Television series have long fascinated the public. A spiritual sequel to the soap operas written in the daily newspapers by great authors like Balzac, they made their mark on the audience, who could follow the development of their favorite characters on a weekly, or in some cases daily, basis. Since the advent of channels such as HBO, event-based works have multiplied. Now, the line between television and movies is becoming more and more blurred. Today, multiple video-on-demand platforms are betting heavily on series exclusives, to the point where some consumers no longer know which services to choose.
Beyond the spectacular moments, the impression of a date and the entertainment offered, it remains a cultural production. Consequently, it can be used in an educational setting just as much as a novel, a feature film or a play. You just have to know how to use it.
Well, choosing your series
One of the first pitfalls of the series is its length. Indeed, these are sometimes colossal works composed of several episodes and seasons. The teacher looking to use a series will therefore have to do some clearing up. What do they want to show? Are they only excerpts or entire episodes? What will the activity or discussion that follows consist of? What should the learners learn from it? Some have already done this and offer an approach.
For example, Émeline Martin and Albéric Tellier have written a book called "All About Marketing with the Mad Men Series". The series aired from 2007 to 2015 and showed the underbelly of a New York advertising agency in the 1960s and beyond. A vision of an America that will experience profound changes over the years but also a portrait of advertising mechanics that will be refined and sometimes remain until today. The book proposes to look at a theme and to analyze it from a precise episode. Other episodes are suggested at the end of each chapter to go into greater depth.
Now, most teachers will have to do this work beforehand. One must also be aware of the intended audience. Some series may not be suitable for young people given the violence, vulgarity and sexuality displayed on screen. While a Game of Thrones or a Breaking Bad may be adequate for an audience of college students, it is less so for elementary or high school students. Fortunately, the multiplicity of series allows for a wide range of topics.
We already know that watching foreign series in their original language can be an effective way to get used to the sound of a living language. La Casa de Papel offers a window into popular Spanish just as Squid Game provides an introduction to Korean. Those wishing to hear more aristocratic English can listen to episodes of Downtown Abbey or The Crown. By the way, interestingly enough, several British series have been picked up by Americans. A way to analyze and learn the language differences between the two countries. The dramatic springs may also change as well as certain characters taking on more or less importance.
This analysis of plot breakdown or characterization of a protagonist or antagonist will be very relevant in, for example, a French class. What do they understand about the episode they watched? How would they summarize it to someone? How would they tell this story if they were the writers or directors? This can lead to academic teaching material in political science courses. If a series like Borgen does not accurately relate the realities of a Danish government, it seems to resonate with the audience that loved it. So what does it say about the relationship with politics? About the vision of people working in this sector? In that of the press? How does it compare, for example, with a West Wing or a House of Cards? What approaches do these creations have to political life?
Philosophy is not left out either. This article shows all the questions that can arise from a series like Westworld literally talking about the question of humanity in a theme park where the "automatons" are almost more human than the visitors. The series constantly cites concepts related to the philosopher Henri Bergson, including the sensory-motor schema.
Finally, the series can be a gateway to a larger subject. On that note, by the way, history-geography classes can greatly benefit from television soap operas. Because even if they are factually accurate in the minority of cases, they draw heavily on events and realities that can be studied by students. In this page on a podcast explaining examples of uses will be cited series such as The Kennedys to discuss the Cold War, Narcosand The Gift to address drug trafficking, or the Bureau of Legends to address contemporary geopolitics.
Many history teachers will praise creations such as Chernobyltelling well about the cracks in the Soviet bloc, Rome to observe the ancient republic or the 2016 miniseries War and Peace dealing very well with the atmosphere of the Russian nobility in relation to the war launched by Napoleon. There are many others that will be able to touch on different subjects from different fields. It is up to the teachers to look for the pedagogical angle in recent and not-so-recent series that will satisfy their objectives.
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