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Changes in my Perception of Pop Culture through Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

28 Apr

I have learned a lot about pop culture after taking Engl 1102 class this semester. As a result of taking this class, many of my perceptions of pop culture have changed. When I first entered the class, I only considered shows such as The Jersey Shore as pop culture. However, during the semester I have learned that any form of media can be considered pop culture as long as it makes a  impact on our society so I include the novel Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke as pop culture as well. Some changes in my perception of pop culture can be shown in the genre, characters, and analytical value of the novel Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

From the beginning of the semester to now, one of my conceptions that has changed is the genre of pop culture. In the beginning of the semester, I thought that pop culture mostly consisted in the forms of TV shows such as the Jersey Shore because it was easy to gain mass popularity. I classify Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell as pop culture now as it has been on the New York Time’s best seller list and won several awards. It has sold over 250,000 copies. It is clear that Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell has a very large following, and deserves to be classified as pop culture, even as a book. My view of the genre of pop culture has expanded from being just reality tv shows to books.

Another characteristic of what I consider to be pop culture is the quality of the characters. As I mentioned before, at the beginning of the semester I mostly considered reality tv shows such as Jersey Shore to be pop culture. I thought that pop culture consisted mostly of vapid personas. However, now that I understand Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell can be considered pop culture, my view of the characters in pop culture has changed as well. In the novel, Susanna Clarke provides an extreme amount of details for even minor charactors. For example, she spends several pages describing how servants of a minor character are experiencing change as they have moved from living and serving in the countryside to the city. She describes how the city servants make fun of the new country servants and their strange country mannerisms. This examples serves to illustrate that Clarke creates an insane amount of detail about her characters. Clarke provides even more detail about the main characters. My view of characters in pop culture has changed from vapid celebrity personalities to personalities that can be rich in detail and depth.

Finally, one of the major facets of pop culture that has changed for me is its value outside of entertainment. My example before of Jersey Shore remains a star example of my early conception of pop culture. Many friends I know watch the show just because they like to laugh at the stupid things each character is doing and the riduclous conflicts between the actors on Jersey Shore. People will just watch the Jersey Shore for mindless entertainment. This is another aspect of pop culture that I understand differently now that can be reflected in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. The novel is rich in symbolism and allows for a lot of analysis. For example, the society of magicians in the beginning of the book can provide for a lot of analysis. The magicians only study magic, however no one performs it. Performing it is for street musicians, which are not gentlemen of the society of magic. This can be analysed as a stab at academia – people who only write theories about things but they never go out and try them themselves. This is only one of many subjects for analysis in the novel. My understanding of what the value of pop culture is outside entertainment has changed from mindless entertainment to entertainment with a lot of room for analysis.

My perceptions of pop culture are almost completely different as a result of taking this class. Coming into the class, I expected pop culture to be shows such as Jersey Shore. However, three examples of how my perception of pop culture has changed can be shown in the genre, the characterization, and the value of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. My expectations have changed from pop culture being tv shows and movies to books. Another change is from childish celebrity personalities to complex characters in Jonathan Strange. Finally, the most important change is the ability to obtain value other than mindless entertainment in Jersey Shore to having the option of analysing many different groups in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. My views of pop culture have changed after taking Engl 1102 this semester.

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Hunger Games Mark on Pop Culture Through Archery

28 Apr

One role of The Hunger Games in popular culture is the effect that it has on the interest of fans. Since the series has been adapted into a movie, it has influenced many people to want to become more like characters in the book. One character that fans are influenced by is the female archer heroine, Katniss. There has been an increase in the interest of archery since The Hunger Games movie has premiered. The Hunger Games has affected popular culture by increasing interest in archery.

One way The Hunger Games has increased interest in archery is by increasing sales in archery equipment. After seeing the movie, many fans have gone and purchased bows and arrows. One salesman for an outdoors shop has remarked that sales for bows and arrows have tripled. Many children are definitely influenced by Katniss in the film because the role of archery in The Hunger Games has made archery a ‘cool’ sport. To satisfy their children, many parents are buying their children bows so that they can start learning how to become archers. The Hunger Games is changing pop culture by increasing interest in archery equipment.

Another way The Hunger Games has affected interest in archery is that interest in archery classes has suddenly increased. Some kids will go out after watching the movie and sign up for classes in archery in the same day. In addition, the fans that have went and bought archery equipment will sign up to classes to learn how to become better archers. The Hunger Games affecting our culture by directly increasing interest in archery classes.

Even people who are not fans of the series are affected by The Hunger Games fans’ interest in archery. In the fans’ rush to start trying out archery, archery ranges and youth clubs are starting to add classes for younger kids. Sales of archery equipment are going up and participation in archery classes are going up, so business owners see that there is an opportunity to profit in this growing market. Even though the businesses have not been directly affected by the hunger games, the series’ affect on fans is indirectly encouraging businessmen to appeal to this new interest in archery. The Hunger Games has even affected society by affecting businesses that are not fans of the series to become interested in archery.

Most new big movies or series have very visible effects on fans. Right after watching or reading The Hunger Games, many fans get The Hunger Games ‘fever’. One way that this ‘fever’ is showing is in fans’ efforts to emulate Katniss from the books, they are picking up an interest in archery. The interest of fans in archery shows through the increased sales of archery equipment, increased interest in archery classes at youth clubs, and the youth clubs response by creating more archery classes. The Hunger Games is making its mark on our culture by increasing interest among its many fans.

Ezio’s Honor from a Historical Perspective

30 Mar

In Assassin’s Creed II, honor plays a huge role in the development of the story. Many of the decisions that Ezio Auditore makes are based on his honor and he takes actions to maintain or redeem his honor. While playing Assassin’s Creed II, one of the our assigned historical readings was “Honor and Gender in the Streets of Early Modern Rome,” by Elizabeth S. Cohen. In this article, there was one quote that stood out to me. “Honor is highly vulnerable and men must be vigilant in its defense…An attack on honor is anything which shows to the audience of society that he cannot protect what is his – his face, his body, his family, his house, his property” (Cohen, 617). This quote perfectly describes the attitude that Ezio has throughout the game. Ezio’s decisions throughout the game are consistent with Cohen’s statement about men and their defense of their honor.

In the beginning of Assassin’s Creed II, Ezio’s introductory scene is about his family’s honor. We enter the scene as Ezio is giving his men a pep talk on a bridge. Ezio exclaims, “Do you know what brings us here tonight? HONOR!” Ezio and his allies are here to fight Vieri de’ Pazzi because Vieri has been shaming the name of Ezio’s family, the Auditores. Within the first few minutes of the game, Ezio has acted according to Cohen’s quote, “Honor is highly vulnerable and men must be vigilant in its defense…An attack on honor is anything which shows to the audience of society that he cannot protect what is his – his face, his body, his family, his house, his property.” Ezio is vigilant in the defense of his family’s name, and as soon as he hears about any attempt to shame his family’s name, he rushes to its defense and to fight the threat. By beating up Vieri de’ Pazzi and his men, Ezio defends the honor of the Auditore family name. Ezio’s first action that he makes in the game is consistent with Cohen’s statement about men of the period.

Further along in the introduction, we can apply Cohen’s quote again as Ezio rushes to the defense of his sister’s honor. Ezio learns from his sister, Claudia, that her heart is broken because her boyfriend, Duccio, has been cheating with other women. Again, as Cohen stated, “Honor is highly vulnerable and men must be vigilant in its defense…An attack on honor is anything which shows to the audience of society that he cannot protect what is his – his face, his body, his family, his house, his property.” Claudia’s heart has been broken and her honor is ruined because her boyfriend was unfaithful to her, and Ezio immediately reacts. Ezio decides to beat up Duccio and makes him stay away from his sister so that she won’t be hurt by him anymore. Ezio defends Claudia’s honor by beating up Duccio and shaming his honor. Ezio remains vigilant in the defense of his sister’s honor, and continues to affirm Cohen’s observation.

Later in the game, Ezio continues to fulfill Cohen’s hypothesis as he retaliates against a traitor who betrayed the Auditores. Ezio plans to exact revenge on the betrayer, Uberto Alberti, by assassinating him. By assassinating Uberto, Ezio partially redeems the Auditore honor by killing their betrayer. Again, Ezio acts according to “Honor is highly vulnerable and men must be vigilant in its defense…An attack on honor is anything which shows to the audience of society that he cannot protect what is his – his face, his body, his family, his house, his property.” Although Ezio was not able to defend his family, he retaliates by taking Uberto’s life and defiling Uberto’s honor. In addition, Ezio makes an angry announcement that the Auditores are not all dead. He, Ezio, is still alive! By making this announcement, Ezio restores his family honor by challenging his enemies and showing that the Auditores still have enough power to exact revenge. Although Ezio was not able to defend his honor in this incident, he still operates according to Cohen after he decides to take Uberto’s life and honor.

Ezio is a man who is fiercely protective of his honor. Whenever he makes a decision, it is clear that the motive behind his acts is his honor. Throughout the game, his honor is challenged many times and Ezio always reacts to the threat on his honor. When his family name is challenged, Ezio fights whoever is debasing the Auditore name and makes them stop. When his sister is being cheated on, he immediately goes and makes her boyfriend regret it. When his father and brothers are killed, he kills the man who betrayed them. These are only a few of all of the choices that Ezio makes, but all his actions are consistent with Cohen’s statement throughout the game. Ezio is a perfect recreation of an ideal man defending his honor in early modern Rome. In Assassin’s Creed II, the the portrayal of Ezio is historically accurate with men of the time period and is consistent with Cohen’s assertion of the relationship between men and honor.

by Kim Yie

The Role of History in The Sandman

2 Mar

I have not had any experience before reading graphic novels, so reading The Sandman, by Neil Gaiman, gave me a great first impression of the genre. Throughout the novel, the stories consistently impressed me and kept my attention. One of the chapters that really impressed me was Sandman #31, Three Septembers and a January. In Three Septembers and a January, the story kept my attention by its adaptation of historical events into the Sandman universe, attention to detail, and its connection of other historical figures within the plot.

In Three Septembers and a January, one surprising fact that I learned after reading the story was that it was an adaptation of a true historical event. In real American history, Joshua Norton was a businessman who lost his fortune investing in Peruvian rice. He disappeared for several years but eventually returned to San Francisco, appearing mentally unbalanced and claiming himself to be the Emperor of the United States. Gaiman takes this history and cleverly adapts it into a bet between Dream against Despair, Delirium, and Desire. It is amazing how Gaiman adapted the history into a bet, and it seems completely natural how Despair, Delirium, and Desire test Emperor Norton’s will and pride. Initially, Despair is about to take Norton because he is about to commit suicide after losing his entire fortune on Peruvian rice, but Dream saves him by giving him a dream to live for – living as the Emperor of the U.S. Later, Delirium comes and tests how sane Norton is, but despite his crazy idea of being the Emperor, he remains perfectly reasonable. Finally, Desire tries to entice Norton to lust after what appear to be prostitutes, but Norton’s dignity as the Emperor refuses to allow him to stoop that low. This plot line flowed so naturally that the first time reading it, I did not realize it was an adaptation of actual history. This adept adaptation of a historical event into The Sandman universe impressed me.

In addition to the historical context of the plots, Three Septembers and a January also impressed me by the staggering attention to detail in both the story and the artwork. In parts of the story, Emperor Norton writes taxes on his imperial subjects of 50 cents, and he writes receipts for people who pay their taxes. One of his receipts is briefly depicted in one of the art panes, and looks exactly like pictures of actual ones that have survived a few hundred years of existence. In another part of the story, Norton decrees the construction of a bridge connecting Oakland and San Francisco, and later Norton shows displeasure when San Francisco is called ‘Frisco.’ I did some research, and it turns out that all of these details are based on decrees that he actually made as Emperor. Norton made an imperial declaration for the construction of the bridge and he also decreed a penalty of 25 dollars on anyone that said the word ‘Frisco.’ These small details are only few of the details everywhere in the chapter, and the overwhelming amount of research and effort it must have taken to discover and reproduce these facts grabbed my attention.

One other way that The Sandman kept my attention was the way that Gaiman almost casually connects other historical figures within the story. In Three September and a January, Norton meets Samuel Clemens, a newspaper reporter. Later in the story, Norton and Samuel are eating at a bar, and Norton tells Samuel that he should write about the frog that could jump over everything because people like to read things that will make them laugh. It is implicit that this series of events inspired Mark Twain, which was Samuel Clemens’s pen name, to write ‘The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.’ I was very interested when I read about this in the story because I recognized Mark Twain, but I did not know whether or not he could have truly met the Emperor in history. It turns out that Mark Twain did live in San Francisco during part of Norton’s ‘reign’, so it is not impossible, although unlikely, that Gaiman’s adaptation retells how Mark Twain was inspired. Even though this event was not one of the main events of the plot, this digression caught my attention because it involved a historical figure I recognized and tied it into The Sandman universe.

The amount of history that is in Three Septembers and a January was extremely impressive to me. As a result of how much effort Gaiman made to portray historically accurate details in the actual adaptation of the history, I was constantly analyzing the story because I was eager to know which parts were actual history and which parts were fictional. However, Three Septembers and a January was not the only story that was written with these aspects. What was truly spectacular to me was that the majority of the adventures in The Sandman were written in this fashion. This style of writing inspired me to go and do research about each of the historical events to satisfy my curiosity about which parts of each chapter actually happened. As a result, the role of history and all of the different ways that Gaiman incorporated it into his stories is the most interesting and my favorite aspect of The Sandman.

by Kim Yie

Quicksilver: A Hybrid Nature

10 Feb

In today’s world, we experiences many forms of different entertainment. One way to categorize entertainment is by its content, and the “best” content is classified as high culture, and more general entertainment is classified as pop culture. Sometimes it is difficult to define whether or not something is high culture or low culture. For example, what category should Neal Stephenson’s popular novel, Quicksilver, be considered? Quicksilver is a piece of literature that does not fit into either pop culture or high culture, but contains characteristics of both.

Quicksilver can not be considered high culture. Although there is not a concrete definition of high culture, most definitions share the same traits. One main feature of high culture is that it endures through time. For example, Shakespeare and the Mona Lisa are known by almost everybody as examples of the high culture, even though they were made hundreds of years ago. Quicksilver, as a relatively new book, has not had the time to exhibit this important attribute that high culture possesses. Another aspect of high culture is that it is held in the highest esteem of a culture. Our society considers Shakespeare to be among the greatest theatrical productions of all time, and the Mona Lisa as one of the most captivating pieces of artwork ever. So far, Quicksilver has yet to earn this kind of respect from our culture. Because Quicksilver does not possess these two quintessential attributes of high culture, Quicksilver can not be considered an artifact of high culture.

Although Quicksilver can not be considered high culture, Quicksilver does not fit into the category of pop culture either. One of the main characteristics of pop culture is that it is entertaining to a mass amount of people, and its messages are simple and clear. Quicksilver does not fit into this category because of its length and the content of its plot. Quicksilver is a long read, as it is a novel with over 400 pages. In addition, the plot of Quicksilver deals with an incredibly rich historical time period. For example, much of its plot tells stories and has a unique characterization of Isaac Newton. While Quicksilver does distill much of the history down for less knowledgeable readers, it often directly references some historical events and people that most readers would not know about. For example, while most people know about Benjamin Franklin, the typical reader would not know about the scientists Robert Hooke and Robert Boyle. As a result of the content of the plot, the story is fairly complicated. Because of its complicated storyline and its fairly long length, Quicksilver is too literary to be considered pop culture.

Even though Quicksilver does not fit into high culture or pop culture, the book does share some characteristics of both. Quicksilver is an adaptation of a very rich historical and important scientific time period, and much research has been done to make a historical accurate story line. The fact that this book makes a sincere effort to be historically accurate invites the reader to wonder how the characters in the story contrast with the real people. This trait easily lends itself to complex analysis of the plot line and the actual history. These traits suggest that Quicksilver may be described as high culture. However, the goal of the book is to entice readers to want to buy it for entertainment, so the adaptations in the book have been aimed to make the book more accessible to a large reader base. The book has been quite successful as it has sold about 300,000 copies. The target of a large audience is the main characteristic that defines pop culture, which Quicksilver also contains. Quicksilver contains both aspects of high culture and pop culture.  Consequently, although Quicksilver does not fit well into high culture or pop culture yet shares characteristics of both, Quicksilver fits somewhere in between.

Quicksilver fits somewhere in between high culture and low culture. Some of the best examples of high culture today were actually pop culture in its own time period. Some of Mozart’s greatest symphonies were written for the common folk of Vienna as pop culture. But, this comparison of Quicksilver and high culture does not easily match either, as currently Quicksilver can not easily be considered pop culture. Quicksilver is not easily mass consumed for mindless entertainment. Although Quicksilver does have components of both categorizations of entertainment, Quicksilver is neither sophisticated enough nor massively popular to be considered either. As a result, Quicksilver fits in between pop culture and high culture.

Calvin and Hobbes

27 Jan

Popular culture has often been described as shallow and lacking substance. Others have accused pop culture of taking something of substance and reducing its complexity and adding worthless content. However, this is not always true and it can be argued that there are many examples of pop culture that deserve a deeper look and more serious consideration. One comic series that deserves a more comprehensive analysis is named in reference to two great philosophers, John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes. John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes were pioneers in thought and asked profound questions about the nature of society, and the comic series “Calvin and Hobbes,” by Bill Watterson contains allusions to their thoughts. The comic follows Calvin, an imaginative, creative, intelligent, selfish, and insanely rude six year old, and his trusty stuffed tiger Hobbes. In the comic, Calvin and Hobbes have many exchanges and adventures in Calvin’s imagination, and what appears to be a simple comic about a young boy and his stuffed tiger reveals surprising depth and content about values of our culture.

Occasionally, Calvin and Hobbes discuss our society’s interpretation of happiness. In this comic, Calvin and Hobbes converse about if they had a wish, what they would wish for.http://picayune.uclick.com/comics/ch/1992/ch920920.gif

The superficial punchline of this comic is that Hobbes gets what he wishes for, and Calvin doesn’t. A closer analysis shows there is a subtle commentary about what our society quantifies to be happiness. Watterson uses Hobbes, who is not constrained or influenced by human society, as a character to make a comment about the how happiness is measured in our culture. Watterson continues this message in another comic.http://www.nedhardy.com/wp-content/uploads/images/2011/december/calvin_hobbes/calvin_and_hobbes_7.jpg
This comic more boldly remarks about how happiness is taken for granted in our society. “Happiness isn’t good enough for me! I demand euphoria!” is an extension of the attitude that Calvin has from the previous strip. Calvin has a warm place to live, no need to worry about food or danger, and has free education. The three basic needs for survival, food, shelter, and water have been fulfilled so Calvin should be happy, yet he has been influenced by society to always want more. In these comic strips, a deeper analysis shows one value of analyzing pop culture as revealing the interpretation of happiness in our society.

Watterson also uses Calvin and Hobbes to remark on how our society treats other animals and their natural habitats. One example is a comic where Calvin writes a morbid science fiction story about the destruction of the human race by aliens.

http://www.progressiveboink.com/jon/images/calvinhobbes/jon2.GIF
Hobbes has a interesting reply, “Not enough, really.” This short reply invokes a question, why isn’t doesn’t he consider the story strange enough? In Hobbes’ view, the plot of the story closely resembles how humans actually destroy animal habitats to make profits, and so the idea of aliens annihilating habitats for their jobs is not a new story. From Hobbes’ viewpoint as a tiger, humans are the aliens and animals are the victims of Calvin’s story. An analysis of this comic reveals how destructive and uncaring our society is when it comes to our jobs against the habitats of animals.

Another value of our society that Watterson writes about is the value of growing up. In one comic, Calvin and Hobbes find a dead bird on the ground. The corpse ignites a very solemn conversation about how life goes by in a flash, and how after something dies the world just continues without them.http://calvy.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/dead-bird.jpg

Calvin’s last comment and the way the comic ends begs readers to question themselves. How many times when we were children have we been told that things will make more sense when we are older? Are we actually any wiser about topics such as life and death as a result of living longer? This topic of growing up is not just contained inside this comic, but it is an integral part of the entire series. Watterson draws Hobbes as a living, breathing character when only Calvin is in the strip, yet when any adults or other people come in Hobbes turns back into a lifeless stuffed animal. This shows the relationship between Calvin and the world he lives in versus the “grown up” world, and Watterson has been asked about how the portrayal of Hobbes changes in an interview. In the interview, Watterson explained, “When Hobbes is a stuffed toy in one panel and alive in the next, I’m juxtaposing the ‘grown-up’ version of reality with Calvin’s version, and inviting the reader to decide which is truer” (Christie). This technique forces the reader to consider seriously, is Calvin’s philosophical discussions and the conclusions that he reaches with Hobbes worthless because they took place in his imagination? An analysis of Calvin and Hobbes also reveals questions about the importance of growing up.

Because of its medium as a comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes is considered to be pop culture. There are very few, if any, comic strips that our culture considers worthy of deep thought and consideration, yet an analysis of Calvin and Hobbes shows that conversations about very profound questions happen quite frequently. It is no coincidence that the title names of two great philosophers John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes. Calvin and Hobbes embody the same questioning spirit of values of our culture as the two great philosophers, as a serious inspection of the comic series reveals important ideas and outlooks our culture values. Calvin and Hobbes is only one example of many items of pop culture that not only serve as entertainment, but also reveals values of our society.

 

Citations:

Christie, Andrew (January 1987). “An Interview With Bill Watterson: The creator of Calvin and Hobbes on cartooning, syndicates, Garfield, Charles Schulz, and editors”. Honk! (magazine) (Fantagraphics Books) (2). Retrieved 2011-12-24.