February Group Writing: Advice from Popular Culture

 

From Hollywood to kids’ cartoons, to sappy inspirational Facebook posts, entertainment culture is full of advice on how to live our lives. Imagine the consequences of taking this wisdom seriously. Actually, you don’t need to imagine: our culture is littered with living examples of men and women who embraced the subtle and not-so-subtle popular messages. Still, it would be interesting to flip through a book called A Year of Living Hollywood. Here is some of the most common propaganda of social media, celebrities, and movies:

1. Follow your heart. This pretty saying comes first because it’s our culture’s favorite. I remember years ago asking a wise older friend for advice about getting married, and this is what she said to me, very tenderly though: Follow your heart. I was confused. My very problem was that I had followed my heart, and it wasn’t getting me anywhere. What I needed was some sensible input, help weighing up the pros and cons and identifying flags of all hues in this relationship.

For big decisions, we need more than a heart: we need a compass. Our hearts are like the weather: changeable, vulnerable to all sorts of variables. The compass helps guide us through the weather. Prime casualties of this heart-following philosophy are young women who are drawn to bad-boy types and then fall in love. Being in love leads them through a string of bad decisions, and then they are dealing with the fallout for the rest of their lives.

2. You can be anything you want to be.  Um, no, you can’t. Just watch a few minutes of American Idol, and you’ll see this isn’t so. You might dream of being a great singer, and even get on TV, but most of us are just not entertainers. Even intensive singing and dancing lessons, makeovers, and special diets wouldn’t help us in that cutthroat world. Same with becoming president. It takes more than wanting it–we’d actually have to win elections. A more helpful way to frame the concept, although not with the same ring as the original, would be, “You have so many career options available to you.” And that is a wonderful reality.

3. Don’t let anyone get in the way of your dreams. Okay, I get it–grit and determination and everything. Stories of strong-willed men and women who succeeded in spite of social, economic, and physical obstacles are inspiring. Their hard work is to be commended. However, as a general statement, Don’t let anyone get in the way of your dreams could mean that whatever you want, you should have. That others in your life, your community, aren’t important. Sometimes, you should listen to those closest to you, especially when they are saying to you, “About that singing career . . . Don’t quit your day job, honey.” They just might know what they are talking about.

4. Just be you. Well, that depends on what you want to do. If being you means relaxing at a party, smiling, telling your favorite story without worrying about what the listeners will think, it’s great advice. But this bit of popular wisdom has the whiff of relativistic, existential claptrap.

5. Rules are for breaking. Don’t you know the most interesting, accomplished people are all rebels? If they had been compliant angels, we’d never have heard of them. (It’s beginning to sound like whoever came up with all these wise words had a problem with authority. Plus, when I think of men and women I know who broke rules, both their own lives and the lives of their loved ones are all the more messy and complicated for it.)

Someone once said, “No man is an island.” Maybe it came from a Facebook meme? That one with a famous puppet sipping tea. Or the guy with the mustache and beer bottle. Anyway, if you see that quote in your feed, you ought to share it–once you’ve changed “man” to “person,” of course. On second thought, let it be. Rules are for breaking, after all.

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  1. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Sawatdeeka, your advice is wise.  These silly bits of advice (or pseudo philosophy) from popular culture should be thrown in the garbage can.  My god, how many times have we heard that you can be anything you want to be?  Absolute nonsense. Only the most gullible of fools could be taken in by such tomfoolery. 

    The others you mention are just as silly.

    Great post, Sawatdeeka.

    • #1
  2. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Sawatdeeka, your advice is wise. These silly bits of advice (or pseudo philosophy) from popular culture should be thrown in the garbage can. My god, how many times have we heard that you can be anything you want to be? Absolute nonsense. Only the most gullible of fools could be taken in by such tomfoolery.

    The others you mention are just as silly.

    Great post, Sawatdeeka.

    Thank you, Kent!

    • #2
  3. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    But I still like John Donne’s poem!!

    No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
    because I am involved in mankind.
    And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

    Or meditation, or whatever. Also your post.

    • #3
  4. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    These axioms are useful if you are a fictional character – just go through the training montage, roll with the story beats, face down the bully. You will have the admiration of your peers the love of your love interest  attain the coveted prize/position/vindication/lightsaber of your dreams. You might even get to marry a shiny vampire. 

    • #4
  5. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    sawatdeeka: 4. Just be you.

    Yeah, definitely bad advice for anyone under thirty, maybe under eighty. Be a better person. Work at it. Work to control your thought stream and improve it long-term. Anger and similar emotions should not be allowed to rule your thoughts. Your thoughts should lead to calm and peaceful emotions. You have to be creative enough in your thinking to shift your paradigm when it becomes mis-aligned. Don’t “just be you.” Use the powers G-d gave you to become closer to G-d and G-d’s understanding of the world.

    • #5
  6. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Arahant (View Comment):

    sawatdeeka: 4. Just be you.

    Yeah, definitely bad advice for anyone under thirty, maybe under eighty. Be a better person. Work at it. Work to control your thought stream and improve it long-term. Anger and similar emotions should not be allowed to rule your thoughts. Your thoughts should lead to calm and peaceful emotions. You have to be creative enough in your thinking to shift your paradigm when it becomes mis-aligned. Don’t “just be you.” Use the powers G-d gave you to become closer to G-d and G-d’s understanding of the world.

    Arahant, I like everything you say here. You sound like a wise guy.  Wait, that doesn’t sound right.  How about, “You sound like a guy who is wise.”  Ah, that’s better. 

    I’ll try to take your advice. 

    • #6
  7. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member
    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw
    @MattBalzer

    Arahant (View Comment):

    sawatdeeka: 4. Just be you.

    Yeah, definitely bad advice for anyone under thirty, maybe under eighty. Be a better person. Work at it. Work to control your thought stream and improve it long-term. Anger and similar emotions should not be allowed to rule your thoughts. Your thoughts should lead to calm and peaceful emotions. You have to be creative enough in your thinking to shift your paradigm when it becomes mis-aligned. Don’t “just be you.” Use the powers G-d gave you to become closer to G-d and G-d’s understanding of the world.

    I don’t know. I feel like I’d be better if I had a montage or two.

    • #7
  8. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw (View Comment):
    I feel like I’d be better if I had a montage or two.

    I would post the appropriate clip from Team America, but I don’t think it passes CoC muster.

    • #8
  9. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member
    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw
    @MattBalzer

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw (View Comment):
    I feel like I’d be better if I had a montage or two.

    I would post the appropriate clip from Team America, but I don’t think it passes CoC muster.

    I think it might be the only thing in the movie that does.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFrMLRQIT_k

    At least to my viewing.

    • #9
  10. OkieSailor Member
    OkieSailor
    @OkieSailor

    Discover what you are good at. Find a way or ways to use that gift/strength to serve others and make a living. Be happy with who and what y0u are.
    That’s how I advised my kids to be successful and content though not necessarily RICH.
    Oh, and pay no attention to the ‘advice’ offered by Hollywood and popular music, it’s balderdash.

    • #10
  11. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    OkieSailor (View Comment):
    Oh, and pay no attention to the ‘advice’ offered by Hollywood and popular music, it’s balderdash.

    • #11
  12. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Arahant (View Comment):

    OkieSailor (View Comment):
    Oh, and pay no attention to the ‘advice’ offered by Hollywood and popular music, it’s balderdash.

    Even a blind hog finds an acorn now and then.

    • #12
  13. OkieSailor Member
    OkieSailor
    @OkieSailor

    Arahant (View Comment):

    OkieSailor (View Comment):
    Oh, and pay no attention to the ‘advice’ offered by Hollywood and popular music, it’s balderdash.

    Umhmmm. How far back did you have to go to find a clip that makes good sense? I was referring to recent movies/magazines/web sites, not including Ricochet of course.

    • #13
  14. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    sawatdeeka: 2. You can be anything you want to be.  Um, no, you can’t.

    The reality of this advice is best illustrated by a poster from Despair, Inc:

    • #14
  15. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    sawatdeeka: Just be you.

    But what if you’re an [redacted]?

     

    • #15
  16. Songwriter Inactive
    Songwriter
    @user_19450

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    sawatdeeka: Just be you.

    But what if you’re an [redacted]?

    Exactly. And Ted Bundy was just being the best murdering psychopath he could possibly be.

    • #16
  17. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Authenticity is overrated. Most of us do the world a favor by concealing our true selves.

    I recall a funny birthday card I almost bought for a friend. On the cover an unattractive drunk is sitting at a bar and tells the bartender “Somebody stole my identity but the joke’s on him because I’m an a$$hole.”

    • #17
  18. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    Authenticity is overrated.

    Yes, but if you can fake authenticity you have it made.

    • #18
  19. Susan in Seattle Member
    Susan in Seattle
    @SusaninSeattle

    For so many reasons, this is a great post.  Thank you!

    • #19
  20. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    How about, “It’s not about YOU! They’ve only fed the narcissist in everyone and the rest of us suffer at their arrogance. Sheesh!

    • #20
  21. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    How about, “It’s not about YOU! They’ve only fed the narcissist in everyone and the rest of us suffer at their arrogance. Sheesh!

    Susan you must be doing it wrong. If you even notice other people much less “suffer at their arrogance” then your inner narcissist is grossly underfed. Now, can we get back to talking about moi ?

    • #21
  22. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    How about, “It’s not about YOU! They’ve only fed the narcissist in everyone and the rest of us suffer at their arrogance. Sheesh!

    Susan you must be doing it wrong. If you even notice other people much less “suffer at their arrogance” then your inner narcissist is grossly underfed. Now, can we get back to talking about moi ?

    Hey, I’m all for people stroking my ego. Yours? Meh . . .

    • #22
  23. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    OkieSailor (View Comment):

    Discover what you are good at. Find a way or ways to use that gift/strength to serve others and make a living. Be happy with who and what y0u are.
    That’s how I advised my kids to be successful and content though not necessarily RICH.
    Oh, and pay no attention to the ‘advice’ offered by Hollywood and popular music, it’s balderdash.

    ‘Rich’ is a social construct. 

    • #23
  24. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    How about, “It’s not about YOU! They’ve only fed the narcissist in everyone and the rest of us suffer at their arrogance. Sheesh!

    You can’t talk to me that way, I’m a star – and you’re nothing but a glorified extra. I cannot work under these conditions. Someone tell the director I’ll be in my trailer. ~sob~ 

    • #24
  25. OkieSailor Member
    OkieSailor
    @OkieSailor

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    Authenticity is overrated.

    Yes, but if you can fake authenticity you have it made.

    Sincerity is everything. Once you’ve learned to fake that you’ve got it made :>)

    • #25
  26. Kay of MT Inactive
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    Thank goodness for Ricochet, as this morning I am finding so many hilarious posts, and getting my daily laughs.

    • #26
  27. GFHandle Member
    GFHandle
    @GFHandle

    I attended nearly forty graduation exercises at a community college.  I heard the word “dream” more than forty times. I heard the word “truth” just once, from a visitor from a local Catholic college. It’s not just popular culture infested with this toxic feel-good pap.

    • #27
  28. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    TBA (View Comment):
    Someone tell the director I’ll be in my trailer. ~sob~ 

    It’s called a tent in a homeless encampment.

    • #28
  29. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    GFHandle (View Comment):

    I attended nearly forty graduation exercises at a community college. I heard the word “dream” more than forty times. I heard the word “truth” just once, from a visitor from a local Catholic college. It’s not just popular culture infested with this toxic feel-good pap.

    “Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.” – Robert Kennedy 

    “Geez, where to start?” – Real Life 

    • #29
  30. Jon1979 Inactive
    Jon1979
    @Jon1979

    Peter Bogdonovich (with writer Buck Henry) in 1972 was already snarking at sappy Hollywood inspirational lines, when he gave Ryan O’Neal this one to say to Barbara Streisand at the end of “What’s Up, Doc?” (as a direct rebuke by the director to the same line in “Love Story”):

    • #30
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