Literature, Mass Media, and Pop Culture

Thursday, September 22

My fellow criminals, it’s time to wrap up Persepolis, write your own personal narrative, and prepare for the mid-semester test so we can move on to audio media after fall break. We will continue to engage with print media throughout the year, but we’ll soon add sound to our storytelling.

It is totally fine if Persepolis isn’t your cup of tea. Just keep in mind that it’s good to read/learn about different perspectives, cultures, and people. Accept Marjane’s experience into your collective understanding of storytelling, and that will be sufficient.


Finish Persepolis, then answer the following questions in your Google Doc.

  1. When Satrapi retells the story of visiting Anoosh in prison, she presents an image in which Marji is fully visible in a mirror.  Why might the imagery of mirrors return at this moment in the text?  How does Anoosh function as an important resource for Marji’s sense of identity and agency?
  2. Satrapi presents readers with an intimate perspective on the experience of war, a perspective missing from mass media reports about war.  How might Persepolis deepen a Western reader’s understanding of how war impacts the everyday lives of civilians?  What are the impacts of the global upon the local?
  3. Satrapi establishes a visual parallel between the eye in the chapter title of “Kim Wilde” (126) and the eye in the chapter title of “The Veil” (3).  What is the significance of this visual parallel?  How might the two images — Kim Wilde and a veiled Muslim woman— be connected in Marji’s psyche? (You may need to glance at the pages to see what I’m talking about.) 
  4. Walking past the rubble, Marji notices a bracelet that seems to be attached to a part of her friend Neda’s dismembered body (142).  Earlier in the novel, Marji had listened to a story about a political prisoner whose body had been dismembered and pictured the body almost like a doll. This time, however, Satrapi chooses not to offer a visual representation of the dismembered body.  Instead, Satrapi concludes the chapter with a blackened panel.  Why do you think the author makes use of a blackened panel?
  5. While I hope you’ll feel confident and comfortable speaking up in class when I ask this question, I know not everyone will chime in. So, tell me here: What’s your lasting impression of Perseopolis? What did you think about the story? Tell me something you’ve learned. 
  6. In your own words, explain your understanding of transmedia, including how it’s different from multimedia and crossmedia. (If you’ve ever participated in a transmedia experience, tell me about it.)

Thursday, September 15

Make sure you have in your notes the short history of graphic novels. You have a test coming up on October 6, and, as always, my tests are open notes.

We’re staying in storytelling through print media, but we’re adding drawings to the process. Marjane Satrapi both illustrates and narrates her own story and should be read as a memoir. Because personal storytelling is subjective, we’re taking her word for her perspective. Surely, if someone else wrote a memoir of growing up during the Iranian Revolution, they could have a totally different experience.

Be careful you don’t rush through her story. It may be tempting to skim the words and only glance at the illustrations, but you might miss something important. Pay attention to how she sets the stage for what’s to come, how she examines her own thoughts and feelings about what’s happening to her and around her, and how she expresses her childhood emotions.

*Also, Luke asked a good question towards the end of class and I’m not sure everyone was in the room to hear my answer. He wanted to know if the personal narratives were going to be shared with the class. They are NOT. You are writing your personal narrative for me only, unless you confess to a crime. Please do not put me in that position. 🙂

Come to class next week with some measure of an idea (or a couple of ideas) for your personal narrative. After we talk about Persepolis, we’ll talk about the structure of your narrative and we’ll have another brainstorming/writing session.


Read the first 61 pages (or so) of Persepolis. Stop when you reach the chapter titled The Sheep, which starts on pg. 62 in my book. Then start a new Google Doc and answer the following questions substantively.

  1. Summarize your understanding of what the Iranian Revolution was and meant. If you need to look up some more info, please do. I want you to have a working knowledge of how life-changing the time period was.
  2. Americans have been primed by the mass media to perceive veiled women as silent victims who lack agency and require liberation through Western military intervention.  Is it significant that, on the first page of her novel, Satrapi depicts schoolgirls taking off their veils and using them as resources for creative play: as a monster mask, a skipping rope, a harness, and so on (3)?  And what do you make of the fact that the first image of Marji’s mother, Taji, depicts her as engaging in a street protest (5)?  How might Satrapi’s novel complicate the construction of Islamic women as passive victims?
  3. Satrapi’s novel is filled with a number of scenes in which Marji looks at herself in a mirror.  When Marji imagines herself as Fidel Castro, for example, she consults a mirror to determine how well the hat fits (16).  How does Marji respond to the figure whom she sees in the mirror?  How does Marji respond to the images of herself that others circulate back to her?  What else might Satrapi’s use of mirror imagery reflect about Marji’s process of identity formation?
  4. When the revolution is quickly co-opted by religious hard-liners, who impose authoritarian rules that limit women’s access to public space, the private sphere of the Satrapi home remains a space of free speech, inquiry, and questioning of events outside.  How might the freedoms enjoyed within the family home give shape to Marji’s personality? 
  5. What do you make of the author’s depiction of Marji’s effort to imagine what a man who has been “cut to pieces” (52)?  Is the panel a realistic depiction of a dismembered man?  Or does it more closely resemble a disassembled doll?  What might the image reflect about Marji’s understanding of the event?  Does the image convey that Marji’s innocence has been lost?  Or does it convey that her innocence has been preserved?  Why might Satrapi spare the reader from having to confront such horrors in realistic detail?
  6. What do you make of this graphic novel’s visual aesthetic?  How might Satrapi’s use of sharply contrasting black-and-white images be well-suited to the novel’s content?  How might her use of abstract ideographic images be appropriate to the novel’s content?  Why doesn’t the author make use of gray areas, shading, or color? 
  7. In the video we watched in class, Marjane says, “You cannot answer to the stupidity with stupidity. You cannot answer to the violence with violence. So it’s extremely important to step back and look at the thing.” Tell me how you interpret her words, then explain whether or not you agree (why or why not?). 

Thursday, September 8

Make sure you have notes jotted down on Media Literacy. As a personal experiment, work on your own media literacy this week. When you see an ad, ask yourself who the author is, or what elements in its format are interesting to you, or if you’re the intended audience at all… Just see what you notice. This is a skill MANY adults do not hone, so do yourself (and your generation) a favor and start honing your own media literacy skills.


Finish reading The Last Lecture. Then, answer the following questions in your Google Doc by Wednesday night.

  1. Ch. 23 covers an important topic: our use of time. Answer the question Randy posed in the lecture – Are you spending your time on the right things? Elaborate.
  2. In Ch. 47, Randy writes about the importance of a real apology. He wrote, “Half-hearted or insincere apologies are often worse than not apologizing at all.” Do you agree or disagree? Explain the difference between a good apology and a bad one. 
  3. Randy ends his lecture saying, “It’s not about how to achieve your dreams. It’s about how to lead your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you.” Do you believe him? Do you agree? Why or why not? 
  4. Watch Steve Jobs’ commencement speech. Spend a few minutes considering what a conversation would’ve been like between Chris McCandless, Randy Pausch, and Steve Jobs. What do you think they would’ve said to each other? On what topics would they have agreed or disagreed? 

Thursday, September 1

You wouldn’t have taken notes today since I didn’t write anything on the board, but I hope you took notice of how the messaging about Chris McCandless varied depending on the source. Obviously, Jon Krakauer’s book presents a mostly true story about Chris. Carine’s interview filled in some gaps – not just about the abusive nature of Walt’s parenting but also about the dual life Walt was living with two families. This helps paint a clearer picture as to why Chris felt mentally and emotionally ready to leave his old life behind.

Then, in the 20/20 video we watched today, we agreed that the first half of the story was misleading. The mass medium was unreliable because it neglected to address what was going on in the McCandless household and thereby depicted Chris as coming from a loving, supportive, privileged family (which is problematic, naturally).

The second part of the story, however, was more reliable because we had direct information from Chris (his own notes and stories from those two years), as well as Jon Krakauer’s good and fair journalism. (This is an example of interpersonal communication – when the messenger is known.)

Whatever your opinions are about Chris and the decisions he made, these are the two takeaways from his story I hope you caught:

  • The noticeable cycle of influence between the literature and accompanying ideology that inspired Chris McCandless to make certain choices, the print and visual media born out of his tragic story, and the way that media inspired other people to make certain choices in their lives.
  • Depending on the medium, readers/viewers could be left with an incomplete story.

Now we’re moving into a beautiful memoir by Randy Pausch that actually began as a visual/audio medium. Knowing his life would be cut short by pancreatic cancer, Randy gives his “Last Lecture” full of heart-warming anecdotes and darn good advice.


Read Mass Communication: A Critical Approach. It’s pulled from a textbook from 2009, so it’s a little dated but the principles hold water. This will set us up to learn about Media Literacy next week.

Then, reach Ch. 1-22 in The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. When you’re finished, answer the following response questions in a new Google Doc and share by Wednesday night.

Questions on Mass Comm: A Critical Approach:

  1. Explain how the invention of the printing press (and the subsequent creation of print media as a whole) impacted culture and bolstered individualism. 
  2. Now consider how digital media is both an advantage and a disadvantage to culture and individualism. Share your thoughts. 

Ch. 1-22 of The Last Lecture

  1. First, Google “Randy Pausch”. You should see plenty of links and photos. Summarize the amount of coverage you found (i.e., What’s his digital footprint? What’s his reach?)
  2. Somewhat related to the first question: When Randy and Jai talked about whether or not he should give his Last Lecture, Jai suggested that if Randy wanted to leave messages to the kids, he could just record videos of himself at home. Obviously, he went on to give his Last Lecture, which became an internet phenomenon at the time, and then it morphed into a book deal. Consider the various mediums Randy has employed to leave messages for his kids. What are the pros and cons of having videos posted online, newspaper and magazine articles written about him, and a book published with all of Randy’s final thoughts on life? 
  3. Randy admitted that some of what he said in his Last Lecture were recycled bits of wisdom from his father. It is inevitable that you too will one day recognize your own parents’ wisdom (or another older person who you are close to). Is there anything right now that you’ve learned (or are currently learning) that confirms your parents/older wiser person were right about something? 
  4. Explain Randy’s recurring metaphor of the brick wall. Until now, how have you handled figurative brick walls in your life? Has Randy given you something to think about when it comes to running into (figurative) brick walls? 
  5. One of the things Randy makes clear over a couple of chapters is the importance of knowing when to let something go (Jai’s little fender bender in the driveway, for example). Some things just aren’t important. Now think back to Chris McCandless. On pg. 11 of Into the Wild, Wayne said Chris would get stuck on something and need an answer. Despite leaving his whole world behind in the physical sense, he would be captive in his own brain over something he couldn’t let go of. Why do you think Randy and Chris are able to approach these things differently? 
  6. Share three nuggets of wisdom you’ve read from Randy so far, either something he came up with or wisdom he shared from someone else (parents, teachers, coaches, professionals). Explain why these things resonate with you.  

Thursday, August 25

These things should be in your notes:

  • Interpersonal vs. Mass Communication
  • Three primary roles of mass communication
  • Six Main Mass Mediums (with examples)
  • Concept of Semiotic Decoding

Chris/Alex is an exceptional example of how individuals can be influenced by the media they consume and make huge life changes on account of the messages they receive. For better or worse, we are all capable of being influenced by what we consume.

Now it’s time to finish the story of what happened to Chris/Alex and fill in some of the gaps with a new storyteller.


Finish reading Into the Wild first.

Then, read this Q&A with Carine McCandless on her memoir The Wild Truth.

Finally, read through this webpage dedicated to the Stampede Trail and the bus where Chris spent his final days. The post is arranged in real time, so the newest information is at the top.

Then, answer these questions substantively in your Google Doc. Indulge me here. I want to see you’re connecting the dots between storytelling, its influences, and how mass media affects both the individual and the group.

  1. On pg. 85 in my book, Krakauer writes: “McCandless didn’t conform…well to the bush-casualty stereotype. Although he was rash, untutored in the ways of the backcountry, and incautious to the point of foolhardiness, he wasn’t incompetent—he wouldn’t have lasted 113 days if he were. And he wasn’t a nutcase, he wasn’t a sociopath, he wasn’t an outcast. McCandless was something else…. A pilgrim, perhaps.” Explain why you think Krakauer refers to Chris as a pilgrim. Do you agree? Why or why not?
  2. Summarize what Chris’s sister was trying to say in her article. Has it affected your opinion of Chris or his journey? How?
  3. Regarding the webpage on the Stampede Trail, things have come full circle for both the messenger and the receiver in the world of mass media and pop culture. Explain what you think I mean by that.

Thursday, August 18

The biggest takeaways from today are these:

  • the definition and gist of Semiotics (signifier + signified = meaning)
  • the cyclical relationship between Mass Media and Pop Culture
  • signs and symbols (and the messages they send) are deeply subjective
  • we will focus on storytelling through print, audio, and visual media, which includes a good bit of history, so come prepared to take notes in class.

We’re starting with Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, an award-winning journalist and excellent storyteller. He initially wrote about Chris McCandless in a 1993 article in Outside magazine, but there was more to tell of Chris’ story. After all, what makes a college graduate walk away from his entire life and run off to the Alaskan wilderness? The answer is someone who was so deeply moved by the works of Henry David Thoreau, Jack London, and other writers who romanticized a life of great adventure that the only logical answer is to leave every material thing behind – including cash – and live off the land and the goodness of whoever he encountered.

A Quick Note: Do not Google Chris McCandless or seek out any other info on him. I want you to learn about him and his life in a certain order. Start with this book, and we’ll add more to the story after next week.


Read this excerpt from Walden and then read Jack London’s short story “To Build a Fire”. Then, read Ch. 1-6 in Into the Wild.

When you’ve finished reading, great a new Google Document, copy/paste the following questions into your document, and answer them substantively.

  1. In your own words, define and explain semiotics.
  2. Explain the cyclical relationship between Mass Media and Pop Culture. 
  3. One of the most commonly quoted passages in Walden is: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Does this sentence resonate with you at all? How and why? If not, what other passage from Walden speaks to you? 
  4. List a few of the fatal mistakes the man makes in “To Build a Fire”?
  5. After reading an excerpt from Walden and “To Build a Fire”, can you see anything in those two works that might prompt someone to drop everything and see a life spent in the Alaskan wilderness?
  6. Why do you think Chris changes his name, telling people his name is Alex?
  7. We learn quickly that Chris does not get to live out his dream in the raw Alaskan wilderness. His body is discovered by some hikers off The Stampede Trail. What are your initial thoughts about this, considering we’ve just met Chris (as a character and person)? 
  8. This quote comes from Ch. 3: “The trip was to be an odyssey in the fullest sense of the word, an epic journey that would change everything. [McCandless] had spent the previous four years, as he saw it, preparing to fulfill an absurd and onerous duty: to graduate from college. At long last he was unencumbered, emancipated from the stifling world of his parents and peers, a world of abstraction and security and material excess, a world in which he felt grievously cut off from the raw throb of existence.” Put this concept into your own words. Try to connect with the idea of external forces (authority figures) pushing you into a box that doesn’t fit your own ideas and plans. 
  9. What do you think about Chris ignoring what seems like basic common sense rules – that he might need some money, that it might be nice to give his parents some peace of mind that he was alive, that a simple fix could’ve meant his car lasting longer… How do you view his frame of mind? Why is he so resistant to accept help?
  10. Mrs. Westerberg says on pg. 67, “He was hungry to learn about things. Unlike most of us, he was the sort of person who insisted on living out his beliefs.” In what ways do you live out your beliefs? 

Share your document via email no later than Wednesday night.


This is a multimedia English class for 11th and 12th graders that looks at storytelling from many perspectives. We’ll read novels, memoirs, fairy tales, and articles. We’ll listen to podcasts and catch a few films. We’ll endeavor to connect old ideas to new trends in pop culture. Sometimes it will feel like a history class, but that’s only because students need to know when different mediums were created. 

Students will need a Google Drive account (via gmail) and access to podcast platforms, such as Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Soundcloud. Note: We will be listening to the second season of Serial, which is an award-winning series that originated through This American Life on NPR. The series covers the story of Bowe Bergdahl, an Army private who walked off his post in Afghanistan in 2009, was captured by the Taliban, and held as a prisoner for five years. Read more about Serial Season Two here:

Parents, please review the series and notify me BY OCTOBER 1  if you’d prefer I assign your student different podcasts.

Students will be expected to answer weekly response questions and fully participate in class discussions. (I understand some students are shy, but this class is designed to share ideas and opinions.) Students will take a few tests throughout the year, as well as give a 10-12 minute presentation on the fairy tale, folk story, or myth of their choice at the end of the spring semester.

Fall Required Reading: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, Persepolis (Volume 1) by Marjane Satrapi, Serial Season Two (podcast series), The Time Machine by HG Wells

Spring Required Reading: The Help by Kathryn Stockett, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins; Short stories and fairy tales will be provided   

Tests are open notes, so your ability to pay attention, take notes, and keep organized is always rewarded. Bring a writing utensil and your notebook to class every week.