Quantcast
Connect with us

One college professor’s crusade to teach Marvel in the classroom

Published

on

In the fall of 2010, as The Walking Dead was about to debut on TV, I launched my Media Genres: Zombies course at the University of Baltimore and examined what that horror subgenre reflects about our culture. Much of the press coverage focused on the course’s very existence. Why waste the time and money? Shouldn’t you be teaching kids how to get a job?

Four years later, the University of Baltimore has announced my spring 2015 Media Genres: Media Marvels class, which focuses on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is itself based on Marvel Comics’ 75-year-old interconnected saga, and the same questions are popping up.

ADVERTISEMENT

So here I am again to explain why teaching critical thinking about mass media is vitally important to guarantee our students are not just capable of working but of functioning as literate, informed citizens.

It’s always worth looking behind the scenes.
Marvel 2015

My courses are about using familiar pop culture constructs to teach students how to think critically, analyze the messages shared via entertainment, and discuss race, gender, class, ethics, and morality in a way that reaches them where they live.

While many classes use a dusty literary canon that offers less relevant connections for present-day students, my courses use zombies and superheroes – the common cultural currency we’re reading and viewing in the here and now – as a spur for thoughtful conversation. Academic texts don’t have to be old to be important and useful; the reverse is truer now than ever before.

We exist in a world where we are inundated by media messages. They can change how you think, who you vote for, how you make choices in a thousand indefinable ways. If you’re aware of these messages and understand how to decode them, you have the tools to make it through this media-saturated life with awareness and, eventually, wisdom. Education isn’t always about training you to get a job; it’s about preparing for a lifetime in a world filled with agendas and people motivated to make up your mind for you.

ADVERTISEMENT

You’ll get more out of watching Thor onscreen than you will out of reading Beowulf.
Marvel 2015

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, released earlier this year, is a good example of how well the Marvel movies lend themselves to productive analysis; it’s also a film Marvel and parent company Disney had no need to make. Given the good will generated by the previous films, and the built-in audience eager to see every new chapter, all they had to do was deliver a well-made, rousing adventure with our shield-slinging hero.

Instead, this ode to 70s conspiracy films – featuring that era’s most notable actor, Robert Redford, in a profound inversion of his usual role – upends much of the series’ structure, sets narrative obstacles for any successive films, and incorporates pointed political commentary on everything from NSA surveillance to drone strikes.

That’s just one movie; we’ll be looking at eleven of them and examining their comic book, cinematic, and literary predecessors as well as supplementary material from the likes of mythologist Joseph Campbell and neurologist Oliver Sacks.

ADVERTISEMENT

Now let’s turn to the semantics of ‘I am Groot’ …
Marvel 2014

None of this is really new. While my course is being called the “first of its kind” by specifically focusing on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the academic exploration of comics and superheroes has been going on for decades. Every time it’s reported – usually with the same patronizing BAM POW ZAP headlines – it’s as though this never happened before.

“Now you can take a college course in comics!” Yes, and you could also take one 15 years ago when I first started teaching comic book literature over at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. You could also encounter Marvel heroes in universities decades ago when Marvel editor and writer Stan Lee himself took to the college lecture circuit.

Perhaps another compelling argument for teaching critical thinking is that it might be a good idea to train the next generation to have a cultural memory that lasts more than five years.

ADVERTISEMENT

While I knew certain news organizations would report the Marvel course with bemusement or derision, I was shocked to see some pop culture publications including io9.com dismissing and even insulting the notion.

Fans often feel ownership of something when it remains within their purview, but as these characters became global icons – the very reason we need to examine them – they passed out of the hands of comic book fans exclusively and now belong to everyone. I can only say that as equal parts educator and enthusiast myself, I approach the Marvel material with the same passion I had for it as a child when I read Stan Lee’s hyperbolic captions and dialogue as Spider-Man struggled to save the day once again.

Comics are excellent gateways to literacy; they can introduce children to the joy of reading as well as providing early lessons in heroism, morality, and ethics. Superheroes are there to save the day in fiction and reality. It’s time to carry that effort forward, and I’m very proud to be part of it. I teach media and critical thinking because I see it not just as a job but also as a responsibility. And as all Marvel fans know, with great power … you’re ahead of me, aren’t you? ’Nuff said. Excelsior!

ADVERTISEMENT

By Arnold T Blumberg, University of BaltimoreThe Conversation

Arnold T Blumberg does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

‘Anyone who tried to impact outcome of election should spend life in jail’: Lewandowski

Published

on

On Tuesday, Donald Trump's former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, testified before the House Judiciary Committee. Lewandowski's appearance before Congress was significant because Donald Trump reportedly told him to tell Jeff Sessions to limit the scope of Mueller's Russia probe.

Lewandowski was defiant in his opening statement, slamming the investigation as biased and knocking Hillary Clinton. He also declared that any entity that tried to meddle in a U.S. election should be in prison.

He said that he handled as many as a thousand emails. "And unlike Hillary Clinton, I don't think I ever deleted any of those," Lewandowski said. "Many of them were either responded to with one-word answers or floated to other staff for additional follow-up. But throughout it all, and to the best of my recollection, I don't recall ever having any conversations with foreign entities, let alone any who were operating to manipulate the outcome of an election."

Continue Reading

Facebook

‘Ranting toddler’ Doug Collins gets clobbered online after he turns Lewandowski hearing into a ‘clown show’

Published

on

Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), the ranking Republican member on the House Judiciary Committee, was brutally mocked on Tuesday after he unleashed a bizarre rant during the testimony of former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

Collins began his testimony by blasting Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) for hauling Lewandowski before the committee.

"Here we go again," Collins complained in an animated opening statement. "We had Mr. Mueller here, and long day, and it did not go well for what you have proclaimed for over one year and nine months, and what you claim is impeachment criteria. And now, the members have said that the president should be impeached, and so why are we investigating?"

Continue Reading
 

Breaking Banner

American neo-Nazis now see 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden as a role model: report

Published

on

A new report from Vice claims that white supremacist organizations are increasingly viewing Osama Bin Laden, the late mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as a role model whose actions can influence the future of their movement.

The report finds that neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division has recently started using Bin Laden's image in its propaganda while also promoting Islamist extremists' willingness to commit mass murder in the name of their religion as something that should be inspiring to American white nationalists.

Continue Reading
 
 
Help Raw Story Uncover Injustice. Join Raw Story Investigates for $1. Go ad-free.
close-image