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Examining Social Commentary
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Why music videos? Plainly stated, music is enjoyable. When seventh ninth, and eleventh-grade students were prompted to identify which medium they would prefer to take with them on a desert island, music was selected over television, computers, video games, radios, books, newspapers, and magazines (Christenson and Roberts 33). With access to personal artist websites, Yahoo! Music, YouTube, and MTV.com, students can view thousands of videos at their discretion, and English language arts teachers can bring them into the classroom just as quickly and just as easily to invigorate conversations and facilitate learning. Thomas Sabo Charm Carriers
Outside of the classroom, market trends suggest that high school students are finding pleasure in listening to digital music at increasingly higher rates. A 2006 study conducted by global market-research firm Ipsos indicates that 54% of teens own a portable MP3 player (Kleinschmit, par. 4). Teenagers engaging with music and the artists that make it do not end with the music alone. Studies indicate that over one-third of those who download music (39%) between the ages of 12 and 24 say they are extremely or very interested in viewing music videos on their portable devices (Kleinschmit, par. 6).
With youth already clamoring for music videos, I advocate using students' enthusiasm for them to invigorate traditional ELA classroom texts and practices. Because music videos often push the bounds of conventional taste and may include adult content, it's important that teachers select videos they find appropriate for the students they teach. When selected carefully, music videos can be used effectively in various capacities in the classroom: to study literary terms, explore social commentary, or prompt student writing.
In American literature courses across the nation, texts such as The Crucible, The Scarlet Letter, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and The Great Gatsby offer social commentary on the turbulent times in which they were written. Historically, musicians have taken a similar tack. Some videos, such as Serj Tankian's "Empty Walls" and Audioslave's "Doesn't Remind Me," juxtapose childhood and war. Others bring attention to a variety of social concerns, such as the Goo Goo Dolls' "Let Love In" and Serj Tankian's "Saving Us." Through such videos, musical artists increasingly push their young listeners toward greater awareness of important social issues. As supplemental texts, music videos can be used to introduce the general idea of art or literature as social commentary and may prompt students to gather their thoughts on a pressing issue of today.
As Figure 2 indicates, music videos that share the artists' worldviews are not restricted to any one musical genre. Artists from across the musical landscape use their videos to share their social views, including hip-hop artists such as Ludacris and Mary J. Blige ("Runaway Love"), metal artists such as Slayer ("Eyes of the Insane"), country artists such as Toby Keith ("American Soldier"), and rock bands such as Pearl Jam ("Do the Evolution"). This trend offers teachers and students alike great flexibility when it comes to identifying and examining the music video as a form of social commentary in the English language arts classroom. Thomas Sabo Earrings
In some cases, music videos providing social commentary serve as strong companion pieces to particular literary texts. For example, when reading "Enemies" and "Friends" from Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, the video for Metallica's "One" is a fitting supplement. In O'Brien's stories, the relationship between characters Lee Strunk and Dave Jensen is the focal point, and the burdens of warâ€” both psychological and physicalâ€”are central to the stories. Borrowing footage from the 1971 film adaptation of Johnny Got His Gun, the "One" music video raises parallel ideas as it depicts a young American soldier dealing with those burdens in a post-World War I life. The Metallica video offers its viewers a visual representation of the questions and conflicts raised in O'Brien's work, providing a sound, engaging supplement for students.
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