Monthly Archives: October 2013

Stereotyping in Popular Culture

I came across the YouTube video Rachel Rostad – “To JK Rowling, from Cho Chang” through two different avenues in the past week or so.  First, I noticed it in an article by Diana Lee on Henry Jenkins’ blog.  Then only a few days later, someone posted a link to the video on my book club’s Facebook page.  We had recently discussed the lack of diversity in the books we were reading and the authors who had written them, and this video was a jumping-off point for a discussion about the inclusion of minority groups but only as caricatures.

Taylor (2005, p. 14) warns that caricatures like this “can transmit simplistic and erroneous ideas about people and perpetuate social prejudice and inequality.”

Firstly, as a fan of the Harry Potter books, I was a little embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t noticed this when reading the books myself.  Then, I started thinking about the stereotypes in other forms of popular culture – not just racial stereotypes, but those of gender and sexuality as well.  I very recently finished reading the Belgariad and Mallorean series of books by David Eddings (they were published in the 1980s and early 1990s, so I’m a bit behind the times).  While I enjoyed the stories, I was frustrated by the stereotypical way in which the female characters were portrayed.  Was this due in part to the world in which the stories were set, or the time in which they were published?  Or is this type of stereotyping still prevalent in today’s popular culture?  Apparently it is, and adults are not the only ones who are noticing it.  The recent film The Avengers features Black Widow, who is anything but a female stereotype – but when it comes to marketing the franchise, the stereotype of “superheroes and comics are for boys” is perpetuated.  In the following video, six-year-old Riley shares her frustration that she is unable to find an action figure in the toy stores for her favourite Avenger, Black Widow.

Similarly, in a study of stereotypes in children’s picture books, Hamilton,  Anderson, Broaddus, and Young (2006) found that modern children’s picture books continue to reinforce the idea that boys and men are more interesting than girls and women.

As teachers wishing to incorporate popular culture into the classroom, this kind of stereotyping is something we need to pay attention to – and it can make for valuable teaching opportunities.  Hall (2011) explains that through using popular culture in the classroom, students learn to question and examine ideas put before them.

In the same way that the Cho Chang video was a springboard for discussion about discrimination and stereotyping among my book club on our Facebook page, using popular culture texts in the classroom can be a discussion starter for students.  According to Taylor (2005), discussions in the classroom about minority representations in media can help kids to examine their own attitudes and biases, and encourage them to become smarter media consumers and users.

What are your thoughts?

The examples I have given here are just a few of the incidences of stereotyping in popular culture.  What stereotypes have you noticed?  Do you think stereotypical portrayals of minority groups are less common now than in the past, or just as prevalent?

Hamilton, M., Anderson, D., Broaddus, M., and Young, K. (2006). Gender Stereotyping and Under-representation of Female Characters in 200 Popular Children’s Picture Books: A Twenty-first Century Update. Sex Roles, 55, 757-765. doi:  10.1007/s11199-006-9128-6

Hall, L. (2011). How popular culture texts inform and shape students' discussions of social studies texts. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 55(4), 296-305. doi: 10.1002/JAAL.00036

Taylor, A. (2005). Portrayals of Race in Popular Culture. Teacher, 44(1), 12-14. Retrieved from http://www.ctf-fce.ca/documents/Priorities/EN/pd/racism/PortrayalofRace_PDP_Summer2006_6-3_EN.pdf

Pop Culture in the Classroom – Pop Culture Points

There are many arguments for why popular culture should be integrated into classroom practise.  Hunt and Hunt (2004) argue that using popular culture provides a bridge for learning, and that by showing interest in the students’ worlds, teachers can build a respectful relationship with their students, and in turn, students are more willing to share in the teachers’ worlds.  Hall (2012, p.304) supports this idea, stating that

“Thoughtfully incorporating pop culture texts into the curriculum offers promising possibilities for engaging youths and helping them find relevance in academic texts.”

Given this evidence, many teachers would agree that incorporating popular culture into their teaching would be a valuable exercise – but how do we go about it?

There are many answers to this question, but one of the most interesting ways I have come across recently is the concept of ‘pop-culture points’.  The following video, created by a former 7th grade history teacher, explains an interesting and engaging way to use pop-culture to help students ‘tune in’ to history lessons.

While the video focuses on the subject of history, I think this concept could be applied to a multitude of learning areas.

What are your thoughts?

What do you think of this idea?  Is it something you would consider using in your own classroom?  Were there any pop culture influences that helped you to learn about the world as a child?

Hall, L. (2011). How popular culture texts inform and shape students' discussions of social studies texts. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 55(4), 296-305. doi: 10.1002/JAAL.00036

Hunt, T., & Hunt, B. (2004) Popular Culture: Building Connections with Our Students. English Journal, 93(3), 80-83. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/stable/4128814

Librarians in Fiction

As a trainee Teacher-Librarian, I’m interested in the way that librarians are portrayed in fiction and popular culture.  Often, they are stereotyped as awkward, glasses-wearing older women who like to ‘shhh’ people.  But this is not always the case!  I’d like to share some of my all time favourite librarians in fiction.

Henry DeTamble

'Newberry Library, familiar to readers of The Time Traveler's Wife, but not open to the general public' by  Sylvar (Flickr image, CC BY-NC 2.0)
Newberry Library, familiar to readers of The Time Traveler’s Wife, but not open to the general public‘ by Sylvar (Flickr image, CC BY 2.0)

One of my favourite books is The Time-Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger.  This novel is about Henry DeTamble, who suffers from ‘Chrono-Displacement Disorder’, which results in him involuntarily travelling forwards and backwards in time.  He has no say in when or where he will travel, or how long he will be there.  He also can’t take anything with him when he travels – so he turns up in random times and places with no money, no identification, and no clothes.  Henry works as a librarian in the Newberry Library in Chicago, and at times has to come up for explanations as to why he is in the stacks with no clothes on.

Andy Dufresne

One of my all-time favourite movies is The Shawshank Redemption, so I couldn’t make a list of favourite fictional librarians without including Andy Dufresne.  The Shawshank Redemption tells the story of Andy who is imprisoned for life for a crime he did not commit.  Andy becomes the prison librarian, and works tirelessly to turn the library from what is little more than  a storage cupboard to a beautiful library, which he uses to help several other inmates achieve their high-school qualifications.

The Cheshire Cat and Thursday Next

I’ve put these two together because they’re both from the same series of books – the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde.  This is one of my all-time favourite series of books – I love the way that Fforde creates such an amazing and bizarre world.  Set in an alternate-reality world where the Crimean War never ended, Wales is a socialist republic and literature is taken VERY seriously, this series of hilarious and sometimes baffling books centers around ‘literary detective’ Thursday Next, who discovers how to jump into books and become part of the story.

The Cheshire Cat

I’m sure we’ve all heard of the Cheshire Cat from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  In the Thursday Next series, the Great Library, which features every book ever written, is managed by the Cheshire Cat.

“The Cheshire Cat was the libarian and the first person I had met in the BookWorld.  With a penchant for non sequiturs and obtuse comments, it was hard not to like him.” (Fforde, 2003, p. 71)

“You’re the Cheshire Cat, aren’t you ?” I asked.
“I was the Cheshire Cat,” he replied with a slightly aggrieved air. “But they moved the county boundaries, so technically speaking I am now the Unitary Authority of Warrington Cat, but it doesn’t have the same ring to it.” (Fforde, 2002, p. 164)

Thursday Next

In the most recent book of the series, The Woman Who Died a Lot, our heroine Thursday herself becomes a librarian – but librarians in the Fforde universe are a little different from the ones we know!  These librarians are armed, and dressed in camoflage so they can blend in with the bookshelves.  You don’t want to return your library book late in this world!

Fforde himself obviously has a great respect for librarians, with the dedication at the beginning of The Woman Who Died a Lot stating:

“To all the librarians
that have ever been
ever will be
are now
this book is respectfully dedicated” (Fforde, 2012)

Rupert Giles

I’ve left the best for last.  Rupert Giles, librarian and watcher from Buffy the Vampire Slayer is hands-down my favourite librarian ever.  On the surface, he appears to be a stereotypical, tweed-wearing, tea-drinking librarian who spends most of his time cleaning his glasses.  But like nearly every character in this series, there is more to him than meets the eye.  In his younger days, Giles experimented with black magic and was known as “Ripper”.  He can hold his own in a fight, and is trained to use a variety of weapons.  Giles was a father figure for Buffy, and brought a heart and warmth to the show.

What are your thoughts?

Who are your favourite fictional librarians, and why?

Fforde, J. (2002). Lost in a Good Book. London, Great Britain: Hodder and Stoughton.

Fforde, J. (2003). The Well of Lost Plots. London, Great Britain: Hodder and Stoughton.

Fforde, J. (2012). The Woman Who Died a Lot.  London, Great Britain: Hodder and Stoughton.

Kids These Days…

What is popular with kids these days?  I already posted about the way my 8-10 year old students spend their screen time, but this week I have created a Pinterest board to show visually what children are interested in.  I also asked my Facebook friends for help about what is popular with their own primary school aged children.

There was an interesting mix of things that have been popular since I was a child (TMNT, Lego, The Smurfs), as well as many things that are brand new to me and I know little about (Skylanders, Minecraft).

I joined Pinterest a while ago, and pinned a few things but then the novelty wore off and I hadn’t used it in a long time until I made this board.  I know that many of my friends are completely addicted to it though.

What are your thoughts?

Which camp do you fall into?  Was your response to Pinterest like mine (fun at first, but the novelty wore off quickly) or are you a complete Pinterest addict?  Or somewhere in between?