As a warm-up to prime students for thinking about the influence of pop culture, I will first go around and ask every student to share their favorite 80s pop culture reference (one thing that has been fascinating to me is that all of the students are aware of, and have seen or experienced, at least some of the movies, songs, or video games referenced in the book. This is in contrast to the “High-School Confidential: Notes on Teen Movies” essay by David Denby we read a few days ago, where they were not as aware of most of the late 90s movies referenced. Perhaps most of their parents are 80s children and exposing them to that? Lots of current pop culture is drawing on the 80s for inspiration, too, so maybe that is part of it, too [like most country-pop songs!]), and of course share my own experiences of these, since I was a teenager in the 80s. This should provide a nice opening to get students thinking about the influence of pop culture.
Yesterday the class discussion focused a great deal on Cline’s argument about the nature of relationships in an on-line, virtual world. It was an interesting discussion, with some students criticizing and questioning on-line friendships, while others stating how strong and freeing they are, in both cases sharing personal experiences. As I reflected more on the day’s discussions and this book (since it is the first time I’ve taught it), I realized that one thing we hadn’t addressed is the whole idea of ‘virtual’ and what that means, nor had we delved too deeply in the 80s pop culture environment (how can we skip that! I love that part of the book!). I think these are related to each other—that the pop culture images build virtual environments, whether virtual or not (no matter how long I teach, it isn’t until I’m actually working with students on a new text that I fully start to realize the possibilities, and can’t wait until the next time I teach it to improve! Of course, knowing this is true is why, throughout the year, I’ve designed lessons that allow for students to show where their interests lie, so I can determine the best teaching moments). So today I will guide the discussion in this direction, so the students can still use their work yesterday as a resource, but focusing on ideas that will also be most connected to their argument essay that they will begin thinking about later today.
I will summarize the discussion from yesterday and explain how it got me thinking about the definition of “virtual.” I think talking about my own process is a good way of modeling intellectual curiosity for the students, and also shows them that I have a genuine interest, too. I will also share that one thing that got me thinking about this was seeing a commercial last night for the History channel show American Pickers where one of the guys, Frank, was so excited to find someone with an extensive Kiss memorabilia collection—how decorating rooms, or “man caves,” is really creating a virtual world to “escape” to (this reference also models analyzing our own pop culture—applying what we’ve been doing in class to their own world). Then, I will pose the question: what is a “virtual” environment (I’m using this word rather than “world” to them move from the video-game defined virtual spaces), and how might one be developed in the physical world? Also, is this type of world to ‘escape’ to necessarily a bad thing? I will ask the students to free-write in their journals on this question for a few minutes to allow everyone to wrestle with the question on their own first, and also so everyone has some ideas to share with the class for discussion.
After students have written, we will have an open discussion on the topic, with students sharing their responses to open up the discourse. I will facilitate this and also participate by asking probing questions, and also challenging some of their comments to push students into thinking more critically about circumstances in their own world as well as the book.
Next Steps: I have no idea of how long this discussion will last, but I do want to hold on to at least ten minutes at the end to read over their essay prompt (Popular Culture Argument Prompt.docx) and explain to students that their homework is to think about their own answer to this question, as well as think about evidence they might use, since this prompt is not asking them to analyze the book, but to analyze their own culture using their own experiences and examples.