History, Faith, and Covers.

Hello and welcome to a weekly rundown of popular culture detritus. 

Here’s what I’m loving this week:

Television: I know this has been declared at least a dozen times since television began, but we really are in a golden age of television, so there are about half a dozen shows that astound me each week. But I’ll just keep it to one this week: “U.S. and the Holocaust” on PBS. This is Ken Burns’ latest docuseries, and while I am a bit of a fangirl when it comes to 6+ hour deep dives into an American topic, I really think this series is his most important yet. I thought I knew so much already about the Holocaust, and turns out, I really didn’t. I’ve heard Burns say in interviews, “History doesn’t repeat itself—it rhymes,” so if you are concerned about the current state of affairs in the United States (and elsewhere—if you haven’t seen what happened in Italy Sunday night, Google is free), watch this and make choices that will lead to a different outcome. 

Podcasts: Every Sunday morning I listen to The Evolving Faith Podcast. If you find yourself in a bit of a faith wilderness, this podcast is for you. Hosted by Sarah Bessey and Jeff Chu, this podcast is comprised of sermons preached at previous Evolving Faith gatherings. Nearly every Sunday I feel less alone, called to action, and uplifted. 

Friday Morning Soundtrack: This week’s album was Scott Bradlee and Postmodern Jukebox’s “Back When It Was Music.” For the uninitiated, Scott Bradley’s takes popular music and flips the genres to somewhere between the 1920s-1950s. It’s such fun to hear pop favorites crooned by a variety of talented singers. 

Pop Culture Lesson of the Week: Speaking of covers, this week my students took a popular song and did their own Postmodern Jukebox treatment, albeit only about 30 seconds instead of an entire song. It’s a fun project that I learned at an online Apple Teacher conference, where students use the GarageBand app on their iPads and create a cover. It’s challenging to teach, and it’s challenging for some of my students. But I really do love the end product, and helping students step out of their comfort zones never fails to inspire me.

Have you ever done something you had no idea how to do, but did it anyway?

What are you watching and listening to that’s worth your time?

Football, the Duchess, and The Chicks

Hello and welcome to a weekly rundown of popular culture detritus. Too bad this week’s collection does not lend itself to alliteration in the title.

Here’s what I’m loving this week:

Television: Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney were on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert last week, talking about their documentary series on FX. I’d never heard of it, but after watching their interview I knew how I’d be spending my Saturday. “Welcome to Wrexham” (Hulu) is the story of Reynolds and McElhenney purchasing the Wrexham Football Club in Wales. While the interplay between the Philly-based McElhenney and the Canadian-born Reynolds is definitely hilarious, the show is a fantastic exploration of what it means to be a fan, and how sports can unite a community—even when your team sucks. 

Podcasts: I’ve spent the past week reminding my students that we literally fought a war to no longer care about the British monarchy, but Meghan Markle’s podcast “Archetypes” is fantastic. Each episode so far peels apart negative stereotypes associated with women: ambition, diva, and most recently—singleton. The podcast is currently paused for the duration of the official mourning period for Queen Elizabeth II, so it’s a great time to catch up on the first three episodes.  

Film: Last week I lamented the dearth of moviegoers, so I opened my AMC app to see if there was anything worth seeing coming up, and holy buckets. I very well might restart my AMC membership.

“See How They Run,” “Don’t Worry Darling,” “The Woman King,” “Bros,” “Amsterdam,” “Till,” “On the Come Up,” “Ticket to Paradise”: I could legit see a movie every week for the next two months. Come back next week to see if I actually make time in my schedule to do so.

Friday Morning Soundtrack: This week I revisited my favorite album from The Chicks, “Home.” Like the storytelling in country music? “Travelin’ Soldier.” Like bluegrass? “Long Time Gone.” Like pop? “Landslide.” Like soulful, longing ballads? “Home.” No skips, this one. 

Pop Culture Lesson of the Week: In honor of Constitution Day, Sept. 17, this week’s pop culture lesson is one I teach during the Internet Unit about online student speech. Is it a little self-serving, as it was the topic of my master’s thesis? Perhaps. We use the website Oyez and discuss the essential questions in five Supreme Court cases that ruled on what high school students can and cannot say when it comes to the First Amendment. It’s one of my favorite days. 

What rights to speech do you think public school students should have? 

What are you watching and listening to that’s worth your time?

Space, Songs, and The Smiths

Hello and welcome to a weekly rundown of popular culture detritus. 

Here’s what I’m loving this week:

Television: I recently blitzed through “For All Mankind” on Apple+. This show imagines what the U.S. space program—and the world—would look like if Russia had landed on the moon in June 1969. I’ve known since I was twelve how precarious space travel can be, and this show leans hard into that element. Most enjoyable to me though, are the almost-missable side conversations and throw away lines that wonder how *would* today’s world be different. I rather enjoy engaging in alternative history thought experiments, and this show does it well. Another quality feature is the time jumps at the end of every season—10-15 years pass from one season to the next, meaning the show doesn’t get bogged down too much in continuing storylines that really ran their course. 

Podcasts: If you are sensitive to strong language, skip this one, but an absolute delight has been listening to back episodes of 60 Songs That Explain the 90s. Rob Harvilla, from The Ringer, mixes social commentary, personal experience, and the music from my favorite decade and delivers hour-long monologues that often have me nodding my head in agreement. He didn’t stop at 60, and decided to add 30 more. Currently on hiatus, it’s worth scrolling through the back catalog, finding a song you like, and skipping down memory lane for an hour or so. 

Film: I have been slacking on my film-watching as of late. I’ve been consistent with my Sunday Night Comfort Movies (most recently, “Clueless”), but we are in this odd lull of film releases, still recovering from pandemic delays, and people just are not going to theaters anymore to see movies. The company that owns Regal Cinemas filed for bankruptcy last week.

I show my students the weekend box office gross every Monday, and the #1 movie in the U.S. last weekend grossed $10 million. That’s not a lot. 

It’s a bit of a pickle right now—I want to support cinemas, and I love love love going to a theater, sitting in the dark unable (or is it unwilling?) to check my phone, and watching a movie on a giant screen. Yet there’s not a whole lot out there that I want to see. With the award and holiday season approaching, I hope that changes. If we want theaters to live, we must make like Annie:

Friday Morning Soundtrack: As crass as it may have appeared, this week I listened to “The Queen is Dead” by The Smiths. I don’t think there’s a better sequence of songs than Cemetary Gates, Bigmouth Strikes Again, The Boy With the Thorn in His Side, Vicar in a Tutu, and There is a Light That Never Goes Out. Maybe it’s nostalgia, but those songs made me quite happy Friday morning.

Pop Culture Lesson of the Week: Last week I started an Internet unit with one of my Pop Culture classes and I kick it off by teaching about online privacy. Do you know how much information is available about you online? Do you know about data brokers? Have you ever Googled yourself? It’s worth a quick search to see where you pop up and what information is publicly available—often for a low price. Most of these sites do have opt-out procedures—it’s worth the peace of mind to jump through those hoops. 

Have you ever wanted to undo all of your online sharing and go completely off-grid?

What are you watching and listening to that’s worth your time?

Murders, Momentum, and Musicians.

Hello and welcome to what I hope will become a bi-weekly rundown of popular culture detritus. 

Maybe detritus is a bit harsh. After all, popular culture can bring the gamut of human emotions and it can educate, but there’s also a lot of trash out there. Trash that, sometimes, I really enjoy.

The sheer volume of popular culture available to us is overwhelming, and I often find myself paralyzed by the paradox of choice. But I also have learned to get a little more discriminating in how I spend my time with popular culture, so if you also find yourself overwhelmed by the options, maybe this can be a guide. Here’s what I’ve loved in recent weeks:

Television: If you haven’t watched “Only Murders in the Building” (Hulu) you are missing out on Martin Short and Steve Martin doing Marty and Steve things, with a side of Selena Gomez and a lovely cadre of side characters (Tina Fey! Nathan Lane! Ali Stoker!) as they try to solve a murder. Season 2, for me, was a bit more disconnected than Season 1, but it’s still what I looked forward to every Tuesday night during its run. It is so delightful that I always feel a little let down when the season ends. 

Podcasts: Sharon McMahon’s Instagram feed exploded during the 2020 election, when her nonpartisan approach to teaching politics, government, and current events to the masses became crucial. Since then, she’s launched a podcast, and she recently closed out a series called “Momentum.” It’s in her main podcast feed, episodes 146 to 162, and she tells several unknown stories of those involved in the civil rights movement of the 1950s. This is a don’t-miss series.

Film: For the past three weeks I have started Sunday Night Comfort Movie time, where I watch a film I haven’t seen in a bit that feels like warm blanket. Last week I watched Tom Hanks’ “That Thing You Do,” and I never cease to be amazed at how I never tire of it. I have the DVD, and I watched the (much) longer director’s cut, which gave me a newfound appreciation for editors. 

Friday Morning Soundtrack: This week I listened to “An Evening With Silk Sonic” by Silk Sonic. My newspaper staff last year raved about this album and I just never got around to it. It’s going in my regular rotation, as it’s chill while still being upbeat.

Pop Culture Lesson of the Week: This week I start a music unit with one of my pop culture sections, and we are going to do a deep dive into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. Students will randomly draw two artists’ names and spend some time with their music. We will generate a list of characteristics of what is rock n roll, and how has the definition of the genre (and the purpose of the Hall of Fame) has expanded lately with recent inductees. My favorite part of this lesson is when students have to choose an artist they currently listen to and build a case for why they will be inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. 

Who are you listening to now that deserves to be in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame?

What are you watching and listening to that’s worth your time?

Reboot. Again. Probably not the last time.

I started this blog in 2005 with one goal: watch as many of the American Film Institute’s Greatest Films of All Time as I could find, and write short reviews of them. Then I started sharing reviews of other movies and television shows until I went to grad school.

And then the blog went through several different evolutions and trends and lost all focus. Write about teaching? Sure. Technology in education? Totally. Rants about the effects of late-stage capitalism? Occasionally. Depression? Yep. 

I’ve thought often about just shutting down this space, mostly because what’s the point?

Pink geometric background with the verse from Proverbs 29:18--Where there is no vision, the people perish.
This blog has no vision.

WordPress says I have 94 followers, yet rarely do I get commenters. Twitter says I have 905 followers, yet rarely do I see evidence of engagement. Instagram says I have 337 followers, yet likes on posts range between 5 and 10.

If there’s no engagement, does a writer even have any impact? Is there even a reason to be on social media at all?

Screenshot of an instagram post from Sarajane Case about Enneagram 4s. Relevant text to this blog: A fixed mindset says that we are as talented as we will ever be the first time we try something new. Just another artist in a sea of monotony.
Ah, the existential dread of an Enneagram 4.

That line of questioning is quite the rabbit hole to go down, and it doesn’t lead to any place I want to stay.

I’ve brainstormed dozens of ideas for what to do in this space to keep it consistent, to make it meaningful. I am certain that fear is a primary factor in keeping me from making a choice, because what if I do and it’s not sustainable? What if I do and no one reads what I write? What if I do and people read what I write and it sucks? 

But if I’ve learned anything from my friend Ashley, it’s to just do something. And if it fails, there’s nothing or no one keeping me from starting over. Again.

After posting on Instagram for 100 days, I’ll be slowly ratcheting back my social media presence and consumption, and instead spend time working on this. Right now, I have two plans:  1) publish a weekly popular culture newsletter, with a little bit of education-related content sprinkled in regarding how I teach popular culture in a midwest suburban high school; 2) publish creative nonfiction pieces I have scattered across my digital landscape.

Feel free to smash that subscribe button if you want to see where this all goes. I certainly do.