Analyzing Cinematic Satire Elements
In this lesson, students will watch part of a film or television show that uses high school stereotypes, and they’ll analyze various cinematic elements that fuel its satirical power.
- Read the lesson and student content.
- Anticipate student difficulties and identify the differentiation options you will choose for working with your students.
- A helpful start to this lesson could be to discuss, informally, some stereotypes that your students experience in their own high school. Something students might want to consider is whether or not the stereotypes they identify are regional or national or universal. Typically, writers deal with broad stereotypes.
- ELL: Be sure to encourage ELLs to share their views. Stereotypes exist in all cultures, but they can vary from culture to culture. Encourage non-ELLs to listen attentively so as to further understand cultural differences. If warranted, provide a short explanation on the importance of understanding and respecting other cultures.
- You’re transitioning from Horace’s satires to a contemporary movie satire, but there are many connections. This discussion begins to bridge the two satirists.
- If students choose to investigate a Hughes film for the next task, it is helpful to note that since much of John Hughes’s genius as a director lies in his near-obsessive details, it will be helpful to look at the details the students come up with in their own creations.
- Now is a good time to talk about hyperbole and maybe even caricature, which is exaggeration of a character.
- ELL: Be sure to define the new terms. Allow ELLs to use a dictionary. Repeat the new words at a slower pace, and write them down, asking some of the students to repeat after you. Be sure ELLs feel comfortable with the pronunciation.
- The Hughes article should help students see his personal connection to teenagers, that he sees the world through their perspective. That means that his targets are schools, adults, rules—all the topics teens typically rail against.
- Many students will have seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and other Hughes movies, like Home Alone. Their love for these films will help energize today’s thinking.
Discuss the following with your classmates.
- What were some of the details you enjoyed from other trios’ modernized city mouse/country mouse stories?
- To what degree were the characterizations exaggerated? Was this an effective strategy?
- Turning to the Hughes article, what is the usual topic for his movies? And what’s his perspective, according to the article?
- What other Hughes movies have you seen? Any thoughts on his approach to satire?
Stereotypes in Film and Television
- Anticipating responses is helpful. For example, students who choose The Breakfast Club may observe that Hughes employs the stereotypical princess, played by Molly Ringwald. Students might talk about her father’s Burberry scarf, her leather jacket, her carefully made-up face and perfect hair, the family’s BMW, her lunch bag, her arrival first at school, her rolled eyes.
- Allow students who choose the same films to share ideas. Reorganize groups to jigsaw with other groups who have chosen different films.
John Hughes was a master at using stereotypes to connect with young viewers, while simultaneously calling them to question such stereotypes and reconsider how they see themselves and others.
For example, in The Breakfast Club , a group of students in Saturday detention unites and leaves a letter to the assistant principal, asserting that he, like most adults, views students as he wishes to in the most convenient and trite terms, “You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.” The students, who themselves once reduced each other to stereotypes, leave detention viewing each other as individuals.
- Consider the role that stereotypes play in satire.
- Consider your experiences with stereotypes in film and television.
- Conduct an online search to further acquaint yourself with a film or television show that uses high school stereotypes to make a point.
High School Stereotypes
- You can draw parallels between these specifics and the use of concrete details in Juvenal and Horace.
- SWD: Be sure that all students are engaged. Monitor that all SWDs are able to fully comprehend the questions and to answer them. If you see students struggle, ask probing questions to understand what questions are the most challenging for them. If you notice that some students are not actively sharing with their classmates, help form groups that will be of support to them.
Consider the following about your film or television show.
- What stereotypes are being used?
- What is the effect of this characterization?
- In what way is it satirical?
- Does the portrayal reach the level of parody or does it seem authentic?
Share your ideas with a few classmates and then with the whole class.
- Students can take a look at the details others shared and talk about how writers developed their “stock characters.”
- ELL: Be sure all ELLs understand the meaning of stock character and how these words are used. Ask students to use the words in a sentence to confirm understanding.
- Note that some students will be more television or film savvy than others. Be careful to balance your groups so that the discussion keeps rolling.
- Students should be continually assessing whether the characters seem to parody real people or authentically represent them.
Consider what’s been shared about the stereotypical characters and discuss the following.
- What details did you miss?
- Which character do you find most sympathetic? Least sympathetic?
- What point is the writer making from what you see here?
- What details make these characters more like caricatures than real people? Are there some who are more obviously exaggerated than others?
- How do these caricatures add to the satire?
Juxtaposition of Characters
- Some students may need a reminder of the meaning of juxtaposition.
- For struggling students, simply requesting a response on the most compelling conflict or contrast among characters is another good option.
- ELL: As with other lessons, when introducing new words or using words that students recently learned (whose meaning they may have forgotten), repeat the new/newer words at a slower pace, and write them down if possible, asking some of the students to repeat after you. Be sure all ELLs feel comfortable with the pronunciation. Additionally, allow them to use a dictionary.
Consider the juxtaposition of characters in the clips you’ve seen and complete a writing response.
- What for you was the most interesting juxtaposition of characters?
- Why? How did this placement help develop the satire or the characters themselves?
- Students might benefit from a quick brainstorming session for possible topics for homework.
Write a response to the following.
- What are two stock characters in high school today that weren’t covered by the movie? Describe them.