Tag Archives: popular culture

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

My Pop-Culture Influences – The X-Files

David and Gillian at the X-Files' 20th Anniversary panel at Comic Con - Photo by Genevieve719 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
David and Gillian at the X-Files’ 20th Anniversary panel at Comic Con – Photo by Genevieve719 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

As some of you may know, this year marks 20 years since The X-Files began.  Wow, does that make me feel old!  The X-Files was one of my biggest pop-culture influences as a teenager, and it is still having an impact on my life today.

The X-Files began in 1993, when I was just starting high school.  It didn’t take me long to become completely obsessed with this show, and involved in the fandom associated with it.  I watched each episode over and over (taped from the TV onto VHS!), bought every magazine with even a small mention of the show and collected everything X-Files related that I could.  When Gillian Anderson visited Australia in 1995, I was one of thousands of screaming fans crammed into Indooroopilly Shopping Centre trying to catch a glimpse.  At a time in my life when I felt awkward and was frequently bullied, this show became an escape for me, and communicating with other fans made me feel like I belonged.

Later on, when studying for my Bachelor of Education, I met a man online who had many shared interests with me – one of which was The X-Files – in fact it was seeing this on my profile listed as an interest that made him want to contact me in the first place.  Seven years later, we were married, and we are now expecting our first baby.

Aussie X-Files Fans @ Facebook - Photo is a screenshot from the website, © 2008-2013 Aussie X-Files Fans - Unofficial X-Files Group @ Facebook
Aussie X-Files Fans @ Facebook – Photo is a screenshot from the website, © 2008-2013 Aussie X-Files Fans – Unofficial X-Files Group @ Facebook

This one television show continues to have an impact on my life.  A few years ago, I came across an Australian fan group called Aussie X-Files Fans @ Facebook.  This amazing group of people, who have been using X-Files fandom not only to build friendships, but also to raise money for charity, welcomed me in with open arms.  Since joining the group, I have gone to fundraisers, participated in TV Club (which involves everyone watching the same episode at the same time and chatting about it via Skype), and met up in person with many of the group members.  I feel privileged to have been involved with such a wonderful group of people.

I am an example of the profound effect that popular culture can have on someone’s life.  I know my life would be very different today if I had not become an X-Files fan.

What are your thoughts?

What were your own popular culture influences in childhood or adolescence?  Were there any books, television shows, movies or games that had a major impact on your life?

Popular Culture as ‘Funds of Knowledge’

girl reading Harry Potter books
‘arry potter 63/365 by lozikiki ^_^ (flickr image, CC BY-ND 2.0)

In my first assignment for this subject, I was investigating the way in which popular culture can be effectively integrated into the curriculum.  One interesting reading I came across while researching this assignment was ‘Rethinking Sponge Bob and Ninja Turtles: Popular culture as funds of knowledge for curriculum co-construction’ by Helen Hedges, published in the Australasian Journal of Early Childhood in 2001.

In this paper, Hedges argues that popular-culture can be seen as ‘funds of knowledge’, and that the use of popular culture in the classroom may be a way for teachers to engage meaningfully with children’s interests.

As part of her literature review, Hedges explains that research has shown popular culture can be used to motivate and extend children’s literature learning, but that the extent to which popular culture is integrated into the curriculum is highly influenced by teachers’ own experiences and beliefs about popular culture.  She goes on to say that ‘contemporary’ play such as watching television or using computers can be seen by teachers are negative or dangerous experiences.

This got me thinking about my own experiences, and whether they are colouring my perceptions about what is acceptable or beneficial to students in my classroom.  Are my own personal preferences about popular culture having an impact on what is encouraged in my classroom?

Hedges’ qualitative study of interest-based curriculum explored two questions:

1.  In what ways do teachers recognise and engage with children’s interests in relation to children’s experiences and funds of knowledge?

2. How do teachers choose whose and which interests will be engaged with in building a sociocultural curriculum during both planned and spontaneous teaching and learning interactions? (Hedges, 2011, p. 26)

In investigating these questions, Hedges found that children represented their pop-culture interests in a variety of ways, including bringing objects to school and through play and conversations.  Another interesting finding was that children’s popular-culture influenced play and discussions were often deflected or diverted in the presence of the teacher – children waited until the teacher had left to resume play.  I found this fascinating and wondered whether the same thing is going on in my own classroom?

What I really liked about this study was that after collecting data in classrooms about the way in which popular culture and children’s interests were not being appreciated or acted on by teachers, Hedges provided the teachers involved with her field notes, and the teachers began to change their practice, considering the potential for popular culture in the curriculum.  Those of us who teach are very familiar with the fact that we need to be constantly reflecting on and updating our practice in order to maintain a high standard of education for our students.  Hedges was able to provide teachers involved in this study with meaningful insights to help them improve their teaching practice.

Hedges concludes by asserting that:

“if teachers overlook children’s interest in popular culture, they may be ignoring a rich source with which to engage and extend children’s knowledge and understandings” (Hedges, 2011, p. 29)

What are your thoughts?

Hedges explains that teachers need to realise that their own childhood experiences may be very different from those of their students.  Do you agree with this?  How do you think your childhood experiences are different from those of children of today?

Hedges, H. (2011).  Rethinking Sponge Bob and Ninja Turtles: Popular Culture as Funds of Knowledge for Curriculum Co-construction.  Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 36(1), 25-29.  Retrieved from  http://search.informit.com.au.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/fullText;dn=950170717489010;res=IELHSS