School is off, of course, so we didn't get to have the larger discussion about Lenses and Topics in class after having looked at several pieces of cultural criticism. I had thought that looking at all these different pieces, you'd come to get an idea about what you should be able to do in the Culture Essay and what the parameters of it ask of you.
In the last week or so, I've asked you to read
(all of which are also available on the course website)
"Britney Spears, Outsider Artist" by Mark Stevens, in which Stevens thinks about the significance of Spears's shaving of her own head -- what should it mean to us?;
"Hit her, baby, one more time" by Rebecca Traister, in which Traister tries to deconstruct the fiasco of an attempt by Spears to stage a comeback performance - what were the different forces that converged, and who is to blame?;
"The Order of Things" by Malcolm Gladwell, in which Gladwell uses the inciting event of the annual publication of college rankings to examine our assumptions - what's the problem with ranking your choices?;
"Hollywood's Class Warfare" by A.O. Scott, in which he looks at recent films (and other pieces of our culture) in terms of class - how do our assumptions about class play into how we view heroes, and does our current economic environment change that?;
"The blurry intersection of fact, fiction, and art" by Ty Burr, in which he thinks about the recent slate of Best Picture nominees and how truthful they are - what is the responsibility of the film maker when it comes to what actually happened?
"'Argo' doesn't deserve the Oscar" by Andrew O'Hehir, in which he criticizes what ultimately became the Best Picture winner as crossing a line that other 'historical' films from the year didn't - when does artistic license become something more nefarious?
You don't have to have seen the films or Spears's performances to understand most of what the writers are talking about, and you don't have to agree with their conclusions to understand that each writer is discussing, on some level, what these elements of our culture mean, say about their creators, and/or reveal about us. That sort of observation is what we're going for in the Culture Essay.
The Lens for your Culture Essay should be some recent event or phenomenon that is recognizable. Through this lens, you are going to be looking at some larger idea. That larger idea is your Topic. Both the Lens and the Topic should be interesting to you, and, while you might be starting with some assumptions, you want to start with questions that you are open to exploring, rather than assertions you are simply trying to support. Some Culture Essays from last year were:
- What does The Biggest Loser tell us about how we view obesity and our own bodies?
- What does The Big Bang Theory tell us about mainstream opinions of science?
- What does Kony2012 tell us about my generation's ideas of political activism?
- What does Say Yes to the Dress tell us about our concepts of money, happiness, and marriage?
- What does our continued attraction to the mythology of Batman say about what we want from heroes?
- Why do we continue to be fascinated by pseudo-prophets predicting the end of the world?
- What does Linnsanity say about our assumptions about the underdog?
- What does Linnsanity say about our assumptions about race?
- What do Pinterest and Tumblr say about girls and body image?
- Why do we cheat at "Words With Friends?"
- Why do we care what happens to anyone named Kardashian?
- What does Secret Life tell us about changing opinons on teen pregnancy?
- What does Tebowmania tell us about how we view religiosity in the public sphere?
- What does Toddlers & Tiaras tell us about what we value in mother-daughter relationships?
- What does Cyber Monday tell us about the evolution of consumerism in America?
- What do the successes and failures of Occupy Wall Street reveal about how we view equality?
- What does Jersey Shore tell us about what we want from storytelling?
- What does Superbad tell us about mainstream views of teen drinking?
Now, not all of these essays succeed, but each of them explore a question that is appropriate to the assignment and was interesting to the author.
For Tuesday evening, I'm asking you to complete the 1st Proposal Worksheet and email it to me. I'll put them all together and forward them to the school librarians late Tuesday night. That way, they'll be able to give you some more targeted help when we go to the library classroom on Thursday.
Now, what questions do you have for me or for the class? Please post them as comments below. I'll check in throughout the day and post my responses next to your questions. You can feel free to respond to your classmates as well.
You can also look at my Culture bookmarks on Diigo to get more ideas.