Week 1 – Course Introduction

Welcome to the supporting blog for UNST 254 Popular Culture.  During the course you will find links to material that I have used in class as well as additional references, media and information about popular culture.

In addition each student will be required over the course of the term to write a short blog entry based upon one or several pieces of media.  These could be anything – music, movie clips, advertisements, excerpts from books or anything else related to pop culture.  It will be a place to share links to media discussed in the course and to generally explore issues related to popular culture.  The writing and links to any media will be provided to the instructor who will add them to the blog.  I hope you find this a useful and enjoyable supplement to the course.

Here are some of the materials and issues we will be discussing this week:

The blog header is an work from the magazine Adbusters.  The magazine describes itself as a, “…a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social movement of the information age.  Our aim is to topple existing power structures and forge a major shift in the way we live in the 21st century.”  There exist several versions of the flag, the most recent of which is below.

This is an example of “culture jamming”, which consists of taking images or other media that are widespread in popular culture and subverting, re-appropriating or disrupting their meaning by altering them.  What is the message of this alteration?  Does it have validity?  What does it have to say about power?  Culture jamming and related topics will be explored later in the course.

The Corporate Alphabet:

This is a work from artist Heidi Cody.  You can take a slideshow quiz of the individual letters to explore your ability to recognize some of these different brands.

What does it mean that we can recognize so many of these letters and the brands they represent?  What is the significance of the title of the work, “Corporate Alphabet”?

These two pieces also afford an opportunity to discuss the critical perspective provided by much of the material in this course.  This material will introduce a variety of perspectives particularly critical of corporate-led popular culture and consumerism.

The relative lack of opposite viewpoints in the course material should not be taken as an endorsement of those that are critical.   The perspective that sees consumerism and the highly influential role of corporations in American life and popular culture as a positive force is the dominant narrative.  This view sees Americans as consumers who have easy and numerous opportunities to meet their needs and beyond thanks to the myriad of choices afforded by multinational corporations.  These ideas are often connected to core American narratives such as notions of freedom and the “the pursuit of happiness” as outlined in the United State Declaration of Independence.  Having lived in American culture we are all already versed in this perspective.  The selection of course material seeks to present alternative viewpoints such that a vigorous discussion can ensue.  A good grade in this course does not require accepting either perspective, although one may if they so choose, rather the goal of this course is to foster critical thinking about popular culture through the examination of dominant and alternative views on the subject.

I look forward to exploring these topics with you over the course of the next ten weeks.

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