A number of years ago as a teaching assistant, the professor I worked with would start each class with a music video. At the time, I thought this was a smart way to give the students time to settle into a big lecture class- it allowed those running late a couple minutes to slip in and gave the others something to do while waiting. In general, in centered the class, not something easy to do with a group of 200 students. Since then I have adapted this practice to my own small class room and have turned it into a critical thinking activity. I pick music videos from both popular and more indie artists to acquaint the students with new cultural productions. I also pick videos that somehow relate to each of my classes topics, or at least to a topic we have covered, so that the students see how ideas can be put into artistic productions, but also how ideas are spread through ideological apparatuses like the media. I then routinely ask my students, why I showed them this particular music video? What does it have to do with Gender studies? With our recent topics? I ask them, what might we be talking about today, based on the video? I continue by asking the students to ground their answers in the music videos- what about the videos- the lyrics, the images, the style, the artists’ identities, make them think that they are about X. The students often need some help going through some of the videos, but they really enjoy the process. If I don’t show a video, they often ask me why there is no video and they send me recommendations for videos along with a rationale as to why they should be included. I will be posting a series here on the videos I use, what I connect them to, why I use them, and what I ask my students to think about with each video.
I begin this series with a fairly direct, but fun video from Todrick (Toddy) Hall and Ru Paul, Low.
This is a fun video that students can connect with because it is a play off of the Wizard of Oz and Wicked, both popular and well known works. Familiarity gives the students something to grab onto during their analysis. I often ask, so what is this about? And when they say, the Wizard of Oz, I then ask, ok, now how is it different? Race comes up, and a conversation about The Wiz (which has recently seen a resurgence of interest after a live TV reboot on NBC), gender is usually discussed, since the protagonist is male or a drag queen, as well as goodness/evilness, since rather than Dorothy, the Wicked Witch is the star. We also talk about queer culture since Ru Paul is fairly well known to my students because Ru Paul’s Drag Race on VH1 and LOGO, and what it means for him to be portrayed here as male.
Sometimes, the furthest I can get my students to go with the video is that its about difference, really a celebration of different bodies, body types, races, genders, performances, and even stereotypes, since the Wizard of Oz is such a gay/queer cult icon. Sometimes, I can get them to go a lot further in thinking through ideas of beauty, normalcy, and how that is projected onto goodness and that by embracing the Wicked Witch, perhaps there is a commentary about the way marginalized people are vilified by many forms of popular media. Or that by dressing as both the Good Witch and the Wicked Witch, Hall is showing that no one is wholly one thing or another. Either way, it gives them a starting point for how analysis works, how you need to ground your thoughts in the object you’re analyzing, and that popular media is well worth studying, something that often comes as a surprise to my students.