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My Views on Pop Culture and High Culture

25 Apr

By: Andrew Schuster

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell was an example of a book that takes a popular concept, in this case magic, and putting it to use in a deeper situation than simply casting spells.  A truly good story either makes something go from very complicated to very simple or the other way around and this book did just that.  Magic is used as a sort of cop-out in some cases to explain a phenomena that wouldn’t normally happen (see: Deus Ex Machina), but in the case of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, actual social consequences and moral choices are brought into the playing field, which make a simplifying mechanism more complicated.  The ability to complicate something just by adding human context is one of many aspects which make pop culture versus high culture such a tricky subject. 

            The easiest way to differentiate popular culture and high culture is to first define them both.  Popular culture, by my own definition, is created for entertainment purposes and is usually marketed it a way to be sold.  It can cater to select audiences or it can try to be as broad as possible to include everyone.  Popular culture isn’t necessarily studied or analyzed and sometimes is molded to be what the public expects it to be.  An example of this would be the romantic comedy where the loser ends up with the hot girl and the mean guy gets tossed aside.  The genre of romantic comedy is very much a part of the pop culture scene.  By my definition, a piece of pop culture does have the potential to become high culture, basing that fact on whether the work has some sort of credibility that boosts it beyond mere words (or pictures, or sounds, or whatever medium chosen).  Superficial equates to being nothing more than pop culture.

            High culture is almost as difficult to describe as pop culture.  First and foremost, a piece of high culture has withstood the greatest test of all: time.  A piece of high culture, through some great chance, was found to be important enough to be passed along to the next generations because of something it invoked.  High culture is often associated with some sort of board of smart people who assign what is and isn’t important, but I find that to be a bit of misunderstanding.  Many works teach different lessons and especially in literature, there may be different lessons that pertain more to the academic world.  This can explain why 1984 is high culture while Fight Club is not.  The difference in time frame for both those books also comes into play.

            The grey area, the spectrum between popular culture and high culture, is the point of extreme difficulty and makes specific classification difficult for many works.  It also brings a lot of questions to the table.  Does making reference to “high class” sources make it more credible?  Is there such thing as being trashy and sophisticated?  If something is bad, can it still be high culture (such as many of Shakespeare’s less interesting plays)?  This makes pinning any piece of work to a category very difficult; even assigning it a place on the spectrum can be difficult because that results in trying to find some kind of measurement to decide what makes something worth reading and what makes it just a phase.

            This course has made me reevaluate how I view pop culture and high culture and that both are capable of coexisting.  Fight Club was both an interesting and very thought provoking read, but it also garnered a cult following due to its prevalence on the big screen and in pop culture.  I find that pop culture is really just an ephemeral assignment to whatever is popular here and now.  Whatever wasn’t important or is forgettable is eventually weeded out and in the end, the true masterpieces stand taller among the rest.


The Hunger Games and Pop Culture

24 Apr

“Reflect on the other book and how your perception of pop culture has changed (or hasn’t) over the course of the class.”

After reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins I felt as if I was apart of a pop culture movement. It was very interesting to see the popularity of The Hunger Games rise in a matter of weeks. It has become an international sensation with everyone dying to read the novel and buy his or her movie tickets. Reading such a heart-racing novel was exciting in itself, but actually watching the book come to life in film kept me on the edge of my seat. The Hunger Games is all the hype in current pop culture, and has its reason to be to. The adaptation of the novel to a movie brought everyone’s imagination of the plot to the big screen and was very well adapted. The Hunger Games has definitely made its mark in current day popular culture.

One of the main reasons there has been a huge craze over The Hunger Games is because the novel is very relatable. The novel is mainly directed towards young adults, but a reader of any age could probably enjoy the twisting and turning plot. Teenage girls fell in love with the novel because of the apparent love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale. The fact hat Katniss is with Peeta for the majority of the story does not allow the reader to feel an emotional attachment towards Gale, but it can be noted when Katniss reevaluates her feelings towards Peeta. Another reason this novel has become popular is because of the moral dilemma presented. After sitting back and actually evaluating the story you realize how gruesome and gory the plot really is. The Hunger Games revolve around throwing 24 children from the ages 12-18 and having them fight until there is only one standing. Basically, it’s the survival of the fittest to the tenth degree. In addition to these reasons, The Hunger Games have become extremely popular because the fans can become emotionally attached to the characters since the novel and movie are so closely detailed.  With all of these reasons tied together one can easily see why The Hunger Games have become such a big deal.

After the novel began selling copies left and right the word about The Hunger Games was finally let out. Soon everyone became aware of the story and the feature film that was being released. This is how The Hunger Games became such a pop culture phenomenon. The Hunger Games is considered pop culture because we have an informal consensus as a society that it is a preferred addition to our culture. Another reason why The Hunger Games have gained such popularity is because mainstream media has advertised it. Whether it be commercials on television, Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr some form of social media was buzzing bout The Hunger Games, Katniss, Peeta, and Gale. Basically, The Hunger Games is considered pop culture because it is something that our culture, that our population as a whole enjoys watching and reading.

Throughout the course of this semester I learned a lot of what it means for material to be considered pop culture, and as the semester progressed my views on pop culture have changed as a whole. At first, I came into this class thinking I was going to be exposed to the aspects of pop culture that I am already aware of. Such as Kanye West, Lady Gaga, Johnny Depp, Harry Potter, or Jersey Shore. Of course we did talk about all of this, but at the same time I was also exposed to new forms of popular culture such as Quicksilver, The Sandman, Assassin’s Creed, and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. This form of popular culture is something that I was not very much exposed to because they do not particularly fall into my group of interests. It was very interesting to delve into new genres of music and books and see the other side of the spectrum. Also, during this class I learned the difference between high culture and pop culture and what it takes to be considered both. Learning about and digging deep into popular culture was a very exciting experience.

With that being said, analyzing pop culture and The Hunger Games has opened my eyes to a different aspect of society today and made me realize and notice things I have never paid attention to before. It amazes me to notice how much pop culture affects our society and culture. Often times we do not realize how much we are influenced by the things that people around us are being involved with, but now I do especially after seeing how involved I was by reading and watching The Hunger Games.


Samiyah Malik

The Placement of Hunger Games in Popular Culture

24 Apr

By: Andrew Schuster

The Hunger Games has a fairly distinct place in popular culture for multiple reasons.  The first tie it has is through the cult following garnered by fans of the original book series.  The second comes from the fact that the series was made into a movie, allowing it to reach an even wider audience.  The third is the controversial subject matter, the likes of which the media as well as the general public seem to have a peculiar interest.

The cult following attributes a lot to the position that The Hunger Games now rests in because it explains the ability of the series to spread so fast.  A trend viewed from a series such as this is that readers tend to recommend it to their friends if it is good.  A parallel can be seen via other popular series such as Harry Potter and Twilight.  Due to massive popularity, a book the academic community may not consider “high culture worthy” begins to accrue critical acclaim because of the fact that something getting this much attention can just be ignored.  This puts the books in a strange position because it can be read superficially, like nearly all books, but now people are giving stronger meanings to symbols and events that occur, an attribute given to more academic style books.  The series does, however, suffer from its popular standpoint because the story, in a way, is censored to be more “family friendly.”  The notion of children fighting to kill one another is a very touchy subject in the public eye, and if The Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins had decided to make the series a little more gory, it may not have reached the movie status, which lead to an even broader audience to reach.

A popular trend as of late has been adapting popular books into movies (e.g., Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Twilight, to name a few).  This is a strategic step in the popular culture market for two reasons: firstly, it will be viewed by a great number of fans already acquainted with the books and secondly, it gives the potential for new fans to discover the series.  One aspect that firmly places The Hunger Games in the popular culture side of the spectrum is a motivation driven by sales.  Making a movie will inspire people new to the series to go out and buy the books and potentially other related merchandise, revealing a huge profit.  Now, these probably weren’t the main intentions of Suzanne Collins when she originally made the series and I’m not accusing her of selling out, but if there wasn’t profit to be made on the series, it wouldn’t have been made into a movie.  The subject matter of the book really shows that the author wanted to get her readers thinking about the social and psychological aspects of the world she created and how they apply to real life; this notion played a role to its original rise to popularity.

The general public has a strange affinity towards controversial subject matter today, and this isn’t limited to just The Hunger Games.  Ranging from the speculation and anger revolving around the Trayvon Martin murder case to the SOPA/PIPA bill that was knocked out of Congress, society nowadays trends towards controversial subject matter that often times has something to do with human rights.  The Hunger Games falls into this category on the main fact that the story revolves around minors killing each other for the entertainment of a higher authority.  The story, in a way, draws comparisons of a totalitarian dictatorship in which the leaders have absolute say and control over its dominion and how such a “game” is a way to assert dominance over its subjects.  It’s a very real possibility that exists in some countries and is hopefully on its way out the door considering all the revolutions occurring around the world, but I digress.

With all things considered, The Hunger Games is a very difficult to specifically classify, but it is neither strictly high culture nor popular culture.  By gaining critical analysis and acclaim, the series gets credit toward a standing in high culture, yet its sudden rise to fame along with a movie release hints at a more ephemeral existence in academia.  The only true test for high culture work is its ability to withstand time and still reveal something to the reader that inspires emotion of some sort.

A Historical Deconstruction of Assassin’s Creed 2

30 Mar

Exploring the vastness of Italy in Assassin’s Creed 2, players find themselves noticing various famous landmarks riddling the landscape. In Florence, you are greeted by the Ponte Vecchio, the Santa Maria Novella, the magnificent Santa Maria del Fiore, the unforgettable Piazza della Signoria, however; the mind-blowingly accurate architecture is not limited to Fierenze. Taking Ezio through Tuscany and Venice, San Gimignano and Forli, you will find that many of the in-game structures are real-world architectural masterpieces.  As incredible as this may seem, the precision of these landscapes is only one facet of Assassin’s Creed 2 that maintains some sense of historical accuracy for not only is Renaissance Italy remembered by its architecture, but also the family feuds of the time—most notably of them being between the Medici and the Pazzi.

Detest between the Madici and Pazzi families were the result of the power struggle for dominant influence in Florentine politics. To understand this struggle, one must first recognize the two families for what they were. The Medici family was relatively new to the Florentine society and politics, yet they had money to lend, alliances through marriage, and a vast social network. These factors allowed for the family to become the dominating banking powerhouse of Tuscany and gain influence within the Roman Catholic Church which, during the Renaissance era, played a major role in politics itself. This newfound power gave rise to a natural rivalry between them and the Pazzi family, whose roots were deeply entrenched in Florence well before the presence of the Medici.

This rivalry would later reach its apogee when the Pazzi and Salviati families manufactured a conspiracy for the assassination of Lorenzo di Medici and his brother, Giuliano Medici. Their plan was to be carried out on April 26, 1478 while High Mass was taking place at the Duomo. Overall the attempt failed and resulted with the death of Giuliano, the execution of the conspirators, and the banishment of the Pazzi family from the city of Florence.  With that banishment, all Pazzi family assets were seized and all remaining traces of the family were both forbidden and destroyed. It is with this conspiracy the developers of Assassin’s Creed 2 created such a brilliant adaptation of Italian history.

Throughout the game, the Pazzi conspiracy is reenacted with identical characters from real-world history, however; in order to provide a more complete story and gaming experience, the developers of Assassin’s Creed 2 allowed for a few historical inaccuracies. For instance, the game allows for the plotters to seek refuge in Tuscan. Furthermore, in the game Baroncelli is killed by Ezio in the city of San Gimignario after a failed escape from Constantinople whereas in reality he did attempt escape but was caught and hanged in Florence. Following the Pazzi conspiracy in Assassin’s Creed 2, the game tends more towards fiction and consequently becomes less concerned with historical accuracy. It is an adaptation, after all, not a textbook.

Evaluating Assassin’s Creed 2 as such, the developers of the game have done a magnificent job meshing history and fiction into a virtual medium, effectively creating something that gamers have never experienced before. The game is truly a staple of pop culture, justifying its value with its rich historical flavors. It is in my hopes that Ubisoft will continue to release titles like Assassin’s Creed 2 so that society may begin to appreciate all that video games have to offer; an interactive and immersifying experience that, in this case, allows the player to relive history.          

The Pazzi, Medici, and Assassin’s Creed

30 Mar

By:  Andrew Schuster

Assassin’s Creed II follows a lot of real historical events in 15th century Florence that are shrouded in enough mystery that some of the occurrences are believably accurate.  Understanding the Pazzi family and their wish to overthrow the Medici also places a new dimension on the gameplay in that as the character you’ve been thrusted into a family debacle involving differences in power.

Most video games don’t play into real history seeing as historical inaccuracy can usually lead to some distaste from a more educated crowd, but having the setting in Florence around this era brings a very special instance to the developers, in that there is a set knowledge of what happened and yet a lot of the occurrences are up for interpretation.  Basically speaking, even though the Pazzi striking the Medici is a known event in history, witness accounts are the only thing that we have to go by, meaning there’s a lot that could have been happening.  This changes the dynamic of the gameplay in that instead of a fictional character, the player can be immersed in the feeling that he is part of an unrecorded piece of history.

Another aspect these historical perspectives present to the player is the opportunity to learn of real historical figures.  Normally, a player would be presented with completely fictitious characters and would play along a made up storyline and while this the storyline aspect is still slightly true (there are, in reality, no Assassin’s versus Templars), the characters are for the most part real and had some part in their contribution to the outcome of Pazzi Conspiracy.  These all play out as being actual problems of the higher class and reflect real concerns of those involved.

The final aspect I wish to touch upon is the social aspect of the game, namely the characters that are part of the crowd.  The main reason behind staging an assassination during high mass was to prove a point to the public and send a message.  The public as a whole is just as important a character as Lorenzo de’ Medici because they as a whole represent the stability of the city.  If the people are at a state of unrest, the whole city is, making things fairly difficult for the families in charge.

The historical perspectives add a new dimension to the gameplay that you can’t get in all games due to the fact that Assassin’s Creed II put a lot of time an effort into being as historically accurate as possible.  This concept brings a new experience to the table that allows for both an immersive experience that also offers the chance to better understand the world of 15th century Florence.

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

Assassin’s Creed II From a Historical Perspective

30 Mar

While playing Assassin’s Creed II it was interesting to run into many aspects of the game that were historically accurate. To begin with, most of the characters, such as the Auditore family, are real figures from Venetian history. This adds to the historical feeling that the game sets. In a way, the player can relive fifteenth century Venetian life by interacting with other characters in the game, exploring the landscape and buildings, and following the journeys incorporated into the game’s plot. It was very intriguing to see how historical texts such as Veronica Franco’s poems tie hand in hand with many aspects of Assassin’s Creed II. In the four poems that were read Franco addresses her relationship with a lover, a hater, and a friend. These relationships are prevalent in the video game, and the player encounters situations dealing with each of the relationships Franco revolves her poetry around.

In Veronica Franco’s first two poems she addresses her relationship with her lover, Magnifico Marco Venier. As I read these two poems the romantic relationships between Ezio and the numerous women in the game came to mind. Of course Ezio shared a number of relationships with many women, but he did have a very serious relationship with Christina who he later finds out is engaged to another man. Soon after that Ezio returns to Florence and encounters an attack in which Christina dies. Later in the game Ezio and Rosa begin to develop a relationship. The game does not delve deep into their relationship, but hints at flirtatious comments and gestures. Ezio’s romantic life, whether historically accurate or not, adds to the historic effect that the game displays. At the same time it is helpful to read Franco’s poems because they address romance from the same time period. Her poems go into a bit more detailed love story than Ezio does with any of his relationships, but at the same time the poems do represent romance in fifteenth century Italy.

The next Franco poem describes a situation where another poet has insulted Franco. The poem is a response to the insults and slander that she received and how she reacted to the insults. In Capitolo 16 she addresses how she will confront the poet by describing situations such as “blade in hand, I learned warrior’s skills”. “The sword that strikes and stabs in your hand”, and “ for you may fall, beaten”. Although she will be using poetry and words to fight off the poet and not literally weapons and swords this poem still serves as a representation of what Ezio experiences during his quest when he encounters other assassins, evil townsmen, and other enemies and has to fight them off. As the game’s plot progresses Ezio faces many more characters that he assassinates using actually swords and weapons.

The last Franco poem that was read was Capitolo 23 describes a relationship with a friend. Veronica Franco approaches her friend for advice about dueling with another person. This poem is relevant to Assassin’s Creed II because the video game revolves around friendship, brotherhood, and family. The poem reminded me of Ezio’s relationship with Leonardo Da Vinci. Throughout the game Ezio encounter’s Leonardo many times which leads to great bond of trust and friendship between the two. Leonardo helps Ezio along the way by translating the Codex pages and by using his artistic abilities to help Ezio create weapons to assist him in his assassinations. This example of friendship relates to Franco’s Capitolo 23.

Assassin’s Creed II was a great journey that was filled with action, violence, romance, and friendship. The video game addresses family, conspiracy and history all in one game. The game is very unique and compelling because it inhibits all of these aspects into one game. Assassin’s Creed II can serve as a form of entertainment and an educational tool at the same time.


Samiyah Malik