Images of American Politics in Literary and Visual Media

Course title: Images of American Politics in Literary and Visual Media (A, 20th c.)
Winter 2018/2019
Mon, 11-12:30 (A-123)
Wed, 13:15-14 (A-105)
Instructor: Dr. Jelena Šesnić, Assoc. Prof.
Phone: 01-4092060
Office: B-018
Office hours: Mon, 12:30-13:30 p.m.; Thur 11-12 a.m.
Requirements: Enrollment in the MA program in English.

Course description: American political system  has been a medium of democratic governance of one of the most powerful countries in the world for more than two centuries. During that time segments of the democratic system have changed in scope and function allowing us to consider the direction and implications of those changes. Different elements of the system must be considered in order to give a more comprehensive picture of the impact and role of democratic processes: the party system, checks-and-balances, institution of the presidency, separation of powers (the legislative branch, the judiciary, the executive branch), the role of the Constitution, the role of the media, mechanisms of political campaigning from local to state to federal level, democratic participation, etc. These processes will be placed in a cultural context primarily with respect to their representations in fiction and visual media, particularly in the late modern period of American politics (from the second half of the 20th century), while the focus of the course will be on popular and media-generated images related to different facets of American political system.

Course requirements: Regural attendance (10%); home and in-class assignments (oral and written; 10%); seminar paper (10-12 double-spaced pp., Times New Roman, 12; 40%); continuous assessment (mid-term and final test; 40%).

Primary texts:
Fiction/ non-fiction: 
Robert Penn Warren:
All the King’s Men (1946) (novel)
Joe Klein: Primary Colors (1996) (novel)
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Imperial Life in the Emerald City (2006) (non-fiction)

Robert Rossen: All the King’s Men (1949)
(ili: Steven Zaillian: All the King’s Men (2006))
Harold Becker: City Hall (1996)
John Frankenheimer: The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Jonathan Demme: The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
George Clooney: Good Night and Good Luck (2005)
Mike Nichols: Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)
Paul Greengrass: Green Zone (2007)
Alan Pakula: All the President’s Men (1976)
Steven Spielberg: The Post (2017)
Oliver Stone: Nixon (1995)
Oliver Stone: W (2008)
Rob Reiner: LBJ (2016)
George Clooney: Ides of March (2011)

Syllabus (alterations possible)

1. American political system in a historical perspective. Cultural aspects of American political system.  (The Federalist Papers: selection; Arendt: On Revolution; Tocqueville’s tradition).

2. Genre of the political novel. (Scheingold: selection). Politics as profession; politician as a social type (Max Weber: political writings). Politician as an all-American hero; danger and appeal of populism: R. Penn Warren, All the King’s Men (novel)

3. Comparison of the novel and the film: All the King’s Men (two adaptations, Rossen and/or Zaillian)

4. Politician as an all-American hero: Becker, City Hall

5. The Cold War paranoia: Frankenheimer, The Manchurian Candidate. Demme’s 2004 re-make.  

 6. The Cold War paranoia: Clooney, Good Night and Good Luck

7. The War on Terror, before and now: Nichols, Charlie Wilson’s War; Greengrass: Green Zone; Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Imperial Life in the Emerald City (non-fiction)

8. Midterm test.

9. The presidential mystique and (un)reality: presidential bio pics (Stone: Nixon, W; Rob Reiner: LBJ )

10. The presidential mystique and (un)reality: Primary Colors (novel)

11. The Fourth Estate: politics and the media: Pakula, All the President’s Men; Spielberg: The Post

12. Infotainment and digital media: the interface of politics and popular culture as a boost to democratic participation (Stewart,  Leno, Chapelle, Colbert, Oliver, Noah, etc.)

13. Political process on the ground: the local sphere (The Wire, season 3)

14. New directions in American politics: Clooney, Ides of March; Trump presidency

15. Final test. Course evaluation.


Required reading:

  • Arendt, Hannah. On Revolution. New York: Penguin, 1963. (selection)
  • Banita, Georgiana and Sascha Pohlmann, ed. Electoral Cultures: American Democracy and Choice. Heidelberg: Universitatsverlag Winter, 2015. (selection)
  • Christ, Birte, and Greta Olson, eds. Obama and the Paradigm Shift: Measuring Change. Heidelberg: Universitaetsverlag Winter, 2012. (selection)
  • Coyne, Michael. Hollywood Goes to Washington: American Politics on Screen. London: Reaktion Books, 2008. (selection)
  • Delogu, Jon C. Tocqueville and Democracy in the Internet Age. Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press, 2014. ( (selection)
  • Hamilton, Alexander, James Madison, and John Jay. The Federalist Papers. Ed. Cliton Rossiter. New York: The New American Library, 1961. ( (selection)
  • Mausbach, Wilfried, Dietmar Schloss, and Marting Thunert, ed. The American Presidency: Multidisciplinary Perspectives. Heidelberg: Universitaetsverlag Winter, 2012. (selection)
  • Scheingold, Stuart. The Political Novel: Re-imagining the Twentieth Century. New York and London: Continuum, 2010. (selection)
  • de Tocqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America. 1835. 1840. New York: Vintage, 1954. ( (selection)
  • Weber, Max. Vlast i politika. Prir. Vjeran Katunarić. Zagreb: Jesenski i Turk, 2013. (selection)

Additional reading material will be provided on the Omega platform.

Optional reading:
American Literary History, vol. 24, no. 3 (Fall 2012). (Project Muse)

Brown, Wendy. „Apocalyptic Populism.“ 30 August 2017.

Comparative American Studies: An International Journal. Special Issue. Texting Obama: Politics/Poetics/Popular Culture. Vol. 10, no. 2-3 (August 2012).

Foy, Joseph, ed. Homer Simpson Goes to Washington: American Politics through Popular Culture. Lexington: The UP of Kentucky, 2008.

Hofstadter, Richard. 1948. The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It. New York: Vintage Books, 1989.

Hofstadter, Richard. 1963. The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1996.

Howe, Irving. Politics and the Novel. New York: Fawcett Premier, 1967.

Jones, Charles O. The American Presidency: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford UP, 2007.

Maisel, Sandy L. American Political Parties and Elections: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford UP, 2007.

Nelson, Dana. Bad for Democracy: How the Presidency Undermines the Power of the People. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2010.

Shaw, Tony. Hollywood’s Cold War. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 2007.