Literature, Mass Media, and Pop Culture


October 8

Thanks for working hard on your mid-terms today. As you can tell, the weekly work is pretty lax as long as you’re keeping up and doing the work I’ve assigned. You’ve likely discovered that most of the homework revolves around, “What do you think about that?” I know that can be a tough question, but this whole class is designed around how you receive and interpret messages – your own semiotics, in a way. I’ll be asking you that question for the rest of the year.

That being said, I do expect you to connect ideas and keep up with note-taking because the things I talk about in class will come back around on the test. If you struggled today, maybe you need to readjust your efforts for the rest of the semester. If you breezed through it, then you’re doing just fine.

There is no homework over fall break, but do get your copy of Frankenstein – the graphic novel of your choice. Be sure to bring it with you to class when we meet on October 22.

October 1

Today we went through the history of sound recordings, which isn’t the same as the history of music. Music has existed as long as people have existed, but we weren’t able to share our music with the masses until we had the technology to do so. Remember our cycle of Mass Media and Pop Culture: one feeds the other which feeds the other, and so on.

Make sure you catch these things from the lecture today: The three main structures of literary writing (drama, prose, and poetry), French printer Eduoard-Leon Scott de Martinville in the 1950s with his hog’s hair bristle, Thomas Edison’s creation of the phonograph in 1877, Bell and Tainter’s invention of the graphophone in 1886, and Emile Berliner’s flat-disk gramophone creation in 1887. You need to know what inventions really prompted the sharing of music – electricity and vinyl – as well as how we came to have 78s, 45s, LPs, cassettes, CDs, and mp3s.

I also talked a lot about folk music and how it traditionally speaks to the current culture in which it’s created. I played “T.V.A” by the Everybodyfields, which is a folk song written by a Tennessean about the counter-culture opinion of farmers who lost their land in the 1930s and 40s after FDR signed the TVA Act.

If you need to listen to the lecture, click here.

Side note: When I created this class, I envisioned us having much more conversation than we do. I know the masks make it hard, and I also know it takes courage to speak up among your peers. But – I *really* hate listening to my own voice for 45+ minutes every Thursday morning. As the semester goes on, please endeavor to contribute. I’d rather have a conversation than give a boring lecture. When I ask you questions, be brave enough to speak up.


Listen to “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel and “Everybody is Free to Wear Sunscreen” by Baz Luhrmann. You’ll likely need to look up the lyrics or do some extra research for more context on these songs. Listen to them more than once if you need to. Both of these songs have a message – one has a big message and the other has lots of little messages. Take them in and consider them.

Then, write a 600-word short essay on what you’ve learned. Tell me what you think. In fact, THINK about what you really think before writing. Then, at the end of the essay, tell me about a song that is meaningful to you. Share a link to the song with me so I can listen to it. Tell my WHY you love it or why it speaks to you.

Share the link to your essay by Wednesday night, and get your notes in order for the test on Thursday.

If you are behind on previous work, please catch up!

September 24

“Audio is one of the most intimate forms of media because you are constantly building your own images of the story in your mind and you’re creating your own production … and that of course, is something that you can never get with visual media.”

– Emma Rodero

Today we talked more about the history of podcasts. The biggest take-aways are that Apple really owns this podcast history. No other technology made it this easy to listen on the go. Also, podcasts have grown exponentially in the last ten years, not just in programming but also in audience. Serial was a break-out show that I highly recommend (with parents’ permission, since it has explicit content). Sarah Koenig, the host, is one of my favorite journalists and voices to listen to. 

Also, make sure you’re connecting the concepts of creative nonfiction and Freytag’s Pyramid. Storytelling is storytelling, whether the story is true or fabricated. No one wants to be bored. 

If you need to listen to the lecture, click here. (It’s really short since we listened to Shannon Cason’s story on The Moth.)


Read “This is Your Brain on Podcasts” in The Atlantic. Then, choose a story from The Moth and listen to it. (You can peruse stories on the website or just scroll through the Podcast app on your iPhone.) You may start one, get bored, and find another. That’s all fine. Whenever you find a story that you enjoyed, listen to it carefully and write a paragraph or two that summarizes it. Share that on a new Google Document. 

Finally, YOU record a story for me. I know that sounds terrifying at first, but I won’t be sharing these with anyone and I’ll delete them as soon as I’m finished. It may help to write a draft of the story first and then read it to me. That’s fine! Or, just press record and tell me a story off the cuff. It doesn’t have to be some sort of confessional. Just share a favorite memory or family story that is special to you. It might be how your parents met or what your earliest memory is. It could be something that happened to you last year that’s funny, memorable, or special. No need to make it long, but do aim for 2-5 minutes. You can use the Voice Memo app on your iPhone and email it to me directly. (If you can’t figure out the Voice Memo app, click here.)

Try to get your work to me sooner than later. I’d like to listen to your stories before we meet again next week.

September 17

Today we quickly reviewed the last bit of Into the Wild and talked about how the Circle of Influence between Mass Media and Pop Culture really took off with Chris’s story – from him being inspired by Thoreau’s and London’s works, to others being inspired by Krakauer’s magazine article and book – I hope you can see how these elements work in tandem.

I also spent a good chunk of time going over the history of radio. I hope you wrote down all those names and dates. You’ll see some of them again.

Historical names to catch from the 1840s to 1906: Samuel Morse, James Maxwell, Henrich Hertz, Guglielmo Marconi, Reginald Fessenden, and Lee De Forest.

Terms to catch: telegraph, Morse Code, wireless telegraphy, format radio, and Podcast


Listen to the two podcasts linked below and answer the response questions in a new Google Document by Wednesday night. You don’t have to stream them through the computer, unless you just want to. Let me know if you have trouble accessing them.

  1. Describe your listening experience. What did you do while listening to the shows? Did you need to keep busy or were you able to sit still and listen? 
  2. If you listen to podcasts, tell me the shows you enjoy listening to (and why). If you don’t listen to podcasts, are you interested in giving them a try? What might be the benefits to listening to podcasts? 
  3. Briefly summarize both episodes and tell me what you learned from them. Are you left with more questions? Were you bored? Entertained? Intrigued? (This block of response questions should have a substantive answer. Resist the urge to be brief.)

*If you need to listen to the lecture, click here.

September 10

*I’m updating this page on Wednesday, Sept. 9 since I won’t be in class on Thursday, Sept. 10*

The substitute will play a recorded lecture for you, but I’m also linking it here in case you need to listen to it again. (Click here for the lecture.)


Finish reading Into the Wild. Then, read this article and interview with Carine McCandless for a deeper understanding of Chris’s life.

When you’re finished reading, write a minimum 600-word essay that reflects what you think about Chris McCandless, his journey, Jon Krakauer’s work as a journalist, and how the article you read from Carine shifted your perspective. You do not need to worry about citing from the book or the article. Please spend more time thinking about how this story impacted you and what it made you think about. Avoid vague writing here. You are in an upper-level English class. If you write something like, “I liked the story. It was interesting,” you won’t receive a strong grade. Dig deeper than that. Your grade in this class will be based on your ability to express yourself.

Share the essay with me by Wednesday, Sept. 16, in a new Google Document. Use the proper MLA format for font, spacing, etc. 

September 3

Today we went over the first five chapters of Into the Wild and highlighted a few key things I want you to hang onto:

  • Is Chris a rebel or an adventurer, or both? Both characteristics involve leaving society behind and taking risks.
  • Despite Chris being intellectually sharp, he seems to lack what we’d call “street smarts.” Why burn cash? You can’t trace it! As Wayne Westerberg said, perhaps Chris was TOO smart for his own good.
  • The Stampede Trail was made famous by that abandoned bus and Chris taking his photo in front of it. People made pilgrimages to see it. The link I’m posting below will tell you more about that.
  • The paragraph on pg. 44 about Chris’s obsession with Jack London is telling. London wrote FICTION after one winter season in the Yukon. He died at 40 years old on his estate in California, hardly living the hard life in the wild west. This really speaks to how we romanticize the things we see, read, and hear in media. Do we really believe influencers live such great lives? Or are we buying into the story they project the same way Chris bought into London’s works of fiction?


Read Ch. 6-13 in Into the Wild and answer the following response questions substantively:

  • One of the primary themes in Into the Wild is the combination of Arrogance, Innocence, and Ignorance. In your own words, describe how Chris McCandless fits these descriptors. Then, explain how they work together and against each other. 
  • 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? 
  • 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?
  • Read this webpage from Jamie Campos from (click here). It is lengthy, but it’s not a hard read. You can probably skim some of it because it includes hiking tips for the Stampede Trail. Anyway, things have come full circle for both the messengers and the receivers in the world of mass media and pop culture when it comes to the Magic Bus. Explain what you think I mean by that. (Hint: The fact that this page exists at all should tell you something.)
  • Finally, watch the video and listen to the song “Society” by Eddie Vedder, who wrote the entire score for the soundtrack of Into the Wild. Analyze the lyrics and select a few lines that have the most impact on you. What do they mean? Do you think they represent what Chris was experiencing? Try to view the lyrics through Chris’s lens.

Share your Google Doc with me by Wednesday night.

Click here to listen to a recording of the lecture from today.

August 27

There are a few terms I hope you wrote down today. They are: Interpersonal Communication, Mass Communication, Media Literacy and the five questions you ask to develop media literacy, and the Six Mass Media Structures (print, audio, visual, interactive, social, and advertising).

Also be sure you caught the main facts about Henry David Thoreau and Jack London, as they were hugely influential in Chris McCandless’s life. Do your best to understand transcendentalism too! 🙂

If you need to re-listen to the lecture this morning, click here.


Read this excerpt from Walden. You might recognize some of the sentences here, as Thoreau is one of the most quoted American writers of our time. The excerpt isn’t long. Try to imagine being on a remote piece of property, secluded from the world, in the sort of headspace where you’re trying to solve all of life’s problems. Some of Thoreau’s work is pretty profound if you can get into it.

Then read Ch. 1-5 in Into the Wild. Likewise, try to imagine Chris’s point of view – the desire to live off the land, separated from society. I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts next week.

Finally, answer the following response questions in a Google Doc and send them to me by next Wednesday night:

  • 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? 
  • Why do you think Chris changes his name, telling people his name is Alex?
  • 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. Elaborate on the idea if you connect with it personally.
  • 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?

August 20

I know today didn’t feel like an English class, but bear with me. We’ll get there. Your main takeaway from class should be what semiotics is and how our own interpretations of signs influence the feeding cycle between mass media and pop culture. Your engagement with books, film, music, TV, social media, and advertising (which infiltrates all other media) not only reflects your personal identity but it also contributes to the culture at large. Like I said in class, Starbucks is popular because we helped make it popular. We made it popular because we wanted our own Central Perk. (This is a loose explanation, but it’s a thread we can follow when we look at the relationship between pop culture and mass media.)

But what about books and literature? We’ll get there, I promise. You’ll be reading Thoreau and starting Into the Wild next week. For now, I want to anchor these new concepts into your brain. If you need to do some extra Googling on Semiotics, feel free. Just know that it’s a deep well of philosophy, anthropology, and sociology – maybe deeper than you’re interested in. We are keeping it simple this year.


  1. Read Mass Communication: A Critical Approach. I’ve underlined some key things in the text, so it may help to print out the pages. This is an upper level English class, so I’m pushing you to engage with some bigger ideas and topics. You can do this!
  2. Then, create a Google Doc and answer the following questions based on your reading:
    – Explain the interrelationship between mass communication and mass media.
    – In your own words, explain The Linear Model, the Cultural Model, and the Social Scientific Model as approaches to strengthen media literacy. (For what it’s worth, we will focus more on the Cultural Model in our class.)
    – Briefly explain your takeaway from our first day of class. What stuck with you? Refer to your notes if you need to. 
  3. Finally, write a short 350-400 words on a cultural fixture that resonates with you. Take some time to think about this. Don’t rush. Choose a band or genre of music, a TV show or film, an app, a book, a celebrity or public figure, a store or fashion style, or some other thing that has helped shape your identity. Don’t just give me the what. Explain the why. It might be helpful to go through the same brainstorming process as we did with the Starbucks exercise.

Share your Google Doc with me by Wednesday night. (Both assignments can be on the same document.) Let me know if you have questions.


These three elements of communication – literature, mass media, and pop culture – intersect in unique and specific ways. As our ways of sharing information expand, so do our ideas, perceptions, and interpretations. This class is designed to connect the dots between what we read, hear, and see across a handful of mediums. This class counts as a high school English credit. It is recommended for 11th and 12th grades.

We’ll read books and articles, listen to podcasts and watch videos, and students will create their own projects through various mediums. We’ll examine media literacy and the power of advertising. We’ll discuss ethics, digital citizenship, and how pop culture is created and shaped. Students will read contemporary works, classics, fiction, and nonfiction.

Fall Book List
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer (978-0385486804)
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (graphic novel) *see below
The Time Machine by HG Wells (978-1949982909)

Spring Book List
Macbeth by William Shakespeare (No Fear Shakespeare
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (978-0062073471)
A Long Way Home: A Memoir by Saroo Brierley (978-0425276198)

Short stories, fairy tales, and excerpts of other works will be provided.

Students will also need access to a podcast platform (Apple Podcasts, Soundcloud, Stitcher, etc.) and a way to access several films and documentaries. I’ll be sure to give adequate warning so you can grab those from your local library or find them online.

* I will be using Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a graphic novel illustrated by Pete Katz, but that does not mean you’re required to find that exact graphic novel. Instead, I encourage your student to select the graphic novel that looks the most interesting to him/her. There are MANY to choose from, all with different artistic styles and aesthetics. Just be sure you’re not buying/borrowing a graphic novel that has modified the original story. You want the real story. But the art? Let your student pick.

Finally, as this is an upper level English class, please note that some works may have profanity and cover more mature ideas and themes. As always, I encourage parents to read the books I assign alongside their students. For what it’s worth, the parents who do this usually enjoy it!