Five years ago Amy Zenger and I published a book about the everyday literacy practices represented in popular culture, specifically in mainstream movies. We found that, when you pay attention to these representations, you begin to see interesting patterns that reflect cultural attitudes about who is allowed to read and write, in what settings, and for what social goals. I loved writing this book. Not only was it intriguing to work through these ideas, but I’ve never had more fun writing a book than I did working on this project. It’s a book I’m proud of, and liked writing and talking about. The only problem at all was that Routledge initially only published the book in hardcover – making it prohibitively expensive for most people to buy, and certainly out of the range of most students. So I was delighted to find out that Routledge has now published a paperback version of the book! I don’t know if this will result in the book getting a broader reading, but I’m just happy that there is a less expensive version out there (versions, actually, with the e-book out too). Not cheap, but less expensive, and that’s a start.
What we found in the book was that movies – from romantic comedies to dramas to action blockbusters – are filled with scenes of people of all ages, sexes, races, and social classes reading and writing in widely varied contexts and purposes. Yet these scenes go largely unnoticed, even by literacy scholars, despite the fact that these images recreate and reinforce pervasive concepts and perceptions of literacy. We argued that in popular culture representations of literacy we can see a reflection of the dominant functions and perceptions that shape our conceptions of literacy in our culture. I have found that this project has changed my sense of how literacy is perceived in the culture, and has also offered me representations of literacy that I draw on in my teaching time and I again.
And I keep seeing these patterns of literacy representations, from recent superhero movies to the films being discussed as award-winning favorites.
I won’t go on and on here, tempting as it may be. And I apologize for the shameless self-promotion. As I said, I’m fond of this book and get carried away talking about it. I understand the economic forces that publishers face and I want to make it clear that Routledge has been a splendid publisher to work with over the years. I have no complaints about them, at all – and with the paperback edition of this book, one more reason to be pleased to publish with them. Sorry to go on and on. But I am so happy to see the book out in more accessible and less expensive versions.