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Challenging Conventions: Provoking Thought with Engaged Teaching and Learning in Popular Culture

As 2023 comes to an end, we are delighted to have celebrated 10 years of Dialogue, exploring, questioning, and promoting engaged teaching and learning in, with, and through popular culture. In this special issue, we bring together highlights from across the decade, showcasing popular culture and pedagogy across themes, and modalities, from classical interpretations to current sociocultural, environmental, and political directions. These articles, starting from 2014, offer insights into how multimedia platforms such as literature, film, and comics, provide directions for interrogating the relationship between power and popular culture, questioning the status quo, and incorporating informal and formal pedagogy within and beyond traditional educational spaces.

As we reflect on the past decade of Dialogue, we also look ahead to the future possibilities that popular culture holds for education. The journey has been marked by a dynamic interplay between traditional and contemporary perspectives, demonstrating the evolving nature of pedagogy in response to societal shifts. Looking forward, we aim to continue fostering a space where educators and learners alike can explore the intersections of popular culture and education. In the coming years, we anticipate delving deeper into emerging themes, embracing technological advancements, and further amplifying diverse voices in the discourse. The articles underscore the importance of connecting timeless and contemporary narratives to present-day concerns, whether through interpretive frameworks or contemporary retellings, to foster meaningful engagement and pedagogical exploration. As we embark on this continued exploration, we express gratitude to our contributors, readers, and the broader educational community for their unwavering support in making Dialogue a vibrant hub of innovative pedagogical discussions and transformative opportunities.

The past decade has seen a great number of excellent and timely articles come across the editors’ desks. Interpretations of pedagogy and pop culture have been varied during this time, but a consistent linkage between these articles—particularly the vibrancy of the selected work for this tenth-anniversary issue—has been the notion of communication as a form of change. From a discussion of postmodern influence and re-envisioning in Homer’s The Odyssey to a meditation on the power of books to impart lessons about social justice, to discussions of queer culture, mixtapes, and the classroom itself, Dialogue authors have demonstrated their awareness of how communication in its many forms can change both individuals and societies at large. This has held true from the earliest modes of storytelling through the permutations of written communication and into our flourishing digital age; there is real, tangible power in transmitting information. At Dialogue, we’ve been grateful to witness our readers and contributors step into their positions of communicative power, changing the lives around them for the better as they go.

Leon Trotsky argues that art, including the cultural products borne of popular culture, is not just an individual’s isolated expression of genius but arises from the interplay between an artist’s life and their environment, including the social and political contexts it emerges from. Art can be a tool through which we forge–or resist–a collective social and standpoint. Because of this, cultural products from literature to video games are mirrors that reflect back to us the naturalized values and norms of the particular social and historical contexts they emerge from. Popular culture can also reflect our dreams for the future of society. As Audre Lorde (1984) argues, poetry “forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.” As a social and political act, art is, thus, an invaluable pedagogical tool that can make deconstructing abstract or complex political concepts more relatable and accessible. The articles highlighted in this issue demonstrate the immense potential of using popular culture as case studies through which to critically engage with broader social and political issues. These articles also show how some pop culture products can function as beacons that prompt alternate ways of thinking in the classroom.

Similarly reflecting on the potent educational possibilities of popular culture, late Black feminist scholar bell hooks argued that

whether we’re talking race, or gender, or class, popular culture is where the pedagogy is, is where the learning is.” Indeed, bell hooks stressed the primacy of popular culture as a “pedagogical medium for masses of people globally who want to, in some way, understand the politics of difference (1997)

For hooks, popular culture was (and perhaps remains) a generative site of learning and unlearning, of personal and collective transformation, one where questions of power, social identity, and (mis)representation can be engaged in complex and meaningful ways. The articles highlighted in this issue not only speak to the transformative potential bell hooks witnessed in her own experiences incorporating popular culture in the college classroom but also highlight the myriad liberatory modes of knowing and seeing that such critical engagements with popular culture invite.

Thank you for joining us throughout these last 10 years. Here’s the next years!!

Anna CohenMiller (she/ella)
Editor in Chief

Karina A. Vado (she/ella)
Associate Editor

Barbara Perez (she/ella)
Managing Editor

Tyler Sheldon (he/él)
Assistant Managing Editor

References

hooks, bell (1997). Cultural criticism & transformation. Media Education Foundation. https://www.mediaed.org/transcripts/Bell-Hooks-Transcript.pdf

Lorde, Audre. “Poetry is Not a Luxury.” In Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press, 1984.

Trotsky, Leon. Art and Revolution: Writings on Literature, Politics and Culture. Pathfinder, 1992.

The Power of Books in Popular Culture and Pedagogy

Why are book reviews important? What do they offer audiences? Why should we pay attention? How can they help our pedagogical and research practices?

Books offer essential insights to cultural understanding and directions for teaching and learning about ourselves, others, and the world itself. Through textbooks students learn about what counts as knowledge and what types of people embody this knowledge (see CohenMiller & Lewis, 2019; Durrani et al., 2022). Across history, governments have banned and burned books to eliminate acknowledgement and contributions of entire cultures, communities, and ways of knowing and being. The effects of such choices affect generations, teaching audiences what are accepted interpretations and “truths,” such as of gender roles, of leadership roles, and of workplace culture.

Recently, there have been strong discussions and arguments around books and education. The decisions made by elected politicians affect the use or exclusion of books in public schools funded by local governments. In Florida, for example, access to books discussing issues of social justice, gender identity, and diversity have been removed from public schools. Most recently, the Florida Department of Education has also demanded that middle school-level  African American history curriculum cover the “benefits” of slavery, a dangerous re-writing of history that erases not only the realities of enslavement in the United States but also its “afterlife,” to use Black Studies scholar Saidya Hartman’s phrasing. Still, the curricular changes being implemented in the Florida public education system are but one example of how books (and the ideas communicated by these) are being wielded to re-write the past, a re-writing largely driven by questions of power. Indeed, as Winston Smith, the protagonist of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, eerily reminds us, “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” Not surprisingly then, educators from primary to higher education across the US are increasingly facing challenges in selecting texts and/or discussing topics addressing equity, inclusion, and (in)justice in classrooms rendered ideological “battlegrounds. The “struggle” over what books we can read (or those that “need” to be suppressed) and which we consider “legitimate” sources of knowledge shows the very real power of books or the lack of them.

As we continue to celebrate the 10th year of Dialogue, we are offering a special issue dedicated to book reviews. While book reviews for the Journal usually are published right away for online access, over the last few months, we have been collecting the reviews for this special collection. The issue, Guest Edited by Miriam Sciala, thus focuses on recent book reviews – first seen in this special issue.

Sciala’s work over the last few years has expanded the Journal into a regular hub of insightful commentary and insights on pedagogical practice and research and ideas about books. It is our pleasure to offer this innovative approach in thinking about book reviews, to aggregate them into a collection highlighting the power and potential effect of book reviews for both formal and informal teaching and learning.

We look forward to showcasing this special issue and continuing to showcase your insightful work around popular culture and pedagogy.

Anna CohenMiller
Editor in Chief

Karina A. Vado
Managing Editor & Musings Editor

References

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. https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/S1529-212620190000027003/full/html

Durrani, N., CohenMiller, A., Kataeva, Z., Bekzhanova, Z., Seitkhadyrova, A., & Badanova, A. (2022). “The fearful khan and the delightful beauties”: Doing gender in secondary school textbooks in Kazakhstan. International Journal of Educational Development. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0738059321001619

Suggested Reference Citation

APA

CohenMiller, A., & Vado, K. (2023). The Power of Books in Popular Culture and Pedagogy. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, 10(2). http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v10-issue-2/the-power-of-books-in-popular-culture-and-pedagogy/

MLA

CohenMiller, Anna; Vado, Karina; and Kelli Bippert. Cultivating the Futures of Popular Culture and Pedagogy: Celebrating 10 Years of Dialogue, vol. 10, no. 2. http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v10-issue-2/the-power-of-books-in-popular-culture-and-pedagogy/.

Guest Editorial – Special Review Issue, Volume 10, Issue 2

Miriam Sciala
Managing Editor and Book Review Editor
Journal Dialogue
miriamsciala@gmail.com

Despite its breeziness and purely entertaining function, popular culture wields much influence as it is principally consumed by society’s most active and productive generations. Increasingly, it has come to define individual and group identities, serving to promote the inclusion or exclusion of particular social groups. This has made it crucial that it be adopted as a guide to the general perception of popular culture items in pedagogy so as to maintain more tolerant and inclusive societies.

Analyzing various forms of popular culture in the classroom enables our youth to perceive and comprehend the ways in which they contribute to or extract from a genuine understanding of our various societal groups and the nature of the relationships between them. Through such pedagogy, students learn to perceive popular culture more analytically and with a deeper understanding. Genres of popular culture now included in pedagogy vary from books, series, movies, animation, and more.

Writers who critique popular culture and analyze their creative content provide the opportunity for readers to raise their awareness of the contributions made to the world of entertainment, and from there to our society. Books on popular culture present various media and genres and probe the nature of their narratives and points of view. The books that are presented by our reviewers could be introduced into our to-be-read list and may provide the educator with additional sources and ideas to bring into their classroom.

Consequently, our special summer issue is devoted to book reviews. It features six reviews, probing a variety of books that scrutinize popular genres ranging from film, animation, science fiction, the predominance of digital technology in our lives, and fashion design. By providing us with a substantive snippet of what lies within each book, each reviewer sheds light on the content therein, providing information about the book, which is educative and whets our appetite for more, prompting one, perhaps, to consider selecting one of our featured books for future reading.

We begin this issue with Cinema in Colour, a comparative book review by Christina Masuda and Yih Ren. By reviewing, and then comparing two books, White Balance: How Hollywood Shaped Colorblind Ideology and Undermined Civil Rights by Justine Gomer and The 100 Greatest Superhero Films and TV Shows by Zachary Ingle and David M. Sutera, Cinema in Colour covers the medium of film from the two different slants featured in each respective book. Through a reading of these books, Masuda and Ren have summarized how the authors paint film and television as a form of education that can shape our ideologies and our perception of the various actors in societal and cultural phenomena. In White Balance, we are provided with an explanation of how Hollywood has been instrumental in reinforcing, and even influencing ideologies and policy, whereas with The 100 Greatest Superhero Films and TV Shows, the narrative takes us beyond the artistic characteristics of each superhero film featured in the book to the manner in which they have not only influenced society, but have also contributed to the shaping of common memories and conversations. By correlating the message of the two books, our reviewers enable the writers of both works to highlight the ability of film to create, enhance and sustain societal experiences.

Our second book review, Animation in the Middle East edited by Stefanie Van de Peer and reviewed by Jingyi Zhang, is a presentation of a historical account of the evolution of animation in particular Middle Eastern countries. Zhang synthesizes the major themes that run through the book, which hints at the importance of various societal factors on the growth and development of Middle Eastern animation. This particular review uncovers a snapshot of each country’s experience with the genre without providing any spoilers for the book’s forthcoming readers.

In The Future Is Scary at Times, Sayan Chattopadhyay reviews Ernest Cline’s science fiction novel Armadaand demonstrates how the narrative takes the reader into a future dystopian world that becomes nebulous as it blurs into escapism. Chattopadhyay also divulges how the main character provides a glimpse of a post-dystopian future, that remains as yet unclear, and hints at the fervent wish of this character to inhabit such an unpredictable and unsettling world.

How society is affected by digital technology is the theme of the following two reviews. Meganets: How Digital Forces Beyond Our Control Commandeer Our Daily Lives and Inner Realities by David. B. Auerbach and A Unified Theory of Cats on the Internet by E.J. White have been reviewed by Douglas MacLeod and Emily Gerace respectively. In both works, the authors explore a particular facet of digital technology available on the Internet, explaining its features and uses, as well as its impact on users. Reviewing Meganets, MacLeod raises the recurrent theme of the book: will human beings lose control of AI? and provides Auerbach’s enlightening answer to the question. The arguments submitted by Auerbach are clearly elucidated in this review with some unexpected and yet not so surprising conclusions.

In reviewing A Unified Theory of Cats on the Internet, Gerace outlines the three main eras of online cat representations as delineated by White. She also provides an intriguing explanation of the way in which White brings to light the phenomenon whereby current trends of cat related postings and memes have helped enhance the reaction of online members-only groups to the mainstream, and to these group members’ view, aimless Internet posts and online social interactions, which are epitomized by cats appearing on the Internet. Through Gerace’s account of A Unified Theory of Cats on the Internet, we see a book that is devoted to an analysis that takes us beyond cute cat internet images to the social online interaction that has both created and been affected by the trolling and harmful online activities of exclusive communities.

We end our summer issue with a review by Catie-Reagan Palmore-King, who presents Pat in the City: My Life of Fashion, Style, and Breaking All the Rules by Patricia Field. Pat in the City is Field’s memoir of her life as an Emmy Award winning and Academy Award nominated fashion designer for film and her experience of the ins and outs of the genre. Palmore King’s review outlines the stages of Field’s story from her initial interest in fashion, to her insights into the costumes she has created for film, to the difficulties she experienced in the male-dominated fashion industry. Included in the review is a description of Field’s particular style of individualism, both on a personal level and as a fashion designer, as well as her offering some tips for the reader regarding the creation of one’s own style.

In reading this issue, we hope you acquire a few ideas on some of the relevant books to help you spend the rest of the summer. The books reviewed in this issue all provide an in-depth examination of popular culture creations, and for educators gearing up for the upcoming fall semester, could offer some insights on ways to approach related topics in the classroom.

Suggested Reference Citation

APA

Sciala, M. (2023). Guest Editorial – Special Review Issue, Volume 10, Issue 2. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, 10(2). http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v10-issue-2/guest-editorial-special-review-issue-volume-10-issue-2/

MLA

Sciala, Miriam. Guest Editorial – Special Review Issue, Volume 10, Issue 2, Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy. 2023, vol. 10, no. 2. http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v10-issue-2/guest-editorial-special-review-issue-volume-10-issue-2/.

Review of Meganets: How Digital Forces Beyond Our Control Commandeer Our Daily Lives and Inner Realities

Dr. Douglas C. MacLeod, Jr.
State University of New York College of Agriculture and Technology
Cobleskill, New York, U.S.A
MacLeoDC@cobleskill.edu

Auerbach, David B. (2023). Meganets: How Digital Forces Beyond our Control Commandeer Our Daily Lives and Inner Realities. PublicAffairs. 352 pages, $27.00 Continue Reading →

Cinema in Color – A Comparative Book Review of: White Balance: How Hollywood Shaped Colorblind Ideology and Undermined Civil Rights & The 100 Greatest Superhero Films and TV Shows

Christina Masuda
University of San Francisco,
San Francisco, California USA
cymasuda@dons.usfca.edu

Yih Ren
University of San Francisco,
San Francisco, California USA
yren27@dons.usfca.edu

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

 

Continue Reading →

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