PWR 2BRC: Re-Make It Anew: The Rhetoric of Adapting, Rebooting, and Remaking
Whenever a book is adapted into a film, or a “classic” film is remade for a new era, critics and audiences are quick to say “the original was better.” And yet, Hollywood and the wider cultural industry ⎯ and their audiences ⎯ love reboots, remakes, franchises, and adaptations. From prequels like Better Call Saul and House of the Dragon, to remakes like A Star Is Born, to slight variations on the same Christmas movies from Hallmark every year, familiarity and nostalgia sell. Many films and series are also adapted across cultures and languages, like House of Cards and The Office. And streaming services like Netflix have increasingly marketed productions like Squid Game both within and across audiences, raising questions about how translation and dubbing can alter a work’s meaning.
In this class we’ll question what’s at stake in such adaptations and recyclings. What can adaptations and remakes tell us about their cultural and political moments? Why do audiences respond to familiarity? To answer such questions, we’ll draw on work in adaptation, film, and music studies, and on theories of remixing, remediating, and translating. We’ll consider the biological analogies of “remixing,” and the legal boundary between “fair use” and infringing on copyright. Finally, we’ll consider how these debates and theories tap into longstanding associations between creativity and originality, as well as imitation and popular culture. Students will choose their own angles within this theme for their research project. For example, projects could center on the reception of a popular book turned film or television series, or on emerging technologies that raise questions about originality and imitation, like ChatGPT. Along the way, we’ll practice what we study as we adapt our research projects across essays and presentations. Students will also produce a creative adaptation of their research in a form of their choice ⎯ whether an infographic, an op-ed, or a piece of art.
Examples of Research Topics
For this course, you will engage in a quarter-long in-depth research project. Sample research topics you might pursue could investigate how Kim Hee-won’s series Little Women reimagines the source material by translating the themes to modern-day South Korea, how a film like Fire Island reimagines the Jane Austen source material to celebrate chosen family, the way discourse around sampling in music reflects larger cultural concerns about originality and imitation, or how a series like Stranger Things raises questions about how even original screenplays can seem to function like adaptations when they weave in familiar tropes and allusions.
PWR 2 Assignment Sequence
(5 minute live oral presentation; written text of 900-1200 words; reflective memo of 250 words): In this assignment, students write a proposal for a research project related to the theme of adaptation, framing the research question and situating it in their preliminary research. Projects could investigate how recent adaptations of Frankenstein have given voice to fears about bioethics in the age of CRISPR and mRNA vaccine technology; how mashup artists like Girl Talk–whose first album The New York Times called “a lawsuit waiting to happen”–have shaped debates about originality and copyright; or how a show like Bridgerton adapts the conventions of historical fiction to rethink the role of, for example, race or sexuality in the nineteenth century and our own moment.
Written Research-Based Argument
(3000-3600 words; 10-12 pages; reflective memo of 250 words) Students will craft a well-researched argument that uses the existing scholarship and discourse to see something new about a debate or case study. In the process, we will consider how we want to “adapt” the conventions of academic writing – whether to imagine a wider audience, or to better reflect our own voices and values.
(10 minute live oral presentation with appropriate multimedia support; reflective memo of 250 words) With this assignment, students will translate their research-based argument into a live oral presentation with media support. Students will think critically about how to employ the rhetoric of adaptation in their own presentations of their research, and about how their strategies will differ across the written and oral versions of their research arguments.
(A creative adaptation and 500 word reflection) This assignment is an opportunity to engage more creatively with our class theme by reimagining and conveying research in any chosen genre—a comic, an infographic, a poem, a TikTok, etc. Students will write a brief reflection that provides an explanation of their rhetorical choices, which will be the basis for their grade for this assignment.