The best way to learn to write more effectively is to write a lot. Read a lot. Think and talk…

So anything that gets students doing the above, without huge angst or procrastination, is awesome in our book.

So here’s an idea: ask students to analyze a Hollywood ‘Reboot.’

Charlie Sheen and Patrick Swayze in ‘Red Dawn’ (1984)

The 80s are in full nostalgia mode right now, with big-budget remakes or tributes to (links to NYT’s reviews):

Johnny Depp in the late 1980s: 21 Jump Street

You can play the analysis at the nearly-graduate level (feminist tropes in 1984 and 2013 seen through both versions of Red Dawn) and almost-middle-school (Humor in 2012 vs. 1988: Johnny Depp meets Josh Hill).

In case you’re wondering, the Red Dawn reboot is an insipid and generic remake of the over-the-top, brawny 1984 movie of the same name. If you were to judge American culture by watching the two movies you’d assume women had taken a backseat in the culture since then. We’ve gone from Jennifer Grey’s fiery anger and brave martyrdom to whimpering starlets requiring protection, seemingly unable to wield a Kalishnakov.


Jonah Hill in the 2012 reboot of ’21 Jump Street’

The 2014 About Last Night can take you into race (the reboot changes the setting from Chicago working class and near-Yuppie whites to middle-class African Americans in LA) and straight into the literary arms of David Mamet (who wrote the play both films are based on).

Some may call this pandering, but if students are happy writing about the stars of their time, and perhaps lampooning those of Gen X (or, once in a while, seeing value in our older reference points), then we’re happy. Besides, sometimes it is easier to think deeply about relatively straightforward ideas. And you just may get a kick (if you’re a Gen X teacher) in hearing Gen Zers discuss Patrick Swayze in a near-academic voice.