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Politics and Genre Summer Class Launches at Montgomery County Campus

The Johns Hopkins Montgomery County Campus partners with other divisions of the university to offer summer programs for high school and college students. One of the classes slated to be offered on campus in summer 2015 is Politics and Genre, taught by Katherine Goktepe. Hopkins Happenings asked Goktepe to tell us more about the class. Students interested in applying and learning more about summer classes at the Montgomery County Campus can visit the summer website.

Course Description
When President Bush used the term "axis of evil" to describe enemies of the U.S., or when President Clinton famously said "I feel your pain" when confronted by AIDS activist Bob Rafsky, both men drew on the pathos and good-versus-evil moral categorization characteristic of melodrama. This class asks: What are the different genres of political speech and debate? Genres considered include melodrama, tragedy and parody. We read political theorists’ accounts alongside fiction, film and plays.

Hopkins Happenings: Tell us about the Politics and Genre class. Tell me about the curriculum.
Goktepe: This class will be a cross between a traditional political theory class that one would find in the political science department and a critical theory or literary theory class one finds in English departments. We'll go over some different theories of literary genres, asking ourselves how a text qualifies as a tragedy, or as a classical tragedy as Aristotle defined it? What are the characteristics of melodrama, parody, etc.? Is high tragedy still possible today in modern, democratic times or do we find only realism and melodrama?  Alongside these literary questions, we'll pose questions about the political climate today around issues like international terrorism, racism and economic injustice. How do social movements, for example, draw upon the terms of melodrama, the polarization of good and evil, to cast their claims?  Or how do the TV dramas we watch influence our understanding of contemporary issues? How is camera-phone footage, for example, which might not have a genre to begin with, depicted and contextualized by the media? If genres are lenses through which we understand events, how do specific genres shape or limit our readings of these events?

Hopkins Happenings: What do you hope students learn by taking this course?
Goktepe: Harold Lasswell famously defined politics as "who gets what, when and how."  Politics is the realm of claims-making by groups eager for a share of the pie.  What I hope students will be more attentive to at the end of the course is not only that claims are made, but how those claims are framed and subsequently heard. How we view the world, how we make sense of events, is influenced by the stories we tell about ourselves and our environment. I hope students will come away from the class with a greater awareness of the various ways we understand and process current political events -- how these events play or register differently whether they are mediated through the lens of satire on The Daily Show, through the lens of realism on CNN, or through the melodrama of "ripped from the headlines" programs like Law & Order.  As a sidelight, I also hope to introduce students to the wonderful world of political theory -- specifically the intersection of literature and politics.

Hopkins Happenings: Describe the class format.
Goktepe: It will be primarily discussion, both in small groups and as a class, as we analyze the readings. Lecturing will be kept to a minimum except to give the background for certain readings or articles. Papers throughout the term will give students a chance to further engage with the readings and express their own perspectives. Sometimes, we may watch video clips in class to further discussion.

Hopkins Happenings: Who should consider taking this class?
Goktepe: Students interested in current political events, English majors interested in journalism or literature, political science majors, or those who are not in any of these fields but think the course sounds interesting. I'd like as diverse a crowd as possible so that we have a wealth of perspectives on the material.