the focus on victims–connects the black hat, white hat tradition with social-realist melodramas (Sirk), political sagas (D.W. Griffiths) and the socialist propaganda epic (Eisenstein). 

Course blog (students only)

Our Work in Progress

hapter from Linda Williams, Playing the Race Card: Melodramas of Black and White from Uncle Tom to O. J. Simpson.


This class is designed as a small seminar, meeting in Anthropology 107, TTh 1-2:15. Weekly screenings (or labs) are required. Screenings can usually be done on your own but a total of six lab sessions must be attended f2f. If you have taken these labs for another class and retain the skills, you are excused. Labs meet Wednesday 5-7, usually in White Hall 205 or a Cox classroom. Lab office hours will be held W 3-5, location TBA.

Office hours: Tuesdays 4-6 and by appointment, Rich 212. marc.bousquet@emory.edu, marcbousquet.net

 In this introductory survey, you should learn to:

 Demonstrate familiarity with some of melodrama’s major works and figures.

 Demonstrate familiarity with some of melodrama’s major works and figures.

checkboxgreen Identify the characteristics of melodrama in film, television, and other media, as well as some of the core questions raised by scholars and critics.

checkboxgreenExplore the use and abuse of melodramatic art and political speech in the U.S. and globally.


  • Midterm:  Research Website
  • Final: Civic Engagement Project using melodramatic speech and/or melodramatic art
  • Informal Writing: One weekly blog post of 150-250 words; discussion; independent reading; digital storytelling and other forms of participation, including Your First Website


 I assess your efforts holistically. This means that I look at the whole portfolio of work you’ve produced in the class.  With respect to any given assignment, such as your first website, it is ok to try hard and still fall short. On the other hand it’s never ok not to make an effort. How to get an A?  Read more on grading and othercourse policies, including my approach to teaching. 


Your costs include web hosting and bundled software, typically $50 for 1 year or 2 years for $80 (recommended). Much of the reading is circulated in free pdf. Your total including textbooks should be around $150. That estimate will vary depending on the format in which you acquire textbooks, and on discounts available at the time you sign up for hosting. Links to copyrighted material are  for disambiguation.  Texts to purchase:

Linda Williams, Playing the Race Card: Melodramas of Black and White from Uncle Tom to O. J. Simpson


Marcia Landy, ed. Imitations of Life: A Reader on Film and Television Melodrama


Recent Students

Assignments change every term, but you can see recent student work from this course.  Joey Benevento Jenny Zhou Chang MengLaura Flint Natalie Sterrett Saher Fatte Meg Airey Vivie Lee Yuchen ZhangPaloma Bloch Philip Maghen Ean Kitchens Grace Kim Katrina Peed Izzy KornmanVirginia Spinks Sheena Desai Helen Zehan HouSam NichaminNick LalJoseph North Cody PerezChelsea Walton Gideon Weiss Ajay Harish

Some other examples: Kelli RyanClaire BattyAldo Atienza Vanessa Casalegno Judith MartinezCharlotte West


Tu Jan 10: In class screening: selections from Rocky and Bulwinkleand a Perils of Pauline tribute compilation; clips from Star Wars,  Predator, Omega Man, Thelma and Louise, a Sirk tribute, and Sweeney Todd.  Join the course blog


INTRODUCTION: Culture and Politics

Th Jan 12 Read:  Bousquet, Harry Potter, the ‘War on Evil,’ and the Melodramatization of Public Culture On the course blog: Quote a few lines of a Harry Potter novel or other cultural artifact that seem melodramatic to you. Explain why. Rewrite the passage in a non-melodramatic way.

Tu Jan 17 Screen on your own: The Woman in Grey, episode 9 Burning Strands, and 10, House of Horrors Discuss:  Ben Singer,  Melodrama and the Consequences of Capitalism, Chapter 5 of Melodrama and Modernity.   In class: Join class blog. 

Th Jan 19 Read: Manifesto of the Communist Party. No later than midnight on the Wednesday before class: Use the course blog to identify elements of the Manifesto that seem melodramatic to you. Explain your reasoning. In class: Purchase hosting from InMotion. 

Tu Jan 24  Perform and discuss Dion Boucicault, The Poor of New York. In assigned groups out of class, do selective staged readings of the plays. Use the course blog to identify two or three very short passages (5 minutes total performance) that your group might perform in the class. You do not have to memorize the lines, but you should make time to rehearse. Try to focus on scenes that allow you to critique or celebrate melodrama. Explain your choices on the blog. 

Wed Jan 25, 5pm LAB #1:  INTRODUCTION TO BOLDGRID AND WORDPRESS. Create a multi-page hubsite; customize a Boldgrid theme; basic web development tools; creative commons choices; Networked Self exercise, seeking melodramatic ties. 

Thu Jan 26  Landy, “Introduction.”  Screen on your own: Trading Places (Landis, 1983);  Downfall parody meme

Tu Jan 31 Cawelti  in Landy. Screen on your own:  Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Spielberg, 1984); In class: Scenes fromGunga Din (Stevens, 1939); Gunga Din (Kipling, 1892); a trailer and art from Sergeants 3 (J Sturges, 1962)

Wed Feb 1, 5pm LAB #2 CREATING A SUBDOMAIN WITH A DIFFERENT THEME; BASIC TOOLS:  Learn how to use Google Fonts, Font-Image Generators, Tablepress, etc.

UNIT 1 Sirk, Fassbinder, The Family and Social Melodrama

Th Feb 2 Elsaesser in Landy.  Screen on your own:Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (Kramer, 1967)

 Tu Feb 7 Affron in Landy; Polletta, The Limits of Plot Screen on your own: Freaks and Geeks episode 1;  In class: scenes from The Simpsons, The Middle, All in the Family


Th Feb 9 Schatz in Landy. Screen on your own:  Written on The Wind (Sirk, 1956) In class: scenes from The Beverly Hillbillies, The Honeymooners, 2 Broke Girls

Tu Feb 14 Polletta, Narrative and Social Movements Screen on Your Own: Orange is the New Black,  Lesbian Request Denied (S1 Ep3)  and You’re The Worst , There Is Not Currently A Problem (S2 Ep7)

Wed Feb 15, 7pm SCREENING, 205/208 White Hall: The First Legion (Sirk, 1951)

Th Feb 16  Francesca Polletta, “It was like a fever:” Narrative and Identity in Social Protest. Discuss The First Legion

Tu Feb 21 Read Mayne, Fassbinder and Spectatorship Screen on your own Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Fassbinder, 1974)

Wed Feb 15 Lab #4 Presentations, Memes, Infographics & Explainer Videos

Th Feb 23 Kleinhans in Landy. Read 1/3 of US!

Tu Feb 28 Finish US!

Th March 2 Rodowick in Landy. Screen on your own: Madea Goes To Jail (Perry, 2009) Approval of midterm research topics




UNIT 2 The Violent Avenger’s Hidden Virtue, A Formula for Blockbusters

Tu March 14: Screen on your own:  First Blood (Rambo I,  Kotcheff 1982) ; In class: scenes from Dirty Harry (Siegel, 1971) and Hardboiled (Woo, 1989)

Th March 16:   Class cancelled.   

Tu March 21:   Class cancelled.

Th March 23: Discuss Elisabeth Anker, Villains, Victims and Heroes: Melodrama, Media and Sept 11

Monday, March 27: Research paper or website on melodrama in a medium other than film or television narrative.  

Tu March 28  Screen on your own: V for Vendetta             

W March 29  Open Lab Help Session


UNIT 3 Race and the Zombie Apocalypse

Th March 30 Williams, ch 1-2. In class: Walt Disney, Mickey’s Mellerdrammer (1933, 8 mins)

Tu April 4  Screen on your own:  Get Out (Peele, 2017) 

Thu April 6  Fradley,Maximus Melodramaticus: Masculinity, Masochism, and White Male Paranoia. 

Tu April 11 Screen on your own: Omega Man  (Sagal, 1971) 

 Th April 13 Screen on your own: Aliens (Cameron, 1986).

Tu April 18 An episode from Santa Clarita Diet (Netflix, 2017)

Th April 20 Last class: Reflection & Celebration

Final project due May 7, 2017, 5pm 
Option 1: Tactical media project using melodramatic rhetoric
Option 2: Research paper analyzing tactical media
Option 3: Research paper or website analyzing Donald Trump’s use of melodramatic rhetoric while campaigning and as President, particularly in hisfirst address to Congress
Option 4: Research paper or website analyzing Get Out as melodrama, and particularly the relationship of Get Out to Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner  and other media