MIRROR ESSAY: Popular Culture


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1 Corinthians 13:12;    For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

MIRROR ESSAY: Popular Culture

Your identity, subjectivity (i.e. selfhood), and agency are informed by a multiplicity of factors that intersect to create you. In other words, you are never defined by just one category. How do you experience your own identity? Perhaps you have encountered conflicts between different ways you identify (say, as queer and as a Southern Baptist, for example). Perhaps certain aspects of your identity are more prominent in your life than others. Importantly, various identities allow the self to connect with the other (i.e. other people). We will explore our own identities in Week Seven by considering how popular culture (mis)represents ourselves to ourselves. After some preliminary research and contemplation about your identity you will hone in on a particular aspect of yourself and find three artifacts from popular culture that (mis)represent that aspect in some way. We will then find some secondary sources to inform our understanding and write an analysis of how your chosen aspect is (mis)represented, categorized, reinforced or undermined in popular culture. We will do this analysis under the conceit that we may now never fully know ourselves, as illustrated by the metaphor of a dark or dim mirror in Corinthians 13:12. This is to say that even when we see our own identities reflected in popular media, we must be suspicious of the image that we see. Carefully read through each step of this assignment. This is not an essay that you can write in one or two nights. STEP ONE Consider some of the social, cultural, and political categories that inform who you are: Nationality, ethnicity, race, first and second languages, skin color, gender, sex, sexual preference, socio-economic class, body size, income, level of education, age, including the generation or decade in which you were born, political affiliation, religion, abilities or disabilities that you may have, and sub-cultural interests (as a gamer, punk, ballerina, fan of __, etc.). Write down where you personally fall in each category (you won’t turn this in or show it to anyone unless you want to). For example: I am American, Dutch/English/Italian/Indonesian, white, I speak English as a native speaker and French as a second language, I have light skin, I identify as male, straight, I have a Master’s degree, I come from a lower-middle class family, I am a big Game of Thrones fan, I don’t have a driver’s license, etc… STEP TWO Pick one of these aspects, or a combination of these aspects and explore how popular culture portrays them. For example, if you want to research Native American identity, you might watch some old Western films as well as the latest film, Revenant, read a few stories by Sherman Alexie or other indigenous authors, play some video games that have indigenous characters, like Prey or Never Alone, and so on. STEP THREE Pick a few of these texts from popular culture to write about. In popular culture studies, anything can be a ‘text’, not just written material (this includes, movies, games, images, commercials, toys, etc.). Remember that your topic is not the texts themselves so much as the way the texts portray the identity you are exploring. You are not writing a review or consumer report. You might examine how the texts depict your identity (either accurately or inaccurately), influence your identity, targets your identity as the audience, or ignores your identity as the audience. Continuing with our Native American identity example, we might select an early Western film that depicts indigenous people, Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Tonto in the latest Lone Ranger film, Disney’s Pocahontas, and the film Smoke Signals, written and acted by actual indigenous people. STEP FOUR Find some secondary sources on your topic. A secondary source is anything that analyzes or discusses a primary source. In this case, the primary sources are the texts you found in step three, as well as your own experience with the identity you chose. For example, we might cite the documentary film, Reel Injun, which looks at how Native Americans are depicted by Hollywood. We could find an interview with Sherman Alexie about his film, Smoke Signals, and find a few articles through the PSU library databases, like JSTOR. STEP FIVE Develop a thesis. A thesis statement gives your reader the argument you’re making in your essay. In order to develop a strong thesis, think about the controversies surrounding your chosen identity, or the contradictions between different texts. An example thesis (after much research, re-writing, and re-thinking) “Contemporary films like Pocahontas and The Lone Ranger perpetuate destructive myths and stereotypes about Native Americans that were established by the Western genre, the most destructive being the ‘disappearing race’ myth. The films Smoke Signals and The Business of Fancy Dancing attempt to address these stereotypes in a sometimes earnest, sometimes playful way by depicting the lives, culture, and self understanding of contemporary Native Americans.” STEP SIX Write a rough draft. You will hand this rough draft off to a peer for review in Week Eight. STEP SEVEN Write a revised draft. Revision means that your writing should look significantly different than the rough draft. Take the time to rearrange your paragraphs if necessary and write completely new sentences. Incorporate the advice from the peer review that you found useful. Your revised draft should be free of typos and grammatical errors, and easy to read and comprehend. The revised essay must be in MLA format (12pt font Times New Roman, 1-inch margins, double-spaced, last name and page number in header, Works Cited page, and in-text citations with last name of author and page number in parentheses after citations). See the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University for more information on MLA format.

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