Kevin Stein, assistant professor of communication studies at Southern Utah University, teaches the famed pop culture class in the Master of Professional Communication program. His favorite part of the class is the combination of his two great loves, rhetorical criticism and pop culture.
He teaches his students why paying attention to pop culture messages is so important to our relationships and community. From having a holistic perspective of the world to feeling comfortable in a group conversation, pop culture influences our daily interactions and brings people together.
Read his three reasons why paying attention to pop culture messages is important.
"When I teach students how to critically analyze pop culture messages, I always tell them that we each have our own pop culture “universe” that is somewhat unique. Even though I grew up enamored with all things 1980s, my students are exposed to different movies, music, television, and books.
Although we differ in our attitudes about certain elements of pop culture, here are 3 reasons why it is important we pay attention to pop culture messages.
First, if we don’t understand pop culture and and how it is influencing us, it will continue to reinforce beliefs about the world that may not be true. For example, most relationships don’t end up with a couple meeting and falling in love with each other for the very first time at the top of the Empire State building (Sleepless in Seattle). We often model our behavior based on what we see in pop culture and there can be negative consequences to this in our interpersonal relationships.
Second, pop culture knowledge is sort of like social currency that we can spend. It can help us relate to others or cause us to be left out in the cold if we lack that knowledge. A friend of mine recently asked me if the movie Seven Years in Tibet with Brad Pitt was out on video yet. I chuckled as I told him the movie came out in 1997 and asked if we wanted my VHS copy of it. Imagine someone making a reference to the Death Star and you sheepishly have to tell that person you don’t know what what it is. You’re missing an opportunity to find common ground.
A third reason for knowing about pop culture is that it is so pervasive. Most homes have more devices for consuming pop culture than actual people. If we aren’t watching, we risk having nothing to talk about. So, there is real value in knowing about the most prominent pop culture artifacts, but it can also drive someone mad trying to stay abreast of everything competing for our attention. Did you know that Netflix alone has over 8,000 movies and television programs for you to peruse in your free time? Nobody could know everything about pop culture nor should we try, but it helps to know some.
In spite of my insistence that my pop culture class teaches students how to critically analyze messages and that they can use these tools for any type of pop culture they want (assuming the messages have social and cultural significance), they demand that I share with them my own personal list of favorite films. I’m careful to define “favorite” as simply movies that are important or resonate with me for some reason or another. I cannot, nor will I, defend all of these movies as great works of art (even though I believe many of them are such as Back to the Future). They simply occupy a space in my own personal pop culture universe.
I hope it's fun for you to look at my hand-picked list of 161 must-watch movies and see where our universes might overlap."