Literature, Mass Media, and Pop Culture

Thursday, February 2

As you continue reading The Help, pay attention to two things: 1) The role of storytelling (who’s telling stories, who’s listening, what’s being learned, what’s the impact, etc), and 2) Characterization of the character you choice. Whether you choose Minny, Aibileen, or Skeeter, or even Hilly or Celia (who are revealed through narrators’ eyes), pay attention to the novel version of the character versus the film version. You’ll be writing an essay about Characterization, so these next two weeks serve as your “research” period.


Read Ch. 10-21. Then answer the following questions in your same Google doc as last week. Answer substantively. Your answers to these questions might help you with your essay.

  1. Aibileen and Minny start working with Skeeter to write down their stories and experiences working as maids for white families. Compare and contrast Aibileen and Minny’s interactions with Skeeter. How do they negotiate this personal/professional relationship in similar and different ways? 
  2. Kathryn Stockett works a real person and actual event into her fictional story. Look up the story of Medgar Evers. Summarize it here, then explain why you think Stockett wove a true story into her novel. 
  3. What do you see happening between Minny and her employer, Celia? What’s their relationship like? How is it different from Minny’s previous working relationship with Hilly? 
  4. The Help is full of irony — particularly verbal and situational irony. Give a few examples of ironic things you’re seeing. 

Thursday, January 26

Your passion for adaptations continues! I love the diverse opinions in our class. All of this subjectivity points back to our first day when we talked about Semiotics. One message can be perceived a dozen different ways depending on who the audience is.

We’ll stay in Characterization for the next three weeks as we read/watch The Help. Obviously, keep up with the plot, but your first priority is to look at how the main characters — Aibileen, Minny, Skeeter, and Hilly (our racist antagonist) — are revealed through the novel and the film. Since you’ll be writing an essay on Characterization, it will be helpful to you to choose a character this week and pay close attention to how she’s revealed (directly and indirectly) in both mediums.


Read Ch. 1-9 in The Help. When you’re finished, answer the following questions substantively in a new Google Doc and submit it by Wednesday.

If you want to go back and make edits to your essay on Adaptation, let me know. I’ll start reading them this weekend unless you tell me otherwise.

  1. What does Aibileen write in her small notebook each night, and how did she get into this habit? Examine how helpful this would be for a woman in her position. 
  2. What rules did Minny’s mother give her about working for a white woman, and which one does Minny constantly break? Why is this one rule so hard for her to follow? 
  3. Explain how Skeeter and Aibileen’s friendship began and where you think their relationship is headed. What are the risks involved with them being friends and co-workers? 
  4. Skeeter, Hilly, and Elizabeth Leefolt have been friends since elementary school, but since graduating from college, Skeeter struggles to connect with her childhood friends back in Jackson. Examine the differences between these young women and how their friendship is being tested because of their differences. 

Thursday, January 19

I love how passionate you all are about adaptation. It’s a sticky subject, but that’s only because we, as a rule, love stories and want to see them respected in other mediums.

If you’d like to re-watch the videos from today to help with your writing this week, here they are:


Read “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty“. It is significantly shorter than “Story of Your Life”. Then, watch the 2013 film by the same name with Ben Stiller.

When you’re finished, go back to last week’s document and write a full essay comparing both films with their source material. Compare/contrast them. What worked? What didn’t? Consider WHY screenwriters change things (for the audience? to make a point? to create more tension? to modernize the story? etc…) Look at your notes on Adaptation to help add more depth to your essay.

Write the essay in MLA format, but you are welcome to write it in the first person. If you aren’t confident with your writing, you’re welcome to submit it as a rough draft so I can offer suggestions. Be in touch with questions if needed! If you quote anything, cite the source.

Submit your essay by Wednesday night.

Thursday, January 12

Welcome to the spring semester! If you were absent today, click here to print the syllabus.

Today we talked about Adaptation (the translation of a novel, short story, play, or other written work into another medium, usually film/TV). There are pros and cons, as we discussed. Hopefully you jotted these things down. 🙂


Read “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang. It’s long and can feel science-heavy at times. (I don’t recommend waiting until Wednesday to start reading it.) Then watch the 2016 film Arrival. When you’re finished with both, write a few paragraphs that compare/contrast the source material with its adaptation. What worked? What didn’t? What was similar? What was changed? Consider the things we talked about in class (how narrative structures, characters, and plot points can be altered). Be sure to include your opinion on both works, and come to class next week prepared to talk about them. Share your Google Doc by Wednesday night. (These paragraphs will be worked into a larger essay that you’re writing next week, so consider these paragraphs as part of a rough draft.)

Thursday, December 15

Enjoy your winter break! I’ll grade everything and email you/your parents with semester grades sometime next week.

If you have any outstanding work, tomorrow (Friday) is the last day I’ll accept it. 🙂

Thursday, December 8

I scrapped the other essay questions I had and am only asking you to answer one – thoroughly and substantively. Do not be vague. Go all out. Do your best. Write in MLA format and run a spellcheck. Print your document and bring it to class next week. Make sure your notes are in order for the written test.

Question: Using Bowe Bergdahl’s experience as the example, explain how a series of events can be portrayed differently in the media and perceived diversely by the audience. Examine how these portrayals and perceptions can affect society/culture-at-large. I expect you to pull from ideas and concepts we talked about earlier in the semester regarding semiotics and media literacy. Aim for a minimum of 400-500 words.

Thursday, December 1

Today we loosely mapped out the origins of film, which began in photography. I hope you’re grasping the compounding process of multiple people contributing to the creation of something great – one idea always builds on another. The key thing to remember is that the creation of the Nickelodeon and eventually the movie palaces really marks the place when film started to be a mass medium.

As far as HG Wells is concerned, his work isn’t for everyone. Not everyone jives with Sci-Fi, and when you read stuff like his, it can feel old compared to the Sci-Fi we have today. But, I think it’s important to be exposed to the early work of writers who created space for future writers of the same genre.


Read The Time Machine. Then, answer the following questions in a Google Doc and share it by Wednesday night.

  1. Describe the Eloi. What can you tell about their way of life? How do they look and act? What does this futuristic society look like? 
  2. What is the relationship between The Time Traveller and Weena? 
  3. Describe the Morlocks. What is your impression of them? 
  4. Explain how the Eloi and Morlocks evolved into these two species.
  5. Inequality and Social Class is a big theme in the novel. Give me a couple of examples from the text that spotlight that theme. 
  6. What does the Time Traveller see and experience as he approaches his original time period?
  7. What finally convinces the narrator himself of the truth of the Time Traveller’s story at the end of the novel?
  8. What did you think of The Time Machine?

Thursday, November 18

I so enjoyed hearing your music choices today. You are all so clever and sharp! It was like a little peek into your personalities. 🙂

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving break and I’ll see you Dec. 1.

Thursday, November 10

We started our conversation about storytelling in music, but there’s more to say on the matter! We’ll get back to those things next week.

I don’t have to tell you how pivotal music can be, particularly as it relates to culture and messaging. I look forward to reading your essays and getting to know you all better through the music you share with me.


Write an essay in MLA format (600-750 words) that explores a song that tells a story. Choose a song that’s meaningful in some way to you or a song that is meaningful to our collective cultural experience. Do a little research on the writer (the person who sings the song isn’t always the person who wrote the lyrics!). Give context to the song, if you can. More than anything, share your thoughts on the song and its meaning.

Please send me essays that are tidy and in good shape! Run a spell check. Read the essay out loud before you send it. I’m not asking for a rough draft. I’m asking for a well-written, upper-level English essay that’s coherent and error-free.

Share your document with me by Wednesday night or bring it to class on Thursday.

Thursday, November 3

We have three episodes left in Bowe’s story, and the last big question we have is whether or not anyone died while looking for Bowe. Like everything else in this saga, the answer to that question is complicated.


Finish Serial Season Two. Give a quick summary about what you learned in each of the three episodes, and then share your overall feelings. When you’ve finished, read this 2017 article published by the New York Times on Bowe’s sentencing. Then read this 2019 published by about Master Sgt. Mark Allen’s death. Finally, review this timeline so you can get all of your facts straight.

After listening and reading everything (and writing your summary/reaction), tell me what you think should or shouldn’t happen to Bowe. Share your feelings on how everything panned out for him.

Submit your Google Doc by Wednesday night.

Thursday, October 27

I’m so glad you’re all able to listen to the podcast without any issues. This may not turn you into a regular podcast listener, but as long as you’re able to finish this series with a general understanding of Bowe’s story (and other sides of Bowe’s story), then you’ve accomplished something.


Listen to episodes 5-8 of Serial Season Two. When you’ve finished each episode, write a general summary to show you understand what you heard, and then share your reactions and thoughts.

If you want to explore the multimedia podcast page, click here.

Monday, October 17

How perfect that you’re listening to an audio lecture on the day we start looking at sound recordings as a mass medium! Apologies for not being in class, but you know how it goes sometimes. 

I’m going to mention several key terms and names in the audio lecture, so I’ve listed them here so you can jot them down and take notes as you feel led. 

  • Samuel Morse
  • Telegraph
  • James Maxwell 
  • Radio waves
  • Heinrich Hertz
  • Electromagnetic waves
  • Guglielmo Marconi 
  • Wireless telegraphy
  • Reginald Fessenden
  • One-to-One Transmission vs. One-to-Many Transmission
  • Lee De Forest and the Audion 
  • The Golden Age of Radio 
  • Format Radio
  • Podcast 

You can listen to a lot of different things on the radio or through a podcast, but we are still going to focus on storytelling, as this is a primary way culture is exposed, explored, and shared. You’ll be starting with Serial Season Two, which recounts Bowe Bergdahl’s experience as a prisoner of the Taliban for five years.

The podcast unfolds through several voices – Bowe’s own words (as told to Mark Boal), his platoon mates in Afghanistan (who know Bowe personally), other military leaders (who do not know Bowe personally), and Bowe’s friends from back home in Idaho. Your job is to pay attention to the different sides of Bowe’s story. Sometimes the narrative is hard to listen to because war is ugly. There is no getting around that. 

If you’ve never listened to podcasts before, I suggest doing a physical activity while you listen, such as taking a walk, cleaning your room, doodling, etc. Doing a mindless activity while listening might help you pay attention. That being said, do not read, study, or scroll through social media while your ears are actively listening. You’ll undoubtedly miss things. Besides, you’ll be writing a summary of key events as homework, so it might actually help to take notes while you listen so you can jot down names or retain basic timeline information. 

Finally, explore the website devoted to the Serial podcasts. (I think the Listening Guide is helpful.) It is a multimedia experience that will help you better understand the region, the timeline, and Bowe’s experience. You can also stream the episodes directly through the website if you don’t have the Apple Podcasts app or Spotify.


Listen to the audio lecture first. Take notes as you feel led. (Now that you’ve experienced an open-notes test, you know how it goes.)

Listen to Episodes 1-4 of Serial Season Two. Write a reaction summary for each episode that encompasses what you learned and how you feel about it. Resist the urge to research more of the story or listen ahead. Share your summaries on a new Google Doc by Wednesday, October 26

Lastly, if you haven’t already, click here to vote on your favorite yearbook cover!

Thursday, October 6

There is no homework over fall break. Don’t forget – I’ll be absent on Thursday, October 20, but I’ll post everything you need for class that week by Tuesday, October 18.

Thursday, September 29

If you haven’t submitted your personal narrative yet, then it’s time to write it. Use the example I gave you for structural purposes. Whether your topic is serious or lighthearted, the example should help you draft a story that’s some sort of marriage between an academic essay and five-act plot. If you need help, be in touch.


Before submitting your personal narrative, review the questions I have you a couple of weeks ago:

  • Did I fully explain what happened? (including who, when, where, and how) 
  • Did I fully examine how this event (or series of events) impacted me? 
  • Am I still processing what I’ve learned? 
  • Have I chosen descriptive language over generic words and phrases? 
  • Does the story flow smoothly from one paragraph to the next? 
  • Have I run a spell-check or tended to any grammatical errors? 
  • Have I given this story a title? 
  • Have I met the requirements for the assignment?

Once it’s in good shape, share your story with me via Google Docs by Wednesday night OR bring it to me in person on Thursday.

Be sure your notes are in order for the mid-semester test next week. 🙂

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.