MIT OpenCourseWare


Portfolio Guidelines (PDF)

Essay Assignments

Essay I (PDF)
Essay II (PDF)
Essay III (PDF)
Research Guidelines (PDF)
Essay IV (PDF)
Revising Essay IV (PDF)
Cover sheet for Re- Revised Drafts (PDF)
Cover sheet for Essay IV Revision (PDF)

Homework Assignments
Homework Assignment #1
  1. WRITE: A letter to me, introducing yourself as a writer (approx. 1 page): What's up with you and writing? What are your hopes (fears?) regarding this class? What are your own goals for your writing? I will respond to your letter.
  2. READ: Phyllis Rose's "Shopping and Other Spiritual Adventures in America Today" (handout) and Diane Johnson's "Rolex" in our course packet.
  3. WRITE: Copy down a brief passage from one of the readings and respond to it in one page. Your response can tell a story from your own experience that seems to illustrate or contradict something in the reading; it can ask questions, argue, relate the reading to other reading you've done, something you've seen on TV, or it can explore your feelings as you read the passage. This writing should be considered; your goal is to deepen your own and classmates' understanding of the essay from which the passage is taken.
    We will share these in class and I will collect them.
  4. FOR CLASS DISCUSSION: underline at least 5 passages- sentences, phrases, paragraphs- that strike you as especially effective writing in Rose's and Johnson's essays. We'll share these and discuss what makes them good. We'll also discuss the ideas that Rose and Johnson develop while reporting and reflecting on their experiences.


ALWAYS BRING HOMEWORK TO CLASS. I will collect it from time to time and respond, and we will frequently use it in class.
A 1-page response means 1 page typed, double-spaced, or the equivalent in neat handwriting. All work must be legible.

Homework Assignment #2

  1. READ Adam Gopnik's "The Winter Circus." This essay grew out of journal entries written during Gopnik's stay in Paris with his wife and young son.
  2. WRITE: Copy down a brief passage from "The Winter Circus" and respond to it in one page.
  3. FOR CLASS DISCUSSION: Think about what hold's Gopnik's essay together-what makes it an essay, and not just a series of jotted down thoughts? What's the glue? And th ink about what Gopnik's main concerns seem to be in this essay.

Homework Assignment #3: Essay I

Inspired by the readings we've done so far, write a 3-4-page essay. Either:

  1. Write an essay that draws on your own experience and reflects on the pleasures, passions and purposes of owning or shopping. Topics might be: a favorite possession; collecting (cards, toys, books . . .); garage sales; the urge to splurge; family shopping traditions; gift-giving; holiday shopping; travel and shopping; shopping as a pastime; the shopping mall as a cultural space; the frustrations of shopping; shopping in America vs. shopping in (Cyprus, Bangladesh, Bulgaria--wherever you have lived); food shopping; shopping for school or work clothes; or . . . ??? You will want to include anecdotes from your own experience, what you've observed, what pleases you, perplexes you, amuses you, troubles you, makes you wonder. . . You may include ideas, comments, phrases, etc., from other writers, friends, classmates, movies or songs, citing them informally (In Adam Gopnik's words . . ; When William Wordsworth said . . .). Or,
  2. Write an essay that responds to "Shopping as a Spiritual Adventure"; "Rolex"; or, "The Winter Circus." Don't try to respond to every idea in your chosen essay (nearly impossible !) but respond to some part of the essay, or the spirit, the main idea of the essay. You may use an epigraph to signal to the reader what you're responding to; you may or may not choose to quote or paraphrase from the chosen essay.


Remember that while this essay grows out of your own experience, it is not a journal entry or simply an expression of your feelings. However you choose to narrate it, you want your essay to be of interest to readers such as your classmates, friends, and instructors. Just like the essays we've been reading, something has to hold it all together, and it has to go somewhere.
This essay will be revised once after Workshopping and comments from me, and may be re-revised or polished.

Format for Essays: Follow this format for all essays.

Serena Student
Consumer Culture
Essay I/Draft1*
Feb. 19, 2002*

*Remember to change the Essay no. and draft no. for each new draft

The Title of Your Essay Goes Here

Titles are not underlined, in quotes, etc.; you may use boldface if you like.
Your essays should be double spaced. Number your pages, by hand if necessary.
Margins: 1" top and bottom; 1¼" left and right.
Use a type font that is easy to read-no script, italics, all caps, etc.-and a size similar to this. A 5-p. essay means 5-p. double-spaced in type this size.
We will use informal citation for Essays I, II and IV and MLA style for Essay III.
All drafts must be word-processed or typed.

Homework Assignment #4

  1. READ the next two essays in your course packet: Holly Brubach's "Mail-Order America" and Ch. 9 from Jean Kilbourne's book Can't Buy My Love, "The Dream Begins as Soon as You Open the Door." Holly Brubach was a fashion writer for the New Yorker and editor of the fashion section of the New York Times Magazine. Jean Kilbourne writes, makes films and speaks on the subject of advertising and addiction, particularly as they affect young women.
  2. WRITE: Copy down a brief passage from one of the readings and respond to it in one page.
  3. FOR CLASS DISCUSSION: What are the key concerns of these two essays? What do you think motivates Brubach and Kilbourne to write these pieces? Be able to point to specific places in the texts to support your claim.

Homework Assignment #5

  1. WRITE: A 1-page position paper in which you state what you believe about your relationship to the attempts of marketers to manipulate you: where and how are you manipulated? Where and how are you free?
  2. READ: Go to writer Malcom Gladwell's web page and follow the links to his November 4, 1996 article, "The Science of Shopping." Gladwell writes on science and business topics for the New Yorker. Print out the article for easier reading and marking up. Read it, and remember to bring it to class.
  3. REVISE Essay I.
  4. BRING to class an ad or ads you'd like to work with for Essay II.

Homework Assignment #6

  1. READ "They Say," which is the Introduction to Douglas Rushkoff's book Coercion. Rushkoff is a writer, consultant, and lecturer who specializes in topics relating to the ways the internet is changing society. [Xeroxed handout] Also READ Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker article on how advertisers appeal to men, "Listening to Khakis." It's available at his website:
  2. WRITE: After reading these two essays, copy a passage from one that relates to the statement you wrote about manipulation and freedom. Continue your discussion of the issues in light of this passage.

Please include the first draft with your revision!

Homework Assignment #7: Essay II

Select an ad or ad campaign that interests you and that you want to think about. You may discuss either print ads or commercials, or both if they are part of the same campaign. Your job is to do a close reading of the ad(s), both visual and verbal elements. Using the essays by Brubach, Gladwell ("Khakis"), Rushkoff and Kilbourne as models, tell us what the ads are selling and how they do so. You'll want to let us know if think the ad is intended to appeal to a particular audience, such as children and/or adolescents, girls and/or young women, or boys and/or young men, and so on. And let us know whether and how the ad appeals to the "romantic" or "classical" shopper (fantasy or utility? Or both?). You may also find it useful to apply criteria re: ad techniques devised to appeal to men and women as discussed by Gladwell ("Khakis") or techniques of persuasion noted by Rushkoff.
Make sure, too, that your readers know what you think of the ad(s): form a thesis that relates them to wider cultural ideas and/or values. Your audience for this essay is high school and college students (as well as, of course, me). However, I'm not looking for a schematic approach, but for a lively, engaging essay that will catch students' attention and get them to see your ad(s) in a new way. 4-5 p.


  1. Format: Treat this as an informal essay. That is, if you quote sources, work references to them into the text rather than using citations or footnotes.
  2. Tone: Although your purpose is serious, you aren't restricted to using a formal tone such as you would typically use in a research paper. Consider the different ways Brubach, Kilbourne and Gladwell approach their subjects. You may choose to make your presence in your essay explicit, as they do, or to keep the focus strictly on the material you're discussing. Similarly, you may use humor if that seems like a good way to engage with your topic, or a more serious tone, as Jean Kilbourne does.
  3. Logic and claims: This kind of assignment carries a temptation to make large claims about the intentions and effects of advertising. Be very careful how you word such claims; do not make claims you cannot support.

Homework Assignment #8

For the second class of the week:
READ "A Sad Heart at the Supermarket" (course packet) by Randall Jarrell. Jarrell was a poet and cultural critic; he wrote this essay around 1960.
FOR DISCUSSION: How does Jarrell relate mass consumer culture to culture in the sense of art and creativity? What questions does the essay raise for you?
Due by e-mail :

What topic would you like to explore for your Research Project (Essay III)?
Why does this topic interest you?

Two sentences will suffice!

Homework Assignment #9

Due Class 10

Homework Assignment #10

MAKE an Annotated Bibliography for your six best sources thus far for your research topic. That is, list the source, as in

Book: Smith, Perry. A Short History of Consumer Culture. NY: Utopia Press, 2001.
Article: Chang, Judy."Selling and Demographics." The New Consumerism Reader. Boston: Utopia Press, 2000.
Web: [see any recent style manual for format for web sources.]

Describe each source in a sentence, followed by a sentence that tells why this source will be useful for your project.

Homework Assignment #11

  1. READ the Introduction to Juliet Schor's book, The Overspent American, in the course packet. Schor is a sociologist whose work focuses on patterns of spending, work and leisure in the U.S.
  2. WRITE: Select a passage that you think represents a key part of Schor's argument, and respond to it in one page.
  3. Re-Revise Essay I.

Homework Assignment #12

  1. READ "Two Cheers for Materialism," an essay by James Twitchell, and the excerpts from Gary Cross's An All-Consuming Century (2 short selections directly following Twitchell in your course packet; they are numbered as p. 3-5 and 247-51, as per their numbering in the book).
  2. FOR CLASS DICUSSION: list 3 questions that these two authors raise for you (3 each). We will hear everyone's questions in class.

This assignment is due for class #13.

Homework Assignment #13

  1. Continue with research.
  2. READ "The Singer Solution to World Poverty" in course packet (numbered as p. 140-146). Peter Singer is a professor of philosophy who writes on ethical issues.
  3. WRITE a 1-page response to Singer. Note: avoid the temptation to merely be sarcastic! We will work with these responses in class.

Homework Assignment #14

  1. READ the 2 essays by Wendell Berry in the course pack-"Getting along with Nature" and "Back to the Land." Berry is a "public intellectual"-someone who writes and speaks on public issues. He lives in West Virginia, works a small farm, and has published novels and poems as well as several collections of essays.
  2. WRITE a 1-page reflection on your relationship to "the land." You may draw on Berry if you like. See if you can relate your meditation to consumer culture.

Homework Assignment #15

  1. For class: Bring notes so that we can do some pre-writing for Research Essay.
  2. We will discuss the "Singer Solution" in class.

Essay III:

Essay III is due to your research group in class #17. Each of you is responsible for writing comments to the writer (I'll provide a format for your comments). Don't email your comments unless you see a major problem & want to alert the writer; bring the comments to class for discussion. I will collect these comments.
You do not need to print out each essay, unless you prefer to. But you must read & respond in writing before Thursday's class. In workshop Thursday, each of you will read one of your group's essays and mark it up; then the group will discuss each essay.

For class:
Bring a draft with sentences that have been marked unclear, awk., phrasing x - we'll spend class time working on clarifying & polishing sentences.

Homework Assignment #17

  1. READ & make notes on your group's research papers.
    Bring your draft & notes on group's draft to class #18 for workshopping.
  2. READ excerpt from Naomi Klein's No Logo, the last reading in our course packet. Klein's book offers several case histories of consumer activism; we're reading about activism undertaken in response to issues related to Nike, both manufacturing conditions and marketing. For class discussion class #19. What questions does Klein raise for you about consumer activism, its aims and its methods? In particular, what do you think of the idea that in a culture driven so heavily by marketing one of the most meaningful ways to act as citizens may be to act as consumers, that is, in direct relation to corporations?
  3. RE-REVISION of Essay II is due a day after class #18. Note: I will continue to accept re-revisions of Essay II until a day after class #20; after that, revisions of Essay II will go in your portfolios.

Homework Assignment #19

WRITE a letter that begins a discussion of some aspect of consumer culture that you would like to think further about. Address the letter to your assigned partner, and bring the letter to class.

Homework Assignment #20

REFINE your first letters and WRITE your 2nd letters to each other- so that when you come to class, you will have 2 letters each, 4 total. We'll workshop these letters in class #21.

Homework Assignment #21

WRITE the last two letters for Essay IV. Bring your sequence of 6 letters to class. Each pair of writers should bring two sets of letters for Workshopping. I will collect & comment on one set of letters per pair and make a Xerox copy of that document, but I will write a separate note to each writer.
Note: because this essay will only be revised once, you should edit and polish the draft you bring to class as much as you can.

Homework Assignment #22

Work on revision of Essay III.
Work on Oral Presentation of research project. (That assignment will be handed out in class.)