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Popular culture, public pedagogy and perspective transformation: The Avengers and adult learning in living rooms

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The purpose of this study was to investigate the impact of popular culture, especially prime-time television, on women viewers' identity development. More specifically, this study explores one television show, the 1962-1964 Cathy Gale episodes of The Avengers, as a portal to adult learning. We explored how television, as a form of public pedagogy, can help facilitate the formation of a critical or feminist identity among adult learner viewers. The research questions guiding this study were: (1) How and what did women learn from watching The Avengers? (2) How did women incorporate that learning into their lives and into their identities? (3) How did women interpret and accommodate the feminist example of Cathy Gale? Because our purpose was to investigate Cathy Gale's impact on women, we chose a qualitative design to uncover the experiences of women who watched her in the 1960s. Unlike most television audience research conducted on female audiences, we were not researching the effects of current television viewing, but asking for life-stories of women who watched The Avengers over 40 years ago. Data for this study were collected over a two-and-a-half year period and consisted of interviews with contemporaneous viewers of the Cathy Gale Avengers episodes; interviews with scriptwriters and with Honor Blackman, the actor who played Cathy Gale; as well as numerous documents—ranging from statistics obtained at the British Film Institute to fanzines and newspaper articles of the period. Analysis revealed that, in particular historical times and situations, television viewing can become a form of critical public pedagogy, facilitating transformational learning in adult viewers that produces lasting, life-changing effects. This investigation revealed that not only did biologically born women incorporate Cathy Gale's feminist example into their identities and actions, but biologically born males whose core gender identity was female did also. This study shows the power of learning experiences found in the space between viewers and their television sets. It offers evidence of transformational, lifelong learning in living rooms.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: The University of Texas at San Antonio, USA 2: Mary Lou Fulton College of Education, USA

Publication date: July 1, 2009

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