Documentary Production & Documentary Problems
By Shara K. Lange

Documentary Lesson Plan
By Shara K. Lange

"Ball Licky-Lickly!" Pedagogical Strategies for Interrogating Pop Culture Images
By Özlem Sensoy

Teaching Afghan Women: A History of Struggle
By Shoba Rajgopal

Creating Spaces for Community Engagement through Documentary Film: My Social Action Project
By Anna Zailik

Community Engagement Lesson Plan
By Anna Zailik



  issue 4.1 |  

Journal Issue 4.1
Spring-Summer 2012
Edited by Agatha Beins, Jillian Hernandez, and Deanna Utroske
Editorial Assistant: A.J. Barks
Editorial Intern: Vera Hinsey


"Ball Licky-Lickly!" Pedagogical Strategies for Interrogating Pop Culture Images

By Özlem Sensoy


A student: "This class rocks because we get to just watch TV and music videos."

   Three beliefs organize much of my pedagogy: popular culture must be assessed for its capacity as a teaching machine, critical media literacy should be a part of every individual's formal schooling, and understanding injustice means seeing how events (representations) of today connect to those of the past. Therefore, I always use content from popular culture in the classes that I offer to undergraduate students, most of whom aspire to be teachers. One of the more challenging aspects of my approach is getting my students to take pop culture content seriously. For students, the appeal of cartoons, toys and video games, TV shows, music videos and movies in the classroom is that they are easy and fun, entertaining curriculum. The idea that media entertainment is benign, which is common among students, is one of the first myths I must dispel in class.
   I situate my approach within childhood cultural studies in which media and pop culture texts are defined as a cultural pedagogy -- the idea that education occurs in a variety of social sites including, but not only in, formal schooling (Steinberg and Kincheloe 2004; Kellner and Share 2005; Marshall and Sensoy 2011). These sites of learning include film, toys, movies, as well as other texts produced for or consumed by children. What this scholarship contends is that pop culture representations don't simply reflect what's in the world, but they shape and construct one's ideas about it. Thus for many educators, critical media literacy has been a useful (though not widespread) strategy by which to educate students about the role institutions like media play in shaping one's ideas about society. Furthermore, given the overwhelming power of mainstream corporate media to circulate their messages in a manner, format, and consistency that classroom texts rarely enjoy, media texts may in fact demand closer scrutiny than any other curricula with which young people engage.

The Genealogy of Representation Activity
   When I begin an undergraduate course, students and I spend the first few sessions studying theories of representation from cultural studies and critical media literacy perspectives. Then we move to textual analyses of pop culture texts mostly related to youth culture. These texts include cartoons, music videos, tween magazines, movies, and video games. This activity arose from two interrelated challenges. The first has been to get students to think about the pop culture they consume as a teaching force that normalizes and naturalizes relations of unequal power in broader society. The second challenge has been to move beyond a single textual to a multiple and intertextual analysis that incorporates ideas about the genealogy of the current image (and its history relating to other images like it) into the analysis. In this way, images are understood not as products of one particular filmmaker's (or text-maker's) imagining's but as stock characters that have a history.
   As a response to this challenge, I developed what I call a "genealogy of representation" pedagogy. This activity traces representations in contemporary texts, such as Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006), by giving students an understanding of how various images and stock characters within the text build on one another in ways that map a landscape in which the discourses of racism become familiar, unremarkable, and fixed.
   Like most pedagogical "a-ha" moments, the geneology of representation strategy came out of a flop of an activity. In a session on representations of indigeneity in popular culture, students were reading work about race and media broadly (e.g., Allan Luke, Chyng Sun, Meenakshi Durham) in which the authors write about the importance of members of a community telling their own stories. The in-class lecture began with a screening of a short clip from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006) in which Jack Sparrow is captured and stranded at Pelegosto, a fictional island inhabited by a vicious cannibal tribe (as they are referred to in the script).1 The cannibals eat Jack's crew but believe Jack is a god in human form, and so spare him for ceremony.

1 A partial transcript of the film is available online:


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