Some Thoughts on the Role of Pop Culture in Teaching Us How to Live

One of my favorite film scenes is when Rob (John Cusack) asks in High Fidelity

“What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?”

This is an excellent question, because it’s true that we learn a lot about how to act in relationships from the narratives we encounter, whether in songs, books, or films. The more of our own experience we have, the more we are able to view these narratives with a critical eye, judging which of them contain the most truth about love. But they can really mess you up if you are impressionable, as Rob says. I grew up listening to a lot of country music because it was basically all my parents listened to, and I remember vowing to myself when I was ten years old that I would never fall in love because these country songs clearly showed that falling in love was more trouble than it was worth. Of course I repented of this vow, because it is impossible to decide whether one is going to fall in love or not. But the above quote resonates with me because I experienced the influence that Rob talks about.

Anyway, in honor of Rob’s constant Top Five lists, and in honor of the poster for the film, which is a take-off of the cover for the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night, here’s a list of the Beatles’ top five songs with women’s names in them:

1. “Julia”

2. “Lovely Rita”

3. “Polythene Pam”

4. “The Ballad of John and Yoko”

5. “Eleanor Rigby”

Published by danielshankcruz

I grew up in New York City and lived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Goshen, Indiana; DeKalb, Illinois; and Salt Lake City, Utah before coming to Utica, New York. My mother’s family is Swiss-German Mennonite (i.e., it’s an ethnicity, not necessarily a theological persuasion) and my father’s family is Puerto Rican. I have a Ph.D. in English and currently teach at Utica College. I have also taught at Northern Illinois University and Westminster College in Salt Lake City. My teaching and scholarship are motivated by a passion for social justice, which is why my research focuses on the literature of oppressed groups, especially LGBT persons and people of color. While I primarily read and write about fiction, I am also a devoted reader of poetry because, as William Carlos Williams writes, “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet [people] die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.” Thinkers who influence me include Marina Abramovic, Kathy Acker, Di Brandt, Ana Castillo, Samuel R. Delany, Percival Everett, Essex Hemphill, Jane Jacobs, Walt Whitman, and the New York School of poets. I am also fond of queer Mennonite writers such as Stephen Beachy, Jan Guenther Braun, Lynnette Dueck/D’anna, and Casey Plett. In my free time I’m either reading, writing the occasional poem, playing board games (especially Scrabble, backgammon, and chess), watching sports (Let’s Go, Mets!), or cooking (curries, stews, roasts…).

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