Composition I, Landrigan, Fall 2013 Essay #2: Cultural Analysis (CA) Rough Draft Due: Fri, Oct 18 Final Draft Due

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Composition I, Landrigan, Fall 2013

Essay #2: Cultural Analysis (CA)

Rough Draft Due: Fri, Oct 18

Final Draft Due: Fri, Oct 25
For our first assignment, we examined a cultural product by looking inward, and reflecting on that object’s significance to us as individuals. For this assignment, a 4-5 page analytical essay, we will approach the same types of cultural objects, but will look outward, to reflect on how the film, music, TV show, book, or sport is a product of the culture that created it. An analysis asks you to examine the relationship between interacting components of our world: in this case, the dialogue between a cultural product and the time, place, and social/political context that creates that cultural product. Rather than asking “Why is this cultural object significant to me?” we will ask, “How does this cultural product reflect the world in which it was created?”
You may write about how a television show reflects a trend in our national identity or way of thinking; how a film responds to the political climate in which it was made; how a book or video game explores social values, gender constructs, or ideas about family, faith, or education; how a band or musician has changed their sound in relation to the evolving historical values of their audience. These are just ideas, and not a comprehensive list – your challenge here will be to make your own connections between the cultural product and its broader context.
Brainstorming Your Topic
For this assignment, we want to slightly broaden the lens of our analysis, so you should choose a body of cultural products, such as a sport/game, a full comic book or video game narrative, the work of a band or musician, the work of a visual artist or architect, a full television show (rather than one episode), or a film. You don’t, however, want to go too broad – no need to write about the history of baseball, or every book by a single author. You may write about the same cultural object from your first essay, since you will be examining it through a different lens, or you may choose something new, though it should still be something that you feel enough interest in to write a full essay. I will ask you all to check in with me to make sure your topic is appropriately focused.
Drafting Your Narrative
We will read extensive examples of analytical essays, all of which focus on cultural products or trends, but here are some of the key features of a successful analysis:

  • A clear thesis or claim: Your analysis should be driven by a reflective assertion – a point you want to make about how your cultural object is a product of its environment. This claim can be directly or indirectly stated, but should be clear to the reader. We don’t want to have to guess. Your reflective claim should also be detailed and specific: try to move beyond something like “Americans love zombie stories because we love being scared,” to suggest something deeper and more significant: “Americans love zombies stories in the early part of the 21st century because they reflect our fears about economic crisis.”

    • It’s ok not to know your thesis when you start writing: you may find that the best way to figure out what a cultural product reflects about its world is to start writing with a question in mind, and explore multiple possibilities over the course of the essay, as long as you eventually reach a conclusion.

  • Evidence in support of that claim: In this essay, your evidence should come from the cultural object itself. Again, don’t assume your reader knows the musician/television show, etc. Give us examples in the form of song lyrics, descriptions of sound, scenes from TV shows or movies, action or dialogue from books, comics, or video games, specific athletes or sporting events, etc. Laura Bogart does this very well in her essay about Breaking Bad.

    • Connect those examples to part of your reflective claim by examining them in detail. Make sure you remember description isn’t analysis: first describe the evidence, then explain what you think it means.

    • For this assignment, you should also begin to draw information in from other sources, though that doesn’t necessarily mean traditional academic research. You may provide examples of other cultural products to compare or contrast, as Naomi Alderman uses vampires in “The Meaning of Zombies.” You may include news features about current events to establish the cultural context, as Kristin Rawls does in “What Does Our Obsession with Zombie Stories…” You may include other material about the cultural object, the way Patrick Brown uses interviews with the stars of The Hills.

  • Organization: You need not follow a traditional intro-body-conclusion structure, but you should clearly organize your thoughts. A good structure to follow might look like this:

    • Introduce the cultural product in a way that engages your readers’ imaginations.

    • Develop individual points about the relationship between the cultural object and its culture. Think about how your analytical claim can be broken down into smaller points to establish individually. Lee Klein’s “All Aboard the Bloated Boat,” is a great example of this.

      • Feel free to use scene, narrative detail, description, even personal experience, throughout the essay to support your analysis and bring the cultural product to life.

  • Reflect throughout on the all-important question of why – why does this cultural object exist in this time and place? How does it demonstrate something about the culture that produced it?

    • Conclude by summarizing the various thoughts you have included about your cultural product, and try to end on an image, scene, or detail from the cultural product that illustrates your point. Leave your reader with a clear sense of your ideas, and then let that detail linger, echoing your conclusions. Matt Sailor does this well at the conclusion of “Return to Oz.”

Nuts and Bolts

  • Typed, double-spaced, Times New Roman, 12pt. font. One-inch margins (the Word default is 1.25”).

  • Include a left-aligned, single-spaced heading that consists of your name, my name, the name of this course, your class time (MWF 9AM, or MWF 10AM), and the date.

  • Include a title (centered) – and be creative!

  • Include an MLA-style Works Cited page that has entries for your cultural product, and all additional sources of information.

  • No extra cover pages necessary.

  • Concentrate on clear, concise prose that brings your experiences to life, but is also grammatically sound.

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