MED3010 – Transgressive Culture – Module Explained (Middlesex University London)


MED3010 – Transgressive Culture – Module Explained (Middlesex University London)

Module details

BA (Hons) Media and Cultural Studies – Media Department – School of Media and Performing Arts – MED3010: Transgressive Culture.




On completion of this module the successful student will have acquired knowledge and understanding of:

  1. The three broad methodological approaches to the study of transgressive media and culture;
  2. The key theories and debates over the representation of difference (for example race, gender and/or disability) within these texts;
  3. The complex ways in which institutions and audiences work to produce, negotiate, exploit and negate the cultural value of transgressive texts;                  


On completion of this module the successful student will have acquired skills in the following:

  1. The ability to employ complex theory in order to produce a detailed textual analysis of a media text;
  2. The ability to analyse and assess the work of the media and cultural industries in the both circulation of these texts, and in shaping the context of their reception;
  3. The ability to undertake an empirical study of an audience group and critically reflect on their role in shaping ‘transgressive culture’


Recommended Further Reading

  • Attwood, F., 2009. Mainstreaming Sex: The Sexualisation of Western Culture. London: I.B. Tauris
  • Church Gibson, P. [ed.] 2004. More Dirty Looks: Gender, Pornography, Power.  London: BFI Publishing
  • Lehman, P. [ed] 2006. Pornography: Film & Culture. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press
  • Choi, J., & Wada-Marciano, M., 2009. Horror to the Extreme: Changing Boundaries in Asian Cinema. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press
  • Richardson, N., 2010, Transgressive Bodies: Representations in Film and Popular Culture. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Ltd
  • Bourdieu, P., 1984. Distinction. London: Routledge
  • De Valck, M., & Hagener, M., 2006. Film Festivals: From European Geopolitics to Global Cinephilia. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press
  • Harbord, J., 2003. Film Cultures: Production, Distribution and Consumption. London: Sage
  • Jankovich, M., et al, 2003. Defining Cult Movies: the Cultural Politics of Oppositional Taste.  Manchester: Manchester University Press
  • Sconce, J. [ed] 2007. Sleaze Artists: Cinema at the Margins of Taste, Style and Politics. Durham, NC: Duke University Press
  • Hawkins, J., 2000. Cutting Edge: Art-Horror and the Horrific Avant Garde. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press
  • Clover, C., 1993.  Men, Women and Chain Saws. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press
  • Mathijs, E., & Mendik, X., 2007. The Cult Film Reader. Milton Keynes, Open University Press
  • King, G., 2013. Indie 2.0: Change and Continuity in Contemporary Indie Film. IB Tauris
  • Perren, A. 2013. Indie Inc.: Miramax and the Transformation of Hollywood in the 1990’s, University of Texas Press
  • King, G. 2009. Indiewood USA: Where Hollywood meets Independent Cinema, IB Tauris
  • Wright, A, 2013. Monstrosity: The Human Monster in Visual Culture, IB Tauris
  • Creed, B. 1993. The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis, Routledge
  • Kristeva, J. 1984. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection,  Columbia University Press
  • Broderick, M. and Traverso, A. 2010. Trauma, Media, Art: New Perspectives, Cambridge Scholars Publishing
  • Attwood, F. et al. (eds). 2012 Controversial Images: Media Representations on the Edge, Palgrave
  • Gournelos, T. (ed). 2011. Transgression 2.0: Media, Culture, and the Politics of a Digital Age,  Continuum
  • Tyler, I. 2013. Revolting Subjects: Social Abjection and Resistance in Neoliberal Britain, Zed Books
  • Butler, J. 2013. Dispossession: The Performative in the Political, Polity Press
  • Butler, J. 2006. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Routledge


Week 1- Introduction to Transgressive Culture

This first session will introduce the themes of the course, and ensure that students are clear about what will be expected of them over the coming term.  We will begin by considering exactly what we understand by the term ‘transgressive culture’ and spend some time discussing the ethics of learning, teaching and researching in the field. 

Week 2 – Gender in Film: From normativity to Performativity

This week we will begin to get to grips with notions of gender and sexuality, and in particular we will explore the work of the renowned theorist Judith Butler.  We will begin to tackle questions of whether gender is an essential part of our nature, of whether, as Butler claims, it is a social construction and therefore subject to criticism and transformation.  In relation to this week’s screening, Girlfight (2000) we will begin to identify how gender is normatively displayed and policed, and begin to think about how alternative ‘performances’ of gender might challenge and expose the arbitrary, oppressive and contested nature of this aspect of the social world.


Girl Fight (2000), Dir. Karyn Kusama

Seminar reading:

Lindner, K., 2009. ‘Fighting For Subjectivity: Articulations of Physicality in Girlfight’. Journal of Women’s Studies Vol 10, No.3

Salih, S. (2004). ‘On Judith Butler and Performativity’, in Salih, S. and Butler, J. (eds) The Judith Butler Reader, Oxford: Blackwell

Or for a shorter introduction to Judith Butler:

Felluga, D. ‘Modules on Butler: On Gender and Sex.’ and ‘Performativity’. Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. Purdue University. Available here:

Week 3 – Abjection and the Monstrous Feminine

In this class we will watch John Fawcett’s Ginger Snaps (2000) and begin to think about the way in which women are depicted in horror films.  Unlike many other films Ginger Snaps does not present the young women as victims but as monsters.  Through the film we will begin to think about the wider cultural associations between the female body, and in particular its capacity for reproduction, and emotions of disgust, abjection and horror.


Ginger Snaps (2000), Dir. John Fawcett

Seminar reading:

Creed, B. 1993. The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis, Routledge – pages 1-15

Mathijs, E. (2013) ‘Menstrual Monsters’ in John Fawcett’s Ginger Snaps,  University of Toronto Press

Week 4 – Postcolonialism and Hybridity

Today we will turn our attention to issues of race.  As with previous sessions we will consider what it means to think of racial identity as a social construction, and we will consider Homi Bhabha’s notions of ‘hybridity’ as a political tool that might be used to exposure the arbitrary nature of distinctions of race and culture.  To this end we will watch the film District 9 (2009) which attempts to use the literal hybrid of a human-alien, as a way of questioning the construction of racial divides in contemporary South Africa.


District 9 (2009) Dir. Neill Blomkamp

Seminar reading:

van Veuren M.J., 2012. ‘Tooth and nail: anxious bodies in Neill Blomkamp’s District 9’, Critical Arts: South-North Cultural and Media Studies, Vol 26, No.4

Yazdiha, H. 2010. ‘Conceptualizing Hybridity: Deconstructing Boundaries through the Hybrid’. Formations: The Graduate Center Journal of Social Research, Vol.1, No.1

If available:

Weaver-Hightower, R., 2014. ‘The Postcolonial Hybrid: Neill Blomkamp’s District 9’ in Weaver-Hightower, R. and Hulme, P., 2014. Postcolonial Film: History, Empire, Resistance,  Routledge

Week 5 – Freudian Film Theory and the Return of the Repressed

In our fifth class we will begin to tackle psychoanalytic film theory, and in particular the notion of the Oedipus Complex and the return of the repressed.  For many scholars, the Oedipal drama underpins many narratives within dominant Western Cinema.  Similarly,  scholars of the horror film have long since discussed their texts as a ‘return of the repressed’.  In this class we will look at a recent film featuring Ryan Gosling where the most interesting aspects of the story are glossed, repressed, hidden, and yet they still appear to drive the narrative inevitably forward.  In this session, we will discuss the value of these theories for understanding the unsaid or unspoken in cinema.


Only God Forgives (2013) Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn

Seminar reading:

Krzywinska, T., 2006. ‘The return of the repressed’ and ‘Family Relations: Incest in the Cinema’ in Sex and the Cinema, Columbia University Press

Lapsley, R. and Westlake, M., 2006. ‘Psychoanalysis’, in Film Theory: An Introduction, Manchester University Press

Week 6 – Reading Week

This week is set aside for you to do further reading around the subject, and to begin the process of planning your first assessment.

Week 7 – Trauma and Torture Porn: Cinema After 9/11

In this class we will discuss the recent phenomena of ‘torture porn’.  We will discuss the profound cultural anxiety that surrounds this ill-defined genre, and consider the claim that the rise of ‘torture porn’ is an effect of the cultural anxiety that persists in the wake of 9/11 and the War on Terror.


Saw (2004)  Dir. James Wan

Seminar reading:

Ndalianis,A., 2014. ‘Genre, culture and the semiosphere: New Horror cinema and post-9/11’, International Journal of Cultural Studies, [online]

Hills, M., 2012. ‘Cutting into concepts of reflectionist cinema: The Saw Franchise and Puzzles of post 9/11 Horror’, in Briefel, A. And Miller, S.J., 2012. Horror After 9/11: World of Fear, Cinema and Terror

Week 8 – Making Images of/with Children: Marcus Harvey’s Myra and Tierney Gearon’s Untitled

In the final class of this section, we will spend time thinking about the particular cultural sensitivities around children.  In particular we will be looking at two case studies.  In the first instance we will look at Marcus Harvey’s Myra, a painting that replicates the iconic image of Myra Hindley using children’s handprints, and the second a selection of photographs by Tiernet Gearon which show her children naked.  This class will ask why these images caused such offence, and will begin to ask to what extent attempts to protect children inadvertently produce sexualized bodies.

Seminar Reading:

Foucault, M., 1979. ‘The Repressive Hypothesis’, in The History of Sexuality: Volume 1, Penguin Books

Cashell, K. 2009. ‘Carte Blanche’ in Aftershock: The Ethics of Contemporary Transgressive Art, IB Tauris

Wright, A., 2013. ‘Monstrous Images of Evil: Picturing Jack the Ripper and Myra Hindley’ in  

Monstrosity: The Human Monster in Visual Culture, IB Tauris


There are no classes this week.  Instead you should use the time to write your first assessment.

First assessment – 2,000 words (30%)

due Friday 5th Dec, 9pm

Week 10 – The Rise of American Independent Cinema

Today we will consider the phenomenal rise of American Independent Cinema.  We will ask questions about how such texts differ from the mainstream, but crucially we will investigate the industry structure which underpin such productions.  We will therefore question to what extent these films are truly transgressive, and to what extent the indie aesthetic has been co-opted by the Hollywood machine..

Little Miss Sunshine (2006) Dir. J. Dayton & V. Faris                             

Seminar reading:

Erickson, M.P. 2008. ‘Co-opting “Independence”: Hollywood’s Marketing Label’, in Sickels, R.C., 2008 The Business of Entertainment, Praeger

King, G., 2013. ‘Quirky by Design? Irony vs Sincerity in Little Miss Sunshine and Juno’ in Indie 2.0: Change and Continuity in Contemporary Indie Film, IB Tauris

Week 11Independent Distribution and the Shaping of Reception

This week we will consider two case studies of independent distributors, and consider firstly why this matters, what made them successful within their particular niche, and how their practices shaped the reception of the genres they distributed.

Seminar Reading:

Dew, O., 2007., ‘”Asia Extreme”: Japanese cinema and British hype’, New Cinemas: Journal of Contemporary Film, Vol.5 No.1

Perren, A., 2013. ‘Last Indie Standing: The Special Case of Lions Gate in the New Millenium’, in King, G., Molloy, C., and Tzioumakis, Y., (eds) 2013. American independent cinema: indie, indiewood and beyond, Routledge


There are no classes this week.  Please use the time to catch up on reading, or work on assignments.


Assessment scheme: 

First assessment – 2,000 words (30%) – due 5th Dec

Textual Analysis of a transgressive text                                

Choose one example of a transgressive text and explore how it challenges the codes and conventions of the art form, and/or breaks cultural taboos, and/or challenges the rules of the state


Choose one example of a transgressive text and critically evaluate the claim that it functions as an allegory of the social and political era in which it was made.

Second assessment – 2,500 words (35%) – due 16th Feb

A critical essay on the role of the cultural industries            

Using one example of a company, brand or industry practice critically evaluate how it shapes reception practices and/or exploits cultural transgression for its own ends.


Final assessment – 2,500 words (35%) – due 13th April

An empirical study of an audience group                                    

Present your own empirical research into a fan/audience/ subcultural or media user group.  Assess their media practices using concepts and approaches raised on the course.

Assessment Submission – Requirements and Regulations

Please ensure that you have read the sections concerning assessment in the 2014/2015 Programme Handbook and 2014/2015 Middlesex University Guide and Regulations

Submit all assessment via Turnitin by 9pm on the day of the deadline.

Keep copies of all work submitted until you receive feedback for formative assessment and the grade for the final piece. And ensure that you keep good records when submitting your work to Turnitin. In particular, we recommend that you print the final screen in Turnitin that acknowledges successful receipt of your work.


The nature of the feedback shall be helpful and informative, consistent with aiding the learning and development process.  The feedback will usually be given through written comments that will be normally be released 15 working days after submission.  In the case of formative feedback, every effort will be made to allow for face to face discussion of your work in progress, and guidance offered about how to proceed/improve your work.

Calculating your final grade

Your final grade will calculated by aggregating the mark for the two summative components. Compensation may be allowed for up to 50% of the assessment, unless you have failed to submit any component.  You must submit all summative components in order to pass the course, and you must meet the learning outcomes overall.

Writing your essay: general advice

Coursework essays are expected to develop an argument in relation to the relevant literature, and to illustrate this discussion through the use of examples or case studies. As several themes run through the course, you are encouraged to draw on as many different parts of the reading list as possible when preparing your assignment.  In addition to this you will draw on your own independent reading and research. You will be expected to show evidence of close reading and understanding of this literature in the essay.

Your essay will be assessed according to the extent to which it:

  • Demonstrates knowledge that is comprehensive both in breadth and depth.
  • Demonstrates an exceptional ability to grasp concepts and their     interrelationship.
  • Critical and analytical skills used in the evaluation of research, and in the engagement with ideas and related discourses
  • A thorough, critical understanding of related discourses and contemporary/ historical contexts
  • Shows clear evidence of independent thought with material presented in a focused way, so as to help sustain the argument/critical position.
  • Evidence of a high level of initiative and independent thinking
  • Excellent command of written expression used to clearly convey ideas and concepts
  • Presentation is well structured, accurate with impeccable citation

What is an essay?

  • A way of developing your academic and intellectual abilities, your knowledge and your skills of presentation
  • A means of proving this, by showing your assessors that you have considered and researched the key issues at stake
  • The organisation of your thoughts, your research and your response to the debates in question into a carefully structured argument
  • A piece of carefully structured writing that uses concepts, texts and ideas studied on the module together with those found through independent research.

Selecting a topic

  • Choose a topic you are interested in. It shows if you’re bored. You will be bored writing it. Your tutor will be bored reading it.
  • Find some of your own examples. Show initiative!

Thinking about the content

  • What issues do you think need to be discussed in order to answer the question? Make a list.
  • Your essay needs to weigh up the issues surrounding the question. This is how it develops its argument.
  • To weigh up the issues, and to prove the points you’re making, you need to consider specific examples. This includes examples from cultural practice (e.g, if you’re writing about documentaries, you might want to describe some specific examples) as well as from theories (is what you say backed up by the theorists you have read? Do you disagree with them? Or do you think that here there is a need to acknowledge other issues?). Examples prove points and allow you to develop them.
  • The essay should demonstrate that you have read the relevant academic literature carefully and critically, by including summaries, short quotes and references to a range of academic work
  • Don’t quote great chunks of other people’s work to make your argument for you. Summarise their arguments (giving proper acknowledgements and references – see below); quote passages when you are going to assess the strengths and weaknesses of their position (with a view to developing your own argument); reference relevant sections of relevant texts when discussing a particular issue.
  • You are answering the question in detail by considering the different issues that need to be taken into account when answering. This produces your argument. However, this does not mean that the answer is always ‘somewhere in the middle’. It means that any good answer takes into account the complexity of the issues in making its particular case.
  • Using academic work means engaging with the ideas and research of other people who have been thinking about these issues. In one way, doing academic work is a way of doing less mental work as well as more: reading academic texts is a way of quickly learning about the complexities of the issue –making sure you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.


In writing an essay, much of your effort should go into planning, research and preparation before you start writing.

  • First, you will need an outline plan, in which you organise the information and ideas you already have into a logical answer to the question you have been set and which you have chosen to answer.
  • Then, you should begin revision and research to fill in any gaps and to test whether your argument stands up. (Try it out on other people to see if they are convinced.)
  • Rework your plan in the light of your research: have you organised the various points into relevant clusters? Have you included enough examples? Does the argument move logically from one point to the next?


  • Then start to write a first draft. Depending on how you have planned your essay, it may be a good idea to use headings and sub-sections that reproduce the headings of your plan. This not only makes it easier for you to control the developing structure of your argument; it also makes it easier for assessors to follow it.
  • The essay needs an introduction which spells out in a brisk and direct way your question, your method of analysis, and what argument you will be making
  • At the end it needs a conclusion which summarises your findings. In this final paragraph or couple of paragraphs, your study returns to consider how the larger context of the question. It might suggest how your approach has illuminated the subject and reflect upon how it suggests directions for possible future investigations in the area.
  • Don’t worry too much about writing beautifully at this stage: the key is to get the argument down on paper in some form, however rough. Remember, though, that you want your assessor to find the essay enjoyable and persuasive. Be prepared to revise it – possibly rewriting it quite substantially.
  • It is often a good idea to read it aloud to yourself (or someone else) to check which sentences and paragraphs work, and which don’t. Remember that writing is a craft that improves with practice. The more care, patience and imagination you devote to it, the more skilled you will become.
  • Read over your final work for errors. Then do it again.


Your essay must be typed or word-processed.

Including quotations

When quoting in the main text, use ‘single quotations marks’. ‘Use “double quotation marks” for quotes within quotes’. Quotations of more than one sentence, or longer than forty words, should be indented. It is not then necessary to put quotation marks around them. Leave a line space before and after the quotation.

If you miss out part of the original material indicate this by three dots … like that. If you add anything, for example, to make clear who the ‘she’ [hooks] or ‘he’ [Hall] is you are referring to, you should place the new words in square brackets.


When you discuss or quote other authors it is essential to give a precise and detailed reference to the works cited – not least so that it is possible for your readers to locate any of the texts you mention they wish to read for themselves. If you don’t do this you lose marks, and if you persistently adopt someone else’s ideas or words as your own without referencing you may inadvertently stray into academic misconduct, or plagiarism.

There are different conventions for how to reference a source depending on whether it is a book, a chapter in a book by a different author, a journal  article, a newspaper article, etc. Consult the following referencing guide for further details:


This is list of all the sources you have used when writing your essay, in alphabetical order by author. It should therefore include all the readings you have read over the semester as these will have informed your essay, plus all the independent research you have done. Use the layout from the reading list to help you, i.e.:

Hall, S., ed. 1997.  Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices.  London: Sage

Notice that

  • the author’s name is listed first
  • titles of any publications (this includes books, magazines, newspapers, records, journal) are itacilised or underlined.

Plagiarism: A Warning                                

Plagiarism is the presentation by a student as his or her own work a body of material (written, visual or oral) which is wholly or partly the work of another. You must make sure written material is acknowledged through the use of quotation marks, references and bibliographies. Information on how to acknowledge work from other sources is provided above. You can get more information from your campus learning resource centre.

Plagiarism is taken extremely seriously by the university. At the very least students have to pay to re-take the module, and plagiarism often results in the student being asked to leave the institution. It is easy for tutors to detect and prove, as students in previous years have discovered to their cost.  The advice is simple: don’t do it. If you are worried at all about how to reference your sources, talk to your tutor or to LDU.

Essay writing check List

  • Have you presented a logical and coherent argument in response to the question set?
  • Have you drawn on the relevant theories and texts used in the course and extended this through your own further reading and research?
  • Do you show a good grasp of the ideas being dealt with?
  • Is the essay written in an objective, analytical style, with appropriate use of evidence, examples, textual analysis and illustrations, etc.?
  • Is the essay enjoyable to read?
  • Does your commitment to your ideas come across?
  • Is the essay clearly and elegantly written?
  • Is it constructed so that it flows logically from one section to the next?
  • Have you provided enough ‘signposts’ to guide the reader through it?
  • Is your own ‘writing voice’ evident?
  • Have you adopted a consistent style of referencing?
  • Have you double-checked for typing errors?
  • Have you checked the accuracy of your spelling?
  • Have you included a full, accurate bibliography?

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