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Dystopia in Pop Culture: Fiction or the Future?

The most frightening fictional dystopias are recognizable extensions of our current world. 

Dystopias have become a staple of popular entertainment, and despite predictions to the contrary, they show no sign of tapering off. Yet most of us have only the vaguest sense of what a dystopia is.

For starters, a dystopia is the opposite of a utopia. A utopia is a pretty old concept; Thomas More created the term in 1516 to describe a perfect society. “Dystopia” is a more recent term, dating to the 19th century: it comes from the Greek ”dys” meaning “bad” and “topia” meaning “place”. While a utopia is an ideal civilization, where everyone has their needs met, a dystopia is a society that is essentially harmful. The central arc of dystopic fiction almost always puts the hero in conflict with the government or the group of people in charge.

The most frightening fictional dystopias are recognizable extensions of our current world. These worlds answer “What If” questions about the future with the most pessimistic of responses.
What if the earth runs out of oil?

What if we stop having as many children?

What if the government used reality TV as a form of propoganda?

What if there was no law and order?

What if we lived in a military run state?

Dystopian fiction imagines the worst-case scenarios for our future. However paranoid these imaginings may seem, they also expose important truths about our current reality.

Understanding Thesis Statements with Pop Music

In this lesson, students gain an understanding of thesis statements by identifying them in popular songs. Then, they use a thesis statement they’ve identified in a popular song of their choosing to inspire an essay of their own. The goal of this lesson is for students to understand how broad a thesis statement can be while utilizing the the persuasive writing skills necessary to write a general thesis of their own.

The Art of Storytelling

The objective of this lesson plan is to engage students in the art of storytelling and improve their public speaking skills.

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Examining Beyonce Compared to the Most Powerful Women in History

 

To most of the modern world, Beyonce represents strength, independence and pride. With songs like Independent Woman, Single Ladies and Girls Run the World, she reassures females that they don’t need a man to be happy or successful. Not only is she a fearless performer and business woman, but she is also a dedicated wife and mother.

With the release of Formation and her performance at the Super Bowl halftime show, ‘Queen Bey’ has stepped straight into the midst of praise and controversy. Everything about Formation has been called a rallying cry; the timing of the release of the song to coincide with black history month and the day that would have been Treyvon Martin’s 21st birthday, the video clip makes reference to police brutality with the words “stop shooting us” and also highlights the delayed response to Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana by showing Beyonce atop a sinking New Orleans police cruiser. Most controversial was Beyonce’s half-time show where she and her dancers wore black berets and afros, reminiscent of the way the Black Panther Movement dressed in the 1960s. The performance received criticism from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and prompted an anti-Beyonce Protest rally.

Beyonce’s new song has also sparked a lot of positive media attention, but does this mean she has officially crossed over from pop diva to ‘political activist’? Can she be really called a ‘powerful woman’ when you compare her to some of the greats in history?

 

Standing Alone

Many of the most powerful women in history have pushed past barriers and taken on roles that were traditionally only given to men. Beyonce’s personal story of having taking control of her career from her father and now her husband is very similar to that of the famous Cleopatra.

In Ancient Egypt, it was tradition for female rulers to be subordinate to male co-rulers. However, at the age of 18 when Cleopatra was made co-ruler with her brother (and husband – yep, that was normal in those days), she made it clear that she was not going to share power with him. After only 5 months of ruling, Cleopatra had dropped her brother’s name from official documents and only her face appeared on the coin.

In Formation Beyonce expands on her mantra of being an independent woman by showing that she has taken control of her own career and that instead of Jay-Z, she is the one to go to ‘get your song played on the radio station’.

 

Influence beyond race or gender, standing for a cause

The most influential people in the world didn’t necessarily have the looks of Beyonce and didn’t necessarily call as much attention to themselves with shows and costumes but many of them stood for equality.

Rosa Parks, generally considered as quiet and as having a dignified demeanor, seems like the polar opposite to Beyonce, but they have several things in common. The obvious similarity is the message of racial equality that Rosa Parks is known for and that Formation has now tied Beyonce to.

So how do these women, with such different personalities, get to a position to have such influence? In their separate worlds, both women showed excellence and were able to use their reputation as a platform. Despite the fact that many people had been arrested for resisting bus segregation, the NAACP decided that Rosa Parks was the person whose cause they should champion. Why? Martin Luther King stated that Rosa Parks was regarded as “one of the finest citizens of Montgomery—not one of the finest N***o citizens, but one of the finest citizens of Montgomery.” Similarly, Beyonce is regarded as one of the greatest pop icons of all time – not just one of the greatest African-American artists of all time. Saturday Night Live even recently released a sketch called “The Day Beyonce Turned Black” making fun of the media reaction that Formation is getting.

 

Authentic Beauty: Staying True to Your Roots

Beyonce has always been a supporter of natural beauty; in the early days with Destiny’s Child, this was was expressed through the song Bootylicious. This song reached such cultural prominence that the term Bootylicious was included in the Oxford English Dictionary!

With the song Formation Beyonce reclaims the natural look of afro hair and ‘Jackson 5 nostrils’.  The film clip shows different moments in the history of Black society and tells us this is all part of the person that Beyonce is. Formation also makes reference to the hard times that the black community has gone through by showing images of Martin Luther King and by making reference to the Black Lives Matter movement.

One of the greatest artists of all time, Frida Kahlo, is also known for staying true to her heritage and for depicting herself and the struggles of the female experience without any compromise. Even though Kahlo’s works combine elements of classical religious Mexican tradition with surrealists elements, she always rejected the “surreal” label saying that her work reflected more of her reality than her dreams.

The lyrics of Formation talk primarily about Beyonce and her experience of working hard, rocking Givenchy dresses and earning all her money, but like the work of Frida Kahlo, the visual elements of Formation give us a deeper understanding of the history that has shaped the person she is.

 

Standing together

Beyonce, like many of the great women in our history, is trying to create a movement to create a change. Amelia Earhart didn’t just fly solo across the Atlantic, but she was an early supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment and was also a member of the National Woman’s Party. In a more active and personal level Amelia Earhart was instrumental in the ‘formation’ (see what I did there?) of the Ninety-nines, an organization created to help female pilots with their careers.

The message of Beyonce’s songs have increasingly become about a sisterhood, and Formation is a reiteration of this message. However, Beyonce also puts her money where her mouth is! Beyonce has supported most of the causes mentioned in the Formation video clip both financially and through personal action.

After Hurricane Katrina, Beyonce along with Kelly Rowland and her mother Solange Knowles set up the Survivor Foundation to help families after Hurricane Katrina. Beyonce and her husband Jay-Z have been supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement financially helping get protesters out on bail. In the tradition of Beyonce’s Girl’s Run the World, Beyonce and Selma Hayak set up Chime for Change, an organization that raises funds and awareness for projects promoting Education, Health and Justice for girls and women.

Despite all the media that currently surrounds Beyonce and the release of Formation and the similarities between Beyonce and the great women described in this article, it is still hard to say if Beyonce will one day go down in the history books as one of the greats – what do you think?

Eminem Vs. Shakespeare: A Poetry Lesson Part 1

The goal of this lesson is for students to engage with Shakespeare’s poetry by comparing it to the lyrics of Hip-Hop artist Eminem. Teachers can also introduce or review literary devices, rhyme scheme, meter, and poetic structure within the context of this lesson.

Haiku: The Original Tweet

During a day and age where tweets are limited to 140 characters, the haiku has been spreading messages in limited formats for ages.
The goal of this lesson is for students to look at their social media experiences in a poetic fashion. It is meant to help students learn how to write haiku poems while using social media tools.

Learning Outcomes:
1. Demonstrate a basic understanding of language compression and expressing complex ideas through simple words.
2. Demonstrate the ability to understand the context of a statement and transferring such thoughts into a poetic nature

What Can We Do About Gun Control Laws in the US?

In this lesson, students will brainstorm about what they can do to encourage the US government to enact stricter gun-control laws, and they will take action by engaging with the means of communication closest to them, and by getting in touch with their peers and political representatives. With what seems to be an increase in the frequency of mass shootings in the US, students have plenty of thoughts and reactions.

Creating Your Own Once Upon a Time

The objective of this lesson is for students to participate in a new trend in popular culture by taking a classic fairy tale and reinventing it.
Fairy tales like Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Peter Pan allow children to dream and imagine how things would be if they had a Fairy Godmother or were able to fly to Never Land. As we get older, we realize these stories are just fairy tales. However, shows like Once Upon a Time and movies like Happily Ever After, Snow White and the Huntsman, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, and Jack, The Giant Slayer have taken traditional fairy tales and reinvented them to appeal to older audiences.
In this lesson, students will follow the current trend of revising traditional fairy tales to create their own new “Once upon a time…”

Hip-Hop Vocabulary Development

The goal of this lesson is for students to develop their vocabulary by identifying words they do not know in Hip-Hop songs, finding the words’ definitions, and demonstrating their understanding of the words by writing their own rap verses that incorporate the new vocabulary.