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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

APA

Sciala, M. (2022) Teaching for Change. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, 9(3). http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v9-issue-3/teaching-for-change/

MLA

Sciala, Miriam. “Teaching for Change.” Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, vol. 9, no. 3, 2022, http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v9-issue-3/teaching-for-change/

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Don’t Sweat the Technique: Rhetoric, Coded Social Critique, and Conspiracy Theories in Hip-Hop

Josh Chase
University of Louisiana Monroe
Monroe, Louisiana, United States
chase@ulm.edu

Abstract

Conspiracy theories are once again a topic of heated debate in both popular and scholarly media. Critics on one side of this debate often take for granted an “underlying assumption that conspiracy theories should be subdued if not eliminated” (Uscinski 444). Other scholars have expressed concern over the ways the “conspiracy theorist” pejorative stifles dissent and regulates political rationality (Rankin; deHaven-Smith). Bratich argues that social anxieties about issues like emerging technology and race “get managed” through the public debate about conspiracy theories as an “object of concern” (160–61). This paper asks, what are the consequences when “conspiracy panic” spreads beyond concerns about dubious claims by government officials and political pundits and begins to shape the critical response to artistic productions? An answer to this question can be found by examining the relationship between conspiracy theories and hip-hop. As a genre, hip-hop has a longstanding interest in conspiracy theories, particularly among artists known for their engagement with social issues (Beighey and Unnithan; Gosa). I start by contextualizing the conspiratorial lyrics of two historic MCs: Rakim and Tupac Shakur. I then examine a recent release by the rapper Nas. Several critics cited the perceived conspiracism in Nas’s lyrics as reason for their lukewarm response to it. I offer a counter-reading that situates the lyrics in question within Nas’s broader rhetorical strategy of giving “voice to things to which nature has not given a voice” (Quintilian 161). Ultimately, this paper makes two claims: first, hip-hop artists deploy conspiracy theories as a rhetorical technique for addressing social and political anxieties; and, second, by adopting a strict literalist frame for interpreting lyrics, we echo earlier attacks on the genre and risk undermining hip-hop’s legitimacy as a genre and as a powerful tool of what Shane Miller calls “coded social critique” (40). 

Keywords: classical rhetoric, hip hop, popular culture, conspiracy theories, social justice

Author Bio

Josh Chase is the L.M. McKneely Endowed Professor of English Literature at the University of Louisiana Monroe, where he teaches rhetoric and technical communication. His research examines conspiratorial rhetoric in public discussions of popular culture, ideology, science, and technology. 

Suggested Citation

APA

Chase, J. (2022). Don’t sweat the technique: Rhetoric, coded social critique, and conspiracy theories in hip-hop. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, 9(3). http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v9-issue-3/dont-sweat-the-technique-rhetoric-coded-social-critique-and-conspiracy-theories-in-hip-hop/

MLA

Chase, Josh. “Don’t Sweat the Technique: Rhetoric, Coded Social Critique, and Conspiracy Theories in Hip-Hop.” Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, vol. 9, no. 3, 2022, http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v9-issue-3/dont-sweat-the-technique-rhetoric-coded-social-critique-and-conspiracy-theories-in-hip-hop/

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Cake and Conclusions: Rhetorical Roots in “Sheetcaking” and Fallacious Community Responses

Marissa Lammon
University of Colorado Boulder
Boulder, Colorado
m.lammon@outlook.com

Abstract

The convergence of politics and comedy within political entertainment has created a new environment, dissemination of information, and formation of public opinion. In response to white nationalist rallies, comedian Tina Fey utilized her political comedy platform to satirically comment on the inaction of several privileged consumers. Community response to the satirical skit reflected the complexity of satire as rhetorical strategy, notably when present online and within popular culture discourse, and the cognitive demands that result in fallacious tendencies. The following examines the fallacies that arise in response to Fey’s satirical message and the implications for political entertainment media.

Keywords: Saturday Night Live, Tina Fey, fallacious rhetoric, political satire, social activism, political entertainment, political discourse, popular discourse

Author Bio

Marissa Lammon is a PhD student in Media Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. She spent her undergraduate degree in psychology studying adolescent development and has used this background as a foundation while researching media throughout her graduate program. She specializes in psychological concepts in animation, specifically how media presentations and messaging can shape child and adolescent cognition and socialization.

Suggested Citation

APA:

Lammon, M. (2022). Cake and conclusions: Rhetorical roots in “sheetcaking” and fallacious community responses. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, 9(3). http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v9-issue-3/cake-and-conclusions-rhetorical-roots-in-sheetcaking-and-fallacious-community-responses/

MLA:

Lammon, Marissa. “Cake and Conclusions: Rhetorical Roots in “Sheetcaking” and Fallacious Community Responses.” Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, vol. 9, no. 3, 2022. http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v9-issue-3/cake-and-conclusions-rhetorical-roots-in-sheetcaking-and-fallacious-community-responses/

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Will the Odds Ever Be in Her Favor? Katniss Everdeen and the Female Athlete

Tony Kemerly
High Point University
High Point, North Carolina, USA
skemerly@highpoint.edu

Abstract

Autoethnography is a qualitative research method that allows the author to write in a highly personalized style, drawing on his or her experience to extend understanding about a specific issue. One subset of autoethnography, critical autoethnography, combines the narrative or storytelling aspect of autoethnography with critical theory approaches in order to gain illustrate for the reader a specific site of oppression within one’s culture. Through an examination of the books and films of The Hunger Games’ saga, this paper will examine the interaction between students and professor in regard to the journey of the female athlete through the power dynamic prevalent in the social milieu of sport culture today. For both Katniss and the female athlete, a specific gender representation has been accepted by society and assigned to women; thus, placing constraints on her and her actions by controlling her representation. It is this attempt at control over the female athlete that is the focus of this critical autoethnography. Institutionalized patriarchal practices such as these are faced by Katniss and the female athlete within Panem and the world of sport, respectively. These metaphorically similar norms and rituals reinforce the notion of a perceived superiority of the male athlete through adherence to socially constructed and strictly enforced gender norms that are the site of a constant battle faced by the female athlete today. 

Keywords: women’s sports, pop culture, power, gender, autoethnography, student experience

Author bio:

Tony Kemerly received his PhD in Exercise Science at The University of Mississippi and is a Professor of Exercise Science at High Point University. A shift in focus and an MA in Communication Studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro has allowed for a transition to the cultural studies aspects of Kinesiology. Kemerly teaches courses such as Body and Identity, Locating the Self Through the Whedonverse, Visual Semiotics in Popular Culture, Death: Seeing Beyond the Veil, American Language and Power, and Phenomenology of the Body.

Suggested Citation

APA:

Kemerly, T. (2022). Will the odds ever be in her favor? Katniss Everdeen and the female athlete. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, 9(3). http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v9-issue-3/will-the-odds-ever-be-in-her-favor-katniss-everdeen-and-the-female-athlete/

MLA:

Kemerly, Tony. “Will the Odds Ever Be in Her Favor? Katniss Everdeen and the Female Athlete.” Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, vol. 9, no. 3, 2022, http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v9-issue-3/will-the-odds-ever-be-in-her-favor-katniss-everdeen-and-the-female-athlete/

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Peril and Promise: Student Experiences of Virtual Reality and Implications for Inclusive Social Justice Pedagogy

Michelle VanNatta
Dominican University
River Forest, Illinois, United States
mvannatta@dom.edu

Abstract

Virtual reality (VR) is a fast-evolving technology rapidly being integrated into education and training in multiple sectors of society. As the use of VR spreads, it is important to critically analyze both its role in effective pedagogies and how students experience it. Virtual reality has extraordinary promise for deeply engaging students, and it also poses particular challenges for equitable and effective teaching of diverse students. This paper discusses students’ responses to a VR exercise and examines some of the complexities VR presents around racial justice, gender equity, and economic fairness. Virtual reality technology may be less effective and less comfortable for some types of bodies compared to others. In addition, the content of VR videos and the use of the technology to experience entering spaces that one could not otherwise access must be handled with sensitivity to power differences and social hierarchies. Finally, the potential anonymity and shifts in norms in moving into virtual interactions must be carefully addressed by instructors in order to create productive learning spaces and reduce potentially harmful or toxic interactions. This analysis focuses on teaching in the field of criminology and draws from experience exploring VR with several criminology classes, but is applicable across disciplines. Best practices involve first assessing if virtual reality is truly the best way to teach specific material and if so, using backwards design and effective teaching strategies, considering the accessibility and risks of the technology for students of different genders, races, abilities, and experiences, and carefully reviewing technology set-ups and content in order to use the technology safely and to the best advantage of students. 

Keywords: virtual reality, educational technology, diversity, social justice pedagogy, inclusive teaching 

Author Bio

Michelle VanNatta is an Associate Professor and the coordinator of the Criminology Program at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois. She is interested in prison abolition, pedagogy, and preparing students to be trauma-informed professionals. Her previous published work addresses racism in immigration court, systemic responses to sexual violence in women’s prisons, heterosexism in battered women’s shelters, and deployment of emotion narratives in the prosecution of battered women who fight back against abusers. In her spare time, she tries to cheer herself up with novels, films, television, and podcasts that imagine other worlds. 

Suggested Citation

APA

VanNatta, M. (2022). Peril and promise: Student experiences of virtual reality and implications for inclusive social justice pedagogy. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, 9(3). http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v9-issue-3/peril-and-promise-student-experiences-of-virtual-reality-and-implications-for-inclusive-social-justice-pedagogy/

MLA

VanNatta, Michelle. “Peril and Promise: Student Experiences of Virtual Reality and Implications for Inclusive Social Justice Pedagogy.” Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, vol. 9 , no. 3, 2022, http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v9-issue-3/peril-and-promise-student-experiences-of-virtual-reality-and-implications-for-inclusive-social-justice-pedagogy/

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