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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.

Course Breakdown

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 Internet: 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. Infotainment: Comedy 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: Is It Still a Thing?

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 Ebook 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

Two ambitious paparazzi trying to snap a pic of the Martian Kim Kardashian.


Practically by definition, big Hollywood movies have celebrities at the center of them—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. Slash how many STDs he has.

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. That's right, celebrities do ordinary things.

But wait a minute—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 counts as a "celebrity." (But Daniel Day Lewis, who played him in Lincoln, definitely is. And how.) Some people include fictional characters like Mickey Mouse, Super Mario, and James Bond in the pantheon of 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 a powerful effect on us. Just watch out for the paparazzi.

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  • Course Length: 3 weeks
  • Grade Levels: 11, 12, College
  • Course Type: Elective
  • Category:
    • English
    • Humanities

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