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Is Truth Stranger than Fiction? Politics of Aestheticizing Reality




Admission Requirements

Similarly-tagged 100- and 200-level courses.


This course will consider media makers and consumers’ love/hate relationships with truthfulness. We will investigate the issues of authority, verisimilitude, poetic license, and the political implications of their convergences in media consumption. Calling on scholarship from cultural, performance, and media studies, we will explore the cultural roots and contemporary perpetuation of the assumed social value of capturing reality. We will explore diverse modes for conveying realism in entertainment film and television, the limitations of those modes, and why media makers and consumers are critical of some “tricks of the trade” while they continue to appreciate others. We will familiarize ourselves with the pillars of traditional documentary-making to better understand the latest developments in experimental projects and even mockumentaries, both of which play with audiences’ perceptions of their own and others’ realities. We will theorize the role of narrative packaging in reality TV and sports programming, which have such low cultural status and yet enjoy such high popularity. We will investigate the significance of the currently common practice of suggesting a fictional movie is “based on a true story.” Pursuing this line of inquiry will mean contemplating poetic license, the relationship between art and life, and auteurism. Finally, we will examine the influences of social and news media on aestheticizing banality and relatability in entertainment film and television.

Course Objectives

By the end of this course, students can expect to have acquired:

  • an awareness of media’s relationships to perceptions of reality;

  • a sensitivity to the significance of aesthetics;

  • the political implications of popular culture;

  • a better understanding of key theories used in media, performance and cultural studies

By the end of this course, students will have developed skills in:

  • critically analyzing mediated texts

  • using phenomenology as a methodological tool

  • collaborative analysis and oral presentation

  • conducting original research and situating findings within the appropriate fields

  • forming and articulating an informed, nuanced opinion

  • academic writing, by arguing theses that combine theory and evidence from several disciplines and a variety of sources


Bill Nichols. Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1991.

All other articles and materials will be listed in Blackboard and provided via Leiden University Libraries.