Fake Perfection

Chris Bender came to producers in 2002 with a story. He heard that Tripp Vinson, a close Hollywood friend, had gone mysteriously missing after his bachelor party in Las Vegas. Vinson woke up the next morning in a strip club with an enormous debt to pay. Screenwriters converted the story of Vinson’s bachelor party into a movie script centralized around the idea of having the ultimate night out, and director Todd Phillips signed off on the production of the movie.

In 2009, The Hangover was released, and it was very successful. Famous actors such as Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, and Ed Helms combined with a laugh out loud funny script produced the tenth-highest-grossing film of 2009. The film won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy. The Hangover quickly became arguably one of the most hilarious movies ever made.


Movie critic Betsey Sharkey from the Los Angeles Times sums up The Hangover perfectly. She says, “there is a sort of perverse brilliance or brilliant perverseness to be found in this story of a bachelor party gone terribly wrong.” The success of The Hangover can be attributed to one thing: stupidity. The movie implements the epitome of idiocy and carelessness combined with crazy, unrealistic situations. The lack of maturity present in this movie is absurd but comical. Viewers watch The Hangover and fall out of their seats with laughter. The movie allows us to temporarily vacate our lives and enjoy 99 minutes of completely isolated happiness. We can enter into this new world of laughter and find pleasure and temporarily free us from our responsibilities and obligations. This sounds like the perfect life, right? Wrong. We may be free from reality, but we immediately return to our boring lives of homework and tests. Our escape to utopia is short-lived.

Through laughing at the Hangover, viewers find a new respect and almost admiration for the characters. They can survive a carefree, reckless night and overcome all their difficulties in the morning. Everything works out in the end, and they had fun, even if they don’t remember it!

However, the movie wasn’t titled The Night Out. It was titled The Hangover. The characters struggle to retrace their steps in the morning. Their “hangovers” are essentially the consequences from the night before. They wake up to find a baby, a tiger, missing teeth, etc. After living recklessly for a night, their responsibilities creep back into their lives the next morning. We laugh as the characters’ attempt to put the pieces together from their night, but what are we really laughing at? Was it their careless partying or was it their attempt to remember what happened? The answer is both. We laugh at how much fun they had, and we almost envy them in these moments of complete chaos and stupidity. Honestly, I wish I could live as carefree as they do, but how realistic does that seem? Their hangover honestly seems like my worst nightmare. They don’t remember what happened and everything seems to be spinning out of control. Anything could have happened that night. However, we find their encounters in the morning more comical than the actual events of the night. As viewers, we consider their crazy consequences hilarious because of their absurdity, but if we were in their shoes, I’m sure we wouldn’t be laughing. The effects of their carefree partying make this utopia unrealistic, yet people continue to try to live the “party life.” The party life is appealing because of its freedom, and we often forget about its sustainability and consequences.


The following clip shows the morning after their night out. Their consequences and problems are very apparent.




I can’t talk about The Hangover without mentioning another movie: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. These movies center around the idea of taking a break from reality. Ferris skips school for a day, and the four main characters in The Hangover go to Vegas to escape. Tired of going to school or work, all these characters live the party life for a day.

Another similarity between the two movies can be found between Cameron and Stu. Cameron, Ferris Bueller’s friend, was initially terrified of disappointing his father. He would never dare touch his car or disobey him in any way. After spending the day with Ferris, Cameron realizes that he can’t live his life in fear of his father. He ruins his father’s car and accepts that he will take responsibility for it. Now more confident than ever before, Cameron will stand up to his father. In The Hangover, Stu, one of the four main characters, is submissive to his girlfriend in every way. Melissa is controlling and dominant. Stu is scared of her and would never tell her that he was going to Vegas. Upon returning from the wine country he was supposedly visiting, Stu, now with a missing tooth, has to confront Melissa. After she accuses him of never doing what she wants him to do, he’s finally had enough and breaks up with her. Cameron and Stu have revelations during their escapes from reality, and they gain confidence and self-respect.




Does living freely make us more confident? When we are stuck in our realities, are we weaker and more submissive? Do we need to be shown that consequences almost don’t matter? Living carelessly doesn’t make us more confident. It allows us to find ourselves. A utopian world can help us discover who we can be, but this world can’t be sustained. We need a world with boundaries, rules, and work. We can’t take that day off because the consequences never leave. If anything they get worse. In The Hangover, the characters solve their problems and move on. This notion is far from a sustainable reality. We, as viewers of The Hangover, are shown that we can take that time off, but we aren’t shown that we can’t live the party life all the time. We need to be aware of how this movie is preventing us from seeing that the party, careless utopia is not stable and not perfect. The Hangover and Ferris Bueller both provide us with unsustainable fake utopians. Breaks from reality can help us find ourselves, but we can’t afford to give up the work life for the party life.


One example of their problems being solved can be seen in the following clip where Alan counts cards at a casino to pay off their debt. He suddenly gains this ability and doesn’t get caught. Their consequences are fleeting.




Rotten Tomatoes movie critic Justin Strout says, “As if it wasn’t bad enough to be stuck in Las Vegas with these middle-aged misanthropes, The Hangover does the inconceivable disservice of robbing the audience of that elusive sweet spot of GCA usefulness: the drunken escapade.” He is claiming that The Hangover robs its audience of a great drunken adventure. I will agree that some of the consequences present in the movie are a bit extreme. However, all the problems are solved by the end of the movie, which proves the false perfection that audiences are blind to.

Some people claim that you have to live every day like it’s your last because you don’t want to look back on your life with regrets. I understand that we need to make the most out of every day. However, if you treat each day like you will never live again, you probably won’t live to see the next day. Our desire to live every day like it’s a bachelor party is very common. People with the “party life” mentality feel like their jobs are pointless and that they need to get out more. This freedom is reasonable to want, but it is not a sustainable life style. Skipping work to party is seen as a way to live the perfect life, but we often don’t realize that going to work and providing for ourselves is the most desirable life. As humans, we always want what we don’t have and strive to live the lives that we can’t. If we aren’t well off enough to live the party life, we live it for a day and struggle through the consequences. Sadly, it’s human nature to desire this fake perfection.

The design of The Hangover is unique and allows for viewers to internalize its key messages. The movie initially skips over the events of the night out and goes directly to the consequences. Viewers see the problems resolve themselves as we journey with the characters to discover what happened the night before. This gives the viewers an unrealistically positive outlook on their night out. After laughing at what happens to the characters, we are left with accepting that it’s fun to live freely for a night because everything will work out in the end. The jumping forward aspect of The Hangover prevents the viewers from seeing how having a wild night is a representation of a false perfection. We watch this movie and think of the party life as a utopian lifestyle. The creators of The Hangover wanted to create a hilarious movie that exemplified a night out gone totally wrong. However, their movie design ironically produced the opposite effect and allowed viewers to accept the characters’ crazy actions as being socially desirable.

Slap-stick comedies, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and the Hangover are all some form of perfection. The characters escape from their work lives in order to live the party life for a day. However, these utopians are not forms of a sustainable lifestyle. We can’t skip out on our responsibilities and get wasted. The party life, despite how appealing it seems, is not a true form of utopia. The Hangover is a representation of a fake perfection. It’s an unattainable lifestyle that is extremely desirable because of its seemingly utopian nature.



Bakhtin, Mikhail “Rabelais and His World.” 1965.


Sharkey, Betsey. “The Hangover Review.” Los Angeles Times. Rotten Tomatoes. June 5, 2009.

Web. https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/10010667-hangover/reviews/?type=top_critics


Strout, Justin. “The Hangover Review.”  Rotten Tomatoes. June 4, 2009. Web.



Images and Videos from Google and Youtube

The City of (Fraudulent) Light

          Amélie, released in 2001, is a French film directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet that was met with great international success and remains “the highest-grossing French-language film in the United States” (Gibbs). Despite its large popularity and critical acclaim, the movie has been condemned for its “lack of realism” (Ezra 86). Rosemary Wakeman likewise argues that Jeunet crafted qualities of a “beloved, intimate, old-fashioned world” that are not found “in any of the city’s contemporary sites”. Analyses into how this ideal world is formed focus primarily on the motion picture’s digital manipulations (Ezra; Kelly). Although the effects from such manipulations contribute heavily to the film’s fantastical quality, the portrayal of a traditional France and the interactions among minor characters are large players in the film’s perception as amiable and largely better than our own.

Digital-enhancement is the more frequently attributed foundation of Amélie’s overall impression. Producers primarily used digital-enhancement to create a bluer sky and dramatize the entirety of the film. They removed visible graffiti from many of the sets and permeated the film with a continuous golden glow that “imbues even the edgier locales and situations with a tinge of nostalgia” (Ezra 87). These revisions are even more highly criticized for the fact of the film’s setting in Montmartre, where in reality its “[suburban] housing projects … lack [any] kind of ‘conviviality and rootedness’” (Wakeman). The “crime, social exclusion, and institutional racism” present in Paris, and even more so in this locale, is “glossed over” by the edits (Ezra 87). The digital modifications are clearly meant to romanticize Paris, and these revisions exist to produce an experience that entertains and makes its viewers happy. One of the greatest ways to accomplish this goal, and arguably the ultimate mode of entertainment, is through depiction of utopia, markedly so in this film. However, creating a more visually pleasant Paris is not the only contributing factor to its formation; there are reconciliations of society’s shortcomings in many other aspects of the film that together create its renowned “feel-good” liberation (Wakeman).


Amélie walks along the Seine after finding joy in helping others.

First, Amélie, the shy, whimsical, and ingenious protagonist of the film, actively decides to become a force of good in others’ lives (15:52; 35:08). In doing so, Amélie necessitates a focus on the formation of community, and the outcomes and experiences of minor characters become immensely important to the success of the protagonist’s quest. One major point of this is that most of, if not all, the people Amélie chooses to help are initially isolated in some way. Georgette, a nervous hypochondriac coworker of Amélie’s, and Joseph, a recently cynical-of-women customer at the diner, experience a short-lived romantic relationship together. It is notably initiated by the transparent and open attitudes they display for each other, and Amélie’s fabrication of those attitudes nonetheless allows for the formation of an honest relationship.


(left to right) Suzanne, Amélie, Georgette, and Joseph at the diner, after Amélie has told Georgette and Joseph they have feelings for each other.

Although the two characters do not continue this relationship past their first sexual relation, they are incorporated into the social world around them in a way they hadn’t been at the start of the movie – a lady notices Georgette and calls, “It’s ages since I saw you, you look good!” (52:13), and Joseph’s overriding characterization as the “jealous ex-lover” is offset by joy and real discussion with others (1:18:25). Yet, these are merely two examples – the film presents improvements in the social lives of multiple characters, with profound effect on each of them, and the community, no matter their temporality.

Moreover, it is evident that the film “feels good” in part because of the sheer abundance and simultaneous lack of poverty it portrays. Just in terms of physical profusion, there are countless scenes in which the sets are riddled with “stuff”. For instance: the wall behind Georgette’s counter in the diner is lined with dozens of cigarettes brands; both Amélie’s and Madame Wallace’s rooms are covered in knick-knacks; Nino collects probably hundreds of photos in a large book; and there remain many other instances of plain and simple copiousness.


(clockwise from top left) The grocery stand where Amélie often goes, Amélie’s kitchen, Madame Wallace’s apartment, Georgette’s counter.

This kind of visual gratification is coupled to the film’s likely deliberate elimination of poverty, or satirizing of it. For example, before going to see her father, Amélie is walking on a train platform and attempts to offer a presumably homeless man some money. He refuses the money and tells her “Non merci ma petite dame, je travailles jamais dimanche,” which translates to “No thanks, madam. I never work on Sundays” (11:25). His refusal, and his claim of having days off, is a complete surprise that cinematic technique communicates as a light moment of blissful happiness, by the inclusion of airy French street-music and smiles from both characters. Even the poor man on the street is happy in this film. Soon after, when Amélie is again going to visit her father, another presumably poor man, in this case now a blind man, is on the subway platform playing Fréhel’s “Si tu n’étais pas là” on a mobile record player. The song is classically French, reminiscent of the early 1900’s “French Chanson”, and its use in conjunction with the poor, blind man has similar effect as the previous example – his status as impoverished is diminished in importance, and he’s just a man listening to music like all the others in the station.

Amélie approaches the poor, blind man on the subway platform.

Amélie approaches the poor, blind man on the subway platform.

The desperately poor are made equal to those who live comfortably by being portrayed as similarly comfortable with obviously less-favorable situations, so that we, as viewers, can find pleasure in knowing that they are just as happy as anyone else.


(top to bottom) The diner workplace of Amélie, and the Funfair and Porn Palace workplaces of Nino.

Furthermore, the plot and characters possess continuously great energy and intensity, qualities our regular day-to-day lives often lack. Much of the film takes place in Amélie’s workplace, where she logically spends most of her day; the diner is in no way dull however, and neither are the workplaces of Nino, Amélie’s romantic interest to whom the film also devotes large amounts of screen time. The intensity of the location derives largely from it being the place where the relationships between Georgette and Joseph as well as Amélie and Nino develop, and from it being where a number of Amélie’s creative schemes unfold. By the same token, her first meeting with Nino nearly occurs at his part-time workplace, the Porn Palace, and the excitement and romance of this near-meeting is captured in charming quality that’s imbued to even that locale. She then goes to the Funfair, Nino’s second workplace, to continue what would best be described as a game of cat-and-mouse. Here again, Amélie makes play the central theme of a space where most people would uphold a high level of wearisome uniformity. Instead of doing so, Amélie sends Nino on a scavenger hunt with arrows drawn in blue chalk and made of colorful sprinkles (1:13:15). Alongside these scenes of playfulness, there are similarly utopian scenes of excitement, via rapid progression. One such scene occurs when Amélie takes the blind man we had seen previously by the arm and walks down the main street, past delis and bustling crowds, while describing to him their surroundings. The amalgamation of fast-paced dialogue, swelling accordion/orchestral music, and quick camera movements promotes an intensity for the audience and the man, who is left in a colorful daze of clarity (36:20).

The film thus relies heavily upon core concepts of traditional utopia in entertainment, to consistently provide a sense of what an ideally better world would look like. Without the qualities provided by the series of minor characters, and subsequent idealized-French feel, the extremely utopian element of the film would be lost, and so would the following insight that such an overly utopian cultural artifact can poignantly provide.

Despite the film’s attempt at dreaming up a utopian France, there remains the question of who’s utopia is being presented. By excluding the desires of marginalized groups from this essentially “perfect” imagined-world, those groups’ desires and sufferings are made illegitimate. Therefore, the level of forthright utopia in Amélie, aides in the conveyance of the exclusion of racial and sexual minorities and their struggles in pop media. Not a single racial-minority character is featured, nor is any LGBTQ character, yet the movie experienced astounding success. This is a concept Richard Dyer proposed of all entertainment, as all entertainment harbors secretly utopian elements, and his explanation points to capitalism as the origin for such a lack. It then becomes relevant to note that the communication of cultural entities is currently controlled by a commercial system that relies upon capitalistic determinants for its leaders. And since those who own the productive means for the creation of films are largely rich, white, males, the qualities we desire from pop culture’s depiction of utopia remain unchanged across all forms of it, and the products of pop culture become industrial in their creation.

          Amélie provides a uniquely utopian cultural artifact for the observance of how the current capitalistically-controlled pop culture industry denies the validity of minority group sufferings, and their desires for what should be present in a massively better world. Yes, the film is utopian according to the standards we currently hold for entertainment, but in being so to such a large extent, we can see the deficits of our own industry-imposed criteria.



Works Cited

Amélie. Dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Perf. Audrey Tautou and Mathieu Kassovitz. UGC-Fox Distribution, 2001.

Ezra, Elizabeth. Contemporary Film Directors: Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Champaign, US: University of Illinois Press, 2008. Print.

Gibbs, Ed. “CLASSIC REVIEW.” Sunday Age: 15. Dec 08 2013. Web.

Wakeman, Rosemary. “Paris Dreams, Paris Memories: The City and its Mystique.” French Politics, Culture & Society 32.2 (2014): 151-3. Web.

Apple’s Utopian Core

Dew Panalee Maskati

The Apple way of life provides a spiritual path towards a utopia: one in which people and technology operate in harmony. In the years between Apple’s formation and the turn of the millennium, the relationship between the populace and computers was complex. The computer was seen as a testament to humanity’s ability and expertise — a wealth of information accessible at our very fingertips. It epitomises ideals of the Enlightenment that champion progress through rational thought and scientific enquiry. Indeed, Apple’s logo was deliberately chosen:

“In the Old Testament there was the first apple, the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, which with one taste sent Adam, Eve, and all mankind into the great current of History. The second Apple was Isaac Newton’s, the symbol of our entry into the age of modern science. The Apple Computer symbol was not chosen purely at random, it represents the third Apple, the one that widens the paths of knowledge leading toward the future.” Jean-LouisGass, then General Manager of Apple France and former President of Apple Products, 1987:9-10 (Lam Pui-Yan)

The fruit of knowledge


But an understanding of the way in which computers functioned eluded the average consumer. Both tantalising and terrifying, computers acquired a mystical reverence from the populace in addition to being signifiers of hope. For some, this lack of comprehension turned into fear. This is why Apple’s image is arguably one of its most remarkable achievements: it managed to capture the spirit of invention whilst assuaging distrust of the unimaginably powerful ‘black box’. Its software is easier for the average consumer to operate than other brands’, thereby inviting trust. A sentiment commonly echoed by Apple aficionados is that Macs do not “fight back” in the same way that other computers do (Pui-Yan Lam). Consumers grow ever more reliant as smart technology becomes more ubiquitous. Apple devotees can now enshrine themselves in the iHome, a harmonious web of Apple products, a marketing strategy that only works because of the trust that Apple’s products invite. Although any purchase of an Apple product entails a subscription to its harmonious ideal, the loyal superfans exaggerate this utopian element and bring it to fruition — forming in effect, a subculture.

Apple’s image stands unique, because it is a corporate giant that has managed to reject corporate uniformity. The PC, on the other hand, is a computer for the businessman — who is going out of style. From the curved elegance of its minimalist aesthetic down to Steve Jobs’s distinctive black turtleneck and slacks, Apple manages to incorporate “play” and relaxation as one of its core values (Lam Pui-Yan). Apple’s new HQ, the second Apple Campus in Silicon Valley, is designed to epitomise these ideals. Once completed, it will become a site on which the opposing streams of the corporate world and hippie culture from the 60s merge. At this confluence we see an impersonal, profit-seeking foundation finding its expression in soft, organic forms that sing of spirituality and a countercultural edge. Curves are seen as harmonious and natural; the sharp and angular, dominating and evil. It was not designed to simply function as a workspace, but rather, to pioneer a new way of life. In the same way that Disney created their utopian bubble (EPCOT), the second Apple Campus is also meant to be a monument of sorts — to what a progressive future could be (Nikil Saval). In doing so, it counters the angular and sharp oppressiveness of the corporate.

An artist's rendition of what the new Apple Campus will look like

An artist’s rendition of what the new Apple Campus will look like

Here is an extremely successful illusion at work: fans buy into Apple’s pioneering image with products that are meant to enhance their individuality — yet consumers are only offered a distilled selection of a rather small range of products. In contrast, Apple enthusiasts see Apple’s alter-ego, Microsoft and its founder Bill Gates, as profit-motivated corporate entities; consumers are merely part of a self-serving, industry-wide formula. This is because Apple founded itself on humanitarian values: its creators were not simply making boxes, machines or money; they were changing the world. Apple embodies the future — Bill Gates and Microsoft are giants from an oppressive past, to be toppled. To consume an Apple product is to participate in this movement — this philosophy of life — to lesser or greater degrees. Steve Jobs is not the ‘evil’ businessman in a suit, he is both at one with the consumers and their prophet.

And then Apple takes it one step further, overtly associating itself with creative genius. Richard Dreyfus’s poem became synonymous with the “Think Different” campaign: the poem utilises powerful imagery that encouragers rebellion through art, such as “here’s to the… round pegs in the square holes”, “they push the human race forward”, “while some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius”. None of the ads from the “Think different” campaign included any Apple products and that the participating celebrities were given Apple products and money to donate to causes of their choice; the producers took extreme care not to look exploitative. They also advertised in popular and fashion magazines — a bold move at the time — so as to merge style, artistry and practicality; Apple’s products bled out of the sphere of technology and business, and inserted itself into daily life. Here is a utopia in which human achievement sees no horizon, the individual in the masses is finally recognised, and conformity is rejected — one that can be carried around in a bag, a jeans pocket, the palm of your hand.

Sacralising the bond between human and technology has led to an Apple consumer base which John Schully, former Apple CEO, describes as a “cult environment” (Pui-Yan Lam). Scientific progress and the championing of rational thought undermines organised religion — so, to subscribe to scientific thought also means, for some, to confront a spiritual absence (Jeffrey Alexander).  This brought a sense of emptiness to people’s lives. Apple capitalised on this feeling to become a spiritual medium by connecting its image with a progressive, utopian philosophy. The unusual outpouring of grief over Steve Jobs’s death — the size of which would have been more appropriate for a revolutionary icon or prophet rather than a successful businessman — is telling enough. Cyberspace has become a modern heaven of sorts, a dimensionless space which liberates us from the constraints of our body and geography: technology allows us to transcend social boundaries. A user on MacWorld says: “for me, the mac was the closest thing to religion I could deal with.” (Pui-Yan Lam)

A certain subset of the Apple fanbase has intimately and profoundly connected with Apple’s appliances. An ardent Mac user describes her physically affectionate relationship with her computer: “I mean there has been times that I hugged my computer and stuff like that. I have never hugged a PC.” (Pui-Yan Lam). Apple has this intimate appeal because Mac’s user-friendly system does not control users’ lives, but seems instead to expand them.

Perhaps even more stunningly, Apple’s most enthusiastic supporters have mobilised to form a subculture of their own. In 1997, David Every pioneered the MacKiDo website as a way to achieve enlightenment through the power of Mac. Every and other enthusiasts see themselves as saviours of humankind, promoting a radical philosophy of life accessible through consuming Apple products — whose light they believe other corporate giants are trying to extinguish.  Notice the heroic, ego-stroking and spiritual language an Apple disciple, known as the Apple Jedi, employs:

If anything characterises the history of Apple and its users, it is their sense of community. Nurture it. Help strengthen it. Guide your actions in harmony with that which binds us all together unseen and yet keenly felt by the Apple Jedi. In the arrogance of its marketing and the nature of its tactics the Dark Side understands not these things, and cannot fight them. And so, it is in the deepening of this community that the greatest responsibility of an Apple Jedi lies, for it is in this power that Mac OS aficionados can find strength to triumph. (Pui-Yan Lam)

So here we have the phenomenon of the mac evangelists — Apple superfans who see themselves as warriors, heroes, and, most interestingly, Jedi. This association with Jedi is tied heavily with the consumer’s search for spirituality: here, it finds its expression in the reductive polarisation of the world of technology into ‘the side of the force’ — Apple and its consumers — and the “Dark Side” — other technology giants, PC users. The Apple Jedi’s mission, amongst this encroaching darkness, is to introduce people to the Apple way of life. And what is this way of life exactly? It is one in which technology is associated with an equalising power, diminishing social constraints and injustices.

The way of the force

The way of the force

“In this profane world, great business people, such as Bill Gates, who seek nothing but financial gains, are rewarded. However, the Mac devotees are looking forward to a utopia created by superior computer technology. In this utopia, people are judged purely on the basis of their intelligence and their contribution to humanity.” (Pui-Yan Lam)

These fans of Apple see computers as a “reflective medium,” crucial to the way in which they form their identity (Pui-Yan Lam). The computer is seen as an extension of the user’s mind, and the brand to which a consumer subscribes provides key insight as to what their life’s philosophy is.

The minority status of Apple fans before the turn of the millennium served to strengthen their subculture. PC users, who were the majority at the time, often derided Macs, calling them “toys” or “pieces of junk”. The harassment the Apple disciples endured seemed to have increased their sense of righteousness. An anniversary issue for MacAddict (now branded as MacLife), a magazine that promotes all things Apple, captured the spirit of the times perfectly:

“We’ve had enough. We’re tired of Apple being carelessly labeled as lagging, failing or dying. We’re tired of people maligning our Macintoshes. We’re sick of the slams, digs, and taunts directed at us by know-nothing PC hacks. It will stop. NOW. We will not surrender to the ‘inevitable’ of passively pray for the health of our platform. No, it’s time for revolution. Tell your family, tell your friends. Join us not just defending the Mac from attacks on all sides but also in an assault on the attitudes that provoke them. Join the Mac resistance.” (Pui-Yan Lam)

From the impassioned tone of this excerpt, it is obvious that Apple’s products stood for more than efficient and aesthetically pleasing technology. This is not only a call to protect Apple’s reputation, but also a declaration of war on the “attitudes” of the opposition: the ignorant consumers of corporations other than Apple were enabling a way of life that promotes business interests and subjugates the individual. By contrast, “mac resistance” is composed of people — “family” and “friends” — that are seeking to undermine the system that controls them.

But it is important to remember that these mac enthusiasts are only a subset of all of Apple’s consumers, and that their movement peaked before the turn of the millennium. Nowadays, Apple has become hip. In fact, the new wave of young consumers has caused older devotees to lament the lack of loyalty of the recent addition to their fanbase. Whilst Apple retains the utopian appeal it held from the beginning, the strong, progressive philosophy that came with the Apple way of life has receded; what seems to be left is the nebulous but attractive aura of a softly fading visionary movement.

Of course, Apple’s utopian image is not perfect. It’s products are becoming ever more similar, losing the visionary quality that made the brand so appealing in the first place: Wired magazine, in its critique of the iPhone 5, describes the smartphone as “completely amazing and utterly boring” (Mat Honan). And the ironic undercurrent that runs parallel to this essay’s argument, that completely undermines Apple and its superfans’ enterprise, is the fact that Apple is ultimately another profit-motivated corporate giant. The truly humanitarian values that may have inspired Apple’s creators have since become perverted: Apple’s utopia is simply an effective marketing strategy — packaging that cloaks Apple’s true profit-motivated interests. The illusion biases Apple fans against reality. Some are content to demonise Bill Gates, even though he is a well-known and respected philanthropist; meanwhile, Apple has recently come under fire for condoning exploitative practises abroad through Asian contractors.  Apple’s products have always been a symbol of wealth and status, a utopian bubble only accessible to some, breeding a subculture founded on privilege.



Lam, Pui-Yan. “May the Force of the Operating System Be with You: Macintosh Devotion as Implicit Religion.” Sociology of Religion 62.2 (2001): 243. Print.

Alexander, Jeffrey. “The Sacred and Profane Information Machine: Discourse about the Computer as Ideology.” Archives De Sciences Sociales Des Religions 69, Relire Durkheim (1990): 161-71. JSTOR. Web. 19 Nov. 2016.

“MacKiDo – Mac Information & More.” MacKiDo – Mac Information & More. Web. 19 Nov. 2016.

Saval, Nikil. “Google and Apple: The High-Tech Hippies of Silicon Valley.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 28 Mar. 2016. Web. 19 Nov. 2016.

Honan, Mat. “The IPhone 5 Is Completely Amazing and Utterly Boring.” Wired.com. Conde Nast Digital, 9 Dec. 2012. Web. 19 Nov. 2016.

Take Cover: Solace In Utopia

Joyce S. Tseng

Cultural criticism finds itself faced with the final stage of the dialectic of culture and barbarism. To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.

—Theodor W. Adorno (Prisms, 34)

Totalitarianism. Aryan soldiers; a Jew in hiding. Conformity; defiance. Brutality; survival. War fiction has continued to flourish as one of the most popular genres, especially to the audience of young-adults, of novels and film. These narratives are packed with the passion of patriotism, the horrors of violence, and the rawness of human experience. A state of war reflects a metaphysical, and physical, extremity of existence, which perhaps drives our fascination towards stories inspired from it. For the majority of the current young-adult population, it is unlikely for us to experience anything close to the realities of WWI and WWII; our only medium to the period is through fiction and our imaginations. This year, according to vice president and publisher of Scholastic David Levithan, “We’re seeing more publishing on [historical fiction on WWII] than we have ever before.” Various colleges today even hold courses dedicated to intensive analysis on the phenomena of utopias and dystopias, which perhaps is ultimately indicative that we, as consumers of stories, are drawn towards worlds outside of our own realities—the more extreme and different, the more we are lured into them.

German philosopher, Theodor W. Adorno, in his collection of essays Prisms, discusses cultural criticism and society, and specifically alludes to Nazi Germany to illustrate his point. He claims that the modern world is becoming increasingly like “an open-air prison,” suggesting an overarching system that holds the façade of free will for the people, but in actuality is carefully manipulated and controlled. This concept is also made clear in a different essay of Adorno’s that disproves free will and choice, and that the “culture industry,” as he phrased it, is in extensive control. Adorno goes further in Prisms to claim that “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” This is to say, there must have been a path of culture that paved the way towards the brutality of Nazi rule—the deteriorating economy, the volatile political climate all contributed to the state of society and culture of the time. Here, Adorno is saying that to continue on that path of culture after such an atrocity to humanity like the Nazi regime would be a detriment to human society. Various analyses of culture claim that the homogenization and uniformity of society are problematic. It is robbing us of the true value of the ideal form of culture. The “culture industry,” as coined by Adorno and fellow German philosopher Max Horkheimer, mass-produces a standard program of socially accepted products of culture. This heavily controlled and systematic depiction of culture and society is paramount in totalitarianism. This is why it is valuable to examine war literature. Why does the readership of such a gruesome period of history continue to grow? I claim that even in the most heartbreaking, dire, and barbaric stories, there exist pockets of utopia that reflect our desires to see change, onto which we latch and by which we become engrossed.

Liesel Meminger reading to Max Vandenberg in the basement of the Hubermanns'

Liesel Meminger reading to Max Vandenberg in the basement of the Hubermanns’

The Book Thief by Australian author Markus Zusak is a prime example of war literature that has consistently received high ratings. In 2013, the novel—first published in 2005—was depicted on film, directed by Brian Percival. The story, narrated through the perspective of Death, follows the young female protagonist, Liesel Meminger, a German girl who is sent away to Molching in the heart of Nazi rule because her mother, a Communist, is in danger of Nazi removal. From the beginning, Liesel is depicted to be a thief of books; she steals The Gravedigger’s Handbook during the burial of her younger brother when he dies of disease. The commodity of books comforts Liesel though she is illiterate. This proves to become an important, binding theme of the novel. Her foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, each their own distinct characters, share a genuine, unconditional care for Liesel. They enroll her in the Hitler Youth and Liesel assimilates into Nazi culture. Even though we see the Hubermanns exhibit internal conflicts to Nazi ideology, ultimately, they abide by the totalitarian regime out of necessity for survival.

Liesel attending Hitler Youth

Liesel attending Hitler Youth

Nazi book-burning ceremony on the streets of Molching

Nazi book-burning ceremony on the streets of Molching

A poignant moment in the novel occurs during a Nazi book-burning ceremony, which Liesel and Rudy, her Aryan neighbor and classmate, attend with the Hubermanns and the entire town of Molching. They stand amidst the crowd under the surveillance of Nazi soldiers. Liesel is distressed by watching the books disintegrate in the body of flames before her, and is later further provoked by the coercion of a classmate to throw a book in herself. It is clear that being unpatriotic or at odds with Nazi beliefs would lead to being socially ostracized. Rebellion is a clear threat to one’s survival. After the crowd and Nazi officers leave the scene, Liesel steals a book from the pile of ash and tattered pages. In this moment, defiance highlights the seizing of control back from an oppressive system. This is what unlocks utopia. In a totalitarian society, such as Nazi Germany, personal control is taken away and all the facets of life, including culture, lay in the hands of the state. The books that Liesel steals as the narrative unravels serve as constant indicators of her holding onto something that the state repeatedly tries to take away—as illustrated by book burning ceremonies. She insists on clinging onto the prohibited, suggestive of her personal desires for an alternative reality. This is the essence of utopia. Acting upon these feats of resistance, against a dangerously powerful organization like the Nazis, for the majority can only exist as a fantasy. But, that desire for change is indeed real.

Liesel steals a book from the pile

Liesel steals a book from the pile

The symbolism of books for Liesel is a thread that runs across the narrative and is depicted beautifully in the film rendition. One of the most memorable moments of the story occurs when Liesel delivers laundry as part of the Hubermanns’ business to the mayor of Molching’s house. Back during the book burning ceremony on the streets, Liesel is in fact unaware that the wife of the mayor, Ilsa Hermann, spotted her steal the book from the pile. Frau Hermann descends from the grand wooden staircase to bring money to Liesel for the laundry service. She recognizes Liesel immediately as the book thief. She stands formidably with a stoically stern look and utters, “So, you like books?” Liesel is instantly anxious and fearful that her cover has been blown. But to the surprise of both Liesel and the audience, Frau Hermann walks to the adjacent doors and opens them to mayor’s private library and invites Liesel in. A panorama of classic, polished, wooden bookshelves glisten from the golden raised bands in the warm light of antique lamps. The cinematic, simplistic piano melody that accompanies the scene highlights the stark segregation between the pristine sanctuary of the library and the ramshackle streets decorated with Swastikas. This is an imperative moment as it physically captures the dichotomy Liesel experiences during the war. She suddenly has a whole collection of things to affirm her inner desire to hold onto what she believes in, despite it being against the tyrannical system. It is a statement of her utopia, expanding it and adding weight to it. It gives Liesel—and the audience—hope.

Liesel in Mayor Hermann's library

Liesel in Mayor Hermann’s library

Later in the novel, in the height of war and Nazi control, the Hubermanns take in a Jewish fist-fighter, Max Vandenburg. The character development of Max also offers many examples of utopia. During his escape from home to the Hubermanns’, Max’s saving grace is Hitler’s autobiographical book Mein Kampf, which he uses as his fraudulent stamp of being German. As Max and Liesel become closer, she visits him more and more in the basement where he resides and together they develop a love for words and stories. Max covers the pages of Mein Kampf with white paint and handwrites a story for Liesel in its place. This act itself is utopian. He recognizes he doesn’t need his saving grace to convince the outside world that he is German anymore because the basement is his new reality and future. He literally paints over, overtly rejecting and silencing, the voice of the most powerful figure of Nazi Germany, trashing the ideologies of the system to instead scribble in his own thoughts and doodle complementary cartoons. Max knows that there will be no consequences because there is no one to apply the consequences to him. He turns the dark truth that he is stuck in a basement, his existence essentially extinguished, into a medium to act out in his own form of defiance. In a scene with Liesel, Max teases her when she is being secretive, encouraging her to let him in on the secret by chuckling, “Who am I going to tell?” The irony of Max’s lightheartedness about his grim reality is utopian.

Max painting over Hitler's "Mein Kampf"

Max painting over Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”

The dense stories of war fiction crave such moments. Reflective of a natural coping mechanism, we orient ourselves towards optimism in the face of grave seriousness; or, at the very least, a distraction. We generate an internal world in which we have control and in there, we unleash our inner desires. War literature lets us in on these internal worlds of minorities, the victims, groups that were oppressed by tyrannical rule. To return to Adorno’s quote that “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric,” we see that in war literature, authors with the benefit of hindsight make an active choice to include utopian moments of victims to underline a revised form of “poetry,” aligning with Adorno’s claim. As historian Stephen Greenblatt stated, “Great historical novels provide a powerful hallucination of presence, the vivid sensation of lived life.” It is a reconstruction of black and white fact, colored in by serious, human fantasies. By illustrating that even those in the derogated portion of society, plagued with trying war times, could hold onto the desire for an alternate reality, “poetry”—that is, culture—can continue to exist after such an inhumane regime, without being a detriment to society. The example of war literature in application to current society is perhaps to show us that a controlling world, obviously not the same degree of extremity, where a “culture industry” persists, ignites rebellious desires in us to overturn such homogenization in order to cope with our reality.

Hans Hubermann and Liesel Meminger

Hans Hubermann and Liesel Meminger


Theodor W. Adorno (1981) “Cultural Criticism and Society,” in Prisms, translated by S. and S. Weber, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press), accessed November 12, 2016, https://representingtheholocaust.wikispaces.com/file/view/Adorno_Cultural+Criticism.pdf

Lucy Ives, “How Archival Fiction Upends Our View of History,” New Yorker (2016), accessed November 12, 2016, http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/how-archival-fiction-upends-our-view-of-history

Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception,” English 117 Cultural Theory Course Packet.


The Power of Laughter


Laughter, in its purest form, is the best indication of happiness within a person. Laughter can bring people together, make someone feel better, and even increase someone’s quality of life. It is a natural healing agent that is vital to a person’s well-being. It is not just some meaningless reaction expressed as way to “cheat happiness” like Theodor Adorno believes, but rather an uncontrollable release of joy inside that person. They might not always be happy or have an overall happy life but all that matters is how that person is feeling in that exact moment. In the movie Patch Adams, which is based on a true story, a doctor named Hunter “Patch” Adams treats patients by not only giving medical treatment but also by healing them through laughter. As he says repeatedly in the film, “laughter is the best medicine”. Of course, people can’t just receive laughter as a treatment, but the laughter he prescribed drastically improved his patients’ overall quality of life by relaxing them, lowering their blood pressure, decreasing the amount of pain they’re experiencing, boosting their immune systems and many other benefits. Laughter gave these people hope and a reason to fight off their diseases. The patients were able to live more comfortably and enjoy their lives much more because of it. For them, laughter wasn’t just some meaningless action to disguise the fear within them or a quick break from the pain they were experiencing, they laughed because it showed that even in their time of pain and suffering there could still be happiness buried within them. This happiness allowed them to enter a new world where they were freed from the restraints of their current ailments.

According to Mikhail Bakhtin, there are two worlds that we live in; one “official” and one “non-official”. The “official” world is our everyday lives while the “unofficial” world is one that is completely different from the “official” in that it follows no rules and anybody could be anyone. As Bakhtin says, “[the carnival culture] offered a completely different, nonofficial, extraecclesiastical and extrapolitical aspect of the world, of man, and of human relations” (84). By living in this “unofficial” carnival world people can strip themselves of the stress, pain, frustration etc. of the world they live in and adopt a new culture, a new world in which they can be anything they want. It is not just some show they go watch or some book they go read to escape their world. It is something they go live, something they go to experience with others. It is embraced by everyone who goes and lives it. It is a world filled with all different kinds of forms of expression and art. Bakhtin describes carnival as a balance of art and life, “It belongs to the borderline between art and life. In reality, it is life itself but shaped according to a certain pattern of play…Thus carnival is the people’s second life, organized on the basis of laughter” (86). Therefore, if carnival is life itself and is organized on the basis of laughter then that means laughter organizes life itself. Laughter is what people use to create a better world to live in. It isn’t a “sickness infecting happiness…drawing it into society’s worthless totality” (112) as Adorno believes it to be. Rather, laughter is life, it’s what life is built from, it gives meaning to life.hqdefault

In Patch Adams, we see clearly how this is put in effect the real world. Patch creates a homemade hospital where he treats people who can’t afford a real hospital. There he treats people both with real medical treatment and with jokes, happiness, and joy. In a similar way of how carnival is a borderline between life and art, Patch balanced medical treatment with laughter. This balance, although very unorthodox, proved to be very effective. In the movie, the nurses said that since his arrival to the hospital, patients’ optimism greatly increased and the amounts of medication required decreased. The laughter and joy that was given to them through Patch significantly increased their wellbeing and improved their lives. He had such a tremendous impact on the patients’ lives that, even in times of tremendous pain and suffering, he was able to bring out true happiness from within them through laughter. This sort of practice was very different from the one that was common in that time.

The hospitals and doctors of that time were very disconnected from their patients. As shown in the movie, patients were referred to by their room number or bed number or the disease they had e.g. “patient 205” or “the cancer patient”, but Patch believed that there should be a personal connection between the doctor and patient: he believed that instead of calling the patient by a number or disease, doctors should call them by their name, get to know them, and understand the difficulties they are going through. He adopted a very carnivalesque culture in which doctors are not above patients but on the same level. He says in the movie “everyone that comes into my house is both a doctor and a patient”. He believes that patients can learn from doctors just as much as doctors can learn from patients. In essence, when you stepped foot into his hospital, you entered a hospital that embraced a carnival culture built on laughter. It may seem that this laughter was only temporary and that it only was a quick escape from their real lives of pain, but it functioned as something much more than that.


Adorno believed that laughter is a “sickness infecting happiness” when in a false society but, as previously mentioned, Patch Adams’ hospital isn’t like the real world: when people enter it, they enter a new world. So, according to Adorno, laughter is just an escape from one’s reality. People only go to temporarily escape their reality, but, at the end of the day, they are still in pain and are suffering from a disease or mental health disorder. The people are scared of death so they go to the hospital to relieve their fear. He is basically saying that they are never truly happy because they are constantly fearing their lives and the laughter they experience is fake laughter, it is just a cover up for the terrible lives they are living. This argument is very far from the true reality of things.

Happiness can be a transient feeling. No one can constantly be happy, but at the same time, no one can constantly be sad. Some people may feel sad or happy more times than the other but they are not constantly feeling that emotion. To say that laughter is a consolation prize for not having a life worth living is very narrow-minded. Throughout the course of life, people experience all different types of emotion, and all these emotions at points in time add up to equal the overall quality of life for the person. Although, at a single point in time, you can’t tell if a person’s overall quality of life is good or bad, those moments will all add up to something that shows a person’s life is worth living and through the laughter they experience, they will ultimately have a life worth living because their temporary breaks from the real conditions of their lives aren’t just breaks.

A break has no meaning; it is something to just stop the thing you’re doing. This second world the people go to is much more than just a break; Bakhtin describes it as, “something must be added from the spiritual and ideological dimension. They must be sanctioned not by the world of practical conditions but by the highest aims of human existence, that is, by the world of ideals” (87). In order for something to be not just a break, but an actual second world, it has to have an ideological meaning that is spiritual. This is exactly what Patch offered. Bakhtin is saying that people going to Patch’s hospital transcend their reality and live in a world where they can all be equal and a world where they are not described by their disease but treated and respected as human beings. They were liberated from the restraints that the real world put on them and went to a world where everyone was equal, i.e. everyone is both a doctor and a patient, and built their relationship off laughter and joy in one another. Patch Adams shows that the patients laughter isn’t just a consolation prize because, though they are sick with disease, their laughter is actually proof they do live a life worth living, proof that their moments of laughter and happiness will add up to something that will transcend the boundaries placed down on them from the real world and free them in the second world they go to live in. This proof is shown countless times in the lives he was able to heal and the joy he placed in the all the souls he touched. People were able to recover more quickly and more easily because they were able to laugh and increase their overall quality of life. Laughter isn’t cheating happiness but rather builds happiness towards a life worth living.patch-adams-robin-williams-640_5d6e918f92c14c6cb142aed28bba98dc

In Patch Adams, a second world is created that isn’t just a break from the real world but rather a place to transcend the real world and get rid of fear, anger, and pain. Patch creates a world built on the foundation of laughter to spread joy to others. This laughter isn’t fake, it isn’t something foreign, it isn’t an emotionless action that they only go to when they don’t receive what they desire. The laughter experienced is pure: it is something that is inside all of them, within all their pain and suffering that, when reached, can lead to the betterment of their lives and create a life worth living.

Coffee with Milk and Pop Culture

We live in a world where terrible things happen daily. Not a day goes by where we are allowed to forget all of the horrible things happening news and social media makes that impossible. What’s even harder to understand is that a majority of these tragedies aren’t random accidents or Mother Nature striking, but rather are the result of people perpetrating acts of senseless violence against each other. Personally, I cannot make sense of the chaos we live in, and if I truly had to think about how horrendous human beings are to each other I would probably be permanently depressed. Entertainment allows us to escape this gruesome reality. The culture industry with its repetition may be subconsciously shaping our tastes, but it is also a way to somehow make sense of the world we live in and give us some sanity. All entertainment provides an escape from our own lives, it gives us something that we’re lacking in our reality, and only by really embracing pop culture can we be freed from the element of it that is repetitive and controlling. This is exemplified through one of my personal favorite television series, Gilmore Girls. This series follows the life of the infamously witty Lorelei Gilmore and her daughter, Rory, as they go through life consuming food and culture in the weird but amazing small town of Stars Hollow. This show exemplifies the counterintuitive idea of why we need to embrace the culture industry in order to avoid being made into its pawns.

Episode 1: “Pilot” (Getting to know the Gilmore girls)

This first episode sets the tone for this feel good television series. This episode is where you’re first introduced to the weird eating habits, quick one-liners, and obsession with coffee that is an integral part of the Gilmore lifestyle. At the end of watching the first episode I was left wishing I liked the taste of coffee and knew enough about pop culture that I could casually reference movies when I talked. Other characters look at their relationship to culture throughout the series with a mixture of bizarreness and envy, but the show seems to claim that this relationship with culture is what set Lorelei free from the oppressive household she grew up in. They embrace everything that intellectuals such as Leavis and Arnold claim is wrong with the culture industry. Lorelei and Rory don’t glorify the classics or hold them up as the only way to become holier than thou in the same way that Leavis does. Leavis claims that there is, “a separation new and abrupt between, sophisticated culture and popular.” (Leavis 188) Gilmore Girls throws that claim out the window, by erasing the line between “high” and “low” culture that Leavis imagines while also showing that our current culture industry isn’t valueless. Rory is depicted as the epitome of a “good girl” through being extremely interested in reading the very books that Leavis and Arnold claim are the path to salvation from the culture industry. Rory’s divergence from their prescription of classics exists in the very sense that she had control over what she read and read not out of desire to be saved from the trash the culture industry produces, but because she is entertained by reading these books, they aren’t a way to save herself. To her these books are the same as sitting down to watch Lord of the Rings for the hundredth time.


Episode 5: “Cinnamon’s Wake”

            Cinnamon, who is the neighbor’s beloved cat, passes away suddenly and the entire town flies into action to set up a wake. And for anyone who has never seen the show, I will say it again this episode revolves around Stars Hallow putting together a wake for a cat. For me, this episode really highlights how close-knit of a town Stars Hollow really is. Raymond Williams praises the type of working class culture present in Stars Hollow and argues that a lack of money forces people to be dependent on one another and allows for greater bonds of community than in a culture where everything can be purchased and you have to rely on no one. He writes, “I think this way of life, with its emphases of neighbourhood, mutual obligation, and common betterment as expressed in the great working-class political and industrial institutions, is in fact the best basis for any future English society.” (Williams 8) Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Nickel and Dimed, shows tangible evidence from her social of experiment of trying to survive on minimum wage is that thing most vital to your success is the support system you cultivate through your family, coworkers, and neighbors. Where the show begins to disagree with Williams’ theories is his claim that popular, consumer culture and working class culture need to be mutually exclusive.


Episode 14: “That Damn Donna Reed”

This episode in particular draws attention to the inversion of gender stereotypes that are present in the plot of this show. In the beginning of the episode, Lorelei, Rory and Rory’s boyfriend Dean are all enjoying a night of watching The Donna Reed Show while consuming exorbitant amounts of food. Both Lorelei and Rory mercilessly mock what they view as the absurdity with which Donna Reed, a housewife in the 1950s, tends to her husband’s needs. Dean has a harder time understanding what they view is so wrong with wives preparing dinner for when their husbands arrive home from work, as that is how his family has always functioned. Lorelei in contrast has been on her own since she got pregnant with Rory at sixteen and rejects most gendered stereotypes. She is the sole provider of a single parent household, doesn’t cook, eats crazy amounts of food, is independent, and doesn’t seek a man’s approval. The plotline of this episode follows Rory and Dean coming to terms with why they view The Donna Reed Show so differently. Where he saw a woman happily choosing to devote her life to her family, Rory saw a woman with no other options being forced into a life of servitude to a man. Rory ends up doing research on Donna Reed and learns that Donna Reed did a lot more in real life than being a housewife, and realizes that it is a double standard to not support a woman’s choice to be a homemaker. To make amends with Dean she dresses up in traditional 1950’s garb and cooks an elaborate dinner for him. Dean responds to this whole ordeal by saying, “As amazing as this whole thing was, I mean, the music, the outfit, the dinner, I hope you know that I don’t expect you to be Donna Reed. And I don’t want you to be Donna Reed. That’s not what I meant. This just totally got blown out of proportion. I’m actually pretty happy with you.” The resolution of this simplistic problem, not only provides the viewer with a dose of everything will be okay if we work to understand each other’s perspectives, but the idea that larger problems, like gender oppression, can begin to be solved through consuming pop culture.

Episode 31: “Bracebridge Dinner”

The Bracebridge Dinner is an event Lorelei organizes at her inn. A wealthy customer rents out the entire inn for a dinner that is set during the 19th century. Lorelei and her cook/best friend, Sookie, work to make the dinner as realistic as possible in everything from speaking Old English to playing music from the time period to preparing food from that era. This dinner is the embodiment of luxury. The show never lets you forget that the only reason this dinner is possible is because the group paid a really high price. The group ends up getting snowed in and won’t be able to make it for the dinner. Because everything is all paid for and ready, Lorelei invites all of Stars Hollow to the inn for an impromptu slumber party set in the 19th century. The town allows themselves to become completely emerged in a different era and escape from their daily lives. This dinner brought to life another world in a more direct way than movies and television by blurring the lines between fantasy and reality. Although this specific example doesn’t directly revolve around recreating an element of pop culture or becoming engrossed in pop culture, I think of it as the creativity inspired by pop culture on a rich person’s dime. Entertainment is the common man’s Bracebridge Dinner, it is a chance to escape from the daily craziness, and if you’re privileged enough to expand upon the pop culture you consume it can even inspire you creatively.


Gilmore Girls provides viewers with an escape from reality, by showing them that pop culture isn’t turning us into terrible human beings, but actually providing us with an alternative reality where we can sort through all of the craziness happening around us. The show’s simplistic plot allows us to address real issues that may concern us such as privilege, gender roles, and the structure of society, while at the same time giving us resolutions that make you believe that you can enact change. Lorelei and Rory’s own consumer behaviors make a point of reinforcing that the culture industry is not just sameness and conditioning, but a way to inspire creativity in yourself.


Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed: Undercover in Low-wage USA. London: Granta,

  1. Print.

Leavis, F. R. “Literature and Society.” (n.d.): 182-93. Print.

Williams, Raymond. “Culture Is Ordinary.” (n.d.): 3-18. Print.

Popular Culture as an Escape from Everyday Life

“Young, Wild & Free” by Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa paints a picture of a carefree life. The artists encourage audiences to live freely, particularly through the acceptance of illicit substances. The lyrics are quite blunt in this regard– “So what we get drunk? / So what we smoke weed? / We’re just having fun” (“Young, Wild & Free”). To some, this open acceptance about illegal or socially or religiously frowned upon activities is horrifyingly lowbrow. Such themes are commonplace in many popular songs today, though; LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” demands “One more shot for us, another round…Everybody just have a good time / And we gonna make you lose your mind” (“Party Rock Anthem”). These types of lyrics, while common, overflow with references to alcohol and sex; they border on offensive and socially unacceptable. How can such activities be openly discussed, even encouraged?

In Rabelais and His World, Mikhail Bakhtin describes the phenomenon of the carnival. Rooted in the tendency of Middle Age clowns and fools to mimic serious rituals and feudal traditions for the purpose of laughter– often crude and regarding bodily functions and the grotesque– the carnival was a popular lifestyle (Duncombe 83-84). The carefree heart of the Carnival provided an escape from the drags of everyday life; “[the] carnival celebrated temporary liberation from the prevailing truth and from the established order; it marked the suspension of all hierarchical rank, privileges, norms, and prohibitions” (Duncombe 87). In modernity, the truest form of carnival that exists is Mardi Gras– a freeing celebration of rejection of societal standards regarding bodily appearance, behavior, hierarchy and law. Pop culture, however, reflects closely on the same values.

"So what we get drunk?" (Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kKx9j3KaGAM)

“So what we get drunk?” (Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kKx9j3KaGAM)

Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa’s “Young, Wild, & Free”, for example, exemplifies a modern carnivalesque, carefree lifestyle as encouraged by Bakhtin. The repeated drug references in the lyrics, as well as the value placed on living without cares, fits the carnival’s disregard for typical societal standards. Bakhtin describes, “During carnival time life is subject only to its laws, that is, the laws of its own freedom… [it was] the second life of the people, who for a time entered the utopian realm of community, freedom, equality, and abundance” (Duncombe 87). Essentially, the carnival has its own laws separate from those of real life, which provides a second, more free and welcoming, world. Some lyrics in “Young, Wild, & Free” openly encourage the breaking of real laws through use of drugs and alcohol. Although some may find these references offensive, religiously sinful, or wrong, “Young, Wild, & Free” relishes any opportunity for escaping social boundaries and living freely.

“Young, Wild, & Free” is part of the Mac and Devin Go to High School movie soundtrack, a film described in its iTunes preview as the “ultimate stoner comedy with a star-studded hip-hop soundtrack” (“Mac and Devin Go to High School”). In the music video, Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa parody the structure of high school as they wreak havoc during a day trip to the teenage years. The music video shows students “Mac” and “Devin” (Wiz and Snoop) fittingly passing their first day at N. Hale High “N. Hale”-ing, as well as their drug trips; the hallways are twisted once each as snow-dusted, an underwater ocean scene, and a cartoon bird haven. Mac and Devin also complete a project for “science class” in which they prepare their own drugs and experiment with THC. Furthermore, throughout the whole video, there is only one appearance of an authority figure, in a screaming adult male, but he does not return again. The carnival rejects all things official and conventional; Mac and Devin certainly achieve a carnivalesque level of freedom in the music video of “Young, Wild, & Free” as they lead the student body in a wild day at school and prevail over authority.

Mac and Devin's "science project". (Source: https://www.videogram.com/comic_embed/2997c0f0-87f4-4fcb-9dcd-42cde0276998)

Mac and Devin’s “science project”. (Source: https://www.videogram.com/comic_embed/2997c0f0-87f4-4fcb-9dcd-42cde0276998)

Bakhtin furthers his description of the carnival, “Carnival is not a spectacle seen by the people; they live in it, and everyone participates because its very idea embraces all the people” (Duncombe 86). In order for a carnival to completely reject all forms of hierarchy and structure, it is vital that all types of people participate (Karimova 48, 38). The carnival celebrates the community, and therefore must be inclusive. “Young, Wild, & Free” exemplifies this trait in the featuring of many types of students– the preppy female, the nerd, the athlete, the fat boy in a wheelchair– and shows them all embracing the carnival at school in unison. “The carnivalesque is in brief a celebration of… community; it liberates people and brings them together and induces them to participate in communal living” (Bell 105).


Album Cover of “Young, Wild, & Free” (Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEddeCFhExA)

The music video for “Young, Wild, & Free” shows all types of students taking part in the fun as an entire, inclusive student body, rather than as divided by homogenous or exclusive social boundaries. Snoop Dogg lights a huge joint for a preppy white female, and an obese boy in a wheelchair expertly puffs smoke rings. The all-out party at the end of the music video also displays great diversity in the crowd. The point of including all people is also displayed on the album cover; Snoop Dogg is dressed athletically in a varsity jacket, while Wiz Khalifa appears nerdy in a button down. Despite the stigmas regarding these types of students, all of them partake in the festivities and in letting loose and ignoring school authority.


Snoop Dogg shares the love in the “Young, Wild & Free” music video. (Source: http://veehd.com/video/4731201_Snoop-Dog-And-Wiz-Khalifa-ft-Bruno-Mars-Young-Wild-And-Free-mp4)

The wide reach of the “Young, Wild, & Free” lifestyle is also apparent in the background of the song. Wiz Khalifa and Snoop Dogg are both African American, while featured artist Bruno Mars is from Hawaii; the “Smeezingtons” group that composed the song consists of an African-American, a Caucasian, and Hawaiian Bruno Mars. The artists also reject typical lifestyles; Snoop Dogg (formerly Calvin Broadus) was in and out of jail for drug use for several years, and yet has grown into an incredibly successful musician. Neither Snoop nor Wiz Khalifa (formerly Cameron Thomaz) attended college or are married. Both openly attest to cannabis use. Wiz and Snoop both live atypically of societal standards in these ways; encouraging audiences to live in a carnivalesque fashion requires not just telling, but also showing.

“Young, Wild, & Free” is also able to directly influence real life because it helps dancers let loose– the song is no stranger to dance parties. The chorus is catchy, simple, and fun, so when it comes on the speakers, many a dance floor erupt with passionate singing and unembarrassed dancing. Dancing provides easy means to let go of social boundaries, and therefore everyday access to Bakhtin’s carnival; its role is in “inciting the participants to ‘the greatest exaltation of their symbolic faculties’ into play, and triggering ‘the whole pantomime of dancing, forcing every member into rhythmic movement’” (Stam 89). When everyone on a dance floor partakes unabashedly in dancing together, they are bringing the carnival to real life. “The carnivalesque is not restrained to popular culture texts, but transcends to ‘everyday’ life encompassing… those of audiences” (Karimova 37). “Young, Wild, & Free” provides an easy trigger to an unrestricted dance party– a modern carnival.

(Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9E8_f7ek84c)

(Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9E8_f7ek84c)

A truly inclusive environment, furthermore, is hard to come by in modern society. There are always limiting factors to the extent of a shared experience; money is a frequent concern. A dance floor, however, is one experience that transcends economy. Although the song does encourage certain endeavors that may not be available to all classes, the experience that the song itself provides is. On the other hand, encouraging flashy, crazy parties may seem unwise; however, the benefits of rejecting structure are reaped in the sheer fun to be had. Additionally, although the music video only depicts one school day– a temporary escape– the lesson has been presented (in a readily available song) and viewers must elect to follow in Mac and Devin’s footsteps. The message, furthermore, is widely applicable. Although the song may only be well known to today’s younger generations, the ideals behind it should still be paid attention to by people of all ages. N. Hale High and its liberating wild spirit is a dream come true for students as well as adults bored by the structure and lack of freedom in their lives.

Essentially, Bakhtin’s carnival provides an escape from everyday life via fits of crude humor and unabashed free living, and focuses on welcoming all members of a community despite background, and the rejection of authority, hierarchy, structure, boundaries, and standards (Duncombe 84). Popular culture today, like Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa’s song “Young, Wild, & Free”, strives to achieve these carnivalesque qualities through explicit lyrical content and acceptance of substances typically frowned upon by society, the inclusion of all types of people in the fun, and the deliverance of these qualities to real life. “Carnival changes over time, and if Medieval carnival was a ‘second life’ for people, the contemporary carnival is ‘everyday’ life” (Karimova 46). Ordinary pop culture therefore has become our modern carnival; we must embrace it as an escape from reality and to strive for a “Young, Wild, & Free” lifestyle.


Works Cited
Bell, Michael Mayerfield, and Michael Gardiner. Bakhtin and the Human Sciences. London: Sage Publications, 1998. Print.
Dogg, Snoop, and Wiz Khalifa. Young, Wild, & Free (feat. Bruno Mars). The Smeezingtons, 2011. Web.
Duncombe, Stephen. “A Politics That Doesn’t Look Like Politics.” Cultural Resistance Reader. London: Verso, 2002. 82-88. Print.
Karimova, Gulnara. “Interpretive Methodology from Literary Criticism: Carnivalesque Analysis of Popular Culture: “Jackass, South Park”, and ‘Everyday’ Culture.” Popular Culture Association in the South 33.1 (2010): 37-51. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. 15 Nov. 2016
“Mac and Devin Go to High School.” iTunes Preview. iTunes, n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
LMFAO. Party Rock Anthem (feat. Lauren Bennett & GoonRock). LMFAO, 2011. Web.
Stam, Robert. Subversive Pleasures: Bakhtin, Cultural Criticism, and Film. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1989. Print.

The New Basement Tapes: Fan Art in its Highest Form

In 1965 Bob Dylan went electric at Newport and everyone fucking hated it. Ok, not everyone—there were boos and cheers, after all. Later that year he got married, got strung out on heroin, and the following summer almost killed himself in a motorcycle accident. He didn’t emerge from the woods of New York for over a year, only releasing Nashville Skyline and playing at a memorial concert after Woody Guthrie’s death. Dylan wouldn’t tour for another eight years.

Then we got The Basement Tapes.


Post Judeo-Christian lyrics and Johnny Cash duets, Columbia Records releases The Basement Tapes in 1975, approximately eight years after Bob Dylan and the Band (then the Hawks) recorded them in the basement of his Woodstock refuge.

Not unlike when he went electric, Dylan changed the game, singing 107 stripped down, low fidelity ballads that sounded like a whisper under psychedelic rock’s recent explosion. It’s not even so much the songs themselves as what they created— a reemergence of Americana, room for bleakness during the summer of love, not to mention the sheer quantity of the recordings (which has a Jack Kerouac single-spaced, taped together On the Road manuscript type magnitude). Rolling Stone ranked The Basement Tapes #292 on their list of 500 greatest albums and it’s widely regarded that, while lauded on their own merits, The Basement Tapes is what put the Band on the map.

So taking all this in—the circumstances for Dylan, the vastness of recordings, the return to folk for a guy who killed himself going electric, and the legacy it left for singer/songwriters forever (think Wilco, the Waterboys, Billy Bragg)— and now imagine that there are more. That’s right. Unrecorded, half-written, scribbled Dylan songs unknown to the world until 2014.

If you’re a music guy, like T Bone Burnett, this is like finding the library of Alexandria didn’t burn after all. And if you’re smart, like T Bone Burnett, you figure out how to do something with these pieces of lyrical gold.

And that’s how we got The New Basement Tapes.

Week of August 4

Week of August 4

Recording of The New Basement Tapes started when songwriter and producer T Bone Burnett got Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddens, Jim James, Taylor Goldsmith, and Marcus Mumford all in a studio at Capitol Records, 47 years after Dylan penned the songs they would record. The only catch was, there was no music. Handwritten lyrics in Dylan’s careless scrawl, sure, but no melody, no notes, no instruments, not even “guitar solo here?” scribbled in the margins. The group, then, was undertaking the not so trite task of putting music to the lyrics of one of the greatest songwriters of all time.

So they did.

Over two weeks the group wrote, recorded, experimented, rerecorded, called in Johnny Depp, and rererecorded over 30 songs, 20 of which made the album. With no lineup and a plethora of talent, the group switched parts and instruments, Mumford singing lead on one of the most popular songs, Kansas City, Goldsmith leading the charge on rewriting the music for it, and Giddens bringing in gospel singers to help her find the right melody for Lost on the River.

In Showtime’s documentary of the recording sessions, Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes Continued, Jim James of My Morning Jacket brings his distinctive voice and penchant for the funk and blues inspired, Goldsmith lobbies for his version of Kansas City, (the version that ends up on the album) over Mumford’s, and Burnett refuses to let anyone leave—refuses to let any interpretation go unheard. Burnett describes those two weeks, saying: “What transpired during those two weeks was amazing for all of us. There was a deep well of generosity and support in the studio at all times, which reflected the tremendous trust and generosity shown by Bob in sharing these lyrics with us in the first place.” What’s left is a bold, musically adventurous, deeply curious, and exceedingly fun album of 20 songs that can almost make you forget who wrote them in the first place.

Week of September 1

Week of September 1

What’s often lost behind names like Elvis Costello and Marcus Mumford is the fact that The New Basement Tapes is, ultimately, a fan album. I’ll concede that it’s hard to think of professional musicians as fans, no matter how languidly they praise other bands or distill their musical pedigree—but this aspect of them is not to be lost. Before Goldsmith was twelve, I can bet he was learning Bob Dylan songs on the guitar. When Jim James goes to a Wilco concert, it’s not as Jeff Tweedy’s compatriot but as a member of an audience. It takes a concerted effort to remember musicians in their humanity—that is, their capacity to still be a fan. To not make this effort would ignore the foundation of the album as a creative effort of fans, albeit very talented fans, to do justice to the work of another artist. Exempting the Costello and Giddens and Mumford from their role as fans would be a disservice to both them and Dylan. Because, when we’re talking about Bob Dylan, sorta like Jesus, no one’s an equal and everyone’s a fan—fans with professional careers of their own, studio time, and the pull to call in Johnny Depp to play guitar on a track—but fans, nonetheless.

Less stigmatized and perhaps more fruitful, The New Basement Tapes is not altogether unlike popular fanfiction or fan art that is a product of fandoms ranging from books like Twilight to TV shows like Fox’s Glee, except, of course, The New Basement Tapes gets advantage of having Dylan’s actual lyrics. Cover songs in general, while sometimes simply mimicking artists, are more often creative and resourceful interpretations that stand on their own merit—making them works of a fan and works of art. The two are not mutually exclusive. Kurt Mosser gives the example of Jimi Hendrix’s cover of Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower in his essay “Cover Songs”: Ambiguity, Multivalence, Polysemy, saying: “Hendrix… takes an austere and minimalist recording of lyrics that are, even for Dylan, obscure and polysemous and changes it into a driving rock n’ roll song featuring extended displays of Hendrix’s guitar work.” Later, Mosser invokes a philosophy of linguistics, often referenced as “cluster theory”, to show that the very use of the words “cover songs” “indicates that there is a relationship between the cover song and its base,” through referential communication. It is not only the art itself, but the way we—consumers— approach and understand this art that recognizes an inherent connection to an original work of art, while still seeing the newly created, or “cover”, as merited in its own existence. Cover songs, like fan art and fanfiction, just more direct, link the artist with the consumer in a way that makes the consumer an artist, too—if only because they consumed in the first place. Far from the only example, Hendrix’s cover is still perhaps the best at getting at the heart of cover songs as both inextricably linked (and indebted to) the work of the original artist, while still being an independent work of art.

Now take All Along The Watchtower, take away any preexisting musical version, increase the required innovation, and multiply it by 20. That’s The New Basement Tapes.

Week of August 18

Week of August 18

On their own, The New Basement Tapes are a remarkable feat of musical ingenuity and collaboration. But it’s status as a quasi fan/cover album resurrects a bias for original work and the dismissal for any art that’s directly based off another’s. Less critiqued because of the commonality of Dylan covers, the genre of fan art and cover art is largely swept under the category of art* where the asterisk says “but not really”.  In his essay Like a Version: Cover Songs and the Tribute Trend in Popular Music, George Plasketes gives a number of examples of cover and tribute albums before sweepingly asserting that “the recent proliferation of cover and tribute recordings is culturally characteristic of the repetition mode of postmodern times—retrieving , repeating, rewinding, and resurrecting virtually everything into an exhaustive cycle of retreads.” Ok, is that enough to make Mumford say “ouch”? Plasketes and the like-minded music reviewers he cites devolve cover music into the art of the lazy and unoriginal—those not good enough to write for themselves, or too complacent to do so. Broadened to all fan and cover art and suddenly entire genres and works of art are discounted on the basis of their relationship to the art that came before it. If we can already conclude that consumers are interactive and creative in their relationship with art, as is proved with the very existence of professional cover-bands like the Grateful Dead’s “Dark Star Orchestra” and the plethora of fanfiction posted on sites like tumblr and reddit, then Plasketes argument is that sure, fans make things, but it’s not creative and it’s sure as hell not good. Once mindless consumers are, in this argument, regarded as merely third grade artists redrawing exactly what’s in front of them.

But this argument is too easy. Not only is it reductive of entire swaths of fan-made art, it rests on its laurels in equating “unoriginal” and “repetitive” with bad, despite giving no critique of the genre other than its straightforward description: art made in the image (or sound) of other art.

The New Basement Tapes are perhaps the highest functioning form of this art and avoid criticism like Pasketes by its virtue of being so well done—it is, however, very much the paradigm of what Plaskete criticizes. More than anything, it’s important to see that The New Basement Tapes is very much the rule for fan and cover art, and not the exception—not in terms of quality (not everyone can sing, not everyone has access to Capitol Records, this is a given) but in the creativity and ingenuity it inspires in the consumer. That art is able to, at the very least, inspire its consumers to create their own work, regardless of quality, is a testament to the critical engagement of the consumer. The New Basement Tapes wouldn’t exist without Bob Dylan or his lyrics, and in this way it’s exactly like 50 Shades of Grey and Twilight, Kirk/Spock slash fiction and Startrek. Each “cover” owes something to its “original”— but complacent, simple-minded replications of their respective originals they are not. Regardless of the social stigma attached or lacking to each of these forms of fan/cover art, and with little emphasis put on their varying qualities (i.e. good/bad), they all arise from the same circumstances of a consumer interacting with its culture, a fan reading and listening critically, and then deciding that they, too, can create something.

So they do.


Burnett and the group he assembled manage to record one of the most musically complex and wide ranging albums of the 2000s. Whether or not you like the album (Rolling Stone loves it, Pitchfork is ambivalent), The New Basement Tapes occupies a space as one of the most creative and experimental cover albums of Dylan’s work. Rather than a carbon copy of Dylan’s simplicity and growling voice, The New Basement Tapes incorporates instruments unknown to Dylan’s work and lets the music breathe. In Matt Melis’ review of the album, which appears on the music-news website consequenceofsound.net, he concludes the article by surmising that the listener “[gets] the sense that Dylan’s greatest gift to the band may not have been his lyrics. The real gift may have been giving Burnett and these five musicians an excuse to go and chase down their own Basement Tapes.” To generalize this claim is to get at the very heart of fan/cover art, or any art directly influenced by a single force, which is that while the content of the original art is imperative, it’s the opportunity for creativity, collaboration, and ingenuity that it creates, and which the consumer seizes, that makes it so important.

We may call Bob Dylan a musical god but we certainly don’t treat him like it. Music, in this way, is not prescriptive. Jim James doesn’t listen to Dylan like the prophet Muhammed and worship at his feet but rather brings goddamn psychedelic Kentucky blues-rock to songs written while Dylan was reading way too much Bible and stripping down his recordings. Giddens, a black woman from the band Carolina Chocolate Drops, brings a soul that white people have been trying to replicate since Alan Lomax went recording local folk songs all over the American south. Taylor Goldsmith comes in as the young, unknown guy from a mid-level band that’s best known for its first album, and fights to the death with Marcus Mumford (of slightly more fame…) to get his (better) version of a song recorded. The New Basement Tapes is not a tribute album, it’s not an homage to Dylan—by the time it’s recorded, it’s not even a Dylan Manifesto. The New Basement Tapes is full fledged musical ingenuity that springs from the handwritten lyrics of a guy they all admire; a guy they’ve all called a genius, once or twice.

Where Dylan would have liltingly sung, Costello belts. Where Dylan would go acoustic, James shreds and Giddens wails. Where Dylan might mope, Marcus goes passionately rueful, as if to say “I’m not finished yet.” These songs, while a gift from Dylan, exist in their own merit. They take liberties with Dylan’s lyrics, are made of a style all their own, and are the product of a critical, creative process of engaging with a music legend’s work. To ignore the impact of Bob Dylan in creating this record would be empirically wrong– he is undeniably the source of inspiration and the well from which these songs were recorded. But to dismiss The New Basement Tapes as a recreation or a carbon copy with no merit or originality of its own would be deaf to the music on the album. More than anything, The New Basement Tapes embodies the relationship between consumer and artist; fan and artist; artist and artist. In it, the very real link between consuming and creating becomes tangible, resulting in a creative product of its own merit, made possible only by the existence of fan and artist and the active, engaging relationship between the two.

The Delight of Good Times

At the end of June, 1979, the band Chic released their song “Good Times.” “Good Times” has many of the hallmarks of a 1970s hit with its disco sound and its danceable groove. “Good Times” quickly became a popular song in its own right, but one of its major claims to fame is that it was sampled, meaning its beat was used for another song. Only three months after the public release of “Good Times,” a group known as the Sugarhill Gang released “Rapper’s Delight,” which used the underlying beat from “Good Times.” Even with its sample of “Good Times,” “Rapper’s Delight” is a different type of song. “Raper’s Delight” is not disco like “Good Times;” it is rap. Rap was only just being created in the 1970s, and “Rapper’s Delight” was the harbinger of this new genre. “Rapper’s Delight,” in many of its facets ranging from its lyrics to its musical style to its methods of production and more, had major characteristics that could be considered quite ordinary.
A major aspect of rap in general is its history. Rap began in the South Bronx in New York City as disk jockeys talking, often in rhyme, while introducing upcoming songs and while playing their tunes (Blanchard). The South Bronx in New York in the 1970s was an extremely poor area. This style of music was created by people who held low socioeconomic status and were often African-American. Rap began as a movement of people who were not elite. They were the opposite.
“Rapper’s Delight” was no exception to this rule. The members of the Sugarhill Gang were not from privileged backgrounds. They were lower class artists from the New York area who had not grown up in especially well-to-do households (North Jersey). Englewood, New Jersey, the hometown of the original members, is far from a wealthy area (Factfinder). The artists of the first commercially successful song of what would blossom into a whole genre were not of any special or important social class or group. They were regular people. They were ordinary.

The humble origins of “Rapper’s Delight” did not hinder its importance. The song was hugely influential in starting the whole genre of rap and making rap mainstream (Blanchard). “Rapper’s Delight” was produced by the small label Sugarhill Records, and the following decades saw many more record labels and productions companies sign rap artists. Rap became a major part of American culture after the releases of “Rapper’s Delight” and other songs. What started as poor disk jockeys in the South Bronx met a trio from a town not far away to start a major facet of culture. Before the commercial success of “Rapper’s Delight,” rap and the artists who made it were just regular people.
Enough about the production and background of a song; the most important part is the song itself.
Musically, “Rapper’s Delight” is somewhat simple. The underlying beat is not all that complicated; it is in common time, a generally easy and adaptable time signature to use. It is also somewhat repetitive. In addition to having the song in an easily workable time signature, the writers of “Rapper’s Delight” had a key advantage when writing the music: they did not write the music. Like its inspirations, “Rapper’s Delight” was a song that used a pre existing beat. In the case of “Rapper’s Delight, the beat was a simple baseline with accompanying chords. Disk jockeys by, definition of what they did, used beats and songs they did not write; they played and played with the songs they had on their tables. The beat itself was ordinary to begin with, and artists who were talented or famous for creating popular disco beats never worked even a minute as writers for the Sugarhill Gang. What better way to start a mainstream genre than by ripping a record?
The most influential and defining feature of “Rapper’s Delight” are its lyrics. The way in which these lyrics are presented is simple. The lyrics are mostly presented as rhyming couplets in a simple AABBCC rhyme scheme that continues throughout the song. For example, the first rapper to sing raps, “See I am Wonder Mike and I like to say hello/ To the black, to the white, the red, and the brown the purple and yellow” with the “ow sound at the end of both lines. The song is longer than many at around seven minutes but it is still mostly comprised of a series of rhyming pairs of lines. The way in the which the lyrics are presented is not complicated or hard to understand. It is regular, ordinary.
Not just the way in which the lyrics are presented but the lyrics themselves are simple and commonplace. Early in the “Rapper’s Delight”, the verse “Now what you hear is not a test/ I’m rappin to the beat/ And me, the groove, and my friends/ Are gonna try to move your feet” introduces what the song sets out to do. Rap was a new genre that needed an explanation. The lyrics then discuss topics such as women, “the ladies fight for my delight” and then go to even more average topics. The lyrics “Holiday Inn” are stressed at one point. Saying “Holiday Inn” is one of the song’s largest indications of being average. The song then discusses superheroes with “I said, ‘By the way, baby, what’s your name?/’ Said, ‘I go by name of Lois Lane/ And you could be my boyfriend, you surely can,/ Just let me quit my boyfriend called Superman.’” Toward the end of the song, The Sugarhill Gang inserts a verse about going to a friend’s house where the food is bad. That’s right, the song that brought a new genre into the mainstream mentally brought viewers to a land where “the stinky food’s steamin’, your mind starts to dreamin’/ Of the moment that it’s time to leave/ And then you look at your plate and your chicken’s slowly rottin’/ Into something that looks like cheese.” The lyrics of “Rapper’s Delight” could not signal any more than they already do that this song does not come from a wealthy or especially privileged place. Part of the song comes instead from a place of wanting something good to eat. The topics of this song are all regular conversation. The lyrics of this song comes from a place of being regular, a place of being ordinary.
The general theme here is that “Rapper’s Delight” was born of the ordinary. From its lyrics to its melody to its production “Rapper’s Delight” was made of the regular, ordinary aspects of life. No special or privileged social class started the process of bringing rap music into the mainstream American conscious. This part of American life was not elite or even upper-middle class. It was Englewood, New Jersey and South Bronx, New York coming together to make a song that made a genre that made an industry.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the theorist Raymond Williams wrote about what constitutes culture. He argued that the best facets of culture are generally created by people he describes as “ordinary” (Williams). Williams argues that looking for uninfluenced groups in remote regions such as the Appalachian Mountains is not necessary. Instead, culture can be created by people in urban areas so long as they are of the “ordinary” social class as opposed to the educated elite or upper-middle class. Williams published his essays more than a decade before the release of “Rapper’s Delight,” but he was correct in how “Rapper’s Delight” and rap in general would come into being. He knew how new and influential facets of culture would be created. He knew what would form them, what would shape them. A group of ordinary people sampled a song and made it into their own creation. They took something made by people traditionally thought of as professional musicians and created something out of it. A style of music started in a poverty stricken area and became a mainstream national sensation.
“Rapper’s Delight” is ordinary in that playing it on a record or iPod is an ordinary occurrence. This definition of the word ordinary is not the one Williams used. He used the word to mean that the song is musically simple. It is about going to a friend’s house where the food is bad. It is about superhero movies. It is about the concept of rap itself. This song is exactly what Williams meant by “ordinary.”
In being ordinary, “Rapper’s Delight” and its genre is helped springboard became influential to an extent that a song or style created by a class never could. In the decades following the release of “Rapper’s Delight,” rap became a platform for communication about serious societal issues. According to an essay from Stanford University, rap carries the “potential for political advocacy” (Blanchard). “Rapper’s Delight” was able to speak to people about rotting food and Lois Lane. If it can discuss “something that looks like cheese,” rap can present ideas about politics or social change and more, which it did with a high degree of success in later decades.
Culture is ordinary. There is not a special class who are involved in the creation of meanings and values, either in a general sense or in the specific realm of the arts including music. In fact, a great part of the American way of life, and of its arts and learning, is not elite or middle-class. The Sugarhill Gang was in so many ways the definition of ordinary. The music off which they based their songs was ordinary. It was people talking over records; how much more ordinary can there be? No massive studio, no contracts, no child prodigies making songs at the age of four. Rap began as people just talking a little more rhythmically than they usually did. A British Cambridge-educated theorist from the Welsh side of the England-Wales border predicted this creation. A study at a major American university analysed it. Most importantly, the rappers kept rapping and creating the exceptional out of the mundane, or at least some of them did anyway.


The Working Class and Star Wars


It is said with some regularity that working class people in America are invisible to the middle and elite classes. Take for example William Deresiewicz’s essay “The Dispossessed,” in which he argues that the decline of working-class representation in popular culture has led to an ignorance of what a working-class life entails. “The working class,” Deresiewicz says, “ is American culture’s great lost continent.” Or take Heather Buckelew’s editorial in the Stanford Progressive, “Making the Invisible Visible: the Working Class in the Economic Crisis,” in which she posits that the struggles of the working class in the economic climate of 2010 were largely invisible to people outside the working class due to lack of media representation.

Deresiewicz and Buckelew may be right that the middle and elite classes have become disconnected from the poor, but that is by no accounts due a lack of representation in popular culture. In fact, the working class has always defined a fair portion of culture. Just look at the CBS Network’s lineup of sitcoms. Two Broke Girls uses the image of an elite woman’s descent into the working class to demonstrate that the elite are woefully unprepared for the rigors of working class life. Mike and Molly depicts a relationship between a cop and a teacher, showing images to the public of some of the financial hardships faced by the working class while still taking time to show the benefits of a large and tightly-knit family.

But the impact of the working class on these shows is mostly in the final product, as the shows are written, produced, and acted out by members of a higher class (even Mike and Molly producer Chuck Lorre, who had a working class childhood, has distanced himself from it in such ways as changing his surname from Levine due to the low self-esteem that he associated with it). The impact of the working class on culture goes much deeper than writing shows that appeal to the working class: some facets of popular culture are not just for or about the working class, but by the working class.

One interesting example of culture about the working class and by the working class is the original trilogy of the Star Wars saga (episodes IV, V, and VI). Scenes of the working class are coded into the trilogy: Luke Skywalker is the son of a farmer; Han Solo, a smuggler, performs for commission the dirty work required of him by his boss, Jabba the Hut; Even Princess Leia is working class, as she gives up the prospect of a comfortable elite lifestyle to aid the rebellion; there are even scenes of her doing work with her hands, like on Hoth in Empire Strikes Back.

It is of note that Star Wars creator and director George Lucas was the son of a stationery store owner, so he has a distinctly working class background. After the success of the first Star Wars movies, he purchased a property which he calls Skywalker Ranch; the working-class connotations of a ranch suggest that even though he is rich and famous, he is not estranged from his working-class roots, like Chuck Lorre is. Star Wars differs from the CBS comedies, then, in that its depictions of the working class are actually projections of George Lucas’s working class identity, as opposed to guesses at what a working class life might look like. Deresiewicz notes that television has many shows with people who have working class jobs, but live middle class lives; shows for the working class by members of higher classes just aren’t accurate.





Luke was raised on a moisture farm on the desert planet of Tatooine, giving him a distinctly working class upbringing (Source: StarWars.com)

Keeping this in mind, it would be of use to explore the writing of Raymond Williams. In his essay “Culture is Ordinary,” Williams establishes what I have already said; that there is a working class culture distinct from that of higher classes. Williams says that the working class have their own institutions distinct from the institutions of other classes, and that it is an industrial culture focused on “neighborhood, mutual obligation, and betterment.”

That the working class are often ignored by higher classes is not lost upon Williams. He opens “Culture is Ordinary” by using the image of a chained-off library at a cathedral that he is not allowed to enter because of his working-class status to convey this to the reader. The library is a place for the elite and for the clergy — not for the working class. The people who use the library want nothing to do with the working class, but, as Williams goes on to say in another essay, “Working Class Culture,” the joke is on the upper classes.

The reason for this is because the middle and elite class cultures have been visibly influenced by working class culture. So not only is there a working class culture that is distinct from that of other classes, but it’s not the result of the imposition of the latter onto the former (as some have argued); it’s the other way around. The most important thing that the working class have to impose upon the rest of society, according to Williams, is its democratic values — a consequence of the extension of its neighborhood- and family-based social organization.

How is this accomplished? Let’s go back to Star Wars. The trilogy depicts the working class heroes’ role in a rebellion to overthrow the oppressive Galactic Empire. These heroes, and the rebellion as a whole, are imposing their more democratic ideals upon the galaxy. Looking deeper, Emperor Palpatine, the man in charge of the empire, is distinctly elite: he was a prominent senator before he managed to bring about the end of the republic that preceded the Empire. The way Palpatine was able to get all the power of the Galactic Republic for himself — and this is admittedly outside the original trilogy — was by convincing the other elites in the senate to vote to give him their power in a state of emergency, which Palpatine himself had secretly perpetrated. Before it is challenged by the rebellion, the Empire exerts its dominance for some twenty years over the galaxy. That leads to an important observation: Lucas seems to be saying that in the absence of the working class, society will tend toward injustices like those of the Empire. The empire was the result of a lack of working-class representation in the vote which gave then-senator Palpatine power, and the Empire was not challenged until the working class rebelled, overthrew it, and established a new government. It seems, then, that one mode for the spread of democratic values by the working class is by rebellion.


Senator Palpatine wears distinctly elite clothing and is constantly surrounded by other elites in the senate (Source: ponikva.info)

Lucas’s argument about the working class continues in the last sequence with Luke, Darth Vader, and Emperor Palpatine. Luke defeats his Vader, his father, in a lightsaber duel, but refuses to kill him. Palpatine wants Luke to “join the dark side;” His refusal to kill Vader is a refusal to do so, so Palpatine tries to kill Luke using force lightning. Vader, in an act of redemption, picks up Palpatine and throws him into the ship’s reactor, killing him. This move is suicide on Vader’s part due to the lightning, and as he lays dying, he has a final conversation with his son Luke. The Jedi theme plays softly in the background, signalling Vader’s return to the light side of the force.


Darth Vader redeems himself by killing Emperor Palpatine, signalling his redemption from the dark side of the force (Source: Daily Mail)

Before looking into the working class images coded into this scene, we must understand that the Jedi are themselves part of the working class. The only model for the Jedi way of life in the original trilogy is Master Yoda, who lives in solitude and must work to be entirely self-sufficient. When Luke joins him to train, the two exhibit interactions typical of the working class as defined by Williams, forming a family-like bond. The Jedi way is not so different from the working class way.

So Luke, representative of the working class, defeats Vader, somebody who defected from the working class to the elite. The viewer is then made to cheer for Vader as he redeems himself by returning to the Jedi way and killing Emperor Palpatine, which is code for his rejoining the working class. Lucas uses this sequence to create an argument that, one, the working class will emerge superior to the elite (Luke defeats Vader), and two, we should cheer for the working class as it does this (Vader’s redemption). After Vader’s death, he becomes a force ghost, which is the Jedi analog of achieving Nirvana, due to his return to the working class, Jedi way of life (the Force is meant to resemble a deity and the Jedi are the clergy of a religion). If one considers that the that the most ardent practitioners of that religion are granted an ultimate afterlife, it’s like Lucas is saying that the best way to get to heaven is to be working class.

George Lucas’s Star Wars, then, is an argument for the working class. If Williams is to be believed, the people of the middle and elite classes aren’t aware that they are partaking something that is working class when they watch the movie, but nevertheless, they are unknowingly consuming something that they would otherwise try to distance themselves from. In fact, more than that, they’re cheering for the very working class culture that they’ve tried to make invisible. Deresiewicz and Buckelew are unintentionally correct that the working class is invisible. What they mean to say when they say this is that the working class is unrepresented, which seems to be untrue, given that one of the most popular movies of all time is about the working class. The working class is invisible to the middle and upper class, but this actually allows it to secretly impose upon these classes its institutions and its ideals of a democratic society.


Deresiewicz, William. “The Dispossessed.” The American Scholar. Phi Beta Kappa, 1 Dec. 2006. Web.

Buckelew, Heather. “Making the Invisible Visible: The Working Class in the Economic Crisis.” The Stanford Progressive, Jan. 2010. Web.

Williams, Raymond. “Working Class Culture.” In The Uses of Literacy: Aspects of Working Class Life”, by Richard Hoggart (1957).

Williams, Raymond. “Culture is Ordinary.” 1958.