Class Consciousness

Stephen W. Potts

Final Paper Assignments for LTWL 120

English: Polish teenagers. Polski: Polskie nas...

English: Polish teenagers. Polski: Polskie nastolatki. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

LTWL 120 has now concluded. If you’re thinking about taking the class in the future and are curious about the final paper assignments, I’ve retained some general guidelines here:

For the final paper, the emphasis was be on the subject matter of the second half of the quarter: youth culture from the 1970s to the present. Just like the midterm paper, the final was 1500 words long and included 4-6 Works Cited. Papers could be augmented with other media—e.g., CDs, DVDs, websites—as long as the result is the work equivalent of a 1500-word (approx. 5-page) research paper.

Sample topics:


Focusing on a particular musical or stylistic subculture (e.g., punk, heavy metal, hip hop, gangsta, raver, grunge, goth), does it appear to have a “homology” in Hebdige’s sense? Does it, in other words, represent just a musical taste, a fashion statement, or a genuine subculture?

Analyze a musical group or performer from this period. Did s/he/they have a characteristic message? Was s/he/they musically inventive or neatly fit a particular genre? Did the performer(s) in question seem to have staying power or be stuck in a particular decade or movement?

Popular musical genres and related youth subcultures continue to focus on whites and African-Americans, as they have ever since the Jazz Age. What other musical genres and subcultures are there among, say, Asian or Latino youth? Or can you argue that racial subdivisions are becoming increasingly irrelevant, especially among educated youth?

Female performers from Madonna to Britney Spears to Lady Gaga have been used as examples of “post-feminism”—i.e., women who play up to sexual stereotypes but purportedly exploit them for their own power (Girl Power!). Focusing on one such performer (or girl group), does this assessment seem accurate? Or is this simply an attempt to make traditional female stereotyping sound politically correct?


Could the same be said for new youth-oriented images of female power like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or similar “kick-ass” women onscreen? Pick one and argue whether she is a genuine role model or simply another male-driven fantasy.

What are the assumptions being laid out for teen and twenty-something women in current magazines aimed at this demographic? Has marketing to young women improved in any sense since Betty Friedan wrote about the subject in The Feminine Mystique? What about Stephanie Coontz’s suggestion that young women now have to deal with a “hottie mystique”?

Analyze a movie aimed specifically at the young or one that has appealed to youth. What audience and values does it appear to promote? How sophisticated is it cinematically (i.e., artistically)? Is it a candidate for classic status (like The Graduate), or does it play specifically to its time?

In the age of cable, many television shows (and indeed channels) are directed toward youth audiences. Choose one and argue its themes and relevance to youth. How does it speak to or exploit modern youth tastes?

Investigate a book (not already read in class) by an author with some cult status and analyze its relevance to youth or its time. Are cult authors as important to youth culture now as they were in the 50s and 60s?

Analyze a modern work in another medium for content, style, and youth culture relevance, such as comics, graphic novels, anime, music videos, video games. What values does it embody?

Youth culture

As Hebdige notes, earlier youth subcultures created statements through style, some of which tracked into mainstream couture or general youth fashion. Examples would be the beat look (jeans, T-shirts, sweatshirts), hippie and mod style (bright patterns, bellbottoms, miniskirts), punk (torn clothing, piercings, dyed hair), and hip-hop (baggy shorts, cargo pants, hoodies). Are any new fashion statements being made today? What is the difference in cultural meaning, if any, between a T-shirt with a Hollister logo and one with an Old Navy logo?

Explore a subculture built around a physical activity/sport, such as modern surfing, skateboarding, extreme sports. How does it differ from other sports subcultures of the past (e.g., classic surfing, motorbiking)? To what extent can it be considered a subculture?

How has the “wiring” of pop culture affected youth culture in particular? In other words, to what extent is today’s youth culture increasingly built around social networks, cell phones, iPods, and virtual realities? Does this liberate youth or harness them to consumerism and the Matrix?

The Boom Generation was presented as idealistic and rebellious; Generation X as cynical and pessimistic. Do you see Generation Y2K having a coherent public image or identity? Find evidence from published material or popular culture.

If you were to design a unit on Gen-Y2K for a course like this, what would it include from music, fashions, trends, movies, or books?


About runawayserfer

I am a writer and editor living on the Left Coast & writing my first novel: a 1980s-era political thriller titled El Imperio.

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This entry was posted on February 21, 2013 by and tagged , .
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