Being There- Critical Essay


Critical Essay Assignment for CM 101

A key part of CM 101 is the completion of a moderate length critical essay on a substantive book about the media. The essays can take a variety of forms, but I expect that you will demonstrate to me that you understand and can explain and comment on the key theories and information contained in the book that you are writing on. Avoid simple summary: In chapter 1, she says this, then in chapter 2 she says this, etc. But try to cover the key arguments and information in the book. Part of your responsibility is to select what is important in the book about the media and convey it to your reader. Get started soon: you must read and report on the entire book.

In previous semesters, I have offered about a dozen or so books to choose from. While I still want to be flexible about the subject, I have modified the assignment. For simplicity’s sake, choose one of the following books to write on:
Jerzy Kosinski, Being There [a fictional work about the consequences of being “raised” by television; it’s about the same length as Fahrenheit 451] ***There is a film of this story, and it is very much worth watching. But your essay must be based on the story, not the film. The film is much different from the story in some respects, and it will be easy to spot if you are relying on the film rather than the story, and if you do so, your essay will be considered unacceptable.

Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985) [very readable and deeply influential study of contemporary media more geared up for entertaining rather than informing us, and the devastating consequences of this; one chapter of this book, “Reach Out and Elect Someone,” is included in our CM 101 textbook and we will study it in class later in the semester] 163 pages.

***If you would like to consider writing on another book, contact me about other possible options that you might suggest or that I might suggest to you. If you want to focus on a substantive media-related book not on the list, you must have it approved by me.

I have both of these books available in electronic file format. I enclose the file for Being There and a handout of suggestions for an essay on that book so that anyone who wants to get started right away will at least have this material in hand. The files for the Postman book are larger, but I can send them immediately to anyone who wants to consider that book for your essay. Your primary task is to give a full overview of what the book is about, what the critical approach of the author is, etc. Give enough information so that the reader of your essay gets a good sense of what is contained in the book you are reviewing. Indicate what you feel the importance of the book is. What is
valuable about the information in the book or the arguments that it makes? Are there any key weaknesses in the book? Avoid unnecessary background material and long quotations. If you quote directly from the book, be sure to use quotation marks, and indicate in parentheses what page the quotation comes from, as I do in what follows (p. 17).

You can – and probably should! – at some point give your critical response to the book. Focus not on whether or not you liked the book or a simple statement of whether or not you agreed with the book, but on a thoughtful evaluation of the book’s credibility, persuasiveness, and effectiveness in doing what it sets out to do, its value to people concerned about the media, etc.

You will not be able to cover everything in your critical review. But try to focus on, explain, and in one way or another comment on or respond to what you feel are the key ideas in the book. If you choose the Postman book, you may end up focusing on some chapters more than others, but be sure that give serious attention to the entire book. If you focus on just one chapter, no matter how detailed your comments are, I will assume that it is the only chapter that you read, and that is unacceptable for this assignment.

Length: 1250 words minimum (be sure to include a word count at the end); typed, double-spaced. Use a title for your essay that gives some information about your approach and the focus of your paper. Instead of simply saying:

Critical Essay for CM 101, or An Analysis of – – -, or just inserting the title of the book that you are focusing on, try to be more specific and informative.

Be particularly alert to avoiding the following common mistakes in this assignment:

Especially in writing on Being There: Don’t spend too much of your time simply summarizing the plot. You can give an outline of what happens to orient your reader, but your primary task is to analyze what Kosinski is trying to say about the media in the book. Use details about what happens in the story to back up or otherwise illustrate your

Focus primarily on the media-related aspects of the book. Being There is a well-respected and wellcrafted piece of literature, with much humor, interesting characters, an intriguing style, etc. But whatever you raise in your essay should have a direct connection with your discussion of the book as a thoughtful commentary on the media.

Especially in writing on Amusing Ourselves to Death: Be sure that your essay conveys your thoughtful reading of the entire book and the arguments that run through and link all the chapters. As I mention above, if you discuss only one or two of the chapters, I will assume that you’ve only read those sections, and that will weaken your essay.

Avoid concentrating primarily on the chapter from the book that we cover in class, “Reach out and Elect Someone.” You can certainly discuss this important chapter, but especially if we cover it in class before you turn your essay in, your comments need to go far beyond what we discuss in class.

In general:
While it may be useful to make references to readings and/or concepts that we have discussed in class, don’t let this be a distraction: you should spend most of your time concentrating on the book you have chosen to write your essay on.

This is meant to be an analysis (a discussion of what the book is about, what is particularly persuasive, relevant, significant, about its commentary on the media, etc.) not a response-type of essay (what you liked and didn’t like, etc.). When people ask me whether or not the essay should contain their opinions, I offer the following: By all means include your well-thought out judgment and evaluation of the significance, persuasiveness, and validity of the author’s main ideas, once you have fairly and fully clarified what those ideas are.
If you have any questions as you work on this assignment, let me know and I’ll try to help (possibly by looking over an outline or draft of your essay). But don’t wait until the last minute to do this. Contact me by e-mail ( and I’ll respond as quickly as I can.

Additional Files:


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