Article List | V7 Issue 3

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Making the Invisible Visible through Popular Culture

Popular culture possesses a hidden power that can be easily overlooked. It shapes and frames how we see the world and ourselves. The things we watch, read, listen to, and play impact the organization of our internal and external worlds. Over time this relationship with our popular culture artifacts creates reverberations that blur the line between input and output. 

While this has been true for generations, as our society continues to move online, especially in light of COVID-19, there is a growing necessity to embrace new paradigms. We can see that human activity is changing; we are engaging with popular culture through image, stream, computer game–texts– in a mediated meeting place per se, the new living room. Thus, in the pandemic and post-pandemic digital gatherings, holiday dinner and cocktail parties are online and the media product is centralized. For example, we can consider the changing nature of engaging with popular culture through the new “Watch Party” feature on Amazon Prime Video or the 11 million people meeting for Island Tours on Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Zhu, 2020). Moreover, we can see new developments in storytelling through collective discussion amongst groups on specialized, digital distribution apps such as Discord. Sharing images and debating ideologies on social media platforms is nothing new, but in light of recent events, online calls for collective action and representation seem more immediate than ever before (Pinckney & Rivers, 2020). 

These evolving relationships reveal a unique opportunity for reflection. For instance, how can we as scholars and educators leverage the multivalent lenses generated by these deep conversations between people and media? How can we better understand such cultural products to learn for ourselves and also to teach others?

For those of us who critically engage with these ideas, it is easy to take for granted the ways in which popular media works to influence points of view or disseminate and process vital, sociocultural information. In general practice, long-held and long since disputed assumptions about the functions and utility of films, television shows, video games, etc. can impede a person’s ability to see these materials as fertile ground for identifying the encoding of culture. For many folks, the concept of passive consumption continues to cast these important items of reflexive messaging as bits of mindless entertainment. 

Often there is an urge to dismiss intent or agenda as a one-way process, perhaps even perpetrated by canny advertisers or authors. Yet, as we know, the consumer/producer/audience relationship is never linear (Fiske, 2010). People shape popular products they engage with whether consciously or unintentionally, by applying their own worldviews to an image or message. From this perspective, we are all in a teaching and learning relationship with popular culture. 

Along these lines, the contributors for volume seven, issue three of Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy speak to central questions of popular culture: How to activate the teaching and learning relationship in meaningful ways? How to intentionally integrate and interrogate popular culture artifacts within our pedagogical practice? And what can be gained from such an intentional approach? The common thread across the articles is about making the invisible visible. Each author questions this binary of visibility by critically exploring the spaces where popular culture intersects with constructions of identity and ideology. There is a deceptively simple take away from these discussions: popular cultural texts have a lot to teach us about what we learn from popular culture texts.

In the first of the full-length articles featured in this issue, Visuality of Race in Popular Culture: Teaching Racial Histories and Iconography in Media, Joni Boyd Acuff and Amelia M. Kraehe address the long, repeating history of racist imagery in visual media and culture. The authors identify an absence in visual arts education often resulting in the reproduction of problematic iconographies that reinforces constructions of racial difference and social value in popular media. Uncritically perpetuated by cultural producers and accepted by consumers, these visual representations continue to code white supremacy as the normative socialization standard. Employing Critical Race Theory, Acuff and Kraehe investigate visual texts illustrating these processes and respond with practical pedagogical steps designed to support students in interrogating racial portrayals in popular culture, as well as their own racialized ways of viewing. As the authors explain, “Because popular culture is contested terrain, students can learn to be race-conscious consumers of popular culture today. A deeper awareness of visual codes and conventions can foster critical interpretations and creative responses to popular racial constructions.” To this end, Acuff and Kraehe provide a series of media site-based learning activities encouraging students to identify, analyze, react to, and reflect upon visualities of race as both consumers and producers.     

The next article similarly addresses the previously unseen, this time to reposition gender analyses of literature in the college classroom. Ramón J. Guerra and Joan Latchaw discuss how their experiences teaching Sandra Cisneros’ Woman Hollering Creek to undergraduate students led them to consider what representations of gender-based social oppression in literature can reveal about masculine navigations of destructive patriarchal structures. In Unmasking Male Voices in Woman Hollering Creek: Contributions to Pedagogy and Masculinity Studies, the authors centralize treatments of male characters in Cisneros’ texts to address often overlooked gaps in commonly applied historical and analytical frameworks. They reflect on a revision of their undergraduate course including explorations of “masculinity effects,” putting Cisneros’ work in conversation with Rigoberto González’s collection of stories, Men without Bliss. According to Guerra and Latchaw, “Such an approach would work to uncover the network of relations (history, geography, social structures, identity politics, personal values, family), that is, the context that explains gender construction and performativity. It also means avoiding essentialisms and moving away from the all too common fallback of hegemonic masculinity.” The outcome for scholars and students alike is a reconsideration of Latinx literature focusing on the intersectional realities of lived experience.

The third article in this issue also explores gender and representation, focusing on the dynamics of visibility and change in roleplay and collaborative storytelling. In D&D Beyond Bikini Mail: Having Women at the Table, Daniel Carlson considers how the increasing popularity of the fantasy roleplaying game Dungeons and Dragons may be generating opportunities to address issues of representation (or lack thereof) as designers and new players reconsider the white, heteronormative assumptions of race, gender, and sexual identity built into the history of the product. Carlson’s research reveals that misogynistic origins, scaffolded by Eurocentric imaginaries, are challenged by new players and product developers as consumers and producers work toward gaming formats privileging inclusivity and collaborative storytelling. For the author, the low stakes, blank-slate nature of character and world-construction essential to tabletop roleplay gives players agency to experiment with representation and to reflect on what and why constructions of identity are commonly normalized, which are often left out. By applying Jacqueline Jones Royster’s concept of Critical Imagination to these rhetorical processes, the author suggests that the next obvious step for players is to imagine new representations that bring women, LGBTQ+ folks, and BIPOC players to the table. For Carlson, new initiatives introduced by developers and embraced by fans “have constructed a deliberate feminist intervention on [D&D] itself in order to expand the types of stories that can be told through it, who they are told by, and who they are told for; making it explicit that this game has been designed to provide players the option to play diverse characters that better represent their own life-experiences.”         

The final two featured articles continue to engage the revelatory power of the media artifact. Both provide practical examples of how popular culture products can situate US political processes and underscore the role that this kind of literacy plays in civic engagement. In A Heartbeat Away, Jay Wendland discusses how fictional enactments of the 25th Amendment in television can help students understand the mechanisms of a constitutional process that they might otherwise never see play out. In the run-up and aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, the 25th amendment has been broadly referenced in news media, but sections of the legislation have only rarely been invoked since its ratification. As a result, few Americans fully understand the complexities of presidential power and succession that the amendment addresses or the situational processes essential to its use. As Wendland points out, these same complexities and issues of circumstance make the 25th Amendment a favorite topic for popular culture treatments of political drama. Examples from television shows like West Wing, Madame Secretary, and Designated Survivor illustrate how fictional representations of non-electoral succession processes can contextualize the 25th Amendment’s intended function. For Wendland, this is particularly significant in the undergraduate political science classroom: “Traditional college students today do not recall Nixon’s resignation in 1974 nor Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. By using the depictions of presidential succession in the popular culture narratives… students are able to ground their conceptions of presidential succession in something they are able to actually see.” Here, the popular culture artifact explicitly acts as a pedagogical exemplar.             

In the last article, Laura Merrifield Wilson also highlights the value of the popular culture product in encouraging multilevel student engagement when teaching political science. In Pop Culture and Politics: Engaging Students in American Government through Art, Music, and Film, Merrifield Wilson discusses integrating a variety of media forms into the classroom ecology to bring students closer to a subject that often feels too hard to grapple with or beyond their sphere of concern. Notably, she points out that popular culture has long been entwined with political structures, processes, and actors. Taking this further, Wilson identifies popular culture’s often overlooked pedological merit as a site where ideas are negotiated and contested, not unlike the classroom itself. Leveraging this in practice involves making space for popular culture artifacts in all of their myriad forms. As Wilson illustrates, different cultural materials can be differently employed for different outcomes. Songs, sitcoms, memes, and even toys can be analyzed to “demonstrate relevance, serve as a generational translator, expose the bias of experience, and enable an expression of self.” The popular culture artifact brings political science concepts into immediate view and allows students to reflect on the social constructions informing their perspectives on civic engagement. This is yet another example of how popular culture can bring students into closer proximity with concepts that may otherwise feel beyond the scope of their lived experiences.

As a whole, this issue is a product of collaboration and a carefully coordinated group effort. During this time, we have made some shifts in the Dialogue team, expanding Karina Vado’s editorial role to include Interim Musings Editor in addition to Book Review Editor, welcoming in Rheanne Anderson as a new copy editor, and thanking Kelli Bippert for her years of service in editor roles. Thank you to other key contributors of the Dialogue team including Creative Designer, Douglas CohenMiller; Copy Editors, Miriam Sciala and Robert Gordyn; and our peer reviewers.

As 2020 comes to an end, we are pleased to share these works in (Un)Conscious Representation: Interrogating Structures of Race, Gender, Ideology, highlighting how through popular culture, the invisible can become visible. The works are an exploration of our implicit and explicit constructivist relationships with popular culture products. Across the articles, we can see a common engagement with what it means to be aware of these connections, to acknowledge that popular culture teaches audiences. This implies then that audiences learn, and learning is an active process. Being aware of the role we — and others — play in this exchange allows us to see what’s there, identify what’s missing, and reflect on what we take away. 

Kirk Peterson
Managing Editor
Anna S. CohenMiller
Editor in Chief

A word from the Editor in Chief

In this year, our community and many others around the world have faced challenges and heartbreaking times. Your presence and engagement are even more obvious and appreciated at such times.  I want to thank you all, the readers, the authors, and the whole Dialogue team for your investment, your passion, and commitment. As we move into 2021, I look forward to hearing from you, learning from you, and expanding this incredible community commitment — to understanding better and to sharing with others about the potential of popular culture and pedagogy. 

Anna CohenMiller
Editor in Chief


Fiske, J. (2010) Understanding Popular Culture. Routledge. 

Pinckney, J., & Rivers, M. (2020). Sickness or Silence: Social Movement Adaptation to Covid-19. Journal of International Affairs, 73(2), 23-42. doi:10.2307/26939964

Zhu, L. (2020) The psychology behind video games during COVID-19 pandemic: A case study of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies.

Suggested Reference Citation


CohenMiller, A. S. & Peterson, K. (2020). Making the invisible visible through popular culture Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, 7(3).


CohenMiller, Anna S. and Kirk Peterson. Making the Invisible Visible through Popular Culture Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, vol. 7, no. 3, 2020.

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Pop Culture and Politics: Engaging Students in American Government through Art, Music, and Film

Laura Merrifield Wilson
University of Indianapolis
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA


Strategically and thoughtfully employing popular culture in teaching political science can enable students to better understand, analyze, and relate to the material. In a discipline that can be viewed by students as too boring, too distant, and too polarizing, the use of relevant music, TV/film clips, toys, memes, and other popular culture artifacts can engage otherwise unengaged students in a meaningful way. This paper argues that using popular culture in teaching political science can demonstrate relevance, serve as a generational translator, expose the bias of experience, and enable an expression of self. In demonstrating relevance, popular culture makes material fresh and applicable for students; by operating as a generational translator, the material transcends the time in which it originated; biased experiences are exposed through popular culture mediums through which students are comfortable projecting new and different ideas that challenge what they already know and believe; finally, students can learn to express themselves in relationship to the material by using these mediums with which they are already familiar but in a new and intentional way. Watching clips from the hit TV show “Parks and Recreation” (2009) can illuminate the complexities of the bureaucracy and the role of regulation in everyday life; likewise, listening to the award-winning Broadway musical “Hamilton” (2015) with clever lyrics regaling the debates of federalism demonstrate the passion and ideas behind such constitutional conflicts. This paper first provides an overview that establishes the value of applying popular culture specifically to political science pedagogy before reviewing the relevant literature. It then charts the four ways in which popular culture can be beneficial to teaching and learning political science, concluding with a larger analysis of the advantages and potential for such approaches.

Keywords: political science, politics; government, TV/Film, music, memes, cartoons, popular culture

Author Bio 

Laura Merrifield Wilson is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the Assistant Director of the Strain Honors College at the University of Indianapolis. Her research specializations include American political behavior, campaigns and elections, and politics in popular culture. She hosts and produces “Positively Politics” on WICR 88.7 “The Diamond” as well as serves as a regular political analyst and commentator in various news outlets. She believes politics is important and should be accessible and easy enough for anyone to meaningfully engage. Wilson completed her Bachelors in Theatre (2008) and Masters in American Politics (2010) from Ohio University and her Masters in Women’s Studies (2014), Masters in Public Administration (2012), and PhD in Political Science (2014) from the University of Alabama. 

Recommended Citation


Wilson, Laura M. “Pop Culture and Politics: Teaching American Government through Art, Film, and Music”. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy. vol. 7, no. 3.


Wilson, L. (2020). Pop Culture and Politics: Teaching American Government through Art, Film, and Music. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy. 7(3).

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D&D Beyond Bikini-Mail: Having Women at the Table

Daniel Carlson
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico, United States.


Dungeons and Dragons represents a space that is often treated as an echo chamber for young (usually white) men to act out fantasies of power and control, which makes up for their inability to perform such actions in the real world. Using the work of Sherry Turkle and Michelle Dickey, I posit that this game is a nuanced location acting as a safe space for people to act out different aspects of their identity or life experiences in a low-risk environment enhanced by the connections made between the players and their characters. In this work, I have utililzed feminist frames of criticism and analysis developed by Gesa Kirsch, Jacqueline Royster, Sonja Foss, and Cindy Griffin to show how the developers of the fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons have made a feminist intervention on their own product. This feminist intervention, comprised of changes to rules and art policies, invites players to consider their preconceptions of race, gender, and sexual orientation. These challenges now materializing from within a space traditionally associated with the toxic masculinity of western popular culture are designed to make players think about the nature of the imagined worlds of gameplay while also considering the ways that their own world’s norms and expectations have been constructed. Hence, through this game, players are offered the opportunity to learn and understand complicated concepts that impact their daily lives. 

Keywords: Dungeons and Dragons, D&D, Invitational Rhetoric, Rhetoric, Strategic Contemplation, Critical Imagination, Role-play, Toxic Masculinity, Popular Culture, Critical Role 

Author Bio

Daniel Carlson is a native of Cleveland, Ohio, who moved to New Mexico to pursue a master’s degree in Rhetoric and Professional Communication at New Mexico State University. He has cowritten two books with author Michael Rosen, Just My Type: Understanding Personality Profiles and Place Hacking: Venturing Off Limits. This article is an expansion of his interests in role-playing, Feminist rhetorics, and the ways that popular culture interacts with oppressive systems of power. More information can be found at 

Suggested Citation


Carlson, Daniel James. “Beyond Bikini-Mail: Having Women at the Table.” Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, vol. 7, no. 3.


Carlson, D. J. (2020). Beyond bikini-mail: Having women at the table.” Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, 7(3).

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Unmasking Male Voices in Woman Hollering Creek: Contributions to Pedagogy and Masculinity Studies

Ramón J. Guerra
University of Nebraska at Omaha
Omaha, Nebraska, USA

Joan Latchaw
University of Nebraska at Omaha
Omaha, Nebraska, USA


In teaching Sandra Cisneros’ Woman Hollering Creek to undergraduates, we have developed a sociocultural and historical framework, beginning with the theoretical work of Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands and the concept of transfrontera feminism. With incidents of seduction and sexual abuse of women, spousal abuse, and patriarchal family structures, the collection of stories strongly indicates the oppressive representation of machismo. Scholars and teachers have drawn important critiques of Cisneros’s work based on destructive sociocultural forces on women. However, in rereading the text with an intended focus on the representations of male characters, we have surmised that Cisneros structured the stories in the text to reveal that men are simultaneously affected by sociocultural pressures. The male characters in this story collection play an important role beyond the characterization as oppressors.

Cisneros’s stories have helped us unmask important social forces that affect not only Chicana characters, but husbands, lovers, and even neglected fathers. Male characters in Woman Hollering Creek also have basic needs for food, shelter, love, and dignity, and they too suffer the consequences of politically charged borders. Furthermore, these masculinity effects may not often be acknowledged in teaching literature courses. The pain and struggle of male and female genders are aligned within this collection; there are several male characters who signify masculinity, and compassion, and beauty. Therefore, in revising our curricula, we intend to place some stories from Woman Hollering Creek and Rigoberto González’s Men without Bliss (2008) in conversation with each other. We do not intend to privilege one writer against another, but encourage students to consider the contributions and limitations of each in terms of theme, characterization, plot, and literary technique. It is our intention to teach students that Cisneros’s Woman Hollering Creek humanizes both men and women in their strength, frailty, and quest for love.

Keywords: Sandra Cisneros, Chicana Literature, transfrontera feminism, Woman Hollering Creek, Gloria Anzaldúa

Suggested Citation


Guerra, Ramón J. and Joan Latchaw. “Unmasking Male Voices in Woman Hollering Creek: Contributions to Pedagogy and Masculinity Studies.” Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, vol. 7, no. 3, 2020.


Guerra, R. J., & Latchaw, J. (2020). Unmasking male voices in Woman Hollering Creek: Contributions to pedagogy and masculinity studies. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, 7(3).

Author Bios

Ramón J. Guerra is an Associate Professor of English and Latino/Latin American Studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. His research focuses on the placement of Chicano and Latino Literature within the larger named American Literature, particularly in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. He specifically examines the significance of nonfiction witness accounts, oral histories, and memoirs all under the category of testimonio as a means to expand historiography through literature. His selected publications include works on Latinos and the American Dream, the early twentieth century Mexican American writer and scholar Américo Paredes, and contemporary Latina writer Sandra Cisneros.

Joan Latchaw is an Associate Professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, teaching and publishing in rhetoric and composition, specifically computers and writing. Other interests include Ethnic-American literature, Jewish-American Writers, Women’s and Gender Studies, and Feminist Rhetoric. She has worked with UNO’s sister institution in Nicaragua (UNAN León) in the teaching of ESL writing, for faculty and Master’s degree students. She has also given a keynote address at an international TESOL conference at UNAN León along with workshop sessions.

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A Heartbeat Away: Popular Culture’s Role in Teaching Presidential Succession

Jay Wendland
Daemen College
Amherst, NY, USA


 The role of popular culture in civic education is important. Many television viewers learn about the American political process through various dramatized depictions. The 25th Amendment has often received much attention from Hollywood, as it provides writers, directors, and producers a tool with which to further dramatize presidential succession. Through the television shows West Wing, Designated Survivor, Commander in Chief, Madam Secretary, and Political Animals, viewers are exposed to storylines revolving around the 25th Amendment. By viewing these dramatized versions of presidential succession, viewers are better able to understand the process and political science instructors are better able to elucidate the process in the classroom. 

Keywords: Presidential Succession, 25th Amendment, Popular Culture, West Wing, Designated Survivor, Commander in Chief, Political Animals, Madam Secretary 

Author Bio

Jay Wendland is Assistant professor of Political Science at Daemen College. He is the author of the book Campaigns That Matter (Lexington Press), which analyzes the role of campaign visits in presidential nominating contests along with several articles that have appeared in The Journal of Political Marketing, Electoral Studies, and The Forum. His teaching interests include American politics, campaigns and elections, public opinion, politics and the media, and politics and popular culture. He is currently working on a book-length project analyzing the representativeness of presidential nominating contests. More information regarding his research and teaching interests can be found at

Suggested Citation


Wendland, J. (2020). A Heartbeat Away: Popular Culture’s Role in Teaching Presidential Succession. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, 7(3).


Wendland, Jay. A Heartbeat Away: Popular Culture’s Role in Teaching Presidential Succession. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, vol. 7, no. 3, 2020.

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Visuality of Race in Popular Culture: Teaching Racial Histories and Iconography in Media

Joni Boyd Acuff
The Ohio State University
Columbus, Ohio, USA

Amelia M. Kraehe
University of Arizona
Tucson, Arizona USA


The repetition of racist imagery from historical to contemporary popular culture is indicative of a lack of visual culture education among artists, designers, and other creative cultural producers working today. This paper addresses the dearth of resources for teaching visual codes and conventions of racial iconography that are recycled in popular media and contribute to the fabrication of racial differences, maintenance of racial hierarchies, and normalization of white supremacist ideology. Inspired by Critical Race Theory in art and visual culture education, the essay proposes teaching tactics and sites/sights that can support students in developing visual understandings of race in popular culture and the practices of racialized looking it invites. Because popular culture is contested terrain, students can learn to be race-conscious consumers of popular culture today. A deeper awareness of visual codes and conventions can foster critical interpretations and creative responses to popular racial constructions. We suggest key vocabulary for scaffolding dialogue and counter-visual strategies for deconstructing racial images and practices of looking.

Keywords: race, representation, popular culture, art, visual culture, racial literacy, critical race theory

Author(s) Bio

Joni Boyd Acuff, PhD is currently Associate Professor of Arts Administration, Education and Policy at The Ohio State University. Her research attends to critical multiculturalism, critical race theory, Black feminist theory, and culturally responsive pedagogy, teaching and curriculum development in art education. Acuff is co-editor of Multiculturalism in Art Museums Today, published by Rowman & Littlefield. She is the co-author, alongside Amelia M. Kraehe, of the forthcoming Davis publication, Race and Art Education. For more about Acuff and her research, visit

Amelia M. Kraehe, PhD is currently Associate Professor of Art and Visual Culture Education at The University of Arizona. She researches and teaches about social justice in education, the arts and creative forms of agency, racism and intersectional processes of self-identification. Kraehe is co-editor of Pedagogies in the Flesh: Case Studies on the Embodiment of Sociocultural Differences in Education and The Palgrave Handbook of Race and the Arts in Education. Her current book, titled Race and Art Education and also co-authored with Joni Boyd Acuff, is forthcoming from Davis Publications. For more about Kraehe and her research, visit

Suggested Citation


Acuff, J. B., Kraehe, A. M. (2020). Visuality of Race in Popular Culture: Teaching Racial Histories and Iconography in Media. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, 7(3).


Acuff, J and A Kraehe. Visuality of Race in Popular Culture: Teaching Racial Histories and Iconography in Media. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, vol. 7, no. 3, 2020.

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