Images of American Politics in Literary and Visual Media

Course title: Images of American Politics in Literary and Visual Media (A, 20th c.)
Instructor: Dr. Jelena Šesnić, Full Prof.
Winter 2019/2020
Mon, 11-12:30 (A-123)
Wed, 13:15-14 (A-105)

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: Regular 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: Robert Penn Warren: All the King’s Men (1946) (novel)

Joe Klein: Primary Colors (1996) (novel)

Films: Robert Rossen: All the King’s Men (1949)

John Frankenheimer: The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Jonathan Demme: The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

George Clooney: Good Night and Good Luck (2005)

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)


Syllabus (alterations possible)

October 2019

  1. Introduction.
  2. American political system in a historical perspective. Cultural aspects of American political system. (The Federalist Papers: selection; Arendt: On Revolution; Tocqueville’s tradition).
  3. 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)
  4. Warren, cont.
  5. Comparison of the novel and the film, All the King’s Men


    November 2019

  6. The Cold War paranoia: Frankenheimer, The Manchurian Candidate
  7. The Cold War paranoia: Clooney, Good Night and Good Luck
  8. The War on Terror, before and now: Demme’s 2004 re-make, The Manchurian Candidate. Greengrass: Green Zone. Midterm test.

    December 2019

  9. The presidential mystique and (un)reality: presidential bio pics (Stone: Nixon, W)
  10. Rob Reiner: LBJ
  11. The presidential mystique and (un)reality: Primary Colors (novel).

    January 2020

  12. The Fourth Estate: politics and the media: Pakula, All the President’s Men; Spielberg: The Post
  13. New directions in American politics: the Trump presidency. Seminar paper deadline.
  14. 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)
  • 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. ( (selection)
  • Mausbach, Wilfried, Dietmar Schloss, and Marting Thunert, ed. The American Presidency: Multidisciplinary Perspectives. Heidelberg: Universitaetsverlag Winter, 2012. (selection)

– „Revue LISA/ LISA e-journal.“ Bypassing Confusion to Understand the Trump Phenomenon. Vol. XVI. No. 2, 2018. (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. ( (selection)
  • Weber, Max. Political Writings. Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought. Ed. Peter Lassman and Ronald Speirs. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994. (See also Croatian translation: 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. (

Christ, Birte, and Greta Olson, eds. Obama and the Paradigm Shift: Measuring Change. Heidelberg: Universitaetsverlag Winter, 2012.

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.