What we'll do today in class:
- Discuss television as a cultural text
- Discuss cultural studies
- Begin to discuss "dominant" cultural myths/messages
- Introduce Essay 3 and the modes of analysis we'll use
Connection to course goals: The discussion of cultural studies provides the students with some background they'll need to respond effectively to the context for Essay 3. The discussion of Essay 3 again emphasizes the importance of context in the writing process by encouraging students to consider the different audiences and purposes possible for this assignment. Today we'll also look at cultural analysis and how we can apply writing skills and critical thinking beyond just classroom settings.
- Brief overview of main premises of cultural studies. Your goal with this overview is simply to explain to students the main premises behind the theoretical background for the type of analysis they'll be doing in Unit 2.
- (NOTE: You might also design a handout/overhead to which you can refer in explaining this theory. Also keep in mind the essays you read in 684 as possible ways of adding to/revising this list.)
Important points to cover in the overview...
- Culture influences our thoughts and actions, primarily through the kinds of texts (e.g. media, books, news, movies, etc.) it offers for our consumption.
- Culture sends messages about what is and isn't "normal" and acceptable."
- People internalize these messages, though they can also recognize them and try to alter them.
- It's not just kids and suckers -- we're all participants in culture, so we're all susceptible to influence. This isn't always a bad thing. It's how a culture teaches its young what's acceptable and creates similar values/ideas that the majority of the culture holds. The problem comes when the messages sent don't equally benefit all, only serve to keep similar groups in power, or affect your thinking in ways you would not, more consciously, even agree with.
- The main goal is to become aware of these influences in order to be able to exercise more control over our choices and actions-- i.e. the goal of critically reading cultural messages is to give us more power over their influence upon use; to open us up to other choices than passive/unaware acceptance.
Transition: To see how this takes place, let's take a look at what types of messages we're given about gender.
Generate gender stereotypes on board.
Simply ask students to list off the top of their heads what we're told a "woman" should be or do, and then what we're told a "man" should be or do.
You might create a cluster diagram for each gender. Try to get 10-15 characteristics for each gender.
You'll be using these stereotypes in #3 below to emphasize further points about cultural studies.
After you've generated these stereotypes, ask students the following questions to see how we interact with these messages and show the complexity of the relationship.
Ask students to consider their own interactions with the gender messages on the board.
Are we entirely defined by these messages? Does every male fit every quality we've listed? Every female fit every quality we've listed?
Sum-up the perspective cultural studies takes on how we interact with texts. Connect the points below to the discussion you just had.
The point here is that cultural studies assumes our interactions with these types of messages are much more complex. That is, people used to say things like TV caused violence, or listening to violent music caused people to commit suicide. Cultural studies assumes that the messages media sends and the effect those messages have on viewers is more complicated and subtle. It refers mostly to how cultural messages transmitted through the media can affect our thoughts. This is not to say actions aren't involved at all; affecting one's thoughts could certainly lead to affecting one's actions, but it's not viewed as a simple cause-effect relationship between viewing and action.
- BUT…to show that the influence is still there, ask them to consider the following about gender.
- If someone tells you a person is sitting outside Lory Student Center crying and friends are there comforting the person, what gender would you probably say that person is? (Female)
- If someone is describing how their friend was arrested for abusing their spouse, what gender would you think the friend probably is? (Male)
- The point here is just that we have pre-conceived notions about gender that do influence our thoughts to varying degrees. We're not insisting that a man couldn't be crying outside Lory, or a female couldn't abuse her spouse, just that we have expectations for these stories based on the very messages we generated about what a "man" should be and what a "woman" should be.
If they need it, here's another example that might help emphasize the type of influence we're talking about…
- An example that might help them understand some of the above points. Refer to cases where people have blamed suicides on violent music, or music with "objectionable" lyrics. While often people reject this as a completely impossible cause of suicide, and cultural studies would agree that listening to that music didn't directly cause the suicide, cultural studies would argue that such music does influence the thoughts of the listener, and could thus indirectly influence the actions as well. It's not the cause of the suicide, but could have had some influence. It certainly didn't help.
- Since students might still reject the above example, ask them the following.
- If you're on a date, and you want to "set the mood," what type of music would you put on?
- They'll likely answer mellow, or romantic, or possibly with some artists (Marvin Gaye)
- Why would you put that music on if you didn't think it could influence the environment or people's thoughts?
- The point of the two examples is that the music in each case will not directly produce an action, but can influence thoughts that could lead to actions. Just as the violent music didn't make the person commit suicide, the romantic music is going to ensure you "get where you want to go" on the date (be tactful here). But in both cases, the music could influence thoughts and emotions.
Transition: Cultural Studies, then, assumes a complex relationship between cultural messages and individuals within that culture. This is the theoretical background that produces the specific modes of analysis you'll be choosing from in Essay 3. Now that we know the background, let's start looking specifically at that essay.
Introduce Essay 3.
Handout the assignment sheet for Essay 3
Let them read over it, and take any initial questions.
You may want to emphasize some parts of the assignment - for example, they're looking for "hidden" functions of the show rather than the more obvious messages/functions.
Also, highlight these issues:
- This essay is not asking you to say any of the following:
- Individuals are not responsible for their actions
- Watching a show will not immediately make you act like what you viewed. If you watch a Stallone movie, you aren't going to run right out and join a gym and then shoot stuff up. You are probably going to take some messages about what it means to be "male" away from having viewed the film. Remember it's a more complex and subtle relationship, not the straight cause-effect accusation we've seen in recent years.
- Also, the goal of Cultural Studies is NOT to show that all the messages provided in the media are not "evil" or only interested in maintaining the status quo. Instead, media offers messages that both reinforce cultural assumptions (teaching us to be good members of our society with the appropriate values and ideas) and challenges them, sometimes offering images/representations that make us rethink the norm (e.g. the first all African-American family shows in the 70's led many people to begin questioning their assumptions about black family life, their stereotypes, etc.). Your essays could thus take a positive approach to these messages.
Brief lecture on types of cultural analysis. It will probably be helpful to just put the following information on an overhead, and let students know that it's also on the assignment sheet for essay 3, though it never hurts to take notes!
Function for Culture: This perspective looks at the show to see what sorts of cultural messages or myths are being reinforced or challenged in the show that the viewer might not immediately notice. This type of analysis, then, describes how the show either tries to keep the larger culture intact, or to change parts of the larger culture. The focus of such analyses is to prove, with textual evidence from the show, what particular cultural myth you think is being reinforced, challenged, or some combination of both. (The Brady Bunch would reinforce cultural messages about family.)
Function for the Viewer: This perspective tries to explain why a viewer, at this time given what else is going on in society, might find a show appealing. The focus of such analyses is to prove, with textual evidence, that the show is appealing to or fulfilling some sort of cultural "need" or "anxiety" within the audience. (ER might reassure a viewer's anxiety about the state of healthcare in America.)
(HINT: Here is some extra explanation on these types of analysis: Both approaches attempt to explain the relationship between the larger culture, television, and a viewer.
- Function for Culture concentrates on explaining the relationship in this order - CULTURE à
VIEWER. That is, a viewer might see a model-type woman in real life, see this message/image reproduced on Friends as normal, and thus start internalizing this as what a normal woman should look like.
- Function for the Viewer again starts with culture, but goes a different direction. Here the picture would look more like - CULTURE à
TV. That is, a viewer sees something happening in culture that makes them anxious - perhaps the rise of the crime rate, and they find a show that puts forth a messages that reassures this anxiety - such as COPS, where the good guys are always good and always get the bad guy.)
Conclusion: Tomorrow we'll discuss the purpose and context of this essay in more detail. Then we'll look at how some authors took this approach in analyzing advertisements.
PHG, Lewis, "Some Don't Like Their Blues at All", 159-161
RC, Kilbourne, "Beauty…and the Beast of Advertising" 178-181
Write a response to following questions about Essay 3:
- What is different about the audience or context for this essay compared to the previous essays?
- Based on the context for this assignment, what different purposes might a writer have in producing this kind of text?