English 103 // Essay Four

Fall 2007



This final essay combines the awareness of American social norms we’ve been building throughout the semester with the audience awareness and persuasive writing techniques we’ve focused on in the last couple of essays.  Unlike those essays, however, Essay 4 will be written in an informative and analytical – though it must also be persuasive – mode, rather than the primarily expressive, reflective, or argumentative modes of previous essays.  In this essay, you will analyze a specific cultural artifact (e.g. literary work, song, film, ad, etc.), that you consider especially noteworthy, in terms of American myths and social norms, much like we did in the first few days of class when we examined the American Eagle website together.  For this essay, in a similar way, you will bring a critical eye to a complex set of texts and contexts. You will need to be extremely sensitive to what is being presented/represented; you will need to be equally sensitive to what is not being presented/represented. This essay will invite you to interpret what you see, fill in contexts, and assume a stance toward the material you are interpreting.
The object of analysis can be from any source--television, magazine, book, billboard, Internet, radio, or some combination of these. Consider contexts and target consumers. Include print illustrations if appropriate. Do not assume your reader is familiar with your cultural artifact.




Spend a few hours reviewing some different products of contemporary American culture.  These could range from ads in a magazine to stories in a book or songs on the radio to movies at the theater.  Pick one specific object you think would be ripe for analysis in terms of how particular American myths and social expectations are fulfilled, inverted, violated, enlarged, or presumed.  For example, you might ask yourself how the latest episode of “30 Rock” reflects or challenges contemporary myths and expectations about gender roles.  Alternatively, you might wonder how that same episode reflects or challenges beliefs about opportunity and success in America.

Audience Analysis:

Now that you have chosen an object for analysis, in a two-page document, analyze the target audience for that cultural artifact. Keep the following questions in mind as you write about audience. What does the artifact imply about its audience in terms of specific gender? race or ethnicity? education? class or income? religious affiliation?  political orientation? Does the artifact presume shared knowledge of contexts, such as fashions, fads, people, events, facts, or other pieces of American culture?  Does the artifact invite its audience or viewer to identify with a specific character or situation? (For example, an ad may invite audience identification with a domestic female audience by portraying a housewife complaining that the floor “just won’t come clean.”)  If so, how is this accomplished?  What else do you know about the target audience





Review your prewriting and develop a specific arguable claim (thesis) about how the piece of culture you are analyzing reflects or challenges its target audience by using or manipulating cultural expectations. In order to support your claim, identify three to five specific elements of the song, poem, ad, or film that best demonstrate how it uses or manipulates expectations or assumptions. Write a five-page analysis asserting and supporting your claim. Be sure that the support for your claims includes direct quotations and/or detailed descriptions of pertinent elements of whatever object you are analyzing.



Your draft should be 5 pages--not including any sample images you might include--and typed using standard MLA, APA, or Chicago style guidelines (Times New Roman, 1 1/4" margins, 12-pt. font).



Essay 4 will receive a letter grade that will count for 10% of your final course grade. The successful essay will be carefully crafted in support of its analytical claim, and will draw meaningful conclusions about the representation of social norms in products of contemporary American culture. Essays that fail to make and support clear claims, that have haphazard organization, or that are poorly developed will receive lower grades, as will essays with surface errors so numerous that they interfere significantly with communication.