A Discussion about Female Empowerment and Pop Culture

This lesson’s objective is to have students discuss women’s empowerment in 21st century pop culture.

Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, and Rihanna are only a few examples of icons that represent female empowerment in pop culture. Their tracks are not only fun to listen to, but also send a message of female empowerment. Females in the entertainment industry have made great strides, however many feminist groups argue that some female artists dress too provocatively in their music videos and even do a disservice to the female population. However, others believe many of them reflect positive examples of female independence and accomplishment in a male dominated industry.

Deconstructing Reggaeton Music: Degrading Women or Freedom of Speech?

In this lesson, students will analyze a Reggaeton song by popular Puerto Rican recording artist Don Omar and decide whether it is worth banning. The country of Cuba has recently outlawed the music genre known as Reggaeton, which is a fusion of Reggae, Latin, and Hip Hop. Originating in Panama over 20+ years ago and spreading all over Latin America and the U.S., this music is being banned for its aggressive, sexual and obscene lyrics.

You’ve Been Catfished!

College football star Manti Te’o was in the news for his alleged victimization in an online relationship hoax. For two years, Te’o believed he was in a monogamous relationship with Stanford student Lennay Kekua. This relationship, however, was an elaborate hoax created by Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who was pretending to be Lennay. While Te’o and Lennay never met in person, they did have extensive conversations on the phone and via email. This hoax was leaked to sports and media news outlets, and it was eventually revealed that there was no Lennay Kekua.

Te’o is not alone. One in five relationships begins on an online dating site, and that’s not counting romances that bloom via Facebook, Yelp, Twitter and during gameplay of popular games such as World of Warcraft. The Manti Te’o story also isn’t the first instance of false impersonating online. MTV recently debuted the reality TV show Catfish (a person who engages someone in a fake relationship online), which highlights a different “couple” each week who met online but have yet to meet face-to-face.

The objective of this lesson is to introduce students to the implications of online writing and the ways our writing reflects certain images of ourselves to capture different people. This lesson will also allow students to think critically about why and how they evaluate people, what sort of snap judgments they make, and how they read into situations without even realizing it.

Spring Break and Beyond: A Look at Different Cultures’ Spring-Time Traditions

In this lesson, students will research spring traditions that expand beyond the American teenager’s concept of “spring break” and analyze how they represent “rebirth.” Each student will pick a tradition from a different culture to research and present her/his findings in a brief oral presentation and PowerPoint.

Call of Duty: Modern War Crimes

Students look at the Geneva Conventions’ take on war crimes, apply them to Call of Duty games, and debate whether or not showing characters openly committing war crimes is justified.

Can Bullying Be Located On A Map? A 13 year old student maps bullying in America

Students will discuss the affects of bullying and its prevalence as well as gain a basic understanding of statistical indexing and geolocating as it relates to mapping bullying incidents in America. Students will examine the work of Viraj Puri, a 13-year-old student from Virginia, who created a bullying-prevention blog to “use technology to bring lawmakers and teens together.” He has developed a live social media “heatmap” that tracks, geographically, mentions of bullying.

The Fall From Grace: When Do We Forgive Our Cultural Heroes, and Where Do We Draw the Line?

In this lesson, students are asked to examine their willingness to forgive and forget, questioning the nature of celebrity-obsessed culture and the injustice that it sometimes brings about.

What do actress Reese Witherspoon, NBC Sports anchor Al Michaels, and Three Doors Down bassist Robert Todd Harrell have in common? They were all arrested for alcohol related misbehavior in the same weekend. How are they different? Witherspoon was busted for yelling at and disobeying police while her husband was being arrested for drunk driving, Michaels was arrested for driving under the influence, and Robert Todd Harrell was arrested for driving drunk, grazing a truck on the road, and sending the truck out of control, killing the truck’s driver.

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Why Fairy Tale Reboots are a Necessary Part of Society

 

Fairy tale reboots are so in right now.  Cinderella’s in the theatres, Once Upon a Time had a strong last season, and Maleficent rocked the box office. Versions of all these stories have already been made. So why are we rebooting them? Is it a cynical cash grab by studios? Well, yes, partially. But it’s also something more.

Fairy tales are a way to communicate shared values. As our values change, so to must our touchstones that convey them.

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Magic Mirror by Greg Guillemin
The old versions of fairy tales just don’t work for people today. We don’t seem to find them entertaining, funny, inspiring, or relevant. Our culture has changed, and so our stories are changing as well.

This is not the first time that we have changed fairy tales. Disney itself became rich rebooting the dark German peasant tales of the Brothers Grimm into something light and fun for consumerist America, then rehashed them again with a spate of direct-to-video sequels in the 1990s. Now, Disney, and others, are again changing fairy tale characters to make them more relevant to society today. The changes to fairy tales show us many changes in how mainstream society views both the media and the world.

Why Do Fairy Tales Matter?

Fairy tales, or similar folklore, appear in most world cultures. Often, when they were written, they were not believed to be fiction. For example, the Brothers Grimm published “Hansel and Gretel in 1812, 66 years before the last real-life witchcraft trial in the United States was held in 1878. These fairy tales had real relevance to people who believed in witches, fairies, and other evil creatures. Now, few people believe, but fairy tales are still relevant. In fact, with the rise of fantasy literature, movies and TV shows, it’s clear that we are interested in magic almost as much as those ancestors who believed in it. Partially, this is because we still use fairy tales as what literary critics call “touchstones.” Touchstones are references that most people can understand, like the phrases “wicked stepmother” and “magic beans.” These touchstones carry a lot of meaning in a small package, and can be used for metaphors, morals, political speeches, and more. They are a way to communicate shared values and understandings. As our values change, how do we update our touchstones?

MLK and Malcolm X: The Civil Rights Movement and the X-Men Origins

The American Civil Rights movement inspired many people, including Marvel Comic’s mastermind writers Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. They have created some of the most powerful superheroes in the comic universe but did you know some of these characters were influenced by actual real life heroes in history? Lee and Kirby used the iconic civil rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X as the inspiration behind the characters Charles Xavier aka Professor X and Erik Lehnsherr aka Magneto, the creators of the X-Men. Rather than fighting aliens and criminals, they fought against the oppression mutants faced on a daily basis in society, albeit by different methods. Much like MLK Jr. and Malcolm X, Professor X chose a non-violent approach and Magneto took more of a defensive stance against violent oppression and prejudice.

It’s presumed in comic book lore that Magneto is a villain but Stan Lee had a different perspective when he created the character. Stan Lee says about the metal warping mutant, “I did not think of Magneto as a bad guy. He was just trying to strike back at the people who were so bigoted and racist. He was trying to defend mutants, and because society was not treating them fairly, he decided to teach society a lesson. He was a danger of course, but I never thought of him as a villain.”

Even in the film adaptations of the X-Men series, Michael Fassbender who plays the role of Magneto, admits the iconic figures were inspiration for their on-screen portrayals.
“It came up early on in the rehearsal period and that was the path we took”, says Michael Fassbender, “These two brilliant minds coming together and their views aren’t that different on some key things. As you watch them you know that if their understanding, ability and intelligence could somehow come together it would be really special. But the split is what makes them even more interesting and tragic.” The Hero Complex, LA Times

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The Art of Fresh: Retro Hip-Hop Style

“Being fresh is more important than having money. The entire time I grew up, it was like…I only wanted money, so I could be fresh.” ~ Kanye West.

Recently, I had the chance to see the indie film entitled Dope. The movie centers on Malcolm, a straight-A student and musician from a rough neighborhood in present-day Los Angeles. Obsessed with 90s Hip-Hop music and fashion, the movie captures his search for identity while navigating the turbulence of his immediate environment. Embracing a retro style patterned after the 90s, he wears a high top fade haircut, stonewashed denim jeans, Nike Air Jordans, and other brands prevalent during the “Golden Era of Hip-Hop”. Unfortunately, he is inadvertently pulled into criminal life when he comes to posses several kilos of a drug dealer’s molly, and presented with the choice of two potential life paths. This choice between two essential life paths is presented to today’s youth on a daily basis, and the search for personal identity is universally experienced during the adolescent stage of development. So why did Malcolm look to a past aesthetic of fashion to represent his present identity?  His choice possibly was made to visually and distinctively set himself apart from the negative expectations for black males in his community.

Throughout history, all art forms have reflected the cultural elements of communities. As a result, there has been a constant exchange between artists and the communities from which they originate. Essentially, the arts have been impacted and influenced by their communal environments, and inversely, communities have been impacted by the artistic forms emanating from within them. Fashion trends as an art form, especially those prominent in Hip-Hop culture, are exemplary of this mirrored relationship. Furthermore, the art of fashion has been moved forward by the push and pull between forces of innovation and conformity within specific communities. In this vein, Malcolm’s character felt that he did not fit into the stereotypical mold of the young black male in Inglewood, California. In the midst of gangs and drugs that existed within his community, he was considered a “nerd” because he was focused on school, played in a punk band called “Oreo” with his two friends, and he was still a virgin. In his position, I believe that Malcolm and his friends embraced this particular style as a conscious derivative of the past in an attempt to escape the harsh realities of their present. Even though Malcolm and his friends did not actually live through the ‘90s, the concept of their nostalgia as a form of rebellion against the expected norm, paid homage to the idea of “better times”. Consequently, this establishes a direct link between one’s socio-economic environment and their artistic expression of their status within it. According to Dictionary.com, socio-economics is “the study of the interrelation between economics and social behavior.”

On Friday, June 26th, a documentary was released that traces the history of Hip-Hop fashion entitled, Fresh Dressed. According to this film, the term “fresh” refers to “a crisp, new-in-the-box fashion look or tidy appearance.” Not only does this film discuss the impact that fashion has made on Hip-Hop culture, but it also notes fashion’s role to express commentary on social and economic statuses. Again, the mirrored relationship exemplified in fashion is explored. So, what is the connection between socio-economic statuses and artistic forms? In this documentary, Hip-Hop mogul, Damon Dash, makes a profound statement on the matter. He mentions that the whole idea of looking fresh stems from “the insecurity of not having anything.” He continues:

“The only way that you can kind of show that you have anything and feel some kind of status is, you know, what you have on your body. What you have on your body is a reflection of how you’re economically doing. It’s just a status symbol based on insecurity.”

Shirt King Phade, Co-Founder of Shirt Kings adds to Dash’s point, “When times are bad, a lot of people tend to gravitate towards art. Art takes our mind to another place.”

What I personally appreciate about the artistic expression of fashion, especially in Hip-Hop culture, is its ability to be both definitive and flexible. While at times a person can clearly take on a specific “look”, that same person remains able to represent his or her own individuality, ideas, or personal philosophy through their stylistic choices. In a sense, fashion can be a reflection of a person’s search for an identity within a paradigm of a specific culture. In the documentary, Pharrell Williams states, “When you’re young, there’s like a sense of wanting to express yourself…an importance of individuality.” This urge to find and establish individuality is a prominent challenge for the main characters of Dope. While Malcolm is not the only exception to the perceived “black male” typecast, through his character, the film examines a spectrum of stereotypes that are projected both inside and outside of an urban community. As seen in the current events that have spurred recent protest movements, stereotypes of black males are in full swing in today’s cities throughout the world, and our youth are continually placed at the intersection between expression of their own values, cultural histories, and pressures within community environments.