“Despacito” swept the charts as soon as it was released in early 2017. The promotional video for the song remains among the most viewed on YouTube with more than 7 billion views as of June 2021. Sung by a Puerto Rican artist, and with a title and part of the lyrics in Spanish, the song was an instant hit in Spanish classes as well. Among conjugation charts, and vocabulary games, Spanish students found themselves singing, filling in the blanks of the lyrics and recording their own choreographies to the rhythm of this song. As a cultural analyst and a Spanish teacher, I found this shocking.
If studying a foreign language involves developing intercultural awareness, how does a music video full with Latino stereotypes like “Despacito” contribute to that? If we recognize that education consists not only in passing on information, but it also contributes to the socialization of the younger generations, how should we approach in class a video such as “Despacito”, where women are offered as objects for sexual consumption? The products on our computer and tv screens are not innocent. Awareness of this fact applies to the use of this type of material in the classroom. The use of films, music videos, commercials or television series in the classrooms should contribute to developing the critical gaze of the students. A critical gaze that will help them to discern the mechanisms with which audiovisual products promote some themes, some models of society, specific attitudes and tastes to the detriment of others.
The book you have in your hands (or on your screen) intends to do that. The units in the book aim to develop a critical approach to viewing audiovisual products through activities with which students work on basic categories of narrative and film analysis, such as plot, characters, spaces where the action takes place and narrative voices. At the same time, students will deepen their knowledge of Latino communities since the audiovisual products on which the units are based focus on characters and/or topics related to Latin America or Latinos in the United States. The book is presented in two languages (English and Spanish) in order to reach the largest number of students and disciplines, not just those in Spanish language or Hispanic cultures classes. Finally, the book is organized into independent units so that the teacher selects those that align best with the curriculum and objectives of a specific class or course section.
Selection of materials
A series of criteria have come together in the selection of audiovisual products for the book. The main one, as we already mentioned, is that they included characters or topics related to Latin America or the Latino community in the United States. The original language and the originating country of the audiovisual products are different. Some are made in English and others in Spanish, some were made in the United States and others come from different Latin American countries, specifically, Colombia, Argentina, México, Guatemala and Chile. I sought to acknowledge the Latino linguistic, cultural and historical diversity even if only through some examples, since I recognize that other (equally significant) themes, regions and cultural expressions have been left out of the selection. Regarding the genre of audiovisual products on which the book’s units are based, I opted for music videos and web series given the popularity of these two types of cultural products. Finally, when selecting an audiovisual product for the book, I considered whether it led to discussion topics that do not usually appear in mainstream media, or that it offered an unusual perspective on the topic, or that the artists or the cultural products were new or unknown.
The final selection includes: 6 series and 5 music videos. Within the series we distinguish: serialized films, which tell a main story in a sequence of episodes, and short series, in which each chapter tells a different story, although they share a common theme.
One of the advantages of publishing as an Open Educational Resource (OER) is not being constrained by the commercial criteria of traditional publishers. Thus, publishing this work as OER allowed me to explore the didactic application of underused film genres, as well as artists and audiovisual products less known in the Anglo market. A consequence of this decision is that the actual texts in the book are not always published in both languages. For example, an interview with Colombian actress Ana María Estupiñán on the television program Dante Night Show offers an overview of the series La Niña, a summary of the career of the actress, as well as a model interview on Colombian television.This video gives a lot of play from the pedagogical point of view for the reasons mentioned above and, therefore, it was selected for the book. But it is only available in Spanish. In other units, the same problem arose: the actual text that accompanies an activity appears published in a single language (English or Spanish) when our book is offered in both languages. Faced with this situation, I opted to look for a parallel text in the second language that would offer similar information and pedagogical opportunities. Another option has been to resort to translations and subtitles made by the fan community of an artist or series. When, neither a parallel text nor an official or amateur translation or subtitling has been found, the original texts have been kept. In the latter case, there is the possibility of activating the YouTube subtitling program for videos or using an online translator for written texts (although the results are not always satisfactory).
The use of web series raised additional concerns. Spanning several episodes, frequent script twists, and character changes (all of which characterize these films) may well require many hours of attentive viewing, which may discourage teachers from bringing them into the classroom and publishers from incorporating them into textbooks along with more commonly used audiovisual texts, such as short films and movies. Despite the aforementioned drawbacks, the current boom in the series, as well as the formal and thematic innovations and the high quality of many of them, justify that more learning materials and classroom time are focused on viewing and discussing these popular genre.
Hispanic Cultures Through the Screen includes 11 units: three based on serialized films, three focused on short series and five created around music videos.
The units based on serialized films are longer. They begin with some readings, explanatory notes, videos and a glossary to provide the learner with information regarding plot, location, themes, and people involved in the series (actors, directors, showrunners). Next, a set of activities and questions prompt students to analyze and discuss characters, key events in the series, and their interpretation on different topics, such as Latino identity, gender roles, social stratification, etc. These units conclude with a final assignment in which learners connect and reflect on concepts and information discussed previously.
Watching the first ten episodes of a serialized film is enough to complete the activities in the book dedicated to that type of web series. Those ten episodes, along with the readings and explanatory notes, provide an overview of the series and enough information to meet the fundamental objective of the book, which is to promote the critical analysis of audiovisual products.
The units based on short series are more concise. After an introduction and a glossary, a set of activities prompt students to analyze and discuss key aspects of each series, such as, structure, location, values promoted, characters or narrators. It finishes with a final task for students to show their understanding of concepts discussed in the activities and their ability to connect ideas and to articulate their thinking.
Finally, the units based on music videos begin with some activities to introduce the artist or the song theme. They include a link to the music videos, as well as the lyrics transcript. They continue with activities and questions to discuss relevant elements in each song, such as, “poetic” voice, structure, “characters,” values promoted or historical and cultural references in the text. They end with a final assignment to present their thinking on topics introduced by previous activities.
Activities from the book can be done in small groups or individually, assigned as homework, or done during class time. This decision is left to the discretion of the instructor. Also, from among all the activities and questions that make up each teaching unit, the instructor can select those that interest her the most or that she considers most appropriate for her course.
In short, Hispanic Cultures Through the Screen aims to promote critical viewing of contemporary audiovisual products and thinking about the representation of Hispanic cultures in web series and music videos. Increasing popularity of these two genres justify dedicating part of the curriculum to them along with other more established audiovisual genres, such as short and feature films. The book is presented in English and Spanish so that it can be used in a wide variety of courses. Finally, it is organized into separate units (each based on a different audiovisual product) with different themes, structures and length, so that teachers can select those units that interest them the most for a specific course.