This course explores the broad outlines of society, politics, and identity with a focus on the media as agencies for representing popular desires, and self-images, as well as our politics, society, and world. Branding and image making deliver consumer versions of both politics and products tailored to the emotions of individuals. We leave dense personal data trails in the online world that become part of the process of marketing and branding ourselves and our friends.
Meanwhile, we live with the larger reality of producing and consuming huge volumes of new stuff that must become obsolete and discarded in order to have economic growth. The bipartisan political goal of growing the economy has run into global economic and environmental problems. The US is struggling with an economy burdened with under-employment, growing inequality, heavy personal credit loads, and carbon energy dependency. The European Union has its own version of the debt and growth crises, challenging the future of the EU itself. Chinese growth has slowed and the environmental quality for hundreds of millions of citizens has deteriorated to the point of becoming dangerous to their health.
Despite these problems, cleaning up the environment and finding better ways to run the economy are often dismissed as costly threats to economic growth. Yet how well does the current economy work for average people or for the environment? Americans now face soaring costs of education and threats to the American Dream. Millennials face the challenge of sorting this out and creating resilient identities in these turbulent times.
All of these trends are complicated by political polarization, a fragmenting media system, and growing volumes of fake news and disinformation. Citizens face fundamental challenges of what to believe and who to trust.
How did all this happen? Why is it so hard to deal with? What happened to the capacity of government to deal with big problems? Where do we go from here? This course aims to help you think about these questions by showing how individuals are directly affected by complex systems of economics, environment, politics and communication.