Diversity Studies Seminar

American Gangster

Instructor: Sean Nash
SF / DIVSM–300 / 15 sessions
Prerequisite: Writing 1, Intro to Modern Arts, Foundations in Critical Studies
June 2–July 7 (no class 7/4), Mon./Wed./Fri., 2–5 p.m.

This course surveys American criminal culture from frontier contact through the financial crises of the current era. From the boardwalk to the boardroom, various ethnic groups have utilized black market economies to segue into social mobility.

Is the current rash of corporate malfeasance connected to a new wave of American criminality? Or are the tools we have for understanding and assessing the impact of corporate crime just getting better? Did the promotion of violence in TV, film, and popular music affect the formation of the modern American psyche? How different is crime today than it was at the turn of the 20th century? Is crime always a response to the pressure brought on by economic downturns? How does the glamorization of gangster culture impact the moral development of our youth? Join us for a discussion of these and related topics, and for an exploration of the stereotypes that dominate media on the subject.

This course satisfies a Diversity Studies seminar.

Apocalyptic Modernity

Instructor: Ignacio Valero
OAK / PHCRT-200 / PHCRT-300 /SSHIS-200 / SSHIS-300 / DIVSM-300 (pending approval)
15 sessions
Prerequisite: Foundations in Critical Studies and Writing 1
July 14-August 14, Mon./Wed./Thurs., 6:45–9:45 p.m.

There is a popular Bizarro cartoon in which a Maya sculptor, showing the calendar disk to his priest-king, says: “I only had enough room to go up to 2012.” The playful royal responds: “Ha! That’ll freak somebody out someday.” Well, 2012 came and went, but so much is freaking us out now that the end of the world is the least of our worries -- or is it? An Oakland preacher, Harold Camping, swore that the end was coming on May 21, 2011, at 6 p.m., while Google shows 2.5 billion search results for “end of the world.” Then, there was the Year 2K scare, the interminable ‘end of days’ apocalypses throughout the centuries, and still no end in sight. Around 1635, Bishop Ussher (and Sir James Lightfoot) suggested the world had been created at 9 a.m. October 3, 4000 B.C. According to his literalist biblical calculations, Adam and Eve had been evicted from Paradise on November 10 of the same year—a very short paradisiac bliss indeed!

Why this continued fascination with the end of times -- chasing ever growing apocalyptic vampires, cyborgs, and zombies? It is “easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism,” say F. Jameson and S. Žižek. The bank and the mega-church have replaced the temple but not the hope of transmuting lead into gold. The biotech (blue? red?) pill comes with promises of extended life without pain. Prayer seems to cure cancer. And the universe looks ever more magical in the scribbles of the modern cosmologists, Hollywood, and the digital screens of the virtual.

Is history cyclical, linear and/or non-linear, enchanted and/or disenchanted? Sacred and/or Secular? Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, Cathay, Peru and Mesoamerica as well as Siberia and the humid forests were already asking these questions millennia ago. For some answers, we travel with shamans, alchemists, rabbis, mullahs, and priests, as well as philosophers, scientists, magicians, artists, designers, and charlatans, in search of the elusive Philosopher’s Stone, Paradise, and the Elixir of Life. We weave through some historical, intellectual, environmental, political, economic, technological, religious, pop social media, and multicultural threads, implicit and intertwined in the notions of Apocalypse, Modernity, and Hybridity, and contrast them with American Exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny, which seem to be suffused with a strong dose of Nostalgia for a Lost Golden Age that still might be reconstructed. Films and Visual analysis support the course readings and discussions.

Due to its interdisciplinary nature, this course satisfies a 200- or 300-level Philosophy & Critical Theory, 200- or 300-level Social Sciences/History, Diversity Studies Seminar (pending approval), or H&S Elective.