Intertexual Connections – a suite of lessons for Preliminary or Stage 5 English

imgresA delicious feast of viewing, Mad Men offers an award winning representation of social mores from the mid-century American world of advertising. Before you share this with your class, ground their understanding of key concepts and outline your expectations.

These lessons are designed to offer perhaps a week of work, with follow up writing or homework tasks as preparation for the HSC Advanced Module A: Comparative Study of Texts and Context – Elective 1: Intertextual Connections. Our chosen texts are Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs Dalloway and Stephen Daldry’s film The Hours.

In the Preliminary Area of Study: Journey, students will study Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness to develop their understanding of a modernist novel. For this ‘mini unit’, I have chosen Julia Clark’s short story Cocktails, sourced from the excellent Writing and Responding: a guide for Senior English Students by Elli Housden published by FarrBooks. Download annotated text: Cocktails

After reading the story, ask students to reflect on their emotional response to the narrator, Dudley James.

  • Is he a character that students warm to? Why or why not?
  • Ask if there is a specific point in the story, or even if their ideas have been influenced by the annotations (consider reading the story first, then share the written version).

Clark has set up a clever twist by allowing the reader to believe that Dudley is focused on a real woman. Business and market jargon colour the language, leading us to understand his objectification of women.

  • Identify the different representations of, or references to, women in the story: how do students visualise each?
  • How does Clark’s choice of words and language features position the reader?
  • Discuss the contemporary context of the story and decide whether Dudley’s behaviour is acceptable: by who? where? when? why? Students may well feel challenged by these ideas. Or the setup may be very obvious.
  • Students should then write a formal reflection, following the 3D format is desired, to develop their analytical skills.
  • Draft and edit as necessary: pair and share for marking and feedback is always helpful.

Revise or discuss intertextuality as a concept that broadens the notion of allusion – where something is called to mind without an explicit reference. Brian Moon’s excellent Literary Terms: a practical glossary offers student activities to introduce and reinforce intertextuality and related concepts.

I’d like to acknowledge the passionate presentation titled Mad Men, Ad Men and the American Dream by Aaron Dewhurst and Emma Henshaw from the 2011 ETA conference. It has been sometime since I enjoyed their passionate enthusiasm for the television series, and I knew there would one day be an opportunity to share some great teaching ideas in my classroom. Of particular interest and relevance to these  lessons are their activities relating to the title sequence and Episode 1: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.

The title sequence of Mad Men was awarded an Emmy in 2008, and reveals many thematic concerns of the television series, both in a subtle and explicit manner. From the outset, the audience is positioned to view the silhouetted protagonist from an obscured and ambiguous perspective. Similarly, in Cocktails, we can only piece together his nature as the narrative unfolds.

Consider the following questions for the title sequence:

  • Describe the establishing shot used to position the audience. What other elements of mis en scene are used to suggest other aspects of the figure’s life?
  • What symbols or icons are used to denote the figure’s lifestyle and career?
  • Within eight seconds, elements of the image start to dismantle and fall. What does this suggest about the world of the figure and his broader context?
  • The music for this sequence is titled A Beautiful Mine, composed by musician RJD2. Describe how these sounds help establish the mood.
  • As the figure falls amidst the Manhattan skyscrapers, the shots cut to alternative views nine times before the figure settles in an armchair. Describe each shot and list in sequence. What effect does this editing have on the audience?
  • What are the dominant images surrounding the falling figure? What might this suggest about the series?
  • What does the body language of the figure suggest as he settles into the armchair in the final shot of the opening sequence?

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These questions have been chosen for students to most effectively consider the ideas and representations that are present in the first episode, and in Clark’s short story.

  • The opening explanation serves as a pun on Madison Avenue which is the location of the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency. How does it set up our understanding of the attitude of important characters?
  • What does the establishing panning camera reveal about the culture that is being presented? How does this relate to the scenes described by Clark?
  • The camera stops on a solitary figure: Don Draper. What connections can be made between the title sequence and this character?
  • How is the social status of the waiter revealed?
  • When Don visits Midge, she states ‘Is this the part where I say, “Don Draper is the greatest ad-man ever and his big strong brain will find a way to lead the sheep to the slaughterhouse”. What does this reveal about Midge a s a female in this context and her view of advertising?
  • How are gender stereotypes and relations established in the elevator scene?
  • What do Pete’s comments “Why don’t you go shopping or something” and “I’m giving up my life to be with you aren’t I?” reveal about make perceptions of marriage and females?
  • What does Joan’s advice to Peggy, the new secretary, suggest about the culture of the workplace in the 1960s?
  • Evaluate the extent to which the contraception scene reveals a shifting culture in regards to female rights – 1/2 page response including specific textual features
  • How does the language used by Rachel Menken represent her gender and personality? Include specific quotes and features.
  • How is the viewer positioned to respond to Don Draper by the end of the episode? Consider his actual home life. How does he talk to his wife?

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  •  Three visual representations of woman: identify these archetypes and describe the behaviours that are attributed to each. Have these social expectations changed? For who? How?

After completing these questions and activities, students should represent their ideas on a graphic organiser, such as a ven diagram. Using these details, students write an extended response to answer:

In what ways do these texts reflect social attitudes through intertextuality?

*Image – title and cast: http://blog.wordnik.com/word-soup-mad-men (from ricmeyers.com)

*Image- Season 1 women: https://aucollma.expressions.syr.edu/?p=124

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