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Today’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn, a Professor of English and Digital Writing at Kennesaw State University. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning and critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy, and think deeply about way too many things. She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity. You can reach Kim at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website: Acts of Composition
Americans in particular should study their popular arts the better to understand themselves. The media inform their environment, make suggestions about ways to view themselves, provide role models from infancy through old age, give information and news as it happens, provide education, influence their opinions, and open up opportunities for creative expression. Culture emanates from society, voices its hopes and aspirations, quells it fears and insecurities, and draws on the mythic consciousness of an entire civilization or race. It is an integral part of life and a permanent record of what we believe and are. While future historians will find the accumulated popular culture invaluable, the mirror is there for us to look into immediately. [from Handbook of Popular Culture, M. Thomas Inge, ed. (1989)]
This post is the second of 3 posts from the Generation Project series. Teachers can use this assignment as part of the series or on its own as a stand-alone classroom activity. This component of the project extends on student’s work in exploring the historical context of their assigned generation and asks them to locate and analyze popular culture artifacts to reveal ideas, values, and behaviors of their designated generation. They influence us, persuade us, and affect our feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Popular culture is generally defined as “everyday objects, actions, and events that influence people to behave in certain ways” (Sellnow 3). In the past, popular culture took the form of print and traditional media, propaganda, and other material objects. Today we can include a variety of digital media texts such as Twitter, memes, Tiktok, and other social media artifacts. Popular culture draws on mass appeal and consumption behavior that shape cultural identity and generational tendencies. It is not difficult to look around and see that these everyday objects and media artifacts are everywhere in our daily lives both in the present and the past. We experience them through advertisements, music, television, and the Internet. Exploring and analyzing these artifacts engages students in thoughtful research beyond historical facts and defining moments and provides new lenses for understanding generational research. It helps them triangulate their ideas as they look at layers of influence and engage in meaningful rhetorical analysis of a variety of multimodal artifacts.
Steps to the Assignment
- Although students interact with these artifacts every day, they might not understand why they are significant. I start the conversation by offering definitions and examples through background readings such as Sociological Definition of Popular Culture and the PBS Idea Channel’s engaging videos on the subject: Does Popular Culture Need to Be Popular?
- Next, I ask students to analyze artifacts from different time periods which gets them out of their own cultural moment and offers a comparative framework. I happen to have a hearty collection of vintage magazines that I bring to class but have also used online resources that are easy to search and access (e.g., “search: advertisements from the 50’s” or dedicated sites such as Click Americana that features “vintage and retro memories.”
- Each student (or together in groups) chooses an artifact to analyze and discuss. They look at rhetorical arguments, identifying ideologies, and visual messaging. I ask them to extend their thinking to the cultural moment of the time period and compare it to their modern culture to show how ideologies shift and change depending on context. Students present to the class by sharing the artifact and supporting their ideas through particular details, visual references and textual examples. Other students can contribute their ideas during the presentations. This step can also work as a discussion post in an online setting.
- Once they have a general understanding of how to analyze the artifacts, I turn them back to a generational time period. Their ultimate goal is to understand the ways these artifacts shape their generational research of the five living generations (See Part 1 for focus years) at a particular point in time. Each student locates and analyzes the following cultural artifacts for their focus years:
- Material/Commercial (advertising, products, etc.)
- Language (slang, saying, phrase, etc.)
- Something of their own choosing
- Students create a page on their Google sites in which they include:
- a representative image for each artifact.
- image citations: Many of these images are in the public domain but students cite and link to the original source of the image.
- a short description/analysis/interpretation of the artifact in which they describe ideologies, values or beliefs they interpret from the artifact.
- In the final step of the assignment students write an overview in which they read across their collection of artifact sources and focus on ideologies, values and ideas that they discern from their collection. Through this, they will cross-link to the individual artifacts in their discussion. I require that they include at least 3 embedded links and multimodal components in this post. Note: Although I have students post to their Google sites as interactive documents, it is easily modified for other formats.
Reflections on the Activity
This popular culture activity promotes strong research practices including source location, analysis, and documentation. It expands notions of research as students learn to triangulate their perspectives and understand the importance of multimodal artifacts to reveal significant insights. By looking at artifacts such as film, advertisements, music, literature, and language, students begin to put together a more complete picture for their generational portraits. Students nurture a critical eye for understanding the artifacts they encounter every day and it helps them realize that popular culture artifacts are actually complicated reflections that reveal and shape life as we know it.
Sellnow, Deanna D. The Rhetorical Power of Popular Culture: Considering Mediated Texts. 3rd ed., SAGE, 2018.
Stay tuned – next post – Part 3: Generation Collaborations
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