Topics: Samantha Leersen


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What in the world was Roland Barthes on about in 'A Lover's Discourse'?

In 1977, Professor Roland Barthes released his book ‘A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments’.
Over 200 pages long, this text is dense, lengthy, and at times incoherent.
Therefore, an article deconstructing and analysing this text would be an insightful read.
What is Barthes trying to say? How does he say it? Are his ideas accepted and approved of, or disagreed with?

One point he seems to be making is that our own experiences of love are dictated to us by the discourse of love within our culture. It is through this language that our expectations of what love should feel like are formed.

Therefore, after breaking down Barthes’ text and some key fragments/ideas, this article could look into examples of popular culture and how they have influenced modern ideas of love. The romance genre in film, tv, literature, and even music are prevalent. Everything from Shakespeare’s plays to Romantic Comedies to Disney movies.

If, indeed, you deduce other claims worth discussing in the text, find popular or contemporary examples to suit that also!


    The Portrayal of Small Towns in TV Shows

    I’ve been watching That 70s Show recently and noticed that their small town has a bad reputation, the after-graduation goal is to get out of the dead-end town. ‘Being someone’ means moving away from home. Then, I got to thinking, there are elements of this thinking in many other shows I have seen, Daria, Gilmore Girls, Community.
    Is this prolific enough in TV shows to be considered a trend? Is there reason for this? Does the same ‘I need to get away from here’ thinking occur in characters born and raised in the city? Is this specific to American TV shows, or other countries’ shows too? Perhaps an article on this topic could offer a suggestion as to why the city is so romanticised?

    • "I'm gettin' out of this hick town!" Yes, I think this is an interesting phenomenon in film and TV. That 70s Show is a good example because I think it was much more prevalent to make those statements back in the 70s, 80s etc. The forces of urbanization meant that better jobs could be found in cities, but also there were lots more cultural waves going on that were focused in cities. If you wanted to be a punk or a hippie or anti-establishment like Hyde for example, that was something that you couldn't find many like-minded people for in small town America. Many high school and college movies of the last few decades had a dynamic that set the "interesting, alternative" type main characters against the jocks and cheerleaders of small town life. (Juxtapose this with something like Riverdale which only slightly criticizes jocks and cheerleaders, and ultimately upholds them as kind of the social rulers of high school). I think the 21st century has maybe seen a re-romanticization of small town life, in contrast to urban life which isn't idolized so much anymore. – Claire 2 months ago
    • Another tidbit: I think, to make this a more recognizable-sounding topic, you should frame it as something like "Leaving Small Towns as a Coming-of-age Milestone for American Youth." – Claire 2 months ago
    • Not sure how far back you want to go with this, but you could also do some research on the Industrial revolution as well since it caused one of the first big population shifts in history. It might be worth looking into as a short paragraph before you get into everything else as it frames the mindset a little. – MaeveM 2 months ago
    • I feel like some of this has to do with the cultural biases of the content creators, who usually live in big cities like Los Angeles and NYC. People in those kinds of places tend to look down on small towns and consider them "boring" or "old-fashioned" and that comes through in the stories. – Debs 2 months ago
    • I feel like everyone has the American Dream to some extent, and probably especially those in small towns. Boredom, bad entertainment, dull nightlife... of course they'd want to escape and live it up somewhere culturally (and literally!!) rich. Cities are centers of progress and wealth. Maybe it's easier for people in small towns to believe that that wealth is accessible/available to everyone. – Sophia Tone 2 months ago
    • Nice topic. You might also want to check out The Middle, where living in the fictional town of Orson, IN is central to how and why the Heck family does a lot of what they do. Narrator and mom Frankie is very up front about the fact that Orson is *not* romanticized, that her family is just doing the best they can.Additionally, you might check out some older sitcoms like Family Matters and Full House. They take place in cities--Chicago and San Francisco, respectively--but there is almost no sense of urban life except in select episodes or arcs, such as FM father Carl Winslow being a cop. The "small town," cheesy feel is very much still existent. Just a thought. – Stephanie M. 2 months ago

    Behind The Scenes Content: What are we really getting out of it?

    It’s no secret that film viewers often cherish the extra content attached to films. Deleted scenes, gag reels, director/actor commentary, behind the scenes footage generally.
    But, why is that? An article could look at various aspects of this.
    Do passionate fans just crave as much content as possible? Do film-buffs take a genuine interest in how their favourite media comes to be? Is it a learning tool? Is it a curiosity – perhaps, a curiosity to see how the people behind the serious-faced characters interact with one another? If a film is made to entertain by creating a (usually) fictitious world or story-line, then why are viewers so obsessed with this ‘real-world’ aspect of them?
    On the other side – what do film makers gain from this? Why do they include the extra content they choose to?
    This desire for extra content is evident in films like Shrek 2 where they animated an entire American Idol spoof with the characters. Or, the creators of Monsters Inc. animating various blooper scenes. Perhaps examples like this could be discussed.
    This could also work for TV shows, if so preferred.

    • Very interesting topic! Perhaps the article could also tackle, or maybe just conclude on or quickly mentioned as it is a different angle, the possible future of such content? Indeed, at least for now and as far as I know, such features are only available on physical supports (DVDs, Blu-rays…). Could behind-the-scene contents, therefore, be used and put forwards to help the film physical supports market? Or, on the contrary, would such content be absorbed (or erased?) by successful VOD platforms, such as Netflix? – Gavroche 2 weeks ago

    Is Fashion an Art Form?

    The simplest definition of ‘art’ is "the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form." Given this definition, could fashion be labelled an art form? We dismiss clothing as an everyday aspect of life, but it may actually be inherently artistic.
    An article on this topic could look at designers, both big and small. Look at the creative process and discuss how clothing is designed. Think of what needs to be considered, colour, shape, material. These are also considered in other art forms, like sculptures or paintings.
    The article could also look to how people choose to dress. Is this, in and of itself, a kind of art? Is it a type of artistic expression?
    Painters or photographers create websites and Instagram pages to show off their creations. People in fashion also do the same. This is a niche you could explore when highlighting parallels between fashion and other art forms.
    The fast fashion industry is often criticised for ripping off other brands or designers. This might suggest a personal aspect to the creation of fashion. Just like you would not copy someone else’s painting for profit, should designers not be copying other people’s fashion designs?
    Finally, as with art, in the fashion industry there is a hierarchy of what is considered ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Like art, fashion is constantly subjectively judged. This is another parallel which can be explored.
    Ultimately an article on this topic should draw a conclusion, is fashion an art form or is it not? It should provide evidence throughout to support which conclusion is drawn. There are a plethora of angles this topic could explore.

    • As a source for whoever writes this topic, the book "Beauty: A Short Introduction" by Roger Scruton is an amazing source for defining beauty and looking at the different forms of art in a philosophical/historical context to encourage questions like these. – Abie Dee 3 weeks ago
    • I find this topic interesting. I think it can be, especially if you connect it with other art forms, like cinema. Look at Edith Head's work, or Adrian's with the film stars of the 1930s and 1940s. Givenchy with Audrey Hepburn in the 1950s. I would also like to hear more about the journey made from the sketch to the finished product, worn by someone. I also think that fast fashion is something terrible for our lives and our planet and should not be considered art, even in copy form. – danivilu 3 weeks ago

    The Novella, a forgotten medium?

    I propose an article that looks at novellas. The article could describe first what they are, explaining the length and conventions, explore how they differ from both a novel and a short story.
    It could be worth looking into the history of this medium, when were they most popular and why? What were the first texts classified as novellas and what purposes did they serve? Perhaps offer suggestion as to why they are not big in the literary scene today.
    Then, the article could offer analysis of some famous novellas, The Metamorphosis, Heart of Darkness, Jekyll and Hyde, Of Mice and Men, just to name a few.
    Offer suggestion as to why these in particular were popular, was it their content? Context? Were their authors already published writers so fans would read anything of theirs?
    If so desired, contrast the good by offering examples of novellas that are perceived as not good and offer reasons as to why. Are they not given the space to be fully developed? Does its brevity mean it is missing something?
    Use this analysis to draw conclusions regarding the novella’s place in literature including, if possible, whether this medium is likely to regain popularity or merely survive as a medium at all.

    • Cool topic! I very much prefer long novels, but I have read some wonderful novellas, including Jekyll and Hyde and Of Mice and Men (although I have mixed feelings there b/c of outdated disability representation). Do you think serialized novels might fit the topic as well? – Stephanie M. 3 weeks ago
    • Serialised novels could absolutely fit the topic, if they can be logically incorporated into the discussion. Perhaps, they could be used to substantiate the length argument. Are novella-length texts enjoyed more when the reader knows there'll be one or two more instalments to follow? – Samantha Leersen 3 weeks ago
    Taken by nicolemadison (PM) 3 weeks ago.

    The appeal of 'ensemble' tv shows

    Friends, That 70s Show, Community, The Office, Modern Family, the list spans kilometres. These kinds of ensemble tv shows, where rather than being just one main character, the focus is on a main group of characters, are incredibly popular today.
    Investigate WHY that is. Is it something to do with the kind of show – many shows with ensemble casts are comedy or sit-com? Can viewers better find someone to relate to within a group, rather than with a designated sole protagonist? Does it open more expansive avenues for story-telling, when the focus is on six different people as opposed to just one? Does this keep viewers more invested, less bored? Is it the relationship aspect that draws viewers in? Do they enjoy feeling part of the on-screen group’s little family? Arguably, within a group, characters can afford to be more flawed as they have their peers to keep them in check, does this make for more relatable characters? Or is it the opposite, do these shows create caricatures (the smart one, the funny one, etc.) and is that why people enjoy it?

    This article should offer specific examples of TV shows and what it is about them that people enjoyed.

    There is something about this TV show formula that just works, and an article offering an answer to ‘why?’ could be very interesting and insightful.

    • Interesting topic! The cool thing about ensemble casts is that it gives more audience members a chance to find someone they can relate to. If there's a single defined protagonist, you either relate to that person or you don't. If there's a large ensemble cast, though, then it's more likely you can connect to someone in a fairly major role. – Debs 1 month ago
    • Certainly the writing team has more work cut out for them with an ensemble cast as opposed to one main character. Also, it leaves the door open to additional characters that interact with one or more of the main cast. Ensembles, represent a wider slice of the demographic pie and gives multiple actors a chance to shine. Often lesser character's get a spin-off show for themselves. One main character can be daunting for that specific actor, as many are less capable of truly engaging the audience. If a viewer misses an episode of a one character show, it can be hard to understand what may have happened or will happen but with an ensemble you can play to the strengths of the other actor's character's. If your main star does something outside of work that the viewing public doesn't like, or perhaps is illegal or unseamly it can wreck a perfectly good or even great show. Just look at what happened to the Rosanne reboot. She ruined what arguably was and would have been a multi season hit show. Rosanne flipped out on social media and the show got axed quickly. If I was part of that cast I would have been very upset at what the main character did on her own time. I'll close this out by also saying that it's much harder to handle the eventual fall from stardom if you're a former Superstar that was a singular character, than if you had a group of stellar characters to play with. There's more than a handful of actor's that took that fall hard. Some didn't make it through that pain and ended up destroyed by depression, drugs, alcohol and heartbreak and in the absolute worst outcome suicide. Super Stardom isn't for everyone. – WillyMac 4 weeks ago

    Escapism and The Sims

    Arguably, any type of entertainment offers some form of escapism (which is why we are often drawn to it). However, The Sims seems to present a unique situation.
    I suggest an article that looks at the element of escapism with regard to The Sims. In that it is just simulating life, does it really offer a sense of escapism? This could present some discussion points like, the inclusion of supernatural beings, the lack of negative consequences for life decisions, the ability to play out an idealised life.
    Do people play The Sims to create what they want/are missing in life? Is it just enjoyable to escape ones own life and control someone else’s? There is an entire niche of YouTube dedicated to The Sims gameplay, this could also present content for this article, in terms of how people play.
    In the first player-voted pack for The Sims 4, a pack that allows players to do laundry won. Perhaps this article could offer suggestions as to why players are so enthralled in simulating the mundane, and to refer back to the key idea, is this a kind of escapism?


      National Identity Portrayed in Film

      Being Australian, I am more than aware that Australia gets depicted in certain ways in film, like in Crocodile Dundee, Australia is portrayed as being home to masculine men who fend for themselves in the outback, have ridiculous accents, are laid-back, etc. This has always fascinated me because its a caricature, not at all like the Australians I actually know.

      So, my suggestion is an article that looks at your country of choice. Analyse a collection of films pertaining to that country and interpret how it is depicted. Is it truthful? Or is it only partially truthful? Are they creating a caricature, and if so, how are they creating that? Closely analyse the film here, making sure the article discusses the art in depth.

      Do the people of that country agree with how they have been portrayed? Has that shaped the perceived national identity of that country? Do people from abroad stereotype them in the way films have? Is it just humorous, or does it have a more serious, political undertone? Are the stereotypes somehow convenient in the process of story telling?

      Look at who makes these films, are film makers promoting stereotypes that belong to themselves, or are they made by people who have never experienced life in that country? What kind of statement does this then make? Perhaps, make an assessment as to WHY filmmakers have chosen to represent your country of choice in this way. Is it artistic, political, or a mixture of both?

      • This is a very fun topic. Also, what countries do you think are portrayed too often? What about those that aren't shown enough? Heck, is there a country that might have popped up on TV but never been portrayed on film? – OkaNaimo0819 2 months ago
      • A good idea, I would add that the films need to be some small cross-section of positive and negative views of a country. – Joseph Cernik 2 months ago
      • You could glean a lot of good information from this. One of the first films I thought of was the musical version of The King and I (1950s). It's heavily romanticized, which plays into a different kind of stereotyping. You might also look at Fiddler on the Roof, which is arguably stereotypical in its portrayal of rural Russia/Ashkenazi Jews. – Stephanie M. 2 months ago
      • This is a good topic. I think it would be important to note the intended audience of the film, and how the depiction of the country changes based on audience. – Serena 2 months ago
      • One of the most fascinating cultural panels I ever went to was one that discussed the animation industry in North Korea. Since North Korea is a dictatorship, virtually all the entertainment is propaganda of some kind or another, but it was interesting to see the different ways that it played out, and some of the shows that were featured in the panel had genuinely human moments, which reinforced that, ultimately, the people of North Korea are still people. – Debs 2 months ago

      The Popularity of 'Reaction' Channels on YouTube

      Since the Fine Brothers found YouTube fame with their ‘React’ series (Kids React/Teens React/Elders React/etc.), it seems that channels dedicated to reacting to other media has become prolific on the platform.
      By reaction channels, this would entail the channels that merely watch/listen to films/tv/music and react to them as they watch – not offering productive commentary, merely just watching and giving subjective opinions as they watch.

      Investigate what makes them so popular, is it because they are found genuinely entertaining? Is it because people enjoy having their opinions on a show/album/movie confirmed by someone else? Is it the charisma of the presenter that matters? Is it merely ‘easy’ content to create so it appears to be everywhere because it is just accessible for many creators?

      Perhaps an article on this topic could look into the criticism of this video content – it has often been labelled as bottom-tier YouTube content, unoriginal and uninspired.
      Some creators begin their careers with a reaction channel, then use the audience they gain from this to then transition into other content creation. Why is this type of content perceived so negatively despite being so popular amongst viewers?
      Another angle to pursue could be what the artists’ response is to their art being used for someone else’s monetary gain through reaction channels. Do they, and the platform they upload to, disapprove of this behaviour, does it breach copyright laws? Do musicians/film makers/video game creators like this kind of publicity for their work, does it boost profit or encourage a new fan base?

      Can parallels be drawn between reaction channels on YouTube and, say, young adult fiction in literature or reality tv in the television industry? That is, within any industry there exists a hierarchy based on public opinion regarding what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’ within that medium. Is reaction YouTube just another example of that? A guilty pleasure genre, perhaps?

      I realise this is a lot of ideas thrown into one, so an article on this could be selective in which angles it chooses to pursue, however, ‘reaction’ channels are arguably a cornerstone of YouTube creation, and an article exploring this and its affect on the YouTube community would be an insightful read.

      • I think this is a very interesting idea. Speaking personally, the reason why I like the Fine Brothers' "React" series is the personality/charisma/character of each reactor, especially those who are unafraid to go against the public opinion by, for example, liking/disliking something that is overwhelmingly disliked/liked.Though, I've always wondered about the dilemma of using someone else's art for monetary gain, not only from a legal but also from an ethical standpoint. Even if copyright laws aren't breached under the doctrine of Fair Use, it still seems, in my opinion, morally ambiguous to profit off someone's work. This is especially the case when one is deriving profits from the arguably passive act of "reacting", as opposed to providing constructive criticism like reviews, for example.It might also be interesting to draw comparisons between reaction channels and the realm of YA fiction. At least in my own experience from being a semi-avid reader of YA and regular watcher of "BookTube", I feel as though there is a herd mentality that causes readers to feel guilty and/or ostracised for their reading preferences if they don't align with the general public opinion on which books are "good" or "bad". – Marcus 2 months ago

      The Politics of a Single Photograph

      Often, major historical events are retrospectively represented by a single photograph. Some examples that come to mind are Tank Man at Tiananmen Square, the numerous and harrowing photos that arose from the Vietnam War, or the photograph of the symbolic gesture of Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pouring a handful of red dirt into Indigenous Australian man Vincent Lingiari’s hand.
      These photos, arguably, sum up the historical events from which they arose, despite only depicting one split second of them. An article on this could explore many factors. Why is it photographs specifically that garner the most attention? Is it due to an artistic preference, over that of reading, or is photography a better medium to depict history? Then, with the specific photographs in discussion, why them? What do they represent about each event that is so important? Is there a problem with using a single photograph to represent an entire event? For example, does it exclude details? Are they framed in a way that is self-serving for a party that is involved? If they are posed, rather than candid, does this further complicate them as historically accurate?
      Or, conversely, is the use of photography in this way a good thing? Does it allow important and poignant moments in history to be recognisable and remembered?

      • When considering the recent exposure of several low-ranking 'celebrities' and 'news' personalities who have been caught posing for photo opportunities amongst the post-riot clean-ups in American cities, this is an apt topic suggestion. A photograph may well speak a thousand words, but it may equally reveal a thousand lies. – Amyus 2 months ago
      • I think this topic could also be expanded to discuss journalist photographers, who are often risking their lives to document these historic moments, and the effects the photos have had on careers, such as the rebuke from the public for stopping to take a photo rather than stopping an injustice before them (such as people being beaten by officers, a starving child being hunted by a vulture - both are real photos) – jkrawlings 2 months ago
      • You might add the Zaprunder film, not a photo, but as significant. In the case of the death of George Floyd, without a picture to accompany his situation, how much reaction would there be? There is a situation that took place, perhaps a year ago, in Mississippi County, Missouri. No pictures accompany the death of this black man, but it is now being investigated again with some comments that there are similarities to the Floyd situation. The power of a photo can be seen when there is none. How a photo can mobilize and which ones lead to change and which ones did not, could be examined in an essay on this topic. – Joseph Cernik 2 months ago

      Twenty-first century English Curriculum

      High school English curricula are filled with classics from centuries past. But, in a hypothetical high school curriculum that could ONLY include novels published in the twenty-first century, what would you choose? What considerations would need to be taken into account? What purpose would each text serve? Which genres are best/to be avoided? Is it possible to give a comprehensive education of literature without studying past texts? If so, why/why not?

      • Given the many schools of thought surrounding the Western canon and how folks determine if something's worth adding to said canon (especially if one considers how tastes, literary mechanisms/motifs, and worldviews evolve over time), I think this topic has the potential to become a comprehensive article that lists off the criteria for 21st-century sensibilities and examples of works fulfilling said criteria. – Michel Sabbagh 2 weeks ago

      The phenomenon of seven-second videos.

      Whilst video platform Vine has closed down, its legacy of short Internet videos has remained. Investigate the popularity of these short videos. Why are they so popular? What makes them popular? How can a short video reach success – what needs to be included within the short video to make it successful? Is this medium preferred over longer YouTube videos, for example?

      • A good topic to think about. I think it's worth putting some attention on how the popularity has informed modern humor. – kerrybaps 3 months ago
      • I agree. I've always wondered why short videos has been popular lately. Not just videos, they have different challenges too. I'd love to explore. – bp2020 3 months ago
      • Actually, a good topic. With the incredible number of videos out there, why do certain ones go viral? The Andy Warhol, 15 minutes of fame quote can be examined here. I think that by just focusing on the few that have a significant number of views is not the way to approach anyone writing on this topic, the focus also needs to be on videos that receive very few views and how or why they are different. Sometimes, it may have nothing to do with the video but that someone sees a certain video and pushes or recommends it. Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point, addresses this. – Joseph Cernik 2 months ago