Students in 3 UNT classes learn how popular culture affects the American consciousness

WOLVERINE: © 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc. used with permission

What do Wolverine, the Mississippi Delta Blues and Bob Dylan have in common?

In addition to the fact that they are recognized around the world as wholly American, they're a topic of study in one of a few UNT courses focusing on popular culture in America.

Mythic Rhetoric of the American Superhero, COMM 4849

This 3-hour undergraduate senior level Communication Studies course will be available for the Spring 2010 semester. It examines the Myth of the American Superhero within comics and contemporary media. The class explores recurring cultural issues, mythic themes, and rhetorical functions communicated within the superhero genre. Students discuss and question how these mythic representations of good and evil are defined, challenged, and changing within the American concepts of "truth, justice and the American way."

Shaun Treat, assistant professor of rhetoric, teaches the course. It includes reading comic books and discussing superhero movies and television, as well as examining continental philosophy, critical cultural theory, and psychoanalytic analysis from Foucault to Agamben and Baudrillard to Zizek.

"This class takes critical social theory, politics, ethics, and philosophy and dresses them up in tights and capes to duke it out for supremacy within the American psyche," Treat says. "Superheroes offer a popular persuasive rhetoric that shapes our collective beliefs, aspirations, values, actions and how we think of ourselves and others.   

The class uses The Myth of the American Superhero, a scholarly nonfiction book, as its main textbook, along with several other books and, as Treat describes it, "a hefty reading packet.

Pop Music in American Culture, MUET 3020

This 3-hour Music Ethnomusicology course for non-music majors is available for the Fall 2009 semester. It examines the distinct styles of popular music found in the American society from 1827 to 2009 -- Tin Pan Alley, Blues, Country and Western, Big Band Swing, 1950s Rock and Roll, Rhythm and Blues, Soul, the British Invasion, Art Rock, Punk, Reggae and Heavy Metal. 

Thomas Sovik shares Vaudeville Show stage with one of this year’s student performers.

Thomas Sovik, professor of music theory, teaches the course, which culminates in the presentation of The $5 Vaudeville Show, a variety show and amateur talent contest that's open to the public. The class can be taken in the face-to-face format, by internet, by podcast, or by videocast.

"Music and its song-texts reflect and impact a society," says Sovik. "In this class, you'll learn more about pop music, pop culture, your parents, American history, prejudice, and how you're being manipulated than you can imagine. It's fast-paced, high-tech, loud, funny, and even accompanied by sound effects; in fact, it's a bit like sitting in the audience of a live television show." 

The course includes 7 videotaped interviews filmed at locations ranging from the site of the first documented slave traffic in the New World to the Salem Witch Museum and from the Dockery Plantation (birthplace of the Mississippi Delta Blues) to the Rock-and-Roll Museum and Hall of Fame

The Lyrics of Bob Dylan, ENGL 3912

This 3-hour undergraduate Topics in American Literature is available for the Fall 2009 semester. The course is a survey of singer and songwriter Bob Dylan's career, from its beginnings to the present, with an emphasis on his greatest songs and most important contributions to the musical world.

James Baird, associate professor of English, teaches the class which is one of two courses in the English Department focusing on the lyrics of songs and what they mean. Baird also teaches the other class, Blues and the Poetic Spirit.

"Today's student should be interested in the works of Bob Dylan because he is one of the most important and influential musicians of the last half century," Baird says. "He created the modern musical world by establishing the role of the singer/songwriter as the basic source of new works; caused the acceptance of the 'long song' as opposed to the 3- minute cut; transplanted the social, psychological, and philosophical concerns of folk music to mainstream rock and inspired the bootleg phenomenon because of audience interest in his unreleased works.  But none of this matters, or would have happened, had he not written scores of songs which deeply touch the mind and heart."

Students watch a screening of Don't Look Back, a 1967 documentary about Dylan's 1965 Britain tour, as well as other film clips. Class texts include Lyrics 1962-2001 by Bob Dylan and a book about Dylan's essays called The Dylan Companion.

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