Final take-home exam prompts

Select one prompt below as the basis for your essay. Then write an essay of 750-1000 words in response to the prompt. Your essay should have a thesis or at least a clear theme, an introduction, a body and a conclusion. You do not need to include a reference list, but you should indicate what sources and ideas from class you are drawing on: use words in the text to name the authors of readings or ideas.

The best essays will be both rich and synthetic. Richness means that an essay contains many different course concepts, accurately described and creatively applied to the examples in your text. Synthesis means that you show how ideas are connected and related to one another: either their commonalities or ways in which they are in tension or conflict.

  1. As we learned in class, George Gerbner’s chief concern was the “common cultural environment,” and the fact that (by the 1960s) that environment was increasingly constructed not in churches, families and communities, but by television. The conclusions he drew about the effects of this were mostly pessimistic: that people would develop misinformed and mostly negative views of the world (the “mean world syndrome”), and withdraw from it. In your essay, make a case for how we should understand the common cultural environment—or environments—today. What makes up the common cultural environment for citizens today? (Is there one? More than one?) What media convey the cultural environment? What kinds of messages are most dominant? What effects does today’s cultural environment have on citizens? Are you more optimistic today than Gerbner was decades ago?


  1. One theme of our class, from our discussion of the cave paintings of Lascaux and Chauvet on the very first day, has been the idea that human beings innately tell stories about themselves and the world around them. The media and techniques we use to tell those stories change, however. When archaeologists of the future, 10,000 years from now, discover our media devices and their content—with all of the journalism, advertising, social messages flowing across newspapers, books, televisions, iPhones, laptops, etc.—what will they think? What kinds of conclusions will they draw about this society that may seem as foreign to them as the cave-dwellers do to us now?


  1. Imagine you are hosting exchange students who are visiting the United States to study journalism. They are from a very different place from the United States, and they are pretty puzzled by the content they encounter when watching television, listening to the radio, surfing the internet and checking on social media. They’re especially confused by how difficult it is to tell what is true, and how many different people seem to want to convince them of things that are either not true or not exactly true—they see this in advertising, in news, in politics. Write a letter explaining American media to them, and suggesting what they can do to navigate this challenging system.