English 165

Special Topics: Popular Music and Social Critique

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
3 Spring 2021 Cruz, Frank Eugene
TTh 9:30-11

Book List

Dyson, Michael Eric: Jay-Z: Made in America; Guthrie, Woody: Bound for Glory; Guthrie, Woody: House of Earth; Himes, Geoffrey: Born in the U.S.A.; Jay-Z: Decoded; Springsteen, Bruce: Born to Run

Other Readings and Media

Music List:

Guthrie, Woody, Dust Bowl Ballads

Springsteen, Bruce, Born in the U.S.A.

Jay-Z, Selected songs

Rage Against the Machine, Rage Against the Machine

A digital course reader including other media, music videos, concert footage, and essays by Horkheimer and Adorno, Roland Barthes, Joan Didion, Greil Marcus, Mike Davis, Jeff Chang and others will be available on bCourses.


At the onset of the Second World War, a Communist country music singer armed with an acoustic guitar demands the nation examine the consequences of a man-made climate crisis and pledges to destroy fascism both at home and abroad…  A generation later, a bar band from the Jersey shore, heroes to the white working class, dare to challenge Ronald Reagan’s promise to “[Make] America Great Again,” and his vision of “Morning in America” at the dawn of the neoliberal era, in the shadow of the Vietnam War…  Meanwhile, a once lowly soldier in New York City’s drug wars of the 1980s finds salvation in hip hop, interpellates himself as the God of Rap, and ascends to the throne of pop poetics as America’s poet laureate of the late-capitalist hard-knock life…  And on Election Day 1992, just months after the Rodney King verdict and the Los Angeles uprising, a multi-racial, Marxist metal band challenge the white supremacist roots of the LAPD and call for nothing less than full scale revolution on their genre-bending debut LP…

In this course, we will analyze the music of Woody Guthrie, Bruce Springsteen, Jay-Z, and Rage Against the Machine. We will consider the aesthetic and ideological tensions their work exposed for popular culture audiences in their own historical moment and think about the meaning of these tensions and texts for our current moment of climate crisis, resurgent fascist politics in the US, historic class inequality, and mass movements for racial justice.

A mixtape will be required. 

Other Recent Sections of This Course

fall, 2021


Special Topics: "American Humor, 1840-1920"

spring, 2021


Special Topics: Utopian and (mostly) Dystopian Movies


Special Topics: 21st-Century U.S. Poetry


Special Topics: Alrish


Special Topics: “Moments of Truth”: Narrating the Endings of Lies, Disinformation, and Deceit

Ramona Naddaff
fall, 2020


Special Topics: Law and Literature in the United States

spring, 2020


Special Topics: Elegy, Mourning, and the Representation of the Holocaust


Special Topics: Enlightenment & Romance: Scotland in the 18th Century


Special Topics: On Lies, Lying, and Post-Truths--A Reading- and Writing-Intensive Investigation

Nadaff, Ramona


Special Topics: Family Histories from the Margins

fall, 2019


Special Topics: Utopian and (mostly) Dystopian Movies


Special Topics: The Pleasures of Allegory

spring, 2019


Special Topics: Global Tudors

Honig, Elizabeth


Special Topics: 21st-Century U. S. Poetry


Special Topics: John Milton's Last Poems


Special Topics: The Art of Writing: The Visible Made Verbal


Special Topics: Note: See English 165 section 6


Special Topics: Nabokov and Naipaul


Special Topics: The Materialist Epic


Special Topics: American Humor


Special Topics: The 1890s

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