American Cultures

Prof. Ron Buckmire, Mathematics   E-mail:  Tel. x2536  Office: F-320
Prof. Salvador Fernández, Spanish and French Literary Studies  E-mail:   Tel. x2591  Office: J-403
Prof. Gabrielle Foreman, English and Comparative Literary Studies  E-mail:    Tel. x2928   Office: SN-5
Prof. Jaclyn Rodríguez, Psychology  E-mail:  Tel. x2747  Office: SM-208

Teaching Assistants:

Course Description :
This course will be addressing the politics of fear in American culture, how it is manipulated by various forces such as the media and politicians, and how this affects social policy and our lives.  We will be doing so from a variety of perspectives through psychology, literature, film, law, etc.  First, the course will examine how the relationship between society, identity and behavior form and mark the signs of fear in an individual and how they are portrayed and seen by our communities.  Second, we will examine the ramifications and manifestations of xenophobia and homophobia represented in the realm of politics and public policy, as seen in recent  infamous ballot measures: Proposition 187 in California and Ballot Measure 9 in Oregon. Then, we will examine how fear of certain communities is created and how that translates into public policy and law in order to address the explosive growth in the prison industrial complex. We will consider how our own assumptions about crime, justice and communities inform our ideas about democracy and fairness. Finally, we will analyze different  genres (film, novel, short story, and testimonio) in order to see how a community represents and faces the politics of fear.
The URL for the course website is

As an introduction to the academic culture of Occidental College, this course will require you to explore the complexity of subjects which once may have seemed simple. You will be asked to cross disciplinary and theoretical borders and to consider differing and sometimes competing perspectives on culture. Thus, we expect you to read and view course material carefully, to think critically about the readings, lectures and discussions, and to write analytically about themes and ideas that emerge in the course.

NOTE: All work must be completed to receive a passing grade. All late work will be penalized. All work must be type-written.

Week 1 paper: 10%
Week 2 paper: 15%
Week 3 paper: 15%
Week 4 paper: 15%
Midterm Exam: 15%
Final Exam: 15%
Participation: 15%

Required Texts:


Week One: "Strange Fruit"
June 28
Fromm, E.  The Sane Society:  Are We Sane?  (pp.3-11)
Fromm, E.  The Sane Society:  Can A Society be Sick?  (pp. 12-21)
Bring completed Belief Scale to class.

June 29
Fromm, E.  The Sane Society:  The Human Situation...  (pp. 22-41, 58-66)
Collier, E.  Marigolds

June 30
Ezekiel, R.  The Racist Mind
Video:  Skinheads
Draft of Paper 1 DUE in class

July 1
Ryan, W.  Blaming the Victim: The Art of Savage Discovery
Auchincloss, L.  The Tender Offer

July 2
Final version of Paper 1 DUE in class

Week Two: Amandla!
July 5
Whillock, R. "The Use of Hate as a Stratagem for Achieving Political and Social Goals" (pp. 28-54)

July 6
Moritz, M. "The Gay Agenda: Marketing Hate Speech to Mainstream Media" (pp. 55-79)
In-class video: The Gay Agenda. (30 minutes)

July 7
Drafts of Paper 2 DUE in class
Cervantes, N. et al. "Hate Unleashed: Los Angeles in the Aftermath of Proposition 187" (pp. 1-23)
Macdonald, H (dir.). Ballot Measure Nine. Video. (75 minutes)

July 8
Garcia, R. "Critical Race Theory and Proposition 187: the Racial Politics of Immigration Law" (pp. 118-154)

July 9
Midterm Exam
Final version of "Paper 2" DUE in class and on web

Week Three: Corridos
 July 12
The Real War on Crime: beginning Preface to xiii, middle page. Chapter One, pp. 1-30, Chapter 3 "Fear, Politics and the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC)" Steve Donzinger, pp. 63-98
Rodrigo Chronicles, "Black Crime, White Fears -- On the Social Construction of Threat," Richard Delgado, pp. 164-189.

July 13
Unequal Justice, CoraMae Richey Mann, "Law and Its Enforcement Against Minorities," pp. 115-165.
 "Feminism and the Crime Scare," Mari Matsuda, pp. 37-45.
 "How to Read Film," Tim Corrigan, Chapter 2, pp. 18-37.
 "Racialized Punishment and Prison Abolition," Angela Davis Reader,  Chapter 6, pp. 96-103.

July 14
Slam. Film. (To have been viewed twice.)
 "Race and Criminalization: Black Americans and the Punishment Industry,"
Chapter 4, Angela Davis Reader, pp. 96-105.

July 15
American Me. Film. (To have been viewed twice.)

July 16
Draft of Paper 3 DUE in class

Week Four: Rap
July 19
Américo Paredes, "With His Pistol in His Hand" and The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez

July 20
Tomás Rivera, ...Y no se lo tragó la tierra / ...And the Earth Did Not Devour Him

July 21
Menchú, Rigoberta, I, Rigoberta Menchú and El norte;
Final version of Paper 3 published on web

July 22
Sandra Cisneros, Woman Hollering Creek

July 23
Final Exam