Although superhero-themed television has recently become one of the fastest-growing sites of investment for both audiences and industry alike, this programming genre has enjoyed a long history, serving different functions in the network era, the rise of cable and narrowcasting, and now the emergence of streaming subscription services. Examining superhero TV as a genre defined by specific on-screen conventions and off-screen discourses of interpretation and evaluation, this course will seek to understand how and why narratives about cape-clad do-gooders and sinister super villains have so readily served the interests of programmers, resonated with the tastes of audiences, and negotiated changing social ideals. Paramount in all these considerations will be the idea of “power,” in which the super-powered exploits of television narrative intersect with the power of industries to shape our ideas and ideologies of heroism, the power and privilege of being included (or not) in these narratives, and the power of audiences to participate in and reshape the worlds of TV superheroes. As a genre, superhero television makes particular demands that we consider television in relation to these complex forms of power, but we will also consider more broadly in this course the power of genre, what genre is, and why genre is important to studies of television and culture.
Each class meeting will be discussion-focused, based on participatory engagement with assigned readings and close analysis of assigned screenings. Television programs assigned for the course will likely include Wonder Woman, Batman: The Animated Series, Bob!, Birds of Prey, Heroes, Supergirl, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Agent Carter, Powers, Arrow, MANTIS, Space Ghost: Coast to Coast, Who Wants to Be a Superhero?, and more. Students can expect to be evaluated based on their performance in written work and classroom discussion. By the end of the semester, students will be able to both comprehend the scholarly literature on television genre and apply those key concepts in their own critical analyses of programming.