Lehigh University
Lehigh University


Using pop culture to examine social justice issues

College-age students might find it socially acceptable—even fun—to chronicle the slow-motion unraveling of pop stars like Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears. But how does discussion about or acceptance of celebrity drug use translate to the everyday life of ordinary citizens, wonders Alta Thornton, director of Multicultural Affairs.

“There’s an interesting paradox with drug abuse and a certain acceptance for the rich and famous to do that, but we often don’t closely examine these broader messages and how they are interpreted by students,” says Thornton. “What kind of opinions about acceptable social behavior are we sending through our pop culture?”

Early this past summer, Thornton teamed up with John McKnight, assistant director of Multicultural Affairs, and Michelle Issadore, assistant director of the Women’s Center, to find ways to expand discussions of pop culture to include an examination of social justice issues as well.

“So many Americans are pop-culture addicts,” Thornton says. “We crave the juicy gossip about celebrities. What we’re trying to do is channel some of that interest into a year-long exploration about popular culture to help us analyze events and contemporary issues through the prism of various cultural perspectives.”

“Who Can Say What?”—the group’s first event that was held in September—looked at the topic of censorship, both overt and subtle. The well-publicized travails of pop-culture figures who gained unwelcome notoriety for controversial comments, such as Mel Gibson and Don Imus, provided a foundation for the discussion.

“We want to talk about these things in an honest and straightforward way,” Thornton says. “Very often, we find that political correctness inhibits genuine, honest dialogue.”

Throughout the fall semester, events will follow themes related to music, religion and politics, alcohol and drug use and the media. Scheduled events include the following:

Wednesday, Oct. 24: Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes, 7 p.m. in the Women’s Center
The showing of a documentary by hip-hop scholar Byron Hurt will lead to a discussion of misogyny, homophobia, heterosexism and hyper-masculinity in hip-hop music and in mainstream American culture.

Tuesday, Nov. 13: Crossing Over: The Immigration Debate
The topic of immigration will be examined, with particular emphasis on the forthcoming presidential election.

Wednesday, Nov. 28: Church & State
The role of the Christian Right in contemporary politics, as well as pop culture topics such as Tom Cruise’s embrace of scientology and Madonna’s support of Kabbalah, will be discussed.

A December session is also planned on “Pop in the Media,” which will look at current media culture and the cultural “moments” that make up the everyday lives of mainstream Americans. The questions posed will revolve around whether the media portrays, mirrors or drives pop culture.

For more information on times, dates and locations of each talk, please go online or call the Office of Multicultural Affairs at (610) 758-5973.

--Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Tuesday, October 23, 2007

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