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identity in fyw

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photo courtesy of a sea snow (

Recently a colleague asked me to share some ideas on how to present on identity to a first year writing class. I told her that during the time I was teaching fyw (I’m currently teaching rhetoric, technology, and the internet), I approached it through a very multimodal pop culture focus: Lady Gaga.

In order to reach a variety of people (I had a returning vet, a high school student, foreign language students, and traditional students), I needed to set this concept up in ways that the students could all relate.

  • We read the NYTimes article “Text Generation Gap: U R 2 Old (JK)” and discussed how relevant this was to the people in the class. Did it define anyone? Was it indicative of a generation? Was it important?
  • Next, we read the ever-controversial Camille Paglia and her article (Lady Gaga and the Death of Sex) about Lady Gaga in relation to other iconic figures like Madonna and Gwen Stefani.
  • Then we read Jack Halberstam’s What’s Paglia Got to do with it? We also discussed who Paglia and Halberstam are, why their opinions might matter, and how they could be focused to reach specific audiences.
  • We then watched several videos:

    After these, we discussed how the articles and the videos add to the idea of who Lady Gaga is, how we, the general public, might view her, and if this is a strategic identity construction. We also discussed how some of the gestures in Poker Face are similar to Madonna’s in “Material Girl” and how artists often “remix” or “reuse” iconic symbols as their own.

  • Finally, we looked at images of Lady Gaga on Google Images. What do images of her with or without makeup, in a meat dress, in various forms of dress or undress, mean? How do these construct identity?

What was really interesting about this form of discussion is that because it was held early in the semester, it gave a baseline of inquiry into the topics we tackled later in the semester. We (and usually this was the students) referenced the Paglia and Halberstam articles several times throughout the semester in relation to ideas of community, technology, and critical analysis.

The best outcome, though, was that we had fun. It was enjoyable to see the students get excited about the discussions.

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