Archive for the Reading Category

The Prezis from the second half of the semester

Posted in Reading with tags on December 2, 2014 by mlenos

Are located here!!!

Denim From The Beginning

The Most Popular Popular Literature…


Pop Music Review

Posted in Reading with tags on September 23, 2014 by mlenos

We did a TON of work in class this past week, so here are some links and review notes to help you prepare for the midterm.

Remember – pop music isn’t just “popular.”  It’s also a way of describing music that features these core elements:

  • short (often under three minutes)
  • verse-chorus-verse structure
  • repeated chorus
  • melodic tunes
  • often use “hooks” (that catchy part that gets stuck in your head)
  • usually use drum, guitar and bass (often other instruments too, but almost always that core)
  • unconcerned with artistic depth
  • the goal is mass appeal – pleasurable to the largest number of people – in order to make money
  • they tend to be ephemeral
  • accessible content

Here are some of the key moments we discussed. I’m not embedding the videos because it would make this post pretty much impossible to load.

1930s & 1940s

We started with talking about the birth of US pop music, and the influences of the crooners and their swoony ballads, along with jazz and big band influence.  Sinatra had all this, plus fan girls called Bobby Soxers.  Here’s some Frank Sinatra.

We also talked briefly about the Andrews Sisters, because this song was part of a film – bringing up that idea of cross-promotion – the film was popular because the song was such a hit and vice-versa.


We had the domination of Elvis Presley, the invention of the contemporary idea of the US “teenager” and televisions in more and more US homes… meaning a chance for pop stars to strut their stuff on TV.  As long as they’re shot from the chest up, since the sexy-dancing is dangerous for our innocent eyes!!!!


Phil Spector and his Wrecking Crew graced us with the “Wall of Sound” recording effect, with its many layers and channels, echo-chambers, and it is so, so, so good, you guys; in class we listened to The Ronettes.

And just to drive home how influential it was, we listened to a contemporary song by Florence and the Machine that uses the same tricks and features.

Speaking of influences… we talked about how the Beatles dominated pop music for a long time – nearly ten years.  While they led the British Invasion, they also used the Wall of Sound recording methods, appeared on television, had crazed fans and short, easy-to-like songs with repeated refrains.

In the meantime, while the Beatles were burning up the charts and selling out shows, proto-punk bands like Paul Revere & the Raiders (but not just men! – we listened to the Chymes in class) were making raw, unfinished sounding rock in their garages.

It’s hard to believe, but even in the late 60s and early 70s, Michael Jackson was influencing popular music. Here he is with his brothers in the Jackson 5.

Finally, in the late 1960s, US American recording companies tried to counter the popularity of the British Invasion by creating a fake pop band based on the Beatles. No one expected the Monkees to actually become popular… but they did – very popular indeed.  While we often think of contemporary bands as launching the idea of “over-produced” pop music, the Monkees were a marketed brand and product long before the Backstreet Boys, Spice Girls or Ke$ha.

The 1970s

…were an odd time for music, with disco acts like ABBA…

And glam acts like T-Rex…

And Elton John dominating the popular radio waves…

While punk bands like the Ramones were popular among smaller groups but didn’t hit mass-market popularity until the 1980s.

In the meantime, hip hop and rap were starting to skirt the edges of mainstream pop music as early as the late 1970s… here’s the Sugarhill Gang with “Rapper’s Delight,” and here’s Kurtis Blow on Soul Train  and the magnificent weirdness that is Blondie’s “Rapture.”


The main change of the 1980s is MTV changing the music industry forever, creating a 24-hour, music-video only channel…

But the problem? No one’s really created any music videos yet.  As a result, we had some truly interesting, cinematic, and LONG music videos!  Like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and some very interesting, artsy videos from small, international groups who probably wouldn’t have been noticed otherwise, like “Take on Me” by A-Ha.

But whatever else happened – remember that the 1980s were a truly, truly strange time in music.


Grunge hits the US hard from the Pacific Northwest with bands like Nirvana… and wasn’t limited to male acts (here’s Alanis Morissette.)

We also had the beginning of the popular festivals of the 1990s, like Lollapalooza and Lilith Fair.

Electronic music gained popularity and moved into the mainstream with artists like Moby…. as did some country-pop acts like Shania Twain.


We have CONVERGENCE – meaning a breaking down of genre barriers and mass media cross-influencing all over the place – music inspired by video games, tv shows inspired by music… we’ll talk more about convergence later this semester.  For the time being, consider the full integration of pop and hip hop with artists like Lily Allen and Wiz Khalifa… and consider Santigold’s hybrid rock/hip hop/reggaeton blend.

We’ve also become more okay with manufactured artists like Kesha.

And we’re happy to have greater diversity in our pop superstars and a growing interest in international pop stars. Even if we can’t always understand what they’re singing about…  Here’s Girls Generation (heavily influenced by 90s pop-hip hop, video game aesthetics and new jazz) and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu singing PON PON PON.

We ended by coming full circle, back to movie-music cross promotion. 

Which is perfect, since we’re going to talk about Hollywood movies next week.

Also!!!! After last week’s class, I heard a radio piece on the lasting appeal of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September.” And then a day later I saw this Gawker post ranking Prince, Madonna and Michael Jackson’s singles. 

A Handy Intro to Net Neutrality

Posted in Reading with tags on September 12, 2014 by mlenos

A giant thank you to Tyler for passing this video along. I’ts a VERY useful introduction to what “net neutrality” means.



Fall 2014 * List of online class readings

Posted in Reading with tags on August 17, 2014 by mlenos

Although I’ll provide most of the readings to you in class (on paper), many of the readings for this class are better done online – some of them are interactive, or include videos or images.  This list is subject to change:

Week 2 “Model Minority: How Women’s Magazines Whitewash Different Ethnicities”

Week 3 “I Can Has Nyan Cat?,”
“How Depressed People Use the Internet” and “The Semiotics of Memes”

Week 4 “The Hills and The Jersey Shore”

Week 5 “Decoding the Beyonce Tumblr,” 
“I Sat Through all of the 1D Documentary and All I Got was this Lousy Blog Post” and “Sex Sells: Latin@ and Hispanic Culture in Popular Music”

Week 8 “Harry Potter and the Clash of Symbols.”

Week 9 “FIFA: Big Count” and “Bigger Than Baseball: 25 Million Watch U.S.-Portugal World Cup Match”

Week 13 “Grand Theft Auto 5’s Gender Problem” and “Video Games Promote Racist Thoughts & Behavior, Study Of White Gamers Suggests”

Week 15  “Subcultures and Countercultures,” “Pop Culture, Subculture, and Cultural Change,” and “The Counterculture Movement Through History”


Posted in Question, Reading with tags , on April 5, 2013 by mlenos

Read the two articles provided in class.

In the comments, talk about an advertising campaign that you like – an ad that caused you to buy a product, or consider buying a product – that is brand specific. Meaning, for example, if you need to buy a new phone or computer, are you influenced by ads that you see?

So, when my last iPod broke, I knew I was going to buy another iPod because I think that Apple makes great products (and has good customer service), but I also really liked this commercial, featuring Feist (a singer I like).  So that probably influenced my decision, too.


Posted in Question, Reading with tags , on March 26, 2013 by mlenos

Reading for next week: “Do Clothes Speak? What Makes them Fashion?” by Fred Davis

Also, here are a TON of fashion sites. Pick one.  Or pick one that you read on your own.  In the c0mments, tell which site you chose, and which particular post appealed to you.  Talk about a fashion trend (or fad?) – past or present – that you found interesting or participated in.  What did the trend communicate, in your opinion? Start to take apart the SEMIOTICS of the trend – go back to your notes from last week if you need to.

Here we go…

Popular Film

Posted in Question, Reading with tags , on February 15, 2013 by mlenos

Do you have a favorite movie?  If so, what is it? What do you like about it?  If you can find the trailer online, link to it so that your classmates can get a sense of your taste.

I like too many movies to have a single favorite one.  Here are two really different ones that I love, though.

Citizen Kane (1941) is often on lists of the “greatest films of all time,” and I agree with that categorization.  It’s a drama about a wealthy man … on his deathbed, he whispers the word “Rosebud” and a newspaper reporter tries to find out who – or what – Rosebud is. So it’s sort of a combined drama, history and romance.  Here’s part of one of my favorite scenes:

But I don’t just like serious, old movies.  Here’s one of my favorites from last year:

I loved Moonrise Kingdom for its use of color and music, for its combination of humor and drama and for its gorgeous mise-en-scene (costumes, lighting, sets and props).  We’ll talk more about all of these factors next week in class.

In the meantime… favorite movies!  Go!