Teaching Spotlight: Mapping Youth Culture

The culmination of each class I’ve taught includes 2 connected assignments: the creation of a mind map in which you rethink the topics and organization of the course and a 1-2 page essay unpacking the argument and significance of your map.

(side note: You can check out the course syllabus for AMST 201: Conformity and Rebellion in American Youth Culture on my Academia.edu page here.  This 8-week online course was offered at Purdue University in the summer of 2015, and had 12 undergraduate students and 1 Masters student.  Most interestingly, it includes the list of readings and films assigned for the course, although I’m always on the lookout for more amazing assignments.  Send your ideas my way!)

This visual exercise frequently stumps my students who have never had to create an assignment like this.  How can you grade it?  What’s the right answer?  How will I know if I’m wrong?  And all I can say is this: “I want you to be brilliantly original and brief.  Show me critical thinking and show me that you engaged with assigned material and discussion topics over the course of this semester.”  It’s a lofty goal, but most of the time it really gets students thinking about how to put all of the puzzle pieces back together.  It encourages students to think about the significance of juxtaposing these ideas, as well as initiates thinking about what topics or perspectives were left out.

For this course, students were asked to create a mind map on American youth culture and write an accompanying explanatory mind map.  I encourage you to check out all of the mind maps on Tumblr by searching for our shared class hashtag #amst201youth.  Here are a few of my favorites as well as my own mind map of youth culture.

Tylor's Mind Map, produced as a final component of his participation in AMST 201: Conformity and Rebellion in American Youth Culture in American Studies at Purdue University, 2015.
Tylor’s Mind Map, produced as a final component of his participation in AMST 201: Conformity and Rebellion in American Youth Culture in American Studies at Purdue University, 2015.

In his mind map, Tylor broke down the course chronologically by generations (which offered an interesting counterpoint to the course which was organized thematically and jumped from past to present).  Readings or films on each generation indicated distinct characteristics.  He argued that Generation X was ethnically diverse, educated, and “their generation worked to live, and they didn’t live to work.

This generation was the first to not have to live through the segregation and the Civil Rights Movement.”  Generation Y is family oriented, ambitious, and desires to make a difference.  He adds: “This generation is the generation that are into tech, like the software developed today, is the result of this generation, their ambition and desire to make a difference. This was also the generation that experienced the zoot culture. This culture was a good topic in this class, because it showed how different cultures were adopted by teens in order to make themselves more comfortable.”

Finally, Generation Z is focused on technology and entrepreneurship: “Today’s youth are the ones we see with all the new iphones, ipads and all the social media account, such as Instagram, YouTube, and SnapChat. We don’t know everything about this generation, but it’s gonna be something exciting for us to experience.”

Destiny's mind map for AMST 201: Conformity and Rebellion in American Youth Culture in American Studies at Purdue University, 2015.
Destiny’s mind map for AMST 201: Conformity and Rebellion in American Youth Culture in American Studies at Purdue University, 2015.

Destiny chose Prezi as the medium for her mind map, so I encourage you to check it out in order to see it in a better quality.  Destiny chose to construct her mind map on four stages of being in youth culture as seen through the eyes of youth.  In her explanatory essay, she writes about the different sections:

WE ARE GROWING represents the things that youths develop as a result of the environment they are placed in. Like the LA/Salvador, and Dummy Smart articles, youths grow, usually against the grain, and begin to develop their own identities based on the geographic and social location they are in. Usually, they develop a culture and a lifestyle that they can fit themselves in after being rejected by ‘normal’ society.

WE ARE CHANGING meant to represent the different paths that demographically diverse youths take. Some allow themselves to fall into the socially constructed system, while other don’t. Like the podcast on Hispanic youth and the documentary Teenage, new communities, identities, cultures, and social norms can arise when enough regulative pressure is applied to youth populations.”

See more of Destiny’s excellent work at her Tumblr site here.

Ariel's Mind Map for AMST 201: Conformity and Rebellion in American Youth Culture in American Studies at Purdue University, 2015.
Ariel’s Mind Map for AMST 201: Conformity and Rebellion in American Youth Culture in American Studies at Purdue University, 2015.

Ariel’s mind map is broken into four poles: norms, power, identity, and gender (nearly every one of Ariel’s posts offered a thoughtful feminist analysis of gender, so check out her work here). She gives a spectacular analysis, but I’m going to only focus on one of her points to give you an incentive to check out her full essay on her Tumblr.  Ariel argued in her essay that visible aspects of one’s identity (like gender, sexuality, and race/ethnicity) shape how the individual is perceived as connected to power and expectations of conformity.

She writes: “As discussed in numerous articles, a person’s race/ethnicity are often a source of power imbalance. As is seen not only in the articles but in everyday life, if you are a part of the mainstream society you tend to have more power in general while being a member of a minority group automatically grants you less power. From this imbalance of power stems the concepts of conformity and rebellion.

There are those who though they do not necessarily agree with the imbalance of power, go along with or conform. Then there are those who rebel against the power imbalance in whatever way they can.”  Ultimately, you can never resist both forces of power and identity, the visibility of your identity (race, gender, sexuality, and even class) and the cultural norms granting certain identities more power.  These forces exist together in an electrified web.

My (Kera Lovell's) mind map for AMST 201: Conformity and Rebellion in American Youth Culture in American Studies at Purdue University, 2015.
My (Kera Lovell’s) mind map for AMST 201: Conformity and Rebellion in American Youth Culture in American Studies at Purdue University, 2015.

I pick up Ariel’s argument in my own mind map for the course.  In thinking about how to visualize the theme of youth culture I couldn’t get away from the course’s initial organization around two oppositional yet overlapping poles: conformity and rebellion.

This course really interested me over time because it revealed how the central themes of youth culture revolved around how teenagers exist in a liminal state – youths are celebrated as beautiful, idealistic, pure, adventurous, and youthful, while they are also denigrated as naive, self-absorbed, dangerous, vulnerable, and juvenile.  Youth culture holds so much power and yet youths are given very little citizenship except for the right to (and expectation to) consume.

Conformity and rebellion are shaped by social and cultural norms, individual wants and experiences, family dynamics (and I would add, historical context), shape behaviors and identities of American youths.  These two tensions between conformity and rebellion shape the essential relationship between identity (who am I and what does that mean?) and citizenship (what power do I have and how are my rights valued in society?).  Nearly every example we encountered in the readings or films demonstrated how youths in ways that both conformed and rebelled.

Miss Representation demonstrated many girls conformed to cultural norms of female sexualization and infantalization by sexualizing themselves.  To engage in this self-sexualization is an act of conforming to norms of women’s sexualization in such a way that presents this self-sexualization as an act of rebellion.  Likewise, in the chapter “Dummy Smart” from Victor Rios’s book Punished, Rios argues that young black and Latino boys engage in practices of creating organic capital in an attempt to define their own identity in positive ways that both conforms and rebels – such as wearing expensive tennis shoes to a job interview.  These attempts, however, are frequently misrecognized as being lazy or disrespectful that, in turn, further reinforce negative stereotypes about youths of color.

Don’t forget to check out the syllabus on my Academia.edu page or check out amstyouthculture.tumblr.com to see more of our discussions throughout this extremely brief yet fun course on youth culture.

Teaching Spotlight: Mapping Transnational Toy Routes

I’m teaching an American Studies course this summer on conformity and rebellion in youth culture.  A major component of youth culture in America over the past century has been the near constant creation of new toys.

An assignment for the course was an investigation of America’s toy culture, and included two parts.  Part 1 asked students to dive into an experiential analysis of a chosen toy by thinking about what the toy means for youths in our culture:

Toy Paper: Toys are an essential component of youth culture in modern America and, as argued by Roland Barthes, “toys always mean something, and this is always entirely socialized, constituted by the myths or the techniques of modern adult life.” 

First, read this excerpt from Roland Barthes’s Mythologies on toys.  Choose a toy from TIME Magazine’s “100 Greatest Toys” list released prior to the 1990s, and write a 250-word paper in which you put that toy into conversation with Barthes’s argument.  Visually analyze the toy – how it looks, how it moves, what it says, the target audience, marketing strategies, etc.  Describe the experience of playing with that toy and the meanings and myths it reinforces (you might want to visit your local toy aisle and make a purchase).   Post your response along with a Youtube video or image of an advertisement for that toy on your Tumblr.  This advertisement should be a primary source and not a secondary source.  Hashtag it #amst201youth  #amstpurdue  #amstproject

Second, students were asked to jump to current day to investigate the labor behind the toy. How does these toys, mere material objects, claim space in hidden, global ways?

Students are asked to choose any toy out on shelves today and investigate how the toy is constructed.  Where is the toy made?  What is its path to arrive in a store in the US?  How is the toy made?  What is the experience like for workers making this toy?  Post your 250-word paper along with at least 2 sources (not Wikipedia), and a photo or video depicting a worker constructing/holding the prepackaged toy on your Tumblr using the correct hashtags.

Because most Americans never realize the often multi-thousand mile journey a toy has to make before it is gender-segregated on WalMart’s toy shelves, I had hoped that students would particularly reveal transnational trade routes.  And I was thrilled with the response!  To visualize this, I composed a Google Map with markers and paths from their factory locations to Purdue University, where the class is offered.  Take a look:

A map I created to visualize how many of America's toys originate, trade hands, and cross maths around the world.
A map I created to visualize how many of America’s toys originate, trade hands, and cross maths around the world.

What’s your favorite toy and where does it come from?  How can we learn about our global patterns of consumerism by tracing the factory-to-store paths of our most treasured toys?  My sister’s childhood favorite was the the troll:

20150112233420-troll

Interested in learning more about our course?  Follow the hashtag #amst201youth on Tumblr or check out my instructor blog for the course herehttp://amstyouthculture.tumblr.com/

Inspiration: Teen Brains

I teach an online undergraduate course in American Studies at Purdue University, and today we’re reading a chapter from Julie Elman’s book Chronic Youth on teen brains.  Elman argues that even though we’ve always talked about teen behavior craziness since about the 1890s when the concept of adolescence emerges, in the 1980s and 1990s a shift happens due to the advancement of neuroscience technology in which brain scans of teenagers are used to “prove” teenage craziness and/or normalcy.

During this historical context, brain scans were used to portray teenage brains as under developed, or “disabled” – often distorting the “collective care” rhetoric and principles of the national disability movement and reducing them to anecdotes of teenage emotional spazzes.  In looking at visualizing information, Elman evidences how brain scans are called in to “prove” teenage insanity in the Columbine and other school shooting trials, while general racism is used to “prove” juvenile delinquency in youths of color.  The problem, Elman argues, is that this seemingly objective science is used to reinforce racial, class, and gender stereotypes.

Since my students and I are having a fun conversation about teenage crisis, you should check out their findings by following the #amst201youth hashtag on Tumblr or by following my Tumblr blog here: http://amstyouthculture.tumblr.com/

In anticipation of their reading responses, I did a quick Google search for “teenage brain infographic,” and boy did I find a crap-ton of visuals arguing different things.  Let’s see what we find.

According to this graphic, teenage brains are under construction, with lots of confidence, little judgement, and not enough consideration of their fellow teenage swimmers.  Ya drowned, Bieber.

Teenagers are “obese,” “suffering” from back pain, and love “attention-stealing” devices.  They will undoubtedly, as this infographic demonstrates, be prone to arthritis and old age blindness due to all the time they spent looking at screens.  Ya blind, Taylor Swift.

And the New Yorker thinks kids are consumed with social media, rap, and hot white actresses (no offense Scarlet).

And there are more!  Do your own Google search for “teenage brain infographic” or check out some images I posted to my Tumblr here: http://amstyouthculture.tumblr.com/.  There are tongs of different ways that teenage brains are being used to “prove” that teenagers are violent, narcissistic, technology-driven, and prone to dangerous behavior despite tons of examples of teens on the ground demonstrating their eagerness to help others, advocate for political change, and promote positive consumption.  How can we visualize those teens’ brains?  And what does it mean to visualize teenage brain “normalcy”? If you visualized your brain, what would you find?  Obsessions, habits, fears, drives, and memories?  My brain scan would probably reveal a pie chart similar to this:

my brain

Make your own brain pie chart at https://www.meta-chart.com/pie.  My husband also decided that he would make a pie chart of his brain after reading this post.  Eye roll.

hubs brains copy