What are some effective strategies to discuss humanities topics, like literature, politics, and philosophy, using popular culture in a high school club setting?

I am a rising sophomore at a math and science-based high school. I am creating a club for humanities students for discussion of literature, politics, history, rhetoric, and philosophy. I want to show the fundamental principles through popular culture and pure teaching. For example, I could show how Bruce Wayne goes through an existential crisis in the Dark Knight Rises to explain literary existentialism. I'm looking for ideas about recurring motifs, styles, techniques, and archetypes to discuss, preferably with examples in pop literature and cinema.

Expert Answers

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This is a great idea. I suggest you include a news sharing component. Have people bring in articles that they believe represent a universal theme. I can see this working two ways. You can agree upon a theme ahead of time, or maybe have a theme of the month or term. You could also have a free for all and discuss themes of articles people bring in. Mix it up!
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On cultural relativity and/or cultural equality:

There is a common debate to be made regarding stories like Avatar, The Help, and, going back a bit, Dances with Wolves. These films each depict a figure from one culture learning from and ultimately saving the peoples of a different, "less sophisticated" culture. This is an age-old mythological archetype but it becomes problematic in today's world where we value diversity and promote the idea of global cultural equality. 

The "hero from without" narrative paradigm presents a set of phisophical-political problems which storytellers of old would not have had to face. 

We might refer to this narrative paradigm as the Christopher Columbus narrative archetype. Some of the questions that arise here relate to:

  • ...whether or not the "native" culture is actually less sophisticated than the dominant/hero culture...
  • ...whether or not the dominant culture can be seen merely to provide a figure that saves the "natives" from harm inflicted by that dominant culture and so actually indicts itself and the salvationary figure as participating in "evil" (narratively speaking)...
  • ...how stories which implicitly claim to support cultural equality none-the-less present a set of assumptions which undermine that claim...

(As a side note, it is interesting to me to think about how Mel Gibson, a man berated very publicly for a bigoted attitude, has made two films which serve as a great counter-point to the philosophical-political problems of the  Christopher Columbus myth. His films Braveheart and Apocalypto each present stories featuring a "hero from within" mythical archetype, fully avoiding issues of implied cultural bias, judgement, etc.)

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Are we defined by our technological advances and prowess? Has the advent of higher, more complex forms of technology really changed our lives for the better or are we creating a society that no one really understands anymore?

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