Filling in a few lessons of the Year 11 Contemporary Possibilities module, where we had been exploring the representation of teenagers in the media – core text: Rebel Without a Cause – we considered the idea of ‘celebrity’. This included the shift from studio stars of the mid 20th century, such as James Dean, through to present day reality television and Instagram accounts.
We also discussed meanings for the following terms:
- icon and symbols
which led into an examination of capitalism and notions of delayed gratification within our world of overly saturated advertising – creating and satisfying manufactured needs.
Students received a (slightly sanitised) copy of Taylor Swift the 2015 Barthelme Prize winning story by Hugh Behm-Steinberg. Students read the story silently, then I read aloud. We discussed the representation of celebrity: why Taylor Swift?
Students then answered these questions:
- Who is the audience for this story? Who does Taylor Swift appeal to? Can you account for this difference, if any?
- What is the tone? Is this linked with the use of 2nd person?
- Comment on the language used: how does it reveal information/enhance our understanding of the narrator?
- Identify the key moments in this linear narrative. Is the climax expected? Is the resolution satisfying?
Students made sound observations in our subsequent discussion:
- ‘Taylor Swift’ appears 22 times – the name of a song written in her 22nd year
- ambivalent gender of narrator – both male and female ‘work’
- differing levels of agency: dolls who are manipulated, yet ‘smile’ in the final paragraph contrast with the winged doll who dreams of being discovered via ‘… the videos she uploaded …’
- consumption as a feature of society: goods, commodified people, social media
- structure and form (or lack of) eg. dialogue, past and present tense
We then considered the
and discussed these elements in relation to ‘Taylor Swift’. For example, the purpose of this story – to entertain, to satirise – informs language choice and audience. In an earlier lesson, I had made students aware of the importance of audience and their ability to make meaning based on experiences of reading within their social context. This included an outline of Stuart Hall’s theory of reading reception:
- negotiated, and
- alternate, and
- resistant readings (Brian Moon Literary Terms: a practical glossary)
Students were tasked with settling on a celebrity and an associated icon or object as a symbol for a specific concept. We had viewed the car safety video, a short film James Dean made with Gig Young made just before his death to think about an overarching idea or concept associated with celebrity. We decided that the red jacket in Rebel Without a Cause symbolises the ‘outsider’ nature of teenage rebellion – fast cars and death are forever linked to the public persona of James Dean.
This became the basis for their own writing.
Students shared their chosen celebrity and object and we created word banks on the board. I encouraged the addition, or building of words to include alliteration, onomatopoeia, assonance, create similes, by identifying which words had ‘crossover’ – those terms that applied to more than one object. These word hoards are useful in students developing a lexical chain in their writing, a way of sustaining an idea, a cohesive motif, throughout a story.
We went back to the Model for Short Story Genre to develop other important elements, creating alternate options. For example, the setting is the opposite for where your celebrity would typically be found. So, if you had thought of Lady Ga Ga (masks), she could be found centre stage at night – perhaps your new character would be in the audience of a daytime soap opera. These shifts force the writer into a less obvious fictionalised story.
As a rule, students are free to write in their journals without ever sharing a completed work unless they choose too. I’m hoping I might share one or two finished stories at a later date.
* featured images from flickr (labeled for non-commercial reuse via Google image search)