Wednesday, October 14, 2009


my classes are currently working through a unit on inferences. it's a tough unit, especially if you have learned to thoughtlessly consume art. i've realized this about my students. they are smart. they can rise to nearly every new bar you set for them. but they do not intrinsically know how to engage concepts or the abstract. (shucks, sometimes it seems they can barely handle the concrete.) this is a major disadvantage in our current lesson because inferences, and the process we must engage to make good inferences, is totally conceptual and abstract. there is nothing black-or-white here, even when we try to boil it down to multiple choice and true/false questionairres. so i've taken up quite a daunting task as an instructor: teach these people how to engage art.

the following is one example of my efforts. i tried to write this assignment in such a way as to entice them to do it, but also (hopefully) to shape their future dealings with art and the conceptual. we'll see. this is merely for bonus points, but, if you could see the rest of the stuff we do, i expect they'll be jumping on this. i'll pass this out in class starting this afternoon.

* * *

* Good for a FREE homework grade *

Jay-Z is at it again. And he was right to bring Rihanna in for the chorus. She adds an edge to this that Beyonce just can’t handle. Not to mention, after years of knocking Kanye (and all those who love the Kanye – “Kanyeists” I call them), I have to admit that he delivers a duo with Jay-Z in this new song that makes "Diamonds are Forever" sound like a Sesame Street letter-game song.

Anyone who’s followed Jay-Z’s career can testify: the man knows what he’s doing. Jay-Z is very purposeful in everything he says, everything he produces, and everything he shows the camera. For this reason, Jay-Z is a superstar who can say, without blinking an eye, “Bow down to the . . . . greatest!”

For the reason of Jay-Z’s purposefulness alone, we should pay close attention to what he’s saying and showing us. It’s far too easy to put on a Jay-Z, Rihanna or Kanye record or video and just rest under the umbrella of the music, never thinking about what these creative and purposeful artists may be implying.

The following assignment is completely voluntary. I realize that not everyone enjoys hip-hop music, and I also realize that some people may be offended or uncomfortable viewing images of mob violence. Likewise, some may not appreciate explicit lyrics. Therefore, this assignment is voluntary.

Still, even after all these disclaimers, the music video for Jay-Z’s new single “Run This Town” offers an ideal exercise in making inferences.

Your assignment, if you choose, is to watch the “Run This Town” music video (possibly several times). Consider the context of the video. Consider the tone of the images. Consider visual details such as those we’ve discussed thus far in class (colors, background, character action, the relationship between the leaders and the lead). Remember, Jay-Z is very purposeful. He knows what he’s doing. And with this in mind, look carefully for an image Jay-Z flashes the camera of a famous political leader.

To receive the bonus points in this assignment, you must complete the following:
- identify the political leader by name, political party, geographical location, and time frame;
- discuss this leader’s importance: (what did this leader accomplish? what did this leader contribute or destroy in order for his/her name to be historically significant?);
- based on the context of the video, infer what Jay-Z might be implying by flashing this particular leaders face towards the camera;
- your assignment should be type, double spaced, 1 ½ pages, 12 point Calibri font, and you should probably take it to the Writing Center for assistance;
- the deadline for this bonus point opportunity is the last class session before our next test.

NOTE: In NO WAY whatsoever should we suggest that Jay-Z wants to emulate this leader or that Jay-Z wants to reinstate this leader’s political reign in reality. That is NOT what this assignment is about. However, within the context of this particular video, we may easily infer that Jay-Z has good reason for using this person’s face. It adds something to the story he’s telling. That’s what I want you to find.

You may find the video by typing in this address:

Or you may simply go to, and type Run This Town Video into the search box.

“Victory’s within the mile / almost there, don’t give up now”


Kelly Riad said...

I'm totally doing this assignment. You will have my paper by the end of the week, Mr. Still!!

myleswerntz said...

I'm doing it, but I want beer instead of homework credit.

the hamster said...

if kelly does the assignment right, she gets an neil gaiman tattoo.

if myles gets it right, he gets a sixer of pyramid haywire hefe.

dude, bonuses are awesome.

the hamster said...

i had a student gone from class for 30 minutes, and then he came to my office with some pages from wikipedia. "is this the dude on the jacket?" it was. i asked him how he found out who the guy was. he said, "i pulled up the video in the library and started asking everyone around me, 'hey, you know who this dude is? finally i asked the head librarian. she seemed very confused about the whole thing, but she knew who it was.'" awesome.

myleswerntz said...

my homework's in your inbox.

Kelly Riad said...

just sent it to you.