Article List by Author

“For Me, That Future is Jackson State University”: Travis Hunter’s National Signing Ceremony as a Symbol of Critical Pedagogy for Black Youth Resistance

Travis D. Boyce
San Jose State University
San Jose State University, San Jose, California, USA

Michelle Tran
Purdue University
West Lafayette, Indiana, USA

Keywords:  Travis Hunter, National Signing Day, Black youth, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, college football, Jackson State University

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The Rhetorical Interlude in Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity: Suggesting a Model for Examining Rhetorical Discourse in Film

Brent Yergensen
The University of Texas at Tyler
Tyler, Texas, USA

Scott Church
Brigham Young University
Provo, Utah, USA 


This essay advances the concept of the “rhetorical interlude,” a means by which scholars and teachers may examine how rhetorical messages are embedded in films. To illustrate, this study includes an examination of the rhetorical interlude in the 2013 film Gravity (Cuarón, 2013) as the film’s protagonist, Ryan Stone, is visited by the apparition of her dead colleague, Matt Kowalski, who instructs her on survival in space and on the significance of moving on from personal tragedy. In a pattern of ghostly apparitions appearing in perplexing outer space situations, Gravity situates scientific complexity as capable of being transcended with the help of supernatural assistance. We examine the rhetorical purpose of the climactic speech in the film, which is a vernacular reframing of scientific complexity in order to make abstract concepts more accessible. We argue that the film offers a practical and understandable answer to scientific complexity, enhancing the film’s themes of humanity conquering mortality and the unknown through vernacular simplicity. Finally, we conclude that this method of uncovering the persuasive potential of cinematic speech is an excellent pedagogical tool for higher education teacher-scholars and their students to learn about rhetoric.

Keywords: Science fiction, Gravity, film, oratory, ghosts, speech

Author Bios

Brent Yergensen (Ph.D., University of Nebraska-Lincoln) is Department Chair and Associate Professor of Communication at The University of Texas at Tyler. His research focuses primarily on the rhetoric of film and popular culture, and is published in Journal of Visual Political Communication, Explorations in Media Ecology, Journal of Religion, Film & Media, Popular Culture Studies Journal, Studies in Popular Culture, Journal of Religion & Society, and other scholarly journals and book anthologies.

Scott Haden Church (Ph.D., University of Nebraska-Lincoln) is an Associate Professor in the School of Communications at Brigham Young University. His research primarily uses critical methods to examine popular culture and social media. His research has been published recently in Journal of Media and Religion, Explorations in Media Ecology, Public Relations Review, and Critical Studies in Media Communication.

Suggested Reference Citation


Yergensen, B, & Church, S. H. (2023). The rhetorical interlude in Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity: Suggesting a model for examining rhetorical discourse in film.” Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, 10(1).


Yergensen, Brent, and Scott Haden Church. “The Rhetorical Interlude in Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity: Suggesting a Model for Examining Rhetorical Discourse in Film.” Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy. 2023, vol 10, no. 1,


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Embracing the Fiasco!: Roleplaying Games, Pedagogy and Student Success

Erik Stanley
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico, USA

David Sweeten
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico, USA

Michelle Schmidt
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico, USA


This article explores the relationship between games and pedagogy through the example of the roleplaying game Fiasco!. Fiasco! is a part of a growing genre of collaborative roleplaying games (RPGs) that have important applications in the university classroom. Fiasco! is an innovative game system that upends the traditional model of Game Master-led RPGs to create a collaborative environment for players to create their own stories. This paper explores how the unique model embedded within Fiasco! can be employed as a pedagogical tool for active student-led learning. 

To showcase the pedagogical innovations of a game like Fiasco!, we present classroom applications in English, Anthropology, and Sociology. Our experiences teaching with Fiasco! show how quickly and intuitively the game can be integrated into curricula with significant benefits for student engagement and learning. Roleplaying games that emphasize player agency, like Fiasco!, offer adaptive and innovative strategies for student-led learning in an interdisciplinary setting. Much as the structure of Fiasco! drives player engagement by making each player an equal participant in the generation of narrative content, using Fiasco! in the classroom allows each student an equal stake in developing course material. Beyond individual case studies, this article offers pedagogical inspiration for using Fiasco! in a variety of classroom settings that offer the possibility of an adaptive and interdisciplinary approach to student engagement. 

Keywords: Active Learning, Gamification, Student Centered Education, Teaching Strategies, Interdisciplinary, Roleplaying Games, Flipped Classroom Introduction

Author Bios

Dr. Erik Stanley is an Assistant Professor of cultural anthropology at Eastern New Mexico University. He received his PhD from the University of Virginia in 2015. His theoretical research interests in socio-cultural anthropology include pedagogy and popular culture, digital humanities, museum studies and student engagement, anthropology of science fiction/fantasy, human-environmental relations and the anthropology of religion. His ethnographic research focuses on the Mopan Maya of Belize, C.A. and is concerned with the transformation of cacao (Theobroma cacao) from a ritually and culturally important plant to a global commodity. His publications include the article Monilia ( Moniliophtora roreri ) and the Post-Development of Belizean Cacao in the journal Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment as well as Religious Conversion and the Decline of Environmental Ritual Narratives in the Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture. For more information on his research, please visit

David Sweeten is an Assistant Professor of Early British Literature at Eastern New Mexico University whose primary scholarly work focuses on the intersections of economic thought, marriage, and gender in Middle English texts, including a chapter on inter-reliant economies and social capital in Wynnere and Wastoure, entries on wealth and money in The Chaucer Encyclopedia, and a larger book project on the economics of marriage, gender, and agency in late Middle English literature. In addition to his work in medieval literature, David Sweeten has also taught courses on fantasy fiction, comics, composition pedagogy theory, and critical theory. Each semester, his composition courses heavily focus on fandom, popular culture, and gaming to reach students where they are and develop stronger critical analysis, research, and writing skills. More information can be found at: 

Michelle Schmidt is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Eastern New Mexico University. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 2018. Her research interests include popular culture as pedagogy, community and environmental health, and transnational economic development. Her pedagogical research focuses on the implementation of active learning strategies in the classroom. She presents annually at the Southwest Popular/American Culture conference on using popular culture, media, and games to teach sociological theory. Her ethnographic research in Belize, C.A. focuses on the intersection of modernization with Indigenous agriculture, food, and health systems. She has an article in Agriculture and Human Values entitled Cultivating Health: Diabetes resilience through neo-traditional farming in Mopan Maya communities of Belize and a chapter Commodification and Respect: Indigenous contributions to the sociology of waste in The Handbook of Waste Studies. More information can be found at: 

Suggested Citation


Stanley, E., Sweeten, D., & Schmidt, E. (2022). Embracing the Fiasco!: Roleplaying games, pedagogy and student success. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, 9(4).


Stanley, Erik, David Sweeten and Michelle Schmidt. “Embracing the Fiasco!: Roleplaying Games, Pedagogy and Student Success”. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, vol. 9, no. 4, 2022.

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“It’s Not My Immediate Instinct”: Perceptions of Preservice Teachers on the Integration of Popular Culture

Melinda S. Butler
University of Southern Maine

Nadine Bravo
University of Southern Maine

Eva S. Arbor
University of Southern Maine


Popular culture curricula integration provides educational benefits for students (Morrell, 2002; Petrone, 2013); bridging students’ out-of-school popular culture knowledge with their in-school literacies promotes learning, engages students, and values students’ background knowledge (Dyson, 1993, 2021; Marsh, 2006; Morrell, 2002; Petrone, 2013). Therefore, teacher educators may consider the addition of popular culture education into preservice teacher’s preparation for teaching (Petrone, 2013). In this qualitative study, researchers were interested in asking the following questions: What popular culture texts did preservice teachers consume as children and adults? and How does preservice teachers’ previous popular culture text consumption factor into decisions to include or exclude popular culture texts in the curriculum?  Preservice teachers in a graduate teacher education program participated in surveys and interviews about their popular culture text consumption (e.g., podcasts, television shows) as children and adults. Additionally, participants were questioned about the affordances and constraints of integrating popular culture texts into the curriculum. Data were coded using In Vivo coding (Saldańa, 2013), and analyzed through a sociocultural lens (Vygotsky, 1978). Themes that were generated from the findings were: 1) popular culture text consumption as both social and shared; 2) popular culture text integration as a way to entice and engage students in learning; 3) popular culture texts as engaging and relatable; 4) popular culture as digital texts; and 5) popular culture texts as unknown or unimportant. Although all participants spoke about the benefits of popular culture text integration, the preservice teachers who consumed more of them as children and adults spoke more favorably about including popular culture texts in curricula.

Keywords: Literacy/reading; preservice teacher education; qualitative research; popular culture

Author Bios

Melinda S. Butler, Ed.D, is an assistant professor of literacy in the Department of Literacy, Language, and Culture at the University of Southern Maine and the Director of the USM Summer Reading and Writing Workshop. Her research interests include popular culture texts, student access to texts, literacy clinics, and independent reading.   

Nadine Bravo is a multilingual and multicultural second-year graduate student at the University of Southern Maine, pursuing two M.Ed. (ETEP and TESOL) and a Graduate Studies Certificate in Native American Studies at Montana State University. Her research interests revolve around the literacy of Native American English Language Learners.

Eva Arbor is finishing up her Master’s in Policy, Planning, and Management with the University of Southern Maine in hopes of one day opening a non-profit in Bangor, Maine, where she is originally from. Her interests are centered around advocacy, family planning, and access to mental health resources for marginalized individuals.

Suggested Citation


Butler, M.S., Bravo. N., & Arbor E.S. (2022). “It’s not my immediate instinct”: Perceptions of pre-service teachers on the integration of popular culture. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, 9(4),


Butler, Melinda, et al. ““It’s not my immediate instinct”: Perceptions of pre-service teachers on the integration of popular culture.” Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, vol. 9, no. 4,

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Tackling History in the Cultural Studies Seminar

Becca Cragin
Bowling Green State University
Bowling Green, Ohio, USA


While cultural theory developed in past eras was often marred by the biases of its privileged authors, we are still often required to teach the canon, so that graduate students can recognize past intellectual trends to which current critiques of the canon respond. In this article, a “History of Feminist Theory” course is employed as an example of larger principles of foundations course design that can be used in any cultural studies seminar to productively address the tension between old and new schools of thought. It provides suggestions for structuring syllabi and discussions in ways that productively engage with earlier texts, yet without reinforcing their canonicity. The author suggests that viewing “classics” through a comparative and predominantly historical lens can allow teachers to address current cultural issues such as the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements via the use of older texts, constructively balancing the need to identify their oversights with the need to learn the history of a particular field. Students usually wish to analyze the popular culture of the present, sometimes resenting being obliged to take historical/foundational courses. However, these are courses we are often required to teach. The tension between obligations and interests can either derail a grad seminar or be harnessed constructively to help students critique the cultural studies canon more effectively.

Keywords:  History, Foundations, Theory, Pedagogy, Canon, Classics

Author Bio

Becca Cragin is an Associate Professor of Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. She received her Ph.D. in Women’s Studies from Emory University in 2002 and her B.A. in Sociology/Anthropology from Swarthmore College in 1992. Her research and teaching interests include gender and sexuality in television and film, in comedy and crime genres.

Suggested Citation


Cragin, Becca. “Tackling History in the Cultural Studies Seminar.” Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy.


Cragin, B. (2022). Tackling History in the Cultural Studies Seminar. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy.

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Provoking Awareness and Practical Applications in Popular Culture and Pedagogy: Syllabi, Games, and Teaching in Higher Education

Recognizing how we absorb ourselves with popular culture offers potential for learning more about ourselves and enhancing teaching and learning. Yet seeing our practices can require purposeful effort. Over time, scholars and advocates have promoted increasing our awareness of the popular culture we consume and what influences, ideas, and values are produced and reproduced. For example, to unpack gender in media, the Bechdel-Wallace Test is an exemplar of raising awareness of women’s presence (or lack thereof) (Hooton, 2015). The test asks audiences to consider: if there are any women in the narrative, if the women have names, and if the women talk to each other about something other than a man. Through a simple analysis, viewers are prompted to engage in a simple critical reflection of the work. 

A simple analysis of the presence of women in media echo organizational and governmental work through gender audits and gender mainstreaming. Such work aims to unpack how gender is represented and ways to embed considerations of gender from the onset of teaching, learning, research and other work. Looking into curriculum for instance, a gender audit can be a simple tool to review the authorship of assigned readings. How many are authored by a certain gender? Who is missing in the authorship? And what does the potential emphasis on one gender say about the production of knowledge? Often the result in assigned readings in curriculum showcase an emphasis on male thought and authorship, suggesting men own knowledge (CohenMiller & Lewis, 2019; Lewis & CohenMiller, 2022). 

We are pleased to announce our fall issue, “Provoking Awareness and Practical Applications in Popular Culture and Pedagogy: Syllabi, Games, and Teaching in Higher Education” of Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy. With a special double issue in February, this issue marks a unique fourth issue of the year. In the first article of this issue, Becca Craigin emphasizes the importance of syllabi and what they evoke and suggest to learners. Cragin describes how she works with students to engage them and lead to generation of ideas through studying the historical canon of feminist theory. She further notes how the prejudices of the past can be implicated in today’s teaching and learning if not carefully unpacked and addressed.Ultimately, Cragin guides readers through the importance of syllabus development and the ways in which our choices are “building cultural theory today.”

Framing a class with a syllabus offers an essential path towards teaching and learning. Likewise, understanding examples of classroom practice suggest insights for pedagogical practice. In our second article of the issue, Erik Stanley, David Sweeten, and Michelle Schmidtunpacks how games can be embedded within the formal classroom. Drawing from experiences of using one game, Fiasco!, they explain the utility of its application across disciplinary fields of English, anthropology and sociology.

Just as we can consider how gender is represented in popular culture and pedagogy, we can also work to increase our understanding of the intersectional nature of our lives. The ways we enter the world and the way others see us often intersect with our perceived ethnicity, region of world, socioeconomic status and class/caste/tribe, gender identity and presentation. These topics reflect our cultural and historical context.

In the third article of this issue, Melinda Butler, Nadine Bravo, and Eva Arbor explain in their article, “It’s Not My Immediate Instinct”: Perceptions of Pre-service Teachers on the Integration of Popular Culture,” how sociocultural theory can help explain how our backgrounds influence our today. Specifically, the researchers examine preservice teachers’ consumption of popular culture and how their unique experiences with popular culture (or lack thereof) may color their openness to and/or hesitation over integrating popular culture texts into their curriculum. Butler et. al., in turn, observe five key themes that emerge across their interviews with pre-service teachers as related to questions of the incorporation of popular culture in the classroom: 1) Popular culture as social and sharing; 2) Popular culture as a way to hook kids; 3) Popular culture integration and engaging and relatable; 4) Popular culture as digital texts; and 5) Popular culture as unknown and unimportant. Through a robust exploration of these themes, Butler et. al. reveal the invaluable benefits of integrating popular culture in the classroom. Further, they offer suggestions on how to encourage the active and intentional use of poplar culture texts on the part of teachers and how this incorporation can lead to a more generative and “permeable” curriculum.

In addition to the three robust articles in this issue, this issue also includes connections to a recent online publication of Tyler Sheldon’s Review of The Missing Course: Everything They Never Taught You About College Teaching, by David Gooblar. Sheldon emphasizes Gooblar’s points about the critical need for drawing in students through active learning especially in extracurricular learning.

Overall, the scholarship offered in volume 9, issue 4,Provoking awareness and Practical Applications in Popular Culture and Pedagogy: Syllabi, Games, and Teaching in Higher Education, speaks to “diversifying the narrative” (Cragin, this issue) about popular culture and pedagogy. Ultimately, we can work and learn from one another about consciously increasing our awareness and practices for enhancing research and teaching and learning.

We want to thank the incredible team of collaborators including the authors featured in the issue and willing peer-reviewers who made the scholarship possible, insightful Copy Editors (Arlyze Menzies, Miriam Sciala, and Robert Gordyn), Reference Editors (Joseph Yap, Yelizaveta Kamilova, and April Manabat) and Production Editor and Creative Director (Douglas CohenMiller). In reading the articles and Book Review in this issue, we hope you are engaged to consider and actively take steps to provoke new thinking and practice in teaching and learning in popular culture and pedagogy.

We look forward to hearing your thoughts on this issue and look forward to your submissions for future issues as we move into our 10th year in 2023!

Happy reading!

Anna CohenMiller
Editor in Chief

Karina A. Vado
Managing Editor & Musings Editor


CohenMiller, A., & Lewis, J. (2019). Gender audit as research method for organizational learning and change in higher education. In V. Demos, M. Segal, & K. Kelly (Eds.) Gender and Practice: Insights from the Field (Advances in Gender Research, Vol. 27), Emerald, pp. 39-55.

Hooton, C. (2015). Please stop calling it the Bechdel Test says Alison Bechdel.

Lewis, J., & CohenMiller, A. (2022).  Gender audit as pedagogical tool. In Kitchener, M. (Ed). Handbook for the Promotion of Gender Sensitive Curriculum: Teaching and Learning Strategies. Available from:

Suggested Reference Citation


CohenMiller, A., & Vado, K. (2022). Syllabi, games, and teaching in higher education: Provoking awareness and practical applications in popular culture and pedagogy. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, 9(4).


CohenMiller, Anna, and Karina Vado. “Syllabi, Games, and Teaching in Higher Education: Provoking Awareness and Practical Applications in Popular Culture and Pedagogy.” Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, vol. 9, no. 4, 2022.

Cinema in Color

Christina Masuda
International and Multicultural Education,
School of Education, University of San Francisco,
San Francisco, USA

Yih Ren
International and Multicultural Education,
School of Education, University of San Francisco,
San Francisco, USA

White Balance: How Hollywood Shaped Colorblind Ideology and Undermined Civil Rights by Justine Gomer, The University of North Carolina Press, 2020, 268 pp., $22.99 (Kindle), ISBN 1469655802

The 100 Greatest Superhero Films and TV Shows by Zachary Ingle and David M. Sutera, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2022, 309 pp., $42.5 (Kindle) ISBN 153811450X


In the United States, news, television programs, films, and other forms of technologically advanced media play a huge role not only in our everyday social life, but also in legitimizing history, influencing identity formulation, and determining the meaning of democratic or undemocratic actions. Further, popular culture is ubiquitous in different creative media platforms. It concerns the most immediate and contemporary aspects of social life, which hold the capacity to bring people together and form distinct memories and discourses (Delaney, 2015). Hence, media is a powerful pedagogical force, shaping people’s understanding of the world (Giroux, 2009).

Superhero movies are consumed internationally despite regional censorship and pushbacks. With half of the top 10 highest box-office grossing movies of all time featuring superheroes or comic characters (All Time Worldwide Box Office, 2021), it is hard to imagine such movies carrying no meaning. For example, in the book the 100 Greatest Superhero Film and TV Shows, one of the authors, Sutera, anticipated 35 years to finally see the Avengers developed from the comic books to the big screen. The anticipation was not merely for nostalgia but, by the author’s own words, the “ultimate wish-fulfillment” (p. 1) for a man whose inner child had a superhero dream. The hysteria and excitement for these movies and characters are shared by countless comic book readers in almost every corner of the world.

When wish fulfillment as escapism into fantastical realms is achieved, cinema must also perform a new feat – the delivery of our current truth. Yet, popular culture has much to atone for in the way of portraying non-dominant cultures in America. For example, American filmmaker Edward Zwick, when asked about his 1989 war drama, Glory, sidestepped questions about a period piece meant to uplift the Black men of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. Rather he seemingly focused solely through the eyes of the White commanding officer. He answered the question by stating, “It is hugely difficult in any society, Black or White, to come up with legitimate heroes” (as cited in Gomer, 2020).

This book review starts with a summary of each book being reviewed, and then discusses  two themes concerning the presence of neoliberalism in media as well as the effects of stereotypes and colorblindness within American pop culture. Lastly, the review article concludes with questions  about neoliberalism, racialization for readers, as well as queries of  how we can use the texts as pedagogical tools to further the discussion in classrooms.

White Balance:  How Hollywood Shaped Colorblind Ideology and Undermined Civil Rights

Justin Gomer’s White Balance:  How Hollywood Shaped Colorblind Ideology and Undermined Civil Rightscastigates Hollywood for failing to distance itself from the racist political underpinnings of American democracy, a democracy warped by ambiguously racist agendas, decidedly exclusive legislation, and a long, drawn-out war on contentious words most notably the term, colorblindness, which Gomer contends remains at the heart of differences in racial ideology. According to Gomer (2020), colorblindness is part and parcel of popular culture and the ways in which motion pictures markedly paint who the victims and victors of timely and significant cultural happenings are. The trends reveal that in order to appease largely White majority audiences, the White experience is and remains central to any narrative even if it is a narrative meant to uplift traditionally marginalized, non-White experiences. Motion pictures became a place of refuge for White moviegoers to see themselves as either people who were wrongfully disenfranchised by the American Civil Rights Movement or conversely, people who are key to the success of the disenfranchised.

The cinematic experience of many moviegoers is in fact colored by the politics and ideology of the American zeitgeist of the time, and motion pictures have  the capacity to either reinforce, or conversely, reframe what audiences perceive appropriate on-screen representations  to look like. The way complex topics such as social welfare, affirmative action, and America’s war on drugs are visually represented share common threads of disconcerting connections. A reasonable question therefore emerges regarding the intricacies necessary to birth a movie:  What is Hollywood’s role within the larger context of American ideology? Justin Gomer’s text focuses on the ways in which various genres of American cinema  were  created with unmistakable coherence to U.S. policy throughout the latter half of the 20th century.

The book’s chapters are divided by critical United States Supreme Court cases following the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and each chapter is also connected with two to three different movies that emerged shortly after the passing of such federal legislation. Additionally, each chapter focuses on one particular topic such as:  prejudice and anti-statism in Chapter 1, African American representation in Chapter 2, coherence of colorblind ideology in Chapter 3, the rise of Reagan’s War on Drugs in Chapter 4, White ethos in Chapter 5, and hegemonic repercussions in Chapter 6. Gomer lambasts the colorblind hegemony that officially took hold during the intense period of general anti-statism which swept the nation in the 1970s (Gomer, 2020, p. 16). Moreover, what was intensifying with each subsequent decade was Hollywood’s unnecessary influence on largely White majority audiences and the ways in which White Americans felt trapped by the suffocating presence of Neoliberalist agendas and policies (Gomer, 2020, p. 3-4). Gomer considers the need for outlier perspectives from historically marginalized, underrepresented, and largely invisible groups of people both behind and in front of the camera. The effect of such outlier perspectives would help mitigate the undeniable proof of Hollywood’s carefully constructed and phony colorblind past. Ultimately, historically silenced and non-White professionals within cinema would be able to tell and retell stories not driven by what Gomer calls, “an ethos of colorblind white heroism” (Gomer, 2020, p. 4).

The 100 Greatest Superhero Film and TV Shows

 The 100 Greatest Superhero Film and TV Shows (Ingle & Sutera, 2022) documents films and TV shows featuring superheroes and comic book characters from the mid-1930s to the present. The text illustrates how imaginary stories and visionary settings can connect with reality and affect change in our lives. The writers state that superhero movies and TVshows have embraced a genre hybridity that exposes and extends symbols and meanings in different discourses; and they disagree with what critics generally think of superhero films, like Martin Scorsese’s viral amusement park theory. The introductory chapter gives a brief yet inclusive history of superhero films and TV shows from the early short serials exclusive in theaters, to the era of television proliferation that made live-action superhero movies a prime creation, and finally to the current worldwide blockbusters with their advanced technology, economic-driven focus, and political proclamations. It took generations for iconographic elements and narrative styles to be developed and for an understanding of the superhero hybrid genre to be reformulated.

The four stages involved in  forming a genre are described in the introductory chapter: experiment, classic, refinement, and self-reflective. The experiment stage is based on prior knowledge and expectations, and the classic state is one where an equilibrium is reached and is  mutually understood by filmmakers and filmgoers. As part of the refinement stage, storytelling, style, and other cultural forms are expanded, as in Nolan’s re-vision of Gotham City and Ang Lee’s reinterpretation of Hulk (p.6), while the final stage, the self-reflective stage, is a return to experimenting with unknown things. Unfortunately, this book is not organized in such a manner; rather, the authors chose an alphabetical approach for honoring each film’s distinctive merits. As a result, they do not advocate hierarchical ranking systems (e.g., popularity, box office success), but we believe their listing makes it harder for readers to observe the evolution of superhero movies as a genre. A hundred superhero programs are chosen and evaluated based on their narrative quality, aesthetics, box-office success, historical significance, and social impact.

This book is not only a form of information and entertainment; it is a way for readers to rethink and engage with the facilitation of their own transformation and social change. Topics explored include racial stereotypes in the chapter on Angel (p. 25) and Superman Paramount Cartoons (p. 236), assimilation and immigration in the chapter on Sanjay’s super team (p. 207), and feminism and White exceptionalism in the chapter on Capitan Marvel (p. 257). Although the book could be more inclusive in the selections and elaborate more on topics such as racial balance and representational policies in the entertainment industry, we think that this book is a valuable read for people who are fans of this genre or interested in using it as a pedagogical tool in classrooms.

Neoliberalism and Media Influence

As Harvey (2007) argues, neoliberalism has become a hegemonic lens to appropriating and maximizing human actions in the domain of the market. Both of our books weigh in on neoliberalism and identity politics when discussing the significance of the media in shaping our common sense and attitudes. To Gomer (2020), there is a clear need to study the historical legacy of neoliberalism from its emergence to its continued onslaught on susceptible American moviegoers and eventual distillation into mainstream media.

Gomer suggests that when one traces neoliberal ideology along with that of the origins of American capitalism, it is no wonder that neoliberalism paired off with, “the colorblind language of the free market to reinforce White supremacy” (2020, p. 62). “What made Hollywood particularly suited to neoliberal hegemony was the rise of the cult of individualism in the late 1970s” (Gomer, 2020, p. 99). Individual rights over the rights of groups helped to distill the logic of neoliberalism by determining and providing suggestions for change to all individuals who felt forgotten or unseen during America’s socio-cultural revolution of civil rights in the decade prior. As Gomer elucidates, neoliberalism’s “creed – that government inhibits freedom, be it in the market or in the classroom” spoke directly to White Americans who grappled with the zero-sum sense that communities of color were systematically silencing the experiences of White communities (2020, p. 63).

Indeed, neoliberalism has made an impact on the relationships between the state and its people. Its emphasis on individual responsibilities has led people to engage in self-criticism and self-censorship rather than desiring social change. Discussing the movie V for Vendetta, in The 100 Greatest Superhero Film and TV Shows, Ingle and Sutera examine similarities between the reality the movie portrays and what we are facing now. They write, “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people” (p. 261). The government in the movie seeks to create a homogenous world where the “undesirables” are either ostracized or hold a position where their failures and difficulties are created by no one but themselves. The only way for them to strip off this powerless position is to conform to the dominant moral order, become the “desirables,” and be grateful about what one has while not demanding anythingmore.

This results in individuals adapting to the dominant model rather than society expanding its capacity and bringing about social change. Foucault (1977, 1988) called it neoliberal technology of the self, with individuals taking responsibility for their own change as being a part of the neoliberalist normalization process. A number of superhero movies and television shows discussed in this book explore the theme of some groups or behaviors being deemed abnormal through systematic stigmatization. Some examples include stereotypical Japanese and African imagery in Superman Paramount Cartoons (p. 237); the assimilation of immigrants and undervaluing of their’ cultures in Sanjay’s Super Team (p. 208); and the persistence of racism in Watchmen (p. 270).

In White Balance, Gomer also highlights the ways in which individuals from certain minority groups eventually succumb to assimilation as was seen in the 1976 boxing movie Rocky (2020, p. 61). Titular character Rocky Balboa, also known by his nickname, “The Italian Stallion,” must face-off with the arrogant Apollo Creed. Creed is Balboa’s adversary not simply because he is a Black man. Creed is Balboa’s adversary because he is a member of a minority group depicted as wholly unappreciative of what little he was allowed to achieve. In short, Creed’s gusto and affinity for optics is meant to emphasize Rocky’s humility and need to win the fight against individuals who assimilate into the American melting pot but do so on terms not laid out by White people. Conversely, Rocky fights for justice, the same justice that White moviegoers believed was unfairly stripped from them during the 1970s civil rights battles (Gomer, p. 76). Hegemonic forces needed to see Rocky Balboa fight and win for a nation still grappling with public school integration and affirmative action.

Stereotypes and Colorblindness

It was Lippmann (1922) who initially defined stereotypes as a picture inside one’s head that is shaped by culture and also determines how we acquire and perceive information. Media is a place filled with stereotypes and manipulated images and representations. In regard to colorblindness, sometimes, cinematic media specifically goes so far as to produce new ways of viewing colorblindness via entirely new genres focused on such themes as White feminine saviorism of dark-skinned individuals who reside in urban and impoverished settings. Ultimately, Black and Latinx individuals remain relegated as secondary characters portrayed as needing the help of White affluent influence or are simply present on screen as a nod to diversity.

For example, Ingle and Sutera note that despite the inclusion of an African American character in the television show, Angel, to diversify the cast, that character’s hypermasculinity and fluency in hip-pop conformed to established media representations of Black identity (p. 25). Most superheroes are White, wealthy, righteous, and have a muscular body that is considered conventionally attractive. On the other hand, the authors also point out that the concept of stereotyping is indeed rejected in some superhero movies and television shows. Hence, Black Panther was a message thatexposed the oppression of people of color worldwide, and its exploration of Afrofuturism, Black fugitivity, and global success with multiple Oscar nominations brought the topic of racialization into mainstream culture and discussion (p. 76). Moreover, Deadpool 2 challenged the concept of body image (Deadpool’s scarring caused by cancer and mutation) and the male gender bias in general Hollywood superhero media (p.116). As Lovell (1983) states, great stories and characters must reflect complexity and detail derived from a creator’s observation and interpretation of social reality and connect with social movements.

Much is made about colorblind ideology in American society, and the ways in which colorblindness remains as pervasive as ever in the modern era. On a fundamental level, colorblindness supported the covert ways of Hollywood and its collective attempt to espouse White supremacy and anti-blackness in the 1980s and 1990s (Gomer, p. 5). Most Americans were won over by colorblindness and voted as such in statewide initiatives such as the California Civil Rights Initiative which recentered the focal points of racial and social injustice on the backs of White Californians and essentially gave legal credence to the colloquial term “reverse discrimination” (p. 73).

Since reverse discrimination gained its lawful support in the political domain, it was time for Hollywood to capitalize on the concept in the socio-cultural domain by explicitly promoting antiblackness in cinema. In so doing, White male stand-alone characters such as Rocky Balboa in the 1982 movie, Rocky III, were positioned as the new minority group in America (p. 107). This refashioning of the White male American as the minority in need of help found ardent support from the Reagan Administration doing much in the way of establishing the main foe to be a specific type of Black man: hypermasculine, originating from urban neighborhoods, and a direct threat to the virtues of White women (p. 103).

Education Connection and Conclusion

Gomer’s White Balance (2020) and Ingle and Sutera’s The 100 Greatest Superhero Film and TV Shows (2021)could be used in the American public K-12 classroom to study elements of literature. Both texts partially rely on the reader’s foundational understanding of the tools used to analyze film. One way of supporting new learning is by pairing new learning with what students have already learned. In this case, a comparison between elements of literature and elements of cinema would allow for a deeper exploration of thematic content that might be otherwise solely relegated to one form of media rather than another.

Rudine Sims Bishop (1990) offers a way of studying what she deems “multicultural literacy” in her work, “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors.” Essentially, there are three main ways to digest and consume media – in Bishop’s scholarship, the media in question is literature assigned in the classroom. Most often, students are exposed to content in the form of windows so they might see and study worlds of fact or fiction. Sometimes, the windows offered are moveable and large enough for students to become members of the worlds they read about and are accordingly more like sliding glass doors than windows.

What is more, the glass from such windows might even function as mirrors, creating a reflection where students and their various lived experiences are authentically represented in the content of study (1990, p. 1). White Balance andThe 100 Greatest Superhero Film and TV Shows could be a perfect pairing for providing the space and opportunity for students to watch, appreciate, and critique cinema as engaged scholars of Bishop’s multicultural literacy.  Students could be prompted to push back against watching movies for the sole purpose of mindless entertainment or escapism, and, instead, connect scholarly research to that of their own renderings of what makes cinema authentically and accurately multicultural and inclusive.

The media continues to play a major role in our political and cultural lives, and a critique of its impact and possibilities can allow us to become more aware of its agenda, attention, and the normalization process connected to it. These two books, Gomer’s White Balance in particular, embody a pedagogy that criticizes media control and clean-cut comprehension of complex social events, and promotes engagement for problematization, critical consciousness, and utopian hope (Freire & Soler-Gallart, 1970; Lorde & Gay, 2020). Lastly, it is also our hope for students to be able to transform texts, interact with our discourse, and shape personal, interpersonal, and social actions for change and transformation.

Author Bios

Christina Masuda is an Ed.D. student in the International & Multicultural Education program at the University of San Francisco. She is a current English teacher in the Fremont Union High School District of the South Bay Area. Research and scholarship focused on community-engaged activism as well as queer leadership and organization within secondary education are some of her main areas of interest.

Yih Ren is an Ed. D. student in International and Multicultural Education program with a concentration in language and culture at the University of San Francisco. He has published several works in language education and SLA. His primary research interests include identity and language acquisition and performing in the Asian diaspora community, social justice education, and second language teacher’s education.


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Lorde, A., & Clarke, C. (2007). Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Reprint ed.). Crossing Press.

Lippmann, W. (1922). The world outside and the pictures in our heads. Public Opinion, 4, 1-22.

Lovell, T. (1983).  Pictures of Reality: Aesthetics, Politics, Pleasure. British Film Institute.

Lorde, A., & Gay, R. (2020). The Selected Works of Audre Lorde (1st ed.). W. W. Norton & Company.

Teaching for Change

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” This axiom was aptly expressed by Nelson Mandela, a renowned political leader who taught by the example he set through his words and his deeds to an audience of 40 million South Africans. The axiom ties well into the theme of the current issue of Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy which deals with the act of teaching through the elucidation of known phenomena in order to affect the thinking of members of the public and bring about an element of personal growth and social transformation. Such pedagogy is present in various forms both inside and outside the traditional classroom. Yet Mandela’s lesson of peace and reconciliation was a challenging one to absorb and to live by in a post-apartheid South Africa that was rife with racism, white supremacy, and structural violence. But to maintain peace in the country, and to enable its citizens to move towards the transformation of the oppressive social, political and economic realities that had been experienced by Black South Africans, it was crucial that Mandela’s message reach a mass public. Hence, by strategically utilising his political platform to lead controversial conversations within the public sphere, Mandela succeeded in employing rhetoric with the potential to impart knowledge to South Africans of all stripes, and was aimed at modifying their perspectives and bringing about transformative peace and stability within the country.

Education has to do with the types of conversations we choose to lead as educators and the methods we use to engage others in the conversation. It is about the pedagogical tools we employ, and its effectiveness relies on the skillful use of the platforms that are available to us. Regarding out-of-classroom platforms, these have been numerous and diverse throughout the ages. For instance, ancient Greeks had the Pnyx, a hill with a platform on which rhetoricians stood to address their listeners. Preachers had their pulpits and religious reformers their pamphlets. And today, we have various art forms, social media platforms, differing forms of satire, and late-night talk shows, among others. The wide reach of our current-day platforms impart a host of possibilities for personal and social change as these can be used to engender a conversation among diverse groups of people. Through them, an “educator” can elucidate a perspective on certain phenomena or further explain, approve of, or even ridicule a particular politico/socio event. Also, by using platforms such as comedy or satire, a public personage can spread their message in an entertaining way. This can be a powerful pedagogical tool. Yet as with all forms of communication, there are limitations that could lead to a particular message being diluted or provide room for misinterpretation. 

The pedagogical tools used by public persons with large followings can also generate unfruitful misunderstandings and controversies. In some cases, the tools such influential personalities select to promote specific points of view can lead to a misinterpretation of their intended meaning, inciting their followers as well as their dissenters to remonstrate in ways that are potentially harmful to their reputations or to their cause. What’s more, the negative conversations and comments that come up may have less of a focus on the message delivered than on the actual character of the person delivering that message. 

The four articles and the musings on pedagogy and practice featured in Critique and “Controversy” in Pedagogy and Pop Culture, highlight the ways that pop culture and social media provide platforms that promote critical thinking, dialogue and debate, and the type of questioning that underpins a socially aware and politically engaged citizenry. For instance, in our first article, “Perils and Promise of Virtual Reality in Inclusive Teaching”, Michelle VanNatta examines the possibilities, and potential difficulties, of employing virtual reality (VR) as a classroom tool to support inclusive education pedagogy. The author presents a specific VR project that was employed in a criminology university class and provides the views of the students regarding the benefits and limitations of the exercise. Through VanNatta’s article, we learn that via the use of VR, which has the technology to simulate real environments in a completely embodied and immersive experience, students are given the opportunity to experience the reality and point of view of others. It is this that renders VR technology relevant in the inclusive classroom. The adage that states that “you have to walk in another someone else’s shoes before judging someone” rings true, and the shoes of others provided by the VR experience include those of members of diverse societal groups whose experiences in society differ from members of the dominant and more privileged ones. Allowing university students to experience the lives of different individuals from the latter’s point of view enhances their understanding of the current realities of their lives. Vanaetta illustrates the use of VR technology in her classroom via a study where, subsequent to the activity, students answered a survey where they shared their opinion on the effectiveness of the exercise as well as some limitations that would need to be addressed.

Our second article, “Will the Odds Ever Be in Her Favor? Katniss Everdeen and the Female Athlete” demonstrates a pedagogical strategy employed by the writer Tom Kemerly where the popular dystopian film The Hunger Games was brought into a “Culture of Fitness” class to generate the interest of the students, a technique that proved successful as it gave rise to thoughtful discussion and comparisons between the role of the female athlete both in the real world and in the film. Among Kemerly’s students, which included several female athletes, the discussions became honest and very meaningful as these students described the gendered divisions they are forced to navigate within their sport and how these divisions affect their athletic performance as well as their conduct outside of practice and competition. These conflicts, in turn, mimic the reality of the female athletes in The Hunger Games. Hence, the same restrictions for female athletes exist in both spheres, the real and the make-believe, and interestingly, it was the film reflecting the reality of the female athletes in the classroom that enlivened the course and generated awareness of a situation in sports still lacking in fairness and equality.

With “Don’t Sweat the Technique: Rhetoric, Coded Social Critique, and Conspiracy Theories in Hip Hop”, John Chase takes the reader out of the traditional classroom and into that of the real world. As the title suggests, the article discusses the role conspiracy theories play in hip hop and the way the intent underlying their use can be misinterpreted by those who either follow or critique these various hip hop artists. Chase calls our attention to the consequences of hip hop artists infusing conspiracy panic into their work. Essentially, these artists employ lyrics related to conspiracy theories as a rhetorical technique, embedding these words into the essence of a song. Frequently, however, such lyrics are used to demonstrate the fallaciousness of the conspiracy theory, and thus do not reflect the artist’s point of view. Listeners and critics, however, frequently misunderstand the rhetorical nature of the song, reductively ascribing these views to the artist. Chase uses examples from hip hop lyricists Rakim, Tupac, and Nas to illustrate this tendency and to demonstrate how these misguided social critiques may ultimately delegitimize both the artist and their art, denying the artist’s scope to widen their own individual outlook to produce a work of art.

In the final article of this issue, Marissa Lammon examines the conflation of comedy and politics in the creation of satirical sketches and their influence on public opinion about controversial phenomena. The primary example in “Cake and Conclusions: Rhetorical Roots in ‘Sheetcaking’ and Fallacious Community Responses’’, is that of comedian Tina Fey’s hotly debated sketch on Saturday Night Live, where she ridiculed President Trump’s response to the Charlottesville protests and urged privileged middle-class women to eat sheetcake instead of participating in rallies held in response to the protests. Fey’s sketch prompted debate and controversy as many listeners misinterpreted her underlying message. Lammon uncovers the nature of the public’s misunderstanding of the sketch and consequent outrage, demonstrating the role such satirical comedies play in moulding public opinion and satirizing public personages. The structure and nature of late-night talk shows is laid bare, showing their capacity to inform viewers of political issues and perspectives through humor and satire, and by so doing, leading to the formation of society’s understanding and resulting opinion of political issues.

In this issue’s musings, Florencia Garcia-Rapp reflects on the scholar’s need for tolerance and an acceptance of ambiguity while researching issues in popular culture. In “Teaching and Learning Popular Media Cultures: Fostering Enquiry Journeys within the Messy World of Human Social Life’’, Garcia-Rapp illustrates the potentiality of popular media culture pedagogies for enhancing anthropological discussions of  today’s society. Indeed, for the student and/or researcher of the social sciences to attain an understanding of modern culture, it is crucial that social phenomena are interpreted in the spirit of openness towards diverse interpretations. It has to do with entering the discussion with the expectation of encountering contradictions and differing viewpoints, which ultimately enhance the scholar’s understanding of cultural phenomena and enables them to contribute meaningfully to the conversation. Furthermore, Garcia-Rapp highlights the import of bringing in elements of popular culture into the classroom through the processes of zooming in and zooming out as a way of allowing the educator to truly understand their students and providing students the opportunity to expand their knowledge of the cultural artifacts they engage with on a daily basis.

Ultimately, we should have these conversations, regardless of the discomfort brought about by potentially difficult dialogues. It is therefore necessary for educators and rhetoricians of any stripe to take on these pedagogical risks and that the ensuing conversations be held in an open and accepting manner. This is the type of education that will enable us to actualize a more liberatory society for all.

The overarching theme underlying Critique and “Controversy” in Pedagogy and Popular Culture is the conversations that are generated by educators in the traditional classroom and rhetoricians on popular culture platforms that are geared towards heightening awareness of current politico/socio issues and bringing about heightened tolerance and empathy towards individuals from other social groups. The current issue has come about through the collaboration of our dedicated team of individuals which include all authors featured in the issue and our peer-reviewers: Managing and Musings Editor, Karina Vado; Copy Editors, Robert Gordyn, Arlyze Menzies; Reference Editors, Joseph Yap, Yelizaveta Kamilova, April Manabat; and Production Editor and Creative Director, Douglas CohenMiller. In reading the articles and Musing in this issue, readers will gain an understanding of the merits of introducing studies of popular culture into the classroom, and conversely, the impact of popular culture in shaping and enhancing opinions and sensitivities regarding the controversial issues of the politico/socio sphere. 

We look forward to your engagement with this issue and working with you in the future!

Miriam Sciala
Managing Editor
Book Review Editor

Suggested Citation


Sciala, M. (2022) Teaching for Change. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, 9(3).


Sciala, Miriam. “Teaching for Change.” Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, vol. 9, no. 3, 2022,

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