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. 

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