Patterns in Popular Culture is a reader which reproduces material not ordinarily studied in composition courses: sections of comic books, chapters from popular novels (detective, horror, fantasy, science fiction), Sunday newspaper strips, rock and country-western songs, a scene from the screenplay of a Marx Brothers' movie. For reasons explained below, this material is supplemented by more traditional selections: myths and folktales, literary classics, and critical essays. The contents of this book reflect our conviction, which grows out of our own classroom experience, that the use of popular culture in a writing course can make the teaching and learning of composition a lively and rewarding process for everyone involved.
We have found, for instance, that classroom discussions of movies, pop music, and comic books tend to be extremely animated. Generally, students are both knowledgeable and enthusiastic about this kind of material. They are certainly not intimidated by it and have solid ideas and strong opinions about it. As a result, they are able not only to talk but also to write about it with confidence, verve, and conviction.
Historically, many teachers have felt that the popular arts must not cross the threshold of the college classroom, and although this attitude has changed a great deal during the past few years, there is still a widespread feeling that little of value can be learned from such material. We have no intention of entering here into a lengthy defense of pop culture. The artistic excellence of works like Ursula K. Le Guin's A WiZard of Earthsea and George Herriman's Krazy Kat comic strips seems self-evident to us. But even pieces of popular art which have less to offer aesthetically are still worth paying attention to. Pop culture is important precisely because it is so popular. Its mass appeal is one good reason for studying it. It possesses enormous authority and exerts a major influence on all our lives. Demanding questions can and should be asked of the popular arts, and an excellent place to carry on such questioning is, of course, the college classroom.
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