Sociology 204 Writing Assignment Option 5: Theme Song
Many of the issues that sociologists focus on exert a powerful influence over people’s lives and experiences. Because of this many sociological issues are reflected in pop culture, from movies and tv to novels to music. For this writing assignment you will identify a song (with lyrics) that relates to one or more of the concepts or ideas that we have covered in this class and develop a thesis that explains the song’s perspective on social life by analyzing its meaning, resonance, lyrics, sound, history, and/or relevant parts of the biography of its creator/s (you don’t have to focus on all of those things; they are just some of the things you could focus on). The three closely related questions that this essay should answer are: What is the point that the song makes about an aspect of social life that we have touched on in class? How does it make that point? And what evidence from the song can you identify that tells us why the artist/s responsible for the song thought that this was a point worth making? This essay, then, involves a combination of sociological analysis (to identify appropriate concepts, social structures, data about society, etc.) and literary analysis (to analyze how the song relates to the sociological material). While it necessarily involves a creative interpretive effort on your part, it is important to make sure that your analysis is closely tied to some of the material that we have been talking about in class. For example, if my essay is on Green Day’s “Longview” I want to make sure that there is a tight connection between the song, its themes, and an area we have covered in class.
My focus for this song, for instance, could be on social networks (the song is about isolation and loneliness), culture (it is also about the compulsive watching of stupid tv), family, and sex. So I would focus on how the song weaves those themes together, how they relate to ideas about those themes that we talked about in class or that are covered in the textbook or other readings. I might also talk about early 90s pop-punk and the efforts by Green Day and others in the genre to come up with a formula for watering down the musical style and anger of punk enough to make it marketable. In writing the paper I’d be sure to use lots of quotes from the song and maybe some references to bios of the band or an article where they talk about writing the song, or perhaps I would want to write about the reception of the song (especially relevant if you wrote about something that was either a smash hit or was controversial and were trying to explain why – the reaction to it gives valuable insight into what the song is really about). One of the possible pitfalls of this paper is to get too sucked into talking about the song and leaving out the sociology; another is not talking about the song enough and in a specific enough way for it to anchor your paper. Try to avoid both of those problems. If you want to write about a song that may not quite fit these directions let us know and we can help you figure out if it will work. If you do this paper include at the end a copy of the song’s lyrics. They do not count towards the paper’s word count. Alternate: If you want to do this same assignment but modify it to allow you to talk about something related to art or poetry that is fine. Be in touch if you want to work out any of the details.
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