FSEM1010-33.FSEM: Lies, Pranks, and More.F16.Reynolds,Michael

Faculty Name

Michael Reynolds

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Course Title

FSEM: Lies, Pranks, and More

Academic Term and Year

Fall 2016



Area of Study


Course Description

What is the relationship between a “performance,” a prank, a disguise, a novel, a lie ... and the “world” these acts both represent and participate in? On his show “Nathan for You,” comedian Nathan Fielder pretends to be a marketing consultant and lures unsuspecting small business owners into half-baked advertising gimmicks. In a recent episode, he convinced a bar owner--struggling to keep afloat after a no-smoking ban had cut into her business--that they should exploit a loophole in the law that allows smoking “in the service of a theatrical performance.” To let bar patrons smoke, he argued, all they had to do was sell tickets and call it a play. However, when they enacted this gag, the people who paid to sit in comfy chairs and watch bar patrons drink (and smoke) were impressed by the “performance.” Fielder then thought he was on to something even better. So he hired a slew of transcribers, captured every conversation and action from that one night in the bar in a script, cast a range of actors (and rehearsed them for hours), and then put on the “performance”--an exact replica of the earlier “fake” performance and real evening--and sold tickets. Our FYSem will take that “event”--the snake-eating-its-own-tail of representations that intrude upon, and take over, reality--as an exemplary problem about the performativity of everyday life. We will explore how different, and often extravagantly fake, performances reveal something about how we shape (and how we might reshape) our reality. We will look at novels, films, and sundry events and spectacles that engage in politics, art, racial identity, museums and knowledge, virtual reality, and ethical dilemmas; texts may include Percival Everett’s Erasure, Re/Search’s Pranks and Kembrew Mcleod’s Pranksters, Lawrence Weschler’s Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonders, Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop, Jennifer Egan’s The Keep or Colson Whitehead’s The Intutionist or Richard Powers’ Plowing the Dark, Jennifer Haley’s The Nether, McGehee and Siegel’s Suture, Spike Lee’s Bamboozled, Robert Altman’s Tanner ‘88 and Grace Lee’s Janeane from Des Moines, the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, and whatever Nathan Fielder is up to. CAUTIONARY NOTE: pranks are often disruptive, and purposefully inappropriate. Some of our course materials will be potentially challenging and offensive--some of these works are explicitly trying to use what we normally consider “obscene” (and keep off-stage) as a tool for reframing reality. Academic Advising approval is required to register for this course.

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