TOPIC: Radical Chic, Terrorism, or Social Justice?: Representations of Protest in American Popular Culture

Che Guevara shirts are now sold at the mall, Chevrolet deems its cars an "American Revolution," and the Playstation game State of Emergency allows players to act out the role of "rioting" anarchists attempting to destroy a fiction version of the World Trade Organization. In these examples, social protest is represented as a fun and playful commodity. It has become, as the author Tom Wolfe once said, "radical chic." But other media sources represent social protest differently. Some environmental activists, for instance, are portrayed as "eco- terrorists," and others are depicted as crusaders for social justice. In this course, we will examine the ways that social protest is represented in today's American culture. Why is the media so full of these representations, and how do they affect social attitudes about protest? In order to tackle these questions, we will examine representations of organized dissent (that is, mass actions or activist organizations) in advertising, the print media, and film. In the process, we will aim to become sophisticated cultural critics who can read the world around us and translate our understandings into written analyses.