Popular Culture Journalism (JOUR494): Class recap for Oct. 22 — personal essay critiques

Although I didn’t plan it this way, it worked out nicely that Monday’s critique session in class was the day Alice Thorpe came to visit Journalism 494. Alice is the mother of Anthony Pollner, the Montana alum in whose memory all of this happens. She came from New York for her annual trip to visit the J-school, the students, and hear the Pollner professor’s big lecture. We were delighted to see her.

Oh, that’s my cue. I did indeed give my lecture Monday night, called “Liner Notes for the End of the World: My Adventures Covering American Pop Culture.” Considering that there was also the presidential debate, Game 7 of the baseball playoffs, and Monday Night Football on TV, I thought we got a nice crowd. And people laughed pretty much where I hoped they would.

This morning, I wound up as the skybox/refer on the front page of the Kaimin. (Slightly doctored, above.)

We sent Alice on her way with a sheaf of the class’s personal essays, which she said she was excited to read.

Overall, I thought the personal essays turned out to be a useful exercise. Every one of them could have used one more pass for polish and through-line theme (and some more copyediting), but overall, the class really brought it, with some diverse and surprising pieces.

Standouts for me included Donelle Weston’s moving essay about how “Avatar” came into her life at just the right time. Heather Jurva wrote a nice one about (of all things) that David Bowie move, “Labyrinth.” Neil Sauer turned in a vivid one about his nerdy “World of Warcraft” days. Billie Loewen examined her own fixation for “28 Days Later” and how she and her boyfriend are prepping for an inevitable apocalyptic scenario. Tom Holm wrote a delightfully weird remembrance of seeing “Idle Hands” in his bedroom with his first girlfriend, while another couple got busy on the bed behind them. And we were all taken with Eben Keller’s essay about “Calvin & Hobbes.”

Other subjects? “The O.C.’s” Seth Cohen; two different takes on the impact of “Lost”; Cody Blum was watching “The Gong Show” in reruns with his family a whole eon after it was first on; Carli Krueger wishes she’d experienced the ’80s firsthand, instead of only through John Cusack and John Hughes. (Carli, I wish I could say you didn’t miss anything, but I can’t — the ’80s were amazing.) We also got good pieces on “Pocahontas,” Jim and Pam, March Madness brackets, “Supernatural,” “Swingers” and, last but not least, the self-revealing horror of having someone shuffle through your iPod when it contains every song you’ve bought since junior high.

The point of all this is not merely to navel-gaze. People in touch with how pop-culture affected them can become better writers about how pop-culture affects all of us.

For Wednesday, Oct. 24: We have a few essays left to critique (Carli, Cody, Dustin, Ashley, Allison) and we’ll check in on how the scene stories are progressing.

But we have no time to waste and we’ve got to move on to studying longform narratives about popular culture. The reading assignment is just about the best example ever, by an actual genius: David Finkel’s 1994 story “Group Portrait with Television,” from the Washington Post Magazine, about a suburban family, the Delmars, with more TVs in the house than people. Read it, mark it up and bring questions.

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