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PWR 2EI: Copying, Modding, Pirating: Rhetorics of (Un)originality

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Catalog Number: PWR 2EI

Instructor: Eldon Pei

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP) 

Prerequisite: PWR 1, ESF, ITALIC 95W, or equivalent


Course Feature: WR-2 requirement

What’s wrong with plagiarism and counterfeiting? Who needs rules telling us when borrowing and appropriation are allowed? Why is being original so closely linked to integrity, value creation, authenticity, and genius? What is so scandalous about copying, imitation, modding, and pirating?

Our regimes of private property and ideologies of individualism inculcate us with such a regard for “originality” that we rarely stop to ask whose privileges they safeguard, whose capabilities they favor, and whose creative labor they discount and render unseen. Featuring provocative examples such as June Jordan’s sardonic “Reagan Era Poem in Memory of Scarlett O’Hara,” DJ Spooky’s remix of the white-supremacist film epic Birth of a Nation, the spectral dislocations of Jamaican dub music, and the imaginative refashioning of US military transports into public buses in postcolonial Philippines, this course therefore invites you write and present on traditions, practices, and artifacts that call the premises of originality into question and that playfully unsettle the state and corporate narratives of cultural ownership that sustain them.

Specific research projects might address digital-age media phenomena such as sampling, remixing, memeing, vidding, machinimation, and hacking vis-à-vis dominant Euro-American conceptions of the creative act. They might engage with marginalized, indigenous, or postcolonial forms of cultural production that have revolved around repetition, versioning, and repurposing. They could consider instances of fan labor (e.g., fan fiction, cosplay), automobile or electronics modding, the “faking” of global brands, or how mimicry, appropriation, and forgery have shaped conversations about artistic merit and commercial value.

Major Assignments

Research Proposal

(5-minute live oral presentation; written text of 900-1200 words) You will select and ask a focused research question about a specific cultural tradition, practice, or artifact that creatively utilizes preexisting works/objects as its basis . Your written proposal and in-class oral presentation will explain how you plan to investigate your object of inquiry and why it compels us to critically reconsider the meaning of original invention.

Written Research-Based Argument

(3000-3600 words; 10-12 pages) You will develop a paper that draws upon rhetorical analysis, relevant critical/theoretical concepts, and historical research in order to tell an engaging story about your object of inquiry and make a compelling case for its contribution to the production of knowledge and culture.

Delivery of Research

(10-minute live oral presentation with appropriate multimedia support) You will translate your research argument into a presentation to be delivered as part of a panel discussion that you and several classmates will organize around a unifying theme.

Genre/Modes Assignment

(reproduced images or audio/video clip; 300-word “gallery text”) You will create a stand-alone exhibit that communicates salient features of your object of inquiry through either documentary images (3 or fewer) or a short audio/video excerpt (<2 minutes). Accompanying this will be a succinct written text (300 words) that describes your object for a general audience and prompts them to reflect upon its cultural significance.