The term “popular culture” is used to describe the kind of literature, music, painting, architecture, and other cultural matter that is produced for mass consumption. Some popular culture turns out to be very sophisticated, but much more popular culture is designed to reaffirm and comfort popular attitudes and tastes, not challenge or examine them. Above all, popular culture usually aims to succeed in the market place. Examples of twenty-first-century popular culture include television programs, feature films, popular music of many kinds, video games, and many other kinds of media.
For this paper, choose one form of popular culture for analysis. When you choose a type, or genre, be sure that it is a coherent genre; not “popular music” but, say, “sentimental love songs of the 1950s” or “goth rock of early 1980s”; not “comic books” but “Disney comics” or “monster comics” or “superhero-type comics.” Be sure to select a specific kind of popular culture. Huge genres such as “rap music” or “hip hop” are simply too large for this project. Even more importantly, be sure to select a form of popular culture that you find interesting to begin with. You can choose a topic from a wide variety of material—from comic books and horror movies to TV shows and bumper stickers and magazines, from Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys to 50 Shades of Grey, from plays by Neil Simon and Sam Shepard, to Hayao Miyazaki’s animated films and Haruki Murakami’s novels.
Your object will be to explore the relationship between your chosen piece of popular culture and some social issue such as age, race, gender, class, religion, immigration, etc. You will be forming an argument about this relationship, a central thesis that will be supported by your evidence. Evidence for your argument will come from analysis or descriptions of the popular culture as well as from credible research sources you select. One requirement of the paper is that you use at least five research sources; at least three of those sources have to be peer-reviewed academic texts.
Please keep in mind that you are not writing a report. You are writing an argumentative paper that includes research and adds to a broader conversation about your chosen topic. You are to add to this conversation by making a claim about your chosen topic. Focus on the development of ideas rather than on the accumulation of quotes.
How to find topics
- Read reputable news media (websites such as NPR, BBC, ABC, Time Magazine, The Guardian, NYTimes)
- Think about how the popular culture (film, music, literature, radio, video games, etc.) you consume engages in some social issues.
- Do some preliminary research to narrow down your topic to a particular piece of popular culture and a particular social issue.
Some sample research questions:
- Do Breaking Bad and similar television crime dramas make people afraid of Latin American immigrants?
- Are female rappers of the 2020s–for instance, Cardi B. and her associates–modern-day feminists, or just pornographers?
- Do military-themed video games portray Middle Eastern people fairly?
- Do “white trash” reality shows slander Americans who live in rural parts of the country?
- Was “Gangsta Rap” in the 1980s and 1990s a valid form of protest against living conditions in the inner city, or did it simply celebrate violence, drug use, and sexism?
Here are some additional topics that you might be interested in researching:
- 1960s comic books and civil rights
- Video games and climate anxiety
- Horror film and gender issues
- TV shows’ depiction of LGBTQ+ experience
- Celebrity culture in America
- K-Pop and social issues
- True Crime podcasts and Americans’ fascination with violence
- Portrayals of Italian-Americans in mafia movies
- 1970s Funk Music and the Black Power movement
- Stand-up comedians and racial/ethnic stereotypes
- Social media influencers
- Sports and political activism
- A well-researched, academic argument that adds a new perspective to the existing conversation about your topic
- A clear thesis statement that advances a specific, substantial, arguable point
- Strong supporting evidence from your secondary research
- In-text citation of at least fivedifferent secondary sources (at least three academic sources)
- A careful evaluation of relevant counterpoints
- A coherent organizational structure that enhances the argument and effectively portrays the research
- A strong sense of audience
- A clear ethos
- 4-6double-spaced pages (1,000-1,500 words)
- Works Cited (MLA)
- Meticulousproofreading and proper MLA formatting
Don’t Do It!
- No dropped quotes (always provide the author’s name)
- No more than one block quote
- No changing topics at the last minute.
Please use .pdf, .docx, or .rtf format.
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