Returning to the notes you took while watching “Hoop Dreams,” use textual evidence (instances from the movie) to answer the following set of questions:
To what degree does the filmmaker (Steve James) portray his subjects as having agency? In other words, when and in what ways do Arthur and William make choices that change their own futures? When and in what ways are Arthur and William depicted as being at the mercy of larger forces outside of their own control?
Why do you think James chose to depict the role of individual agency in his movie in the way that he did?
You can choose to address these questions across the whole movie (by arguing for James’ overall approach), or you can select an individual incident that you find particularly telling and analyze that incident in depth.
In “Spinning Out of Control,” Gary Cross argues that the “program-length commercials” on children’s television during the 1980s represented a departure from previous children’s culture in that they created a completely separate world, far from the concerns of adults. With the advent of these PLCs, Cross argues, “the old view that children should learn from the past and prepare for the future is inevitably subverted in a consumer culture where memory and hope get lost in a blur of perpetual change” (packet page 290).
In class, we tried to identify counterarguments to Cross’ theory, but were somewhat stymied by our lack of content knowledge of the PLCs he mentions. To respond to this reading prompt, watch one episode of an 80s-era PLC (lots of them are findable on YouTube), and analyze whether the content of this episode corroborates Cross’ theory. Briefly summarize the content of your episode, and then comment: Do you see any themes or plot elements that would contradict his argument? Or does the narrative of the episode that you watched support his theory that 80s kids’ TV contained no references to, or discussion of, events in the “real world”?
In 1982's horror movie "Poltergeist," Kid + TV = No Good.
For this reading prompt, find an article by a present-day critic of TV’s influence on children. Link to the piece, summarize the critic’s arguments, and contextualize them by telling your reader as much about the critic as you know (conservative? liberal? parent? psychologist? politician? doctor?) Then, compare and contrast this criticism with some of the historical critiques of television we have encountered in our reading this past week—either the critiques that Spigel and Chudacoff describe in their histories of the reception of TV, or the critique that Bradbury himself mounts in his “The Veldt.” Does your critic have anything new to say about children and TV? If so, what social or technological conditions do you think may have caused this new critique to emerge?
To reply to this prompt, visit YouTube and watch another of Shirley Temple’s “Baby Burlesk” shorts (here is a link to the list of videos that result when you search “baby burlesk”; use your discretion to figure out which of these is actually a Shirley Temple short from the 1930s and which is a video of Christina Aguilera performing on “X Factor”).
In your blog post, summarize the content of the Burlesk that you watched, and tell the reader a bit about the movie that the Burlesk is supposed to be satirizing. Then, use your Burlesk to address some of the questions about child actors that John Kasson raises in the chapter that we read (“Behind Shirley Temple’s Smile,” packet page 123) and/or some of the issues that we discussed in class after watching the “War Babies” Burlesk. For example, Kasson writes (on packet page 197): “Shirley Temple’s early roles were perched ambiguously on the cusp between innocence and flirtatiousness.” Use specific references to your Burlesk to analyze the way that Temple’s screen persona exemplifies this “ambiguity.” Or, on the same page, Kasson continues: “The intended humor of these shorts…rests on the difference between adult knowledge, desires, motives, and pleasures and childhood innocence.” How does your Burlesk exploit this gap between knowledge and innocence for the sake of humor?
Photo by methyl_lives on flickr
If you pick the “Reading Journal” category for your first blog post, respond to this prompt:
In Gary Cross’ chapter “Modern Childhood, Modern Toys,” Cross argues that during the twentieth century Christmas gifts for children became a form of what Thorstein Veblen called “vicarious consumption”; through buying a ton of Christmas presents for their kids, parents could display their wealth to others without being seen as self-indulgent or spendthrifty. (See packet page 59 for the passage in which Cross develops this argument.) Apply this thesis to the contemporary American scene, using scenes from advertisements, movies, or television to argue whether or not Cross is correct.