Sunday, September 23, 2012

Popular culture in the classroom

Bardiac and Jennifer Finney Boylan, in a guest post at Tenured Radical, recently wrote about the cultural references they share (or don't share) with younger colleagues (Bardiac) and students (Boylan).  Boylan says that the last piece of common ground seems to be Harry Potter, which is probably about right, and that she'd watch SNL but that the host is Seth McFarlane, and she doesn't know who that is. I do know, but primarily because of listening to Fresh Air, which is for non-cool people like myself the place where we find out what's going on in the culture.

Except for a few television shows (Arrested Development, and that's an old one to them), I don't think my students and I share many cultural references beyond Santa Claus and current internet memes.  I know from asking them that Mad Men and Downton Abbey aren't on their radar screens--as why would they be?--but then again Futurama and Family Guy are only dimly on mine. Music years are like double-dog years to them: a song from 2010 that I heard and liked would be approximately 14 years old in cultural time, so I don't even try with music.

The places where we find common ground are those that you can't help knowing about even if you've never read or seen them: Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, usually Star Wars, and maybe Star Trek in all its variations.  But since my interests lie much more in the popular culture that's way back in the past even for me and far more so for them, I'm happy to learn from them what they choose to tell me about what cultural touchstones they share, and I try to find analogies from the past that might help.  They seem to enjoy educating me, and the feeling is mutual.

How do you bridge the culture gap?


Bardiac said...

We were also discussing Star Wars, and some folks said their students had never seen the movies and didn't get general references. (I think my mid-level college students mostly understood my reference to Luke Skywalker the other day.) Few of my students are likely to get a joke about red shirts unless they think it's about football.

For most, Harry Potter is old, and it seems pretty gendered female for college students.

undine said...

Bardiac, that's interesting. I didn't know that about Harry Potter (old and gendered female), but I only know it from pop culture anyway and wouldn't dare try a really specific reference. Does this mean we have to start watching/reading Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead?

I did mention Twilight, which I also haven't either seen or read, just to ask whether this would fit the category we're discussing, and they GROANED.