Category Archives: About the class

Torn Clothing (analyze this!)

Torn clothing, apropos of our John Fiske reading. What’s the difference between the following?:

Torn jeans on the runway (source unknown)

Torn jeans on the runway (source unknown).


Moral Panic!

A still from The Blackboard Jungle (dir. Richard Brooks, 1955), which we'll soon be discussing in class.

A still from The Blackboard Jungle (dir. Richard Brooks, 1955), which we'll soon be discussing in class.

In 313 we’ll soon be discussing the concept of moral panic, a term used by cultural critics to describe episodes of widespread public anxiety over putatively “deviant” or “dangerous” behaviors or groups that are said to pose a threat to society.

Often young people and youth culture are the targets of moral panic, as discussed in both John Springhall’s Youth, Popular Culture and Moral Panics and James Gilbert’s A Cycle of Outrage (both of which are excerpted in our Moodle readings). We’ll be exploring this theme in upcoming classes.

The Wikipedia page on “moral panic” is unusually thorough and well-documented. Worth a look, and worth bookmarking.

Also, here is an example of something fascinating that developed fairly recently and might or might not be categorized as an instance of moral panic: the widespread reaction to an online “game” or pastime called Miss Bimbo, in which players compete to create the ultimate stereotypic “bimbo,” or idealized female figure (the link here will take you to a story in the London Times online). Yow, it’s a mind-boggler.

Finally, here’s an excerpt from the lyrics to that classic by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, “I’m Not a Juvenile Delinquent” (released on Gee Records in 1957):

I’m not a juvenile delinquent



No-no-no, I’m not a juvenile delinquent

Do the things that’s right

And you’ll do nothing wrong

Life will be so nice, you’ll be in paradise

I know, because I’m not a juvenile delinquent

But listen boys and girls

You need not be blue

And life is what you make of it

It all depends on you

I know, because I’m not a juvenile delinquent

It’s easy to be good, it’s hard to be bad

Stay out of trouble, and you’ll be glad

Take this tip from me, and you will see

How happy you will be…

(Lymon, incidentally, died of a heroin overdose at age 25.)

Benjamin and the Frankfurt School

Here are some items relevant to our reading and discussion of T.W. Adorno:

1. First off, the Marxists Internet Archive (MIA) supplies some useful contextual information about the so-called Frankfurt School and its best-known contributors.

Walter Benjamin

2. Secondly, a very well-known and important scholar associated with the Frankfurt School, Walter Benjamin, is referenced in our Adorno reading. The relevant work by Benjamin, a famed essay titled “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” can be found at MIA. Adorno and Benjamin are not interchangeable thinkers, but can be seen as usefully complementing if not contradicting one another.

Ways of Seeing

3. Thirdly, also in connection with Benjamin, the 1972 BBC television series Ways of Seeing (which also led to a book of the same name) was greatly inspired by the work of Benjamin, particularly the aforementioned “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Hosted and largely written by John Berger, this TV series has been very influential. Here FYI, via YouTube, is an excerpt:

The chief questions in play for our Frankfurt School scholars were, is mass culture revolutionary in its potential? And, if so, why is it so often reactionary in its effects?

Barthes’s “Mythologies


Barthes’ Mythologies is a slender book, but demanding. It takes time to read. Therefore we’ll concentrate on just a few selections.

Here are our selections:

Prepare for Tuesday, Sept. 7:

  • Preface to the 1970 edition, page 9
  • Preface to the 1957 edition, pages 11-12
  • “The World of Wrestling,” 15-25
  • “Soap-powders and Detergents,” 36-38

Prepare for Thursday, Sept 9:

  • “Wine and Milk,” 58-61
  • “Striptease,” 84-87

(In addition, you’ll need to read our Moodle selections from Danesi on this day.)

Prepare for Tuesday, Sept. 14:

  • “Myth Today,” 109-59

Oh, and here’s an image referenced by Barthes late in the book, which we’ll be talking about on Sept. 14:


Update! 313 starts next week…

…and at last I’ve posted a page previewing the requirements of the course. Students, check it out — a preview of what we’re going to be doing this semester!

BTW, our required readings will include Roland Barthes’ Mythologies, Will Brooker and Deborah Jermyn et al.’s  The Audience Studies Reader, and various articles available as reserve PDFs through our Moodle site.

I’ll see you next week. 🙂

Welcome to 313!

Greetings, students of popular culture!

This blog is meant to inform and enrich the work of students enrolled in the course English 313: Studies in Popular Culture, as taught in Fall 2010 by me, Prof. Charles Hatfield, in the Department of English at California State University, Northridge. Of course I hope it will also prove interesting and useful to those who are not enrolled in English 313 but are engaged in the critical study of popular culture.

Here’s what the CSU Northridge catalog copy says about English 313 in general:

Cultural studies course focusing on the interpretation of American popular culture. Course methodology may include Marxist, psychoanalytic, semiotic, or culturally eclectic scholarly points of view. Designed for students who may want to enter the fields of entertainment or advertising, or future teachers who may want to use popular culture in their classrooms, this course will survey the products of popular culture as signifiers of larger cultural forces and realities.

And here are the specific objectives for this, my version of 313:

1. Ability to analyze critically the production, consumption, and interpretation of popular culture, including texts in various media, consumer products, advertising and publicity, performance, events, and rituals.

2. Ability to analyze the social and ideological influences on and impact of popular culture.

3. Understanding of audience studies, including fandom studies.

4. Understanding of and ability to engage critically with various theories and methodologies in popular culture studies.

That should give a pretty good idea of what the class is about. Over the course of the semester, I’ll use this blog as both a link hub for online resources and a forum for postings on topics relevant to popular culture studies.

I recommend visiting the “Outside Blogs of Interest” listed in our sidebar! Ah, food for thought (munch munch)…