Literature, Mass Media, and Pop Culture

Thursday, October 21

Welcome to Sound Recordings, a entire body of mass media that resonates with some and not with others. I genuinely hope you’ll find this section of our semester interesting. Some of you already listen to podcasts and audiobooks, so you’ve already crossed that barrier to entry. If you’ve never listened to audio storytelling, then I hope you find it enjoyable.

What I hope you gathered from the history lesson today was the collective and cooperative effort it took to turn wired, one-to-one sound transmissions to wireless, one-to-many sound transmissions. It took 75 years and inventors from five or six countries to eventually create what became AM radio. Once we had that going for us, Americans wasted no time huddling around the radio each night for entertainment. The Golden Age of Radio was born.

Of course, other inventions (the television, cable TV, the internet) forced radio to evolve to stay relevant. As soon as the digital era arrived in the 1990s, and certainly by the 2000s, we had audio storytelling for days.

Homework Due by Wednesday, October 27

Listen to Episodes 1-4 in Serial Season 2. (Click here to stream from the website or to read the material in the Listening Guide.) If you are someone who needs to be doing something active while listening to a podcast, then feel free to do whatever works best for you. However, it might be helpful to listen to one episode and then jot down some notes of things you remember before going onto the next episode. If you don’t do this, it might all run together.

For your response questions this week, write a short summary of each episode. This isn’t a formal essay, so don’t let it stress you out. Just tell me what jumped out to you about Bowe’s story from his point of view versus how his story is perceived by others. Try to keep track of the timeline so you know what’s happening in what order. If your summary is too vague, I may not be convinced that you listened to the podcast, so endeavor to provide enough details so show you understand what’s going on.

(A summary means at least a paragraph or two per episode.)

*Please start a new Google Doc for this unit.* Also, come to class next week prepared to talk about Bowe and the first four episodes.

Thursday, October 7

Great job on the first half of the semester. I’ll review your tests and papers over fall break and be in touch about grades.

FYI: If you struggled on the test today, endeavor to take better notes or get notes from friends when you miss class. A little bit of work goes a long way.

See you on Oct. 21!

Thursday, September 30

Cheers to all of you who finished your first AND LAST graphic novel. It is always a good thing to learn what you like and don’t like. 🙂

Whether you enjoyed Persepolis or not is immaterial. I told you at the start of this semester that you don’t have to enjoy everything we read, listen to, or watch. Rather, you have to consider it. Here’s what I hope you learned:

  • Everyone has a story, and when we engage with other people’s stories, we understand one another better. Like Maya Angelou said: We are more alike than we are unalike.
  • Each method (and medium) of storytelling is valuable because it broadens accessibility, graphic novels included.
  • Culture is connective. Through art, literature, language, music, and more, people are drawn together and identified. Culture builds communities and defines values. Culture provides belonging and security. (Just to be clear: “Pop culture” refers to elements of culture currently in progress – the things that are highly identifiable right now because they are popular. Culture, in general, encompasses generations of traditions, language, religion, music, etc. that represent a group of people.)

Homework Due by Wednesday, October 6

After weeks of reading other people’s stories, it’s time to write your own. (If you lost the handout from class, click here to print another.) Remember, this is not confession time, unless you have something you want to get off your chest (and it’s not a crime!). This assignment is connected to YOUR own Coming of Age story, the part of your life that you’ll reflect on years from now.

Write a Personal Narrative that tells a story about you, your family, or something connected to you that taught you a lesson, put a new idea into perspective, or helped you mature in some way. It might be that you write about several shorter stories with a coordinated theme instead of one long story. Whatever works! Aim for 700-1000 words. Write in MLA format in regards to font and spacing, though there’s obviously no need to cite anything.

If you struggle to come up with a topic, review all the things you’ve written in class over the last few weeks. See if something can be born out of those reflections. 

Pay attention to the structure of a Personal Narrative, as it varies slightly from the typical five-paragraph essay structure. You’re aiming for a hybrid of Freytag’s Pyramid and a proper academic essay. (If you want me to look at your essay before turning it in for a grade, get it to me no later than Tuesday afternoon.) Share your final, polished essay with me by Wednesday night.

Finally, make sure your notes are organized for the test on Thursday. 🙂

Thursday, September 23

For those of you who don’t love graphic novels as a medium, thanks for hanging in there! It’s almost over.

For those of you who are enjoying it, great!

Just so we’re clear on the next couple of weeks, you’ll finish Persepolis this week and start brainstorming what you want to write about for your personal narrative. I’ll go over the structure and format of the essay next week, but you’re in charge of the topic. This is partly why I’ve been assigning so much introspective work. You should totally be in the mood for this assignment now. 🙂

On Thursday, Oct. 7, our final class before Fall Break, you’ll turn in your essay and take a test. Be sure your notes are in order so you can use them.

Homework Due by Wednesday, September 29

Finish Persepolis. (I hope the few bits of profanity do not offend you. If they do, glaze over them and keep in mind that people say and do lots of things in traumatic, life-or-death circumstances.) When you finish the story, answer the following response questions substantively:

  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. One of the characters who is directly affected by the war is Marji’s housekeeper, Mrs. Nasrine.  In a chapter called “The Key,” Mrs. Nasrine reports that her fourteen-year-old son has been given “a plastic key painted gold” and told that it “would get them into heaven” (99).  Hearing Mrs. Nasrine’s story causes Marji to think about her fourteen-year-old cousin Peyman.  Yet when Marji calls Peyman to ask whether he has been given a key to paradise, he has no idea what she’s talking about (100).  What do these scenes reveal about the kinds of people who are being recruited for the war?  What do they reveal about the government’s recruiting techniques?
  3. 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? 
  4. 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.) 
  5. 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?
  6. 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. 
  7. In your own words, explain your understanding of transmedia. (If you’ve ever participated in a transmedia experience, tell me about it.) 

Thursday, September 16

Today I gave a quick overview of how storytelling through pictures (comics and graphic novels) grew into a mass medium. Even though we have caveman drawings from the beginning of time, we can’t call those works of art messages for the masses. We needed technology (like the Gutenberg Printing Press and syndication) to propel comics and graphic novels into peoples’ hands. It’s important to know that graphic novels finally earned their spot as a genre in 2001 among literary circles. Since then, many classic and contemporary works have been adapted into graphic novels, which can be a new way to engage with an old story.

*If you missed class today, you’ll want to ask a friend for his/her notes!

So far this year, we’ve learned that storytelling is a powerful tool. Whether you’re a journalist telling someone else’s story or you’re facing your mortality and choose to tell your own stories through a speech or memoir, it’s important that we listen to these voices and consider what they have to say. We may not always agree with their messages or take them to heart, but it’s our duty to consider them. This puts us in the continual feedback loop, doesn’t it?

I understand that all of these questions about your *feelings* may not be your cup of tea, but there is a method to my madness! First, prompting you to consider your reaction to what you read, hear, and see puts you in the right headspace for your upcoming essay. It gets you in the habit of asking yourself, “What do I think about this stuff?”

More importantly, it’s a good exercise of the mind. As a general rule, you should always stop to consider what YOU think about something rather than blindly accepting what’s being told to you, particularly when the message comes from a mass medium (and therefore the messenger is largely unknown). Thinking critically helps your media literacy. 🙂

For those of you who missed class, I showed Steve Jobs’ commencement speech at Stanford from 2005, about six years before he lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. In his speech he told three stories that culminated in a solid piece of advice. This led to an in-class activity of considering and responding to that advice. Click here to print the document. You’ll need to do this activity to complete the homework this week.

Homework Due by September 22

Before you get started on Persepolis, do some independent research on the Iran Revolution of 1979. Here is a video to get you started.

Read/observe pgs. 1-61 in Persepolis. Take your time. Resist the urge to rush through the panels. Then, answer the following questions in a Google Doc and share it with me by Wednesday:

  1. Summarize your understanding of what the Iranian Revolution was and meant.
  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. Now, put Chris McCandless, Randy Pausch, and Steve Jobs at the same dinner table. What advice do you think they’d all give each other?
  8. Of the three, which of Steve Jobs’ pieces of advice meant the most to you, and why?
  9. Share five things from your bucket list. Tell me why they are meaningful to you.

Thursday, September 9

I’m so glad to know y’all are enjoying The Last Lecture. I know the premise of the book feels morbid, but the tone of the book is positive and inspirational. I hope you are gleaning lots of wisdom from this brilliant man.

I also hope you took some notes today on Media Literacy. You will see those things again one day soon. 🙂

Homework Due by September 15

Finish reading The Last Lecture. Also finish writing your reflections on the book that you started in class today. I know not everyone is into this sort of thing, but indulge me, will you? Try to engage with the book on a personal level.

Then, answer the following questions substantively 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. Spend a few minutes considering what a conversation would’ve been like between Chris McCandless and Randy Pausch if they’d met one another. What do you think they would’ve said to each other? On what topics would they have agreed or disagreed? 
  5. Watch this video by Dan Pink. Then answer the question: What’s your sentence? 
  6. Pull three things from your written reflections (the activity you did in class this week) and type your answers here. 

Thursday, September 2

I hope you enjoyed reading Into the Wild and learning about Chris McCandless. As with everything in life, there is always more to the story. As we move on to The Last Lecture, keep Chris’s last message in mind: Happiness [is] only real when shared.

Despite the circumstances that brought forth The Last Lecture, I think it’s accurate to say that Randy Pausch prefers that you to read his book with hope rather than sadness or dread. Though the old adage rings true – the only sure things in life are death and taxes – that doesn’t mean we should spend each day fretting about our mortality.

So, as you start reading The Last Lecture, grab a pencil and jot down the advice that stands out to you. If you’re someone who writes in books, do some underlining. This book is literally someone’s last message to you, the reader. Make sure you pay attention.

Homework Due by September 8

Read Mass Communications: A Critical Approach (I recommend printing it out, if you can).

Then, read Ch. 1-22 in The Last Lecture.

Start a new Google Document and answer the following questions substantively by Wednesday night.

  1. From A Critical Approach, explain how the invention of the printing press (and the subsequent creation of print media as a whole) impacted culture and bolstered individualism. 
  2. Examine how digital media is both an advantage and a disadvantage to culture and individualism. 
  3. Now onto The Last Lecture. 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?)
  4. 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? 
  5. 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. Is there anything right now that you’ve learned (or are currently learning) that confirms your parents were right about something? 
  6. 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? 
  7. 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? 
  8. 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 26

A few things to remember from today:

  • Interpersonal Communication flows from a messenger who is largely known to you. Often, you’re able to interact with the messenger to clarify the message and its intention. For example, right now you are interpreting an online message from me to you about class today and what’s expected of you this week. At any point, you can reach out and clarify what I’m saying.
  • Mass Communication flows from messengers who are largely unknown to you, and there often isn’t an opportunity or means to interact with the messenger. That means interpretations can be entirely subjective. We receive and interpret messages from mediums all day everyday – television, radio, podcasts, social media, emails, etc. Over time, these messages create a cultural transmission.
  • The six primary forms of Mass Media are print, audio, visual, interactive, social, and advertising. In this class, we’ll utilize primarily print, audio, and visual media.

By now I hope you’ve made the connection that over the course of Chris McCandless’s early life, he connected deeply with the work and ideas (i.e., messages) of American Romantic and Realism writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Jack London, and many others in such a way that it prompted him to change his life completely. His personal experience was so moving to journalist Jon Krakauer that he felt compelled to write a magazine article, then a book, about Chris’s experience. Then, someone else felt compelled to make a film out of it. One thing influences the next, and so the cycle continues.

Homework Due by September 1

Finish reading Into the Wild first. Then, read this interview with Chris’s sister Carine. When you’ve finished both, answer the following response questions substantively in your Google Document:

  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. Read this webpage by Jamie Campos about the Magic Bus on Stampede Trail where Chris’s body was found. It’s lengthy, but not hard to read. Things have come full circle for both the messenger and the receiver in the world of mass media and pop culture. Why do you think people wanted to see the bus where Chris died? Is that something you would’ve wanted to see? Why or why not?
  4. Is there anything related to pop culture – a location or landmark – that you would make a pilgrimage to see? (For example, on my first trip to England, I wanted to visit the pub where C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Inklings used to meet to discuss literature and religion. Big nerd here, but it was super fun for me.)

Thursday, August 19

If you want to print off the list of assignments, click here.

I’m sure today didn’t feel like English class at all, but that’s okay. Semiotics is only our starting point. The goal was to help you see how messages from mass media (TV, film, books, newspapers, social media, art, music, advertising, etc) can be interpreted both as individuals and groups, and from those interpretations, pop culture is formed. You’ve watched it happen over the last two years with masks. You probably gave no consideration to a sign of a mask prior to March 2020. Now, it’s one of the most divisive signs of our time because people interpret its message in conflicting ways.

We’ll encounter lots of messages this year, and your job is to consider them.

If you want a more fleshed-out version of the Relationship between Mass Media and Pop Culture, here you go:

Homework Due by August 25

Read the excerpt from Walden and Jack London’s short story “To Build a Fire.” Then read Ch. 1-7 in Into the Wild. In a Google Doc, answer the response questions substantively and share by Wednesday night.

  1. In your own words, as best you can, define and explain semiotics.
  2. In your own words, explain the interrelationship between mass communication and mass media.
  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 made by the man in “To Build a Fire”. 
  5. After reading the excerpt from Walden and “To Build a Fire,” can you see anything in those works that might prompt someone to drop everything and run off to the Alaskan wilderness?
  6. At the beginning of Into the Wild, 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)? 
  7. 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. 
  8. 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.

Introduction

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: https://serialpodcast.org/season-two Please review the series and notify me BY OCTOBER 1  if you’d prefer I assign your student different podcasts.

Materials are listed in the order we’ll use them:

Fall 2021
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
Persepolis (Volume I) by Marjane Satrapi
Serial Season Two (podcast series)
The Time Machine by HG Wells

Spring 2022
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Short stories and fairy tales will be provided

See you all on Thursday, August 19!