Week 4 (Sounds of Laughter)

Academic Conversation Skill: Addressing Sources
Concept: Postmodernism
Time Period: 1980s

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Addressing Sources

Templates for addressing sources:

Disagreeing, with Reasons

  • I think X is mistaken because she overlooks ___________________.
  • X’s claim that ____________ rests upon the questionable assumption that _______________. (adapted from Graff and Birkenstein 2006, 55)

Agreeing – with a Difference

  • I agree that __________ because my experience _________________ confirms it.
  • I agree that __________________, a point that needs emphasizing since so many people believe __________________. (adapted from Graff and Birkenstein 2006, 57)

Agreeing and Disagreeing Simultaneously

  • Although I agree with X up to a point, I cannot accept his overall conclusion that _____________.
  • Although I disagree with much that X says, I fully endorse his final conclusion that _______________________. (adapted from Graff and Birkenstein 2006, 59)


Postmodernism (Wikipedia)

“The old rock modernism that had set a distinct and distinguishable alternative rock culture against the mainstream was challenged as the eighties began to unfold…These postmodern upstarts [e.g. Madonna, Prince, Cyndi Lauper] were savvy stars playing both sides of the fence; their punk-inspired spirits drove them to expose the the processes of pop productions and marketing while they laughed coyly on their way to the bank.” (Ellis 2008, 168)

“Alongside technological advances, the launch of MTV in 1981 similarly revolutionized rock music as it shifted the emphasis of rock humor from lyrical expression to visual theatrics…when MTV emerged at the dawn of the eighties, Devo were there to provide a bridge from punk to the new image-drive genres of new wave and pop. “Whip It” become a breakout success in 1980, its bizarre video imagery bringing mystique and credibility to MTV.” (Ellis 2008, 169)

“Out postmodern era has created an eternal past-as-present where all existing styles, forms, and expressions are accessible at the touch of a button for consumption, appropriation, or inspiration.” (Ellis 2008, 301)

“…subversive rock humor is here to stay because it’s three elemental components – subversion, rock music, and humor – all relate to the same common human need and desire: freedom. John Morreall* argues that you can never control a person who has humor, you can never brainwash or indoctrinate a person who has humor, and you can never create an institutional pawn out a person who has humor.” (Ellis 2008, 302)

*Morreall, John. 1983. Taking laughter seriously. Albany: State University of New York.

Performance Example (1980s)

This video provides excerpts from three examples of postmodernist MTV videos from the 1980s: “Whip It” (1980) by Devo, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” (1983) by Cyndi Lauper, and “Like a Virgin” (1984) by Madonna. Although they may seem dated and unexceptional (because they have been emulated so much since the 1980s), they revolutionized popular music and its corresponding humor/comedy.

See Also:

Cyndi Lauper on YouTube

Devo on YouTube

Madonna on YouTube

Reading Questions

  • Do you disagree (with reasons), agree (with a difference), agree and disagree simultaneously with Ellis’ claim that the postmodern shifts of the 1980s continue (and will continue) to influence musical comedy?
  • In the last paragraph, does Ellis disagree (with reasons), agree (with a difference), agree and disagree simultaneously with Morreall’s claim? (the response comes before the source, but it is still the same academic conversation convention at play)

Performance Questions

  • What kinds of boundaries do these performances blur? (e.g. past/present, art/popular, mainstream/counterculture, male/female, etc.)
  • In what ways have these performances influenced contemporary popular music (and its corresponding humor/comedy)?


Return to your source(s) from Week 3. Respond to this quotation and/or summary by disagreeing with reasons, agreeing with a difference, and/or agreeing and disagreeing simultaneously.  Post as a Word file. (Due the Friday after class @ 5pm PST)

Additional Sources for Postmodernism

Frith, Simon, Andrew Goodwin, and Lawrence Grossberg. 1993. Sound and vision: the music video reader. London: Routledge.

Sinnreich, Aram. 2010. Mashed up: music, technology, and the rise of configurable culture. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

Other 1980s Performers

YouTube Links


Beastie Boys

Dead Kennedys


Michael Jackson

“Prince: The Glory Years” (Date Unknown)

Public Enemy

Spinal Tap

Van Halen

Blog Posts

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