By Emma Reilly
“Jay Z, Transculturation, and German Hip-Hop: A Talk by President of Washington College Dr. Michael Sosulski” took place in the Rose O’Neill Literary House on March 1. This was President Sosulski’s first time delivering a lecture in the space since becoming president.
The event was organized by Associate Director of the Lit House and Visiting Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing Roy Kesey, Assistant Director of the Lit House Amber Taliancich, and Director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House and Associate Professor of English Dr. James Allen Hall.
“For Mike, making the ordinary extraordinary is at the center of transformative learning,” Dr. Hall said, introducing President Sosulski.
Dr. Sosulski opened his talk with an introduction to theories of transformative learning and cultural dissonance. He spent time breaking down aspects of transculturation, such as the so-called “contact zone.”
According to President Sosulski, one of his goals as an educator is to “devise cool strategies and methods that help students grow and transform their worldviews.”
Noticing that students who studied abroad often lacked the tools necessary to process moments when their assumptions were challenged by a culture that was not their own, President Sosulski set out to simulate “those things that rock your world, which tend to happen outside of the classroom while you’re interacting with people in another country,” he said.
While developing coursework for students in intermediate German classes, President Sosulski became particularly interested in the relationship between hip-hop and German people’s sense of national identity, so he began looking at how that relationship played out in 1990s music videos.
“Music videos seemed like a cool form of media to design a unit around; they’re textual, visual, and we’re all familiar with them,” President Sosulski said. “This is really something that makes the familiar strange.”
President Sosulski showed clips from the music videos for “It’s the Hard-Knock Life” from Disney’s 1982 film adaption of the hit broadway musical Annie, Jay Z’s 1998 song “Hard Knock Life,” the 1992 verse “Foreign in my own Country” by German hip-hop group Advanced Chemistry, and the 2009 gangster rap song “Check mich aus” by Fler.
He analyzed the lyrics and film techniques present in each of these videos to demonstrate how power structures are established and re-established as singers search for a sense of identity—specifically national identity, in the case of German hip-hop.
“It’s all about examining assumptions you might have about easily legible cultural products…and noticing where hip-hop discourse is reappropriated for a purpose,” President Sosulski said.
He also grounded his presentation in socio-historical contexts.
“After German reunification in 1982, it all became about this question of who are we in a redrawn European landscape,” President Sosulski said. “The appropriation of German symbols of authenticity allowed…minority discourse to evolve through hip-hop.”
President Sosulski is the author of “From Broadway to Berlin: Transformative Learning Through German Hip-Hop” (2013) and Theater and Nation in Eighteenth-Century Germany (2007), two publications which explore textual/visual representations of German power, identity, and nationalism.
President Sosulski said that he hopes his talk encourages “us as learners to expand our frames of reference in…more generous and capacious ways.”
Photo courtesy of Emma Reilly
Photo Caption: Dr. Mike Susolski addresses community members at Literary House talk regarding German hip-hop and national identity.