PHIL 4800A                 

Philosophy, Comedy, and Film:

An Exploration of Ethical Theory as Represented in Comedic Film and Television           


Fall 2014                                                                                                          CRN 82508 

West Hall 104            

Class meets Mondays 5:00-7:45pm


Dr. Christine James

Office: 1203 Ashley Hall

Office Hours: MTWR 3:30pm-4:45pm and after classes and by appointment as needed.

Telephone:  259-7609 

Mailbox:  Philosophy Department Office

Fax:  259-5011

E-mail address:


Please note that specific dates for readings and graded assignments in the syllabus may be adjusted and updated throughout the semester.  The latest version of the syllabus will always be available at


Purpose and goals of the course: An examination of the role that comedy plays in American culture, and the sense in which comedy reflects our social context.  Readings include the work of philosophers and scholars, as well as professional comedians.  The history of comedic commentary on politics, gender and race will be addressed.





In accordance with the revised learning outcomes for the Core Curriculum of the Georgia State System, and the VSU Core Curriculum, our course follows the Area C Learning Outcome:

"Students will analyze, evaluate, and interpret diverse forms of human communication." 

The Learning Outcomes for our PHIL 4800 are:

1. To understand the distinctions among the various philosophical approaches to ethics, including the expression of ethics by comedians, as an academic field.

2. To recognize how philosophical inquiry applies to ‘real-world’ circumstances and to specific case studies in specific films and television examples.

3. To become conversant with the history of comedy as a means for ethical and political commentary, as well as specific examples of the issues of race, class and gender as comedians expressed these differences.

4. To recognize and define different world views, adopting a reasonably viable one and justifying it in a philosophically informed way that emphasizes critical reasoning and argument.

5.  To demonstrate the ability to discuss, in both oral and written discourse, the philosophical issues explored in the course.

6.  To be familiar with what academic philosophy is, and to understand how it can be applied to daily life as well as specific careers.

Members of the faculty in Philosophy and Religious Studies have verified that these outcomes are in line with the outcomes of this level of course as it is taught at peer institutions in the State System of Georgia.


These course-specific learning outcomes also contribute to the departmental learning outcomes of the Philosophy and Religious Studies Major:

1. Explain and analyze central issues, topics, and philosophers in the history of philosophy, from the ancient to the modern periods.
2. Write and speak critically and logically, applying various theories to specific cases and examples.
3. Explain their own value system, evaluating their values in the context of a diverse range of ideas that inform contemporary controversies and social conflict.
4. Create independent philosophical research, synthesizing a variety of sources, including traditional primary philosophical texts and secondary source
5. Demonstrate a working familiarity with current research methods, citation styles, and presentation techniques.




We will have readings from four books, but to cut down on your expenses two of the books are password protected in Blazeview for you to access as pdfs. There are two you will need to purchase, which the bookstore has in stock:



Marc, David. Comic Visions: Television Comedy and American Culture. Blackwell, 1997, 2nd edition

ISBN-13: 978-1577180036     $56.95

Roemer, Michael. Shocked But Connected: Notes on Laughter. Rowman and Littlefield, 2012, ISBN-13: 978-1442217560    $30.54


In Blazeview:

Blistein, Elmer M. Comedy In Action. Duke University Press 1964 LCC 64-22154 (pdf in Blazeview)

Matthews, Nicole. Comic Politics: gender in Hollywood comedy after the new right. Manchester University Press, 2000. 0719055032 (pdf in Blazeview)


How grades will be calculated, major graded items:

First week in Blazeview: First Discussion, Dropbox, and Introductory Quiz = 5%

Class Participation and Attendance = 15%          

Spontaneous (Pop) in-class writing tests = 2 @ 10% = 20%                     

Two Page Proposal, Readings, and Video List for First Paper = 10%                                 

First Paper = 10%

Presentations (Comedy Term, First Paper Proposal, Writing Practicum Days) = 20%

Final Paper = 20%                    

Total = 100%     


Please note that I am not obligated to accept late work or to allow “make up” work after the date an assignment or exam or paper is completed by the other members of the class. When you have extenuating circumstances, you should talk with me about it ahead of time.


I also make no promises about extra credit items, although I will routinely announce events on campus that can result in some extra credit points for you.          


Attendance Policy: I do care that you attend class regularly.   VSU policy states that missing 20% of class meetings results in an automatic grade of “F”.  Faculty can also institute added attendance policies in their syllabi. Our class will have a 10% rule for absences.  You can miss up to 10% of the class meetings with no grade penalty.  10% of our 30 class meetings is 3.  On absence number 4, your final grade for the course will be reduced by one whole letter grade; on absence number 5, your final grade for the course will be reduced by two whole letter grades; on absence number 6, you will automatically fail the course.  Be considerate of your fellow students – don’t be late, and don’t leave your cell phones and pagers on.  Note that if you are regularly late to class, or leave class early, I will begin to count each as an absence.  Please note that this policy makes no distinction between excused and unexcused absences.



Secondary source material from academic journal articles is always a good idea in any philosophy paper.  Please do plan to use our library’s resources:

In completing your research papers, you may find that the databases of peer-reviewed journal articles will be especially helpful. The direct link for the database (Academic Search Complete) is   (Click on Academic Search Complete to open the first page with the search box.)

If you are accessing the library website from an off-campus computer, please use the Anywhere Access to log in to our library:


Papers: This is a 4000-level philosophy class; the papers will be long research papers.  You should plan to use a combination of materials including the class textbooks, secondary source material, and your own examples from film and television media.  You can write about examples that you enjoy and that you find funny, but you will have to deal with the material in a scholarly manner.


Presentations:  Each student will be responsible for a presentation during the semester.  All students not presenting on a given day will be responsible for participation, as well as peer evaluations. 


Helpful links:



Access Statement: Valdosta State University is committed to providing inclusive learning environments for all students. However, students with disabilities may not always experience equal access to all learning objectives or assessments.  If students anticipate or experience any learning barriers, they should notify the instructor as well as contact the Access Office to determine appropriate ways to eliminate barriers. The Access Office is located in Farber Hall and can be reached by calling 229-245-2498 (voice), 229-375-5871 (videophone), 229-219-1348 (tty) or 229-245-3788 (fax). You can also visit the website at or email at for more information. 

Participate! Once you arrive at class, make an effort to get involved in the conversation. Don’t hesitate to ask questions if you need clarification or would like more information: if you are confused, it is likely that others are too! The participation percentage you receive will depend on a variety of factors, including (but not limited to) the frequency and helpfulness of your contributions to class discussions and the care you take when peer editing.

Pop Reading Quizzes: If I notice that there are many students who are not keeping up with the reading, I may periodically administer reading quizzes in class. These will not be announced in advance. No “make-up” quizzes will be given, and a missed quiz will result in a grade of zero.  These quizzes are a solid reward for attending class, participating, and keeping up with the readings.

Online Discussions: During certain weeks of the semester, you also will be expected to participate regularly in on-line discussions using Blazeview. Use this opportunity to comment on the week’s readings, ask questions, raise objections, and respond to what others have written or said in class.

To use Blazeview, you will need access to a computer with an internet connection. Your computer and its software will also need to meet certain technical specifications, like allowing pop-ups and updating Java. You are solely responsible for all technical matters. Although you do not need to be on campus in order to access Blazeview, it is worth remembering that computer labs are available at VSU. Sometimes if you have a lot of work to do, your wireless internet connection can be cut off if your computer or iPad goes into sleep mode – the library computers will have more reliable “wired” connection. For technical help, please contact the VSU Help Desk (located in Odum Library, to the left of the Circulation Desk) at 229-245-4357 or by e-mail at

To log in to Blazeview and the course “shell,” go to the VSU homepage and click on My VSU. Your username and password are probably the same as for your e-mail account.

When posting in an online Discussion board, like those in the Discussion area of Blazeview, you must (1) post at least one original message of your own, (2) read all the messages posted by others, and (3) respond substantively to at least one message from another student. Your postings are due the same day as the readings are listed in the schedule below (i.e., no later than 11:59 p.m. on the relevant dates.) Normally, in Blazeview, you should respond to my topic first, and then come back and reply to at least two other students. Try not to simply repeat what others have said already, and remember that citing the text is important.

When you are ready to respond to someone else, do so by opening their message and hitting the “Reply” button. This will create a “thread” that others can add on to. Keep in mind that although it is fine to disagree with what someone else has said, it is important to do so in a way that is polite and constructive. If someone says something that makes you angry, pause and take a breath before firing off a reply! You can preview your message before you send it, but once you have hit “Post,” people will be seeing what you posted!

Blazeview allows me to keep track of how many messages you have read and posted, like a set of statistics on a scoreboard. I will monitor student activity and may from time to time add a message of my own.

Academic Honesty: Members of the Valdosta State University faculty value honesty and integrity extremely highly and do not tolerate cheating of any kind. Anyone caught cheating will automatically fail the course. Cheating includes – but is not limited to – plagiarism, giving or receiving assistance on a quiz, having someone else do work on your behalf, doing work on someone else’s behalf, and working with a partner or in a group on an individual assignment. By enrolling in this course, you are in effect promising to maintain the bond of trust on which the professor-student relationship is based.  In addition, VSU has a new Academic Honesty Policy.  Here is a link to the Academic Honesty Policies and Procedures:


VSU policy mandates that all official communication by e-mail take place through VSU e-mail accounts or through the Blazeview Mail tool.  Please check your VSU ( e-mail account regularly.

Note: This syllabus is not a legal contract; the content of this course is subject to revision by the professor.



Come to class with the reading listed on each date completed, be ready to discuss and ask questions.  In addition, each member of the class must pick a date for a presentation and leading discussion.



Date                 Readings for the day’s class                           


8/18 M           Introduction to the course


What is a philosophical look at comedy?

How can comedy be political, social, ethical?

When is comedy subversive?


For homework, read the Blistein Comedy in Action pages. These are from a classic and out-of-print text on comedy from 1964, using either the .pdf or the .htm page of .jpg thumbnail images (click on a thumbnail multiple times to make it larger to read, I included portrait and landscape format links below so you can choose which view you like best.) This is also available as a pdf inside the Blazeview area of our class.





(Note that each date in the syllabus after this date assumes you have already read the listed readings and will be ready to discuss them in class.)



8/25 M            Discussing Blistein’s Comedy in Action  pages xi-41

Comic Heroes. The Drive For Respectability: An Aspect of the Comic Character, and The Object of Scorn: An Aspect of the Comic Antagonist


An article about Judd Apatow, one of the creators of 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, This Is 40, Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared:


An article about Mel Brooks (High Anxiety, Young Frankenstein, History of the World Part I)


Note that all the introductory first week work in Blazeview (the first Discussion, Dropbox and Introductory Quiz) must be completed by tonight at 11:59pm.



9/1 M                No Class Meeting, Labor Day


9/8 M              COMEDY TERM DUE: Special research night: each class member will have been given a specific term about comedy to research before this class.  You must post in the Discussion area of Blazeview with a solid definition of the term and at least one example by this night at 5pm, and then present your term to the class orally during class tonight.


9/15 M            Matthews’ Comic Politics, pages 1-51  (Look inside Blazeview for pdfs)

Popular Comedy: Taking It All Too Seriously  

Is Parody Political?

What does “postmodern” mean?



9/22 M             TWO PAGE PROPOSAL AND READING/RESEARCH/VIDEO LIST FOR PAPER 1 IS DUE.  The paper proposal follows the format linked here:

Be ready to describe and discuss your proposal standing in front of the class.

(The paper proposal is your chance to try out your paper topic for Paper 1. Paper 1 is due on October 13, so the more work you do on the proposal now, the easier writing the paper is!)



9/29 M             Matthews pages 52-98 

                        Performing Gender in Comedian Comedy



10/6 M            Writing Practicum Night: Bring in copies of your first paper draft and ask other students to give you feedback and critique.

Matthews pages 99-134                                     

‘The New Man’ in family comedies



10/13 M              PAPER 1 IS DUE tonight in the Blazeview Dropbox by 11:59PM    

Discussion of Schocked But Connected: Notes on Laughter by Michael Roemer, pages ix-50, chapters 1-2, Surprised, and Freud



10/20 M           Discussion of Schocked But Connected: Notes on Laughter by Michael Roemer, pages 51-122, chapters 3-5, Different and Scary, Disconnected, and Bergson and High Comedy

Please note: Dr. James has to be out of town on this date because of a meeting at Middle Georgia State College in Macon. Please do the discussion assigned in Blazeview in place of being in class.


10/27 M            Discussion of Schocked But Connected: Notes on Laughter by Michael Roemer, pages 123-207, chapters 6-9, Blind and Helpless but Alive, Childhood, Making it Real, and Annie Hall


11/3 M             Discussion of David Marc’s book Comic Visions, pages ix-xvi and pages 1-40

                        What’s So Funny About America?                      





11/10 M            Marc pages 41-99

                         Waking Up to Television: A Garden in the Machine and The Making of the Sitcom, 1961


11/17 M           Marc pages 100-171                                                                              

Planet Earth of/to Sitcom and The Sitcom at Literate Peak: Post-Vietnam Refinements of Mass Consciousness




11/24 M            No classes, Thanksgiving Break Week



12/1 M              Writing Practicum Day for Second Paper (Bring drafts for other students to critique)


12/8 M              No class meeting, Dr. James will be out of town giving a paper at Oxford in the UK. Please do email her for any help needed,



(Last Official Class Day for all VSU classes is December 8)





To look up your other courses’ Fall final exams, see the online guide in the university website:


Philosophy, Comedy, and Film    Short Summary of Graded Items


Grade Item

Percentage of Final Grade

In Class or Online

If Online, Location in Blazeview

By Monday 8/25/2014 at 11:59pm

First Introduction Discussion, Dropbox and Practice Quiz in Blazeview






 Opening readings in Blazeview 8/25



10/6, 12/8

Discussions on various topics and readings

Blistein begins 8/25

Matthews begins 9/15

Roemer begins 10/13

Marc begins 11/3

Writing Practicum Participation also


Online and in Class



Spontaneous In Class Writing Tests


In Class



10/6, 12/8

Comedy Term Presentation due both online PowerPoint and in class Presentation

Writing Practicum Drafts in Class


Online and in class



Two Page Proposal and reading list for the first paper due




By Monday 10/13 at 11:59pm

Paper 1 Due

Turn in Paper Online, but you are expected to discuss what you are writing about on a particular date in class


Online and in class


By Friday 12/12 at 7:15pm

Final Paper (Paper 2)







Online Course Evaluations

Student evaluations are extremely important in helping faculty members plan and revise their courses.  Rather than completing these evaluations during class time, students will need to access evaluation forms via BANNER and complete them in a period during the last few weeks of class.  Please take the time to complete this important evaluation (or opt out of providing an evaluation) during the designated period.  If you do not do so, you will not be able to access the grade for this class, scheduled to be posted on the Monday after the final examination days. They will be in Banner under Answer a Survey. Students will receive an email notification through their VSU ( email address when the SOI is available (generally at least one week before the end of term.) SOI responses are anonymous to instructors/administrators. Instructors will be able to view only a summary of all responses two weeks after they have submitted final grades. While instructors will not be able to view individual responses or access any of the responses until after final grade submission, they will be able to see which students have or have not completed their SOIs, and student compliance may be considered in the determination of the final course grade. Some professors give extra credit for completing the SOI and some do not, please do not pressure any faculty member about giving extra credit - it's an individual instructor choice. These compliance and non-compliance reports will not be available once instructors are able to access the survey.


Tips for doing well in Philosophy classes, adapted from a handout by Robert Scott:


1. Read text with a pencil, underline the important ideas and key concepts. Write down technical ideas, key terms, key distinctions between two terms, definitions, diagrams, etc. to help you remember them.


2. Write questions or reactions you have to the text in the margin of the book. Ask about these questions in class, and keep them in mind, since they may provide good points to make about that author in papers you will write for class.


3. Read ahead to see the ultimate objectives of the chapter and of the individual readings. Keep in mind the overall picture of the chapters given in the introductory sections to each chapter in the book.


4. Work with the new terminology frequently, and try to apply it to situations outside of class. I would recommend flash cards to help you memorize the meanings of new terms quickly.


5. For longer readings, be sure to review the reading as a whole after you have read it section-by-section. What was the main question the author wanted to address? What were the answers? What concepts were used to make the points?


6. When confronted with a difficult reading or question, break it down into parts, and into individual ideas. This will at least help to clarify the question, even if it might not give the answer. And for philosophy, clarifying the question is really half the battle!


7. Ponder an unsolved problem and return to it every so often to see if it will give. Inspiration may happen at an unexpected time, and the subconscious mind does work on problems even when we aren't consciously aware of it.


8. Begin work on all the class tasks early, and spread out your work over time so as to maximize your chances for comprehending the readings accurately, memorizing the information, and grappling with the questions for papers.


9. If you do need to meet with an instructor outside of class, be sure to have your questions for the instructor planned out ahead of time, to make the meeting as productive as possible.


10. Always think about the philosophical issues for yourself, rather than waiting to be told what to think or believe.


11. Study for all exams on a daily basis, for at least a week before the exam date. You will need to know who said what, from memory.


12. Try to anticipate the questions that will be asked on an examination beforehand. Questions may come from the readings or from lectures and class discussions, but in either case, certain terms and concepts will be emphasized more than others.


13. Listen carefully to different points of view, and actively respond (when you read, when you are in class, and when you write your philosophy papers)!


14. Philosophy involves skills, like learning to appreciate a good debate, learning to imagine the world differently than we assume it to be, and appreciating the world with a sense of wonder.


Tips about writing in Philosophy and Religious Studies courses:


1. A really great website for students about how to write academic papers is maintained by the Dartmouth Writing Program:

In addition to lots of helpful general information, it has special pages on "Writing the Religion Paper" and "Writing the Philosophy Paper."


2. A great website that explains the importance of critically evaluating web resources -- always a problem area for students – is maintained by Robert Harris:


3. I strongly encourage everyone in our class buy a copy of the St. Martin's Handbook, VSU Edition. This is the writing manual used in ENGL 1101 and 1102, which all VSU students are required to take. In other words, you should all already own a copy. It explains all the basics -- e.g., how to cite sources, etc. By recommending students own a copy, I'm hoping to emphasize the continuity between your writing courses and the rest of your education, in the hope that you don't just sell the book back and forget the basics.