The Catholic University of America

Sample Essay Questions, Media Studies Comprehensive Exam

Sample Question, Clip Analysis

View this TV commercial for Heineken Beer.  It was created by a British advertising agency and aired in the UK in 2007-2008.  Your task is to write an essay providing a close textual reading of the commercial, attending to the connections between its aesthetic and rhetorical elements, using appropriate critical concepts and terminology.  First, read the commercial on its own terms—i.e., describing how it is composed narratively and aesthetically to sell a product and a brand to a specific audience.  But then step back to frame that construction in an ideological analysis, using any theoretical tools or perspective(s) you find appropriate.  Questions you’d do well to consider (not to exclude others) in doing this part of your essay:

•(How) does this text embody a cultural and/or economic rhetoric that seeks to mythologize the brand, branding, and consumer capitalism more generally? 

•Do you see any connections between such a mythology and the ways in which nationality and ethnicity are referenced in the commercial?

•What accounts for the popular afterlife of the text on YouTube?

•Does your analysis provide you with grounds for arguing that the commercial is manipulative, exploitative or unethical in any way?  Or does it yield a basis for seeing the commercial itself as a critique of such manipulative, exploitative or unethical practice?


Sample Questions on Works of Media Studies Scholarship

In response to one of the questions below, write a well-organized essay about by Walter Benjamin’s, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” W.J.T. Mitchell's "The Work of Art in the Age of Biocybernetic Reproduction," and Sudeep Dasgupta's "Gods in the Sacred Marketplace: Hindu Nationalism and the Return of the Aura in the Public Sphere." 

There are two essay options; you are to CHOOSE ONE. In constructing your argument, you will need to provide supporting evidence by discussing specific examples from different chapters. Use quotations to help make your points, but don’t try to use long quotations, since your time is limited. Use parenthetical page number citations wherever you quote or paraphrase. It would be prudent to spend some time (5-10 minutes) organizing your thoughts, thinking through the issues, and deciding on your examples before you begin writing. Make sure your essay responds directly to the specific question you have chosen; a generalized essay about the readings is not acceptable.  

Option 1. 

For Benjamin, Dasgupta, and Mitchell, cultural texts are symptomatic of specific configurations of media technology and capitalism. Discuss how each author uses textual evidence to support his argument in these two interrelated regards (i.e. technology and capitalism). To properly answer this question you will need to summarize each author's general argument and explain how each one summons textual support to critique historically and culturally situated relations between media technologies and capitalism. Are there differences in their uses of evidence and in the direction of their arguments? Or are they in basic agreement on these matters, even though the later authors clearly appropriate and modify Benjamin? 

Option 2. 

Dasgupta and Mitchell are both heavily indebted to Benjamin; however, each author modifies the original argument and its key ideas in a variety of ways. Write an essay that details how the later authors appropriate and yet work changes upon the original argument, drawing on specific passages to do so. Draw on Benjamin directly to suggest how he might respond to the use of his ideas.  What should the interplay of ideas demonstrated here have to teach contemporary media scholars (particularly those who may not work on Indian media culture or "biocybernetics")?