Essay Format

Due: Week 12

Value: 30%



NEW, THIS YEAR:  In aid of our paperless classroom effort, bring a Microsoft Word 2003 compatible document (not Word Perfect) to class, preferably on a USB chip.  I will make a copy of your essay, which I will read on my computer. Let’s try to eliminate paper usage, ok?


Write a 1500 word critical essay analyzing and critiquing one icon (an extraordinarily famous person or thing) from Western popular culture (e.g. Humphrey Bogart, James Dean, Pepsi Cola, etc.).

1) Try to be unique in your selection:

20 essays/presentations on Madonna or Elvis can be quite boring; try unusual and challenging iconographic studies, whenever possible (e.g. The Pentagon: what does it symbolize in our culture?  What did terrorists who attacked it believe that they were attacking, in a symbolic/iconographic sense?)

2) Of what is your icon symbolic?   What does your icon represent in the culture?    This section should be the largest section of your paper.

(a)  Discuss the semiotics of your icon– what are the signifiers in your icon’s appearance?  What is ‘signified’ by your icon?
(b)  Discuss Maslowian applications with respect to your icon;  on what levels of Maslow‘s hierarchy of needs does your icon involve or “hook” the perceiver, and how/why?
(c)  What would Marshall McLuhan have to say about your icon and the way in which it/he/she has been used in popular culture?   How is the medium actually the message in the various manifestations of your icon?    Can your icon or any of its by-products be seen as an “extension” of humanity (in the way in which McLuhan used this term)?

3) Be certain to discuss your icon’s meaning for all perceivers– for example, to many Americans, George W. Bush is a hero; to some, he is a war-hawk and a poor business manager; to many people internationally, he is an imperialist.  To some, Eminem or Tupac are champions of free speech; to others, they may be offensive; to feminists or pacifists, they may be considered misogynistic or violent.  It is imperative that you present a balanced view of your icon that discusses all aspects of meaning for all potential perceivers.  Be critical, even if you are a “fan.”

4) Be analytical and critical of your icon’s consumer applications– discuss in detail, for example, how your icon has become a ‘brand,’ used to sell posters, t-shirts, and other merchandise (Che Guevara, a revolutionary whose initial cause was a country’s liberation from fascistic oppression, is now a vague symbol of youthful resistance, whose meaning has become diluted and whose image is used to sell everything from t-shirts to vodka”) and how your icon is used as an ideological symbol, to promote a lifestyle or belief system; e.g. The Pentagon ~ defense, American patriotism, secrecy, etc.; James Dean ~ youth & rebellion, resistance, counterculture, etc.

5) Provide brief  historical background on the ‘story’ of your icon only where it is crucial to a study of iconography; you should concentrate more on symbolism, semiotics, meaning, usages, and effects of your icon in the culture.

6) Discuss briefly (in about 200 words) the icon’s impact on your own life and consciousness.  How has this icon been a major influence on your own existence, beliefs, consumer attitudes, etc.   Use the word “I,”  and talk about your feelings.

7) Use 3 hard-copy sources (books, articles, journals, newspapers), and create a bibliography (MLA or APA styles are acceptable).   Be sure to credit individual facts with in-text references, e.g… (Medaglia-Miller 34).  Even if you have not directly quoted from other sources, any ideas, historical facts, or opinions of authors other than yourself must be accurately referenced– at a college level, you must give credit to those who contribute to your essay in any conceivable manner.

You may use some web sources, but these must be included only in addition to your three books, journals, or newspaper articles.  You may not use a web source unless the following information is provided:  author, title of article, web publisher name (organization posting the article), and the date of the article.  In addition, you must, as per MLA/APA format, provide the date on which you ‘retrieved’ the article from the WWW.

8) Your work must be original– the submission of even a partially-plagiarized paper will result in an automatic failure.   Please write in your own words.

To view very-good-to-excellent (model) essays from past students, click these buttons….

The American Flag Jim Carrey
Roman Polanski Michael Moore
Don Cherry Bob Marley
Hulk Hogan The Simpsons
Steven Spielberg Bruce Lee
Here are some excellent essays from Fall 2007….  these papers truly demonstrate that the medium is the message  (Adobe Acrobat is required for viewing pdfs) Risa Cappe © 2007; Natasha Sterlin © 2007; Kamilla Khakimova  © 2007; Pamela Lucian  © 2007:

 Judy Garland (pdf) Harry Potter (pdf)
 Stalin (pdf) Trent Reznor (pdf)

The following three works, by Marian Chiaramonte, Sarah Tam, and Lindsay Dick, are my favourite essays of 2008, in no particular order.

Bugs Bunny
Ellen DeGeneres

Although there were a few very fine essays written in 2009, there was only one essay that I would call extraordinary.  Would you like a mark of 100% on your essay?  Then, emulate Myriam Demers-Olivier, who also earned 100% for the entire course… best Pop student ever, I suspect.


Here are three first-rate essays from the Fall of 2010:

Bayardo Gonzalez, The Crucifix

Russell Holley, Country Music

Charles Sagun, Superman (top essay of 2010)

Designing an Outline

largely based on: Buckley, J. (1991) Fit to print.  Toronto: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Once you have decided upon your topic, determined your thesis statement, and considered your audience and purpose, you need an outline.

Never attempt to write an essay without some kind of outline– whether it be a formal, detailed itinerary or a hastily jotted map showing your destination, your direction, and the stops you wish to make along the way.

Your Outline is like a Table of Contents

Think of the outline as your own flexible table of contents.  It is, after all, your note to yourself, your reminder of what details you wish to include and what arguments you want to make.  Like a table of contents, the outline labels what the reader may expect to find contained in the work itself.

Sort Through Your Ideas

1. Make sure you have established your pivotal points: the thesis statement and purpose.   Use your thesis statement (subject to revision) and your selected purpose as the launching points for your outline.  From them will emanate all the ideas, arguments, facts, and figures you have gathered.
2. Gather your notes. With your tentative thesis statement on paper in front of you, gather your tentative remarks, your research, and your questions about the topic.  One good way to take notes is to list separate ideas on index cards (remembering to include sources, if any).  This way you can shuffle or discard material easily.  Keeping your purpose in mind, organize the material you have selected, discarding any information not strictly related to it.
3. Classify your material. Decide how many steps your argument contains. Then classify your notes accordingly.
4. Order your material in a logical way. Decide at what point a particular argument should be mentioned.  Decide what your opening argument, your follow-up, and your last word should be.  Keep in mind the tried-and-true notion that a strong point is best placed at the beginning or ending of an essay.
5. Rank your points according to their importance. Sorting your ideas according to rank means deciding whether an item has a major role or merely a minor one to play.  In order to rank your ideas, assign them numbers or letters (see example), beginning perhaps with capital Roman numerals for major sections, moving to capital letters for important supporting sections, through to Arabic numbers for larger details, to small letters for the minor details.
6. Invent a title. Don’t entitle your paper, “Camera Lenses in Badlands“; instead, entitle it, “Out of Focus: The Use of the Telephoto Lens in Badlands”  A title should be catchy and not too lengthy, but don’t sacrifice clarity for flourish.

Tailor the Outline

As you outline, you may notice some bits of research material that seemed valuable at the time that you took the notes, though now, they seem unrelated to the development of your thought.  Do not hesitate to toss them out.  One of the main functions of the outline is to show you how well the material you have gathered actually fits the viewpoint you have chosen. The outline which follows shows a short, persuasive essay, developed by examples, definition, classification, and comparison/contrast.  The essay consists of three arguments to defend the thesis, plus supporting arguments.

Example of an outline:


TITLE:  “You’re Tearing Me Apart”: The Resistance of James Dean

Hey… are you a James Dean fan, like me?  Click here, for downloadable images of the great actor…



Consists of three parts:

a)  INTRODUCTION: a catchy opening sentence

b)  a clear THESIS statement that clarifies the theory that you will be defending throughout the essay

c)  a PREVIEW (this is essential) that acts as a kind of menu for the reader, outlining in brief all of the items about which you will be writing throughout the BODY of the essay– the BODY paragraphs should appear in the same order as they are outlined in this PREVIEW sentence.

For example…

INTRODUCTION: “You’re tearing me apart,” James Dean cries out to his parents in ‘Rebel Without a Cause,’ the cult classic that is still, almost three generations later, a movie-shrine to the angst of young people. In all of Pop Culture, there are only a handful of icons that have maintained the enduring impact of the legendary James Dean.

THESIS STATEMENT: Throughout Western popular culture, the icon that is James Dean has become virtually equivalent  to the anti-establishment, rebellious views of youth and teenagers.

PREVIEW: This essay will discuss and analyze James Dean as an icon of youthful rebellion by providing discussion of four different critical issues:

A) a brief discussion of the short, troubled life and career of James Dean, ending with his tragic death due to speeding in his sports car;

B) in-depth semiotic and symbolic analyses of how his attitudes and behaviours have been transformed in Pop Culture, since his death, into an icon of resistance and anti-establishment attitudes;

C) how his image has been used in merchandising to sell “bad-ass,” resistant products associated with counter-culture, such as motorcycles, sports cars, cigarettes, leather jackets, blue jeans, rolling papers, liquor, etc.

D) how James Dean‘s image has had a great influence on my own beliefs about considered and critical resistance against the establishment, unjust authority figures, and attempts by elders to unnecessarily control and stifle youthful attempts at creativity and expression.


A.  Brief background paragraph: a brief discussion of his life

1.  Brilliant, moody young method actor; expressed his emotions: frustration, anger, depression, anxiety
2.   Only a handful of films
3.   Aloof, distant…  very much a loner
4.   Always seen smoking; wore cool clothes
5.   Death in a sports car crash…  speeding

B.  Several long paragraphs: in-depth analysis of iconographic meaning (this is the bulk of the essay).

1.   Anti-establishment
2.   In films, spoke out against unjust controls
3.   His very image was different; hair, clothes, speech patterns, stance, demeanor
4.   Idol among young people
5.   Sex symbol
6.   Symbol of new rock n’ roll age
7.   Smoking, motorcycles, leather
8.   “Rebel Without A Cause
9.  What is the signifier(s) of the icon?
10.What are the signified representations (several levels please).
11. On what levels of the Maslowian hierarchy of needs does James Dean make the perceiver ‘need’ him?
12. How is the medium that we call James Dean “the message” of James Dean? Make specific reference to McLuhan’s theory.  How, then, is the user the content?
13. How is James Dean an extension of your senses?  Does this extension make any of your sensory capacities obsolete?  Answer this question making specific reference to Marshall McLuhan’s “Extensions of Man” theory.

C.  Branding & Merchandising:  ironically, co-opted by corporate world to promote sales

1.   Motorcycles and sports cars
2.   Liquor, cigarettes, rolling papers
3.   Leather jackets and blue jeans
4.   Buttons, posters, and T-Shirts:  just his image on these items connotes ‘rebellion’

D.  How James Dean has influenced me

1.   Resistance against authority
2.   Resentment of control freaks
3.   Rebellion against unjust authority figures
4.   I dress like him: jeans, leather, etc.
5.   Creative expression

III.      CONCLUSION: Throughout this essay, I have shown how James Dean transcended his initial status, as a mere mortal who happened to be a fine, method actor, to become ultimately a grand icon representing the rebellion of young people throughout the ages.  His own life story was filled with numerous examples of attitudes and behaviours that went against the grain of society.  Iconographic analyses of his many usages in Popular Culture show how his very image represents revolutionary, anti-establishment views and counterculture ideas.  The merchandising of his image, time after time, is used in conjunction with the sale of non-mainstream or ‘counterculture’ products.  James Dean, both as man and as icon, has had an enormous influence on my own personality and attitudes, helping to shape me into the rebellious, critical person I am.

James Dean has helped all of us to see how the obsessive- compulsive attitudes and restraints of a controlling establishment, hell-bent on monitoring our behaviours and shaping our very personalities, is “tearing us apart.”


For precise details on both the MLA and APA techniques of referencing, see the link below….

Referencing Techniques


Any usage of the text of other authors must be brief, sporadic, and rigorously-referenced.  Avoid plagiarism (using the words of other authors without appropriate referencing) at all costs.  Plagiarism of even a small portion of your work will yield tragic consequences and failure.