The In Media Res website provides a model for students studying media, film or visual rhetoric, offering the opportunity to closely analyze a work using the same rules and template that academics and other professionals follow.
Recreating a writing platform approximating In Media Res is simple. Using wordpress.com, I created the basic site with an available free template and appropriate widgets (Most Popular Tags, Authors, Blog Stats) and students joined the blog as writers. A brief technical lesson on how to embed video and images prepared students to submit their piece, and while the site does not offer the word count limit built into the real In Media Res, that requirement can be included in the assignment.
Students chose an Internet meme or mashup and wrote a 350-400 word post. External links were encouraged and students could embed multiple images. In their essays, students discussed relevant aspects of the meme/mashup and explained its meaning(s), focusing on the cultural or political relevance when applicable. I had previously introduced them to semiotic analysis.
The slideshow above includes many of the images chosen by the students, who chose humorous, political and/or racially-charged memes. One post discusses how ESPN's Mike and Mike produced a parody of Psy's Gangnam Style video that rapidly denigrates into racist stereotypes aimed at both Asian and African-Americans. A second post focusing on the Texts from Hillary meme considers how the politician’s sunglasses make her “fabulous and sassy” and positions her for further political success. A third post cleverly explains the popularity of “dog shaming” videos, while a fourth post reconsiders the effects of songifying Charlie Sheen’s interviews, which paradoxically minimizes his controversial behavior and recasts him as a legitimate celebrity. While some posts were insightful, others sometimes missed the nuances of the meme. However, in those cases, classmates' (and my) comments addressed other possible perspectives.
Overall, this assignment allows students to practice skills associated with close readings. By requiring students to focus on a single meme or mashup, they more thoroughly analyze the meaning of a single text. The brevity of the essays requires students to be concise while they create an argument, and the familiarity of the images encourages them to assert specific opinions about the relevance of the material. Most significantly, embedding images and video eliminates the need for a lengthy description and redirects the students' focus toward critical analysis.