Paper Two: Reading Culture

This assignment is designed to accommodate a wide range of cultural productions, especially media, including the visual and the auditory. I realize that not all of you learn best by reading texts. That is why, especially in our second unit, our reading encourages you to think about photographs and, by extension, video and audio. Here are some examples to jumpstart your thinking:

Those of you who study music, art, and interior design should find this assignment particularly accommodating. Those of you in business and especially marketing will find yourselves on very familiar ground. On the other hand, if you are a “text person,” feel free to write about text—or about the interplay between image and text. And remember that, for this assignment, “text” can be just about anything. However, most students write about magazine ads, which work very nicely because they are already properly focused. A whole music video (like the Miley Cyrus video above) may be more than you can successfully write about in 5-7 pages. (Honors students: See syllabus for length requirement.)


Nosich discusses the “distortion” that arises when we “[form] a Picture of the World on the Basis of Movies, TV, Advertising, [and] magazines.” I am quoting his heading on page 19, and you would do well to review his further remarks there. Nosich’s point is very much like what John Berger calls “cultural mystification” in Ways of Seeing (in Ways of Reading, on reserve). It is obvious to everyone that culture, especially via the media, influences what we think about and how we think about it. Paper Two gives you an opportunity to look at something cultural, especially something media-related, in a critical way, by employing not only the elements (Nosich, chapter 2) but also some of the standards (chapter 4). The paper that you will write has some similarities to Paper One but also some significant differences, as the following grid suggests.





Your Purpose


Paper One

Your view of same-sex marriage

An example of same-sex marriage—a gay or lesbian couple

Yes: all 10


To use a specific example to analyze one of your subjective positions.

NA—You simply had to give your statement of purpose in the introduction.

Paper Two

A particular cultural expression—e.g., ads, videos, photographs, news, sitcoms

A particular example: one ad, one video, something from a film, one feature of one episode of one TV show, one photograph, etc.

Yes: all 10

Yes: You must use 2-3 standards in this assignment.

To evaluate objectively the effectiveness of a cultural artifact on a particular audience.

Your thesis will use the standards to express your evaluation of the effectiveness of your focused topic for a particular audience.


The Assignment

Find an example of a cultural expression (e.g., one advertisement for a specific product by a single company) that you believe has an impact on a particular audience. Write a paper that uses the elements of critical thinking to analyze how that focused topic—that ad or video or photo (fill in your own focused topic here)—makes its pitch to its audience. Then use the standards of critical thinking to evaluate the effectiveness of that pitch. 

There are a number of obvious pitfalls that you may encounter in executing these tasks. One is to try to write about the effectiveness of the focused topic for you. That may help you in your prewriting, but the assignment is to evaluate the pitch’s effectiveness for an audience other than you. Note: The biggest pitfall is your default setting—falling back on writing about your own response to the focused topic. Another potential glitch is talking about that audience in a purely general way. If you are evaluating an ad whose audience is violin majors with purple hair who drive mopeds and meditate, you had better do some research on such persons to back up your claims: interview some of them and list them as sources on the Works Cited list. This is not a paper just about people in general, and you do not get to guess at how the audience will react. Third, students sometimes pick an image off the internet that is both old and devoid of context. Note that those in your ads audience should be living persons whom you can actually talk to and that it will really help if you know where your ad was originally published (in what magazine). Finally, you would  do well to have a look at this handout before proceeding.


You do not yet have to write a classical argument. In other words, you do not yet have to look at the opposition; you do not have to object to your arguments. You simply have to make and support arguments. Does your focused topic (e.g., your magazine ad) influence its intended audience effectively or not? Therefore, your thesis should state, for example, that you will use the standards of sufficiency and accuracy to argue that [your focused topic, whatever it may be] effectively reaches [its target audience, whoever it may be] because of [some factor or concept from our readinga cultural code, cultural mystification, dual marketing, etc.]. So here is your thesis: I will use + two or more standards + to argue some idea about your focused topic + because of some concept specific to your focused topic. Plug in what you consider most relevant to your project. The final part of the thesis might well include a concept from Bordo’s text. Note: The biggest pitfall in my former students’ thesis statements was the absence of a because clause. Also, you should obviously not include brackets in your thesis. Note that it is very okay to be critical in your thesis if your evaluation calls for it.


Your paper should have the following labeled sections:

Note: I have used an advertisement as an example in this section of the assignment sheet, and magazine ads are particularly fine focused topics for this assignment. Remember, though, that you have many other options. Whatever focused topic you select, be sure that you either include it with the paper or provide a way for me to access it quickly and easily. Feel free to discuss the alternatives with me. As you search, be mindful that something like a music video might be too “busy” and that some ads are not busy enough.


Honors students: See syllabus for length requirements.

Here is how to do an entry for Susan Bordo’s chapter:

Bordo, Susan. "Beauty (Re)discovers the Male Body." Ways

      of Reading: An Anthology for Writers, edited by

       David Bartholomae and David Petrosky, 9th ed.,

       Bedford / St. Martin's, 2011, pp. 189-233.

Feedback on Paper 2 (Fall 2011):


 Feedback on Paper 2 (Spring 2012)