Pop Culture Literacy
Hop on Pop... Culture.
Pop culture's got a weird reputation in America. Most people like it (by definition), but those same people also seem to be a little guilty about it: TV rots your brain, video games make you violent and nerdy, pop music all sounds the same, comedians are foul-mouthed, and...you get the picture.
But we here in the Republic of Shmoop believe that everything's worth thinking about in a smart, critical way. And you can't deny that pop culture is kind of a big deal. Why wouldn't you want to understand something that we're saturated with almost every waking second of our lives?
In this 18-week course we're gonna dig into popular culture in a serious way by thinking about Hollywood movies, rap, The Daily Show, Family Guy, Facebook, Call of Duty, Reddit, and other pop culture titans the same way we approach literature—all to see what we can learn about society, human behavior, and the kinds of art that we're soaking our brains in.
Unit 1. TV and Advertising: Reading Between the Lies
There's no question that Americans are generally way more literate in TV-watching than in book-reading. In this unit, we'll think about the TV phenomenon along with advertising and commercials, which are starting to look more and more like little mini TV shows in themselves.
Unit 2. Movies and Music: Fame On!
Hollywood and pop music, together at last. Get ready to think about movies and tunes like never before.
Unit 3. The (Anti?) Social Network
In this unit, we're going to dig into all the ways that our lives got flip-turned upside-down by the internet and what it means to be constantly connected to other people through our computers—for better or worse.
Unit 4. Comedy, Cartoons, and the News
It's time for the odd couple: comedy and the news. In this unit, you'll see just how much they have in common.
Unit 5. Reading Between the Vines
Yep: books are a form of pop culture—and have been for a while. In this unit, we'll talk about the medium, focusing on how things have changed in the e-book world.
Unit 6. Video Games and Remixes: Audience Participation
For our last unit, we'll be tackling video games and everyone's favorite: the remix.
Sample Lesson - Introduction
Lesson 5: Celebutainment
Big Hollywood movies pretty much always have celebrities at the center of them.
We mean, duh. Either a movie becomes popular and turns its leads into celebrities, or the celebrities make the movies popular. Same goes for bands: if the band gets big enough, we're probably gonna find out what the lead singer's favorite food is in a Rolling Stone article soon enough.
We can pretend we don't care, but let's face it—we totally care.
There's no royalty in America, but celebrities come pretty close. Everything they do becomes news, no matter how boring, and everything they touch seems to become famous, too. Us Magazine even has a regular column called "Stars Are Just Like Us," featuring photos of celebrities doing really ordinary things.
Seriously—they have a column where people act surprised that celebrities are, y'know. Regular humans.
Wait a minute, though—what is a celebrity, exactly?
It's not just any well-known person who ever lived—it'd be hard to say, for example, that Abraham Lincoln counted as a "celebrity," but Daniel Day Lewis, who played him in Lincoln, definitely is. Some people could even argue that fictional characters like Mickey Mouse, Super Mario, and James Bond count as celebrities, and they don't even exist.
In this lesson, we're going to think about what makes a celebrity, what the difference is between a celebrity and a hero, and why celebrities have such an intense effect on us.
Just watch out for the paparazzi.
Sample Lesson - Reading
Reading 2.5: Heroes to Zeroes?
Daniel J. Boorstin is just a little bit annoyed by celebrities.
In fact, he's annoyed by a lot of pop culture—back in 1962 he wrote an angry book called The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, which criticized the use of images in pop culture. He claimed television and magazines gave rise to "pseudo-events," or events where nothing really happens—events that go down just so they can be filmed.
In this book, he also smacked down his definition of a celebrity as "a person who is known for his well-knownness." He also called each and every celebrity a "human pseudo-event."
That's basically a lot of fancy language that means "celebrities aren't real people; they're only as good as the events they cause for our enjoyment."
What really grinds Boorstin's gears is that he believes that celebrities have taken the place of heroes. Remember those guys we talked about in our last lesson? The people we know for their great deeds, accomplishments, and service to humanity? Boorstin says that they still exist, but they don't get any attention—celebrities have sucked it all up.
As you can imagine, that's kind of a hot topic. We mean, can we really categorize celebrities (who, as we know, are "Just Like Us!") in such black-and-white terms?
To help yourself sort out your thoughts on the topic, read this article by Neal Gabler from the Los Angeles Times.
In the article, Gabler dishes on the impact of Daniel Boorstin's The Image 50 years after it was published. He gives Boorstin props for showing how the "entire society seemed in thrall to its own illusions and to its ability to entertain itself with distractions instead of having to engage in the actual mess of life" while also calling him a culturally conservative "scold." He sounds pretty hot and cold to us.
Read the article and reflect on the main ideas Boorstin and Gabler seem to be trying to convey. Then, head over to the activity.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 2.5a: We Can Relate
In his essay, Boorstin talks about how celebrities are created: They hire "public relations experts and press secretaries to make themselves look great."
And hey, PR agents are great at making people look great.
PR agents get hired to do whatever it takes to make their client well-known, well-liked, and above all, famous. The whole concept is connected to the stuff we were talking about with advertising—it's not always totally honest, it uses rhetoric to get what it wants, and sometimes, it even takes advantage of the celebrity's bad behavior to generate more buzz.
For this activity, think of something embarrassing you've done at some point in your life.
Oh, don't give us that. We know you've done at least one embarrassing thing in your life.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Quiz 2.5b: Be a Hero
- Course Length: 3 weeks
- Grade Levels: 11, 12, College
- Course Type: Elective
Just what the heck is a Shmoop Online Course?
Common Core Standards
The following Common Core Standards are covered in this course:CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.1