Adopting U2: A Love Story for academic Courses

We invite a new approach to “supplemental” materials traditionally offered in support of an academic book like U2: A Love Story that is adopted for a college classroom or advanced high school course: virtual team-teaching and engaged student support.

 

One of my students once sent an email to the author of an academic article we were using in Media Studies for a short 3-page rhetorical analysis of film. The article’s author emailed him back with an encouraging message, also during that class meeting. Alternately, I have had students lose faith in the field when they reach out to an author and that author curtly responded, “buy the book,” instead of providing that student with a thoughtful response to their question.

 

I invite an engaged, open, and free interaction with your students with me and Susan throughout the run of your academic semester with our book by way of a variety of digital communication platforms. If you are thinking of using our book in your classroom, contact me (johnstb@miamioh.edu) and let’s talk.

Our book takes U2 as its case study for understanding how folks translate their personal experience with an otherwise impersonal and commercialized entertainment medium into their identity, social justice activism, and community formation-membership. This is familiar territory for both of us. Susan and I have published academic articles on music, music performance, and U2, and each of these serve as additional resources for students and courses on music, media studies criticism, and popular culture: 

Susan Mackey-Kallis. (1990). "How long to sing this song?": The rhetorical vision of U2's "Holy" community. In Popular Music and Society.

Brian Johnston. (2015). Haunted Spaces: An Examination of Alternative Memorialization Practices via Live Performances of U2's "Sunday, Bloody Sunday." In Journal of Communications media Studies.

U2: A Love Story is one book in a series -- Communication Perspectives in Popular Culture -- that takes seriously the cultural impact factors associated with popular culture. Series editors Andrew Herrmann and Art Herbig explain the importance of this conspicuous intersection: "The way popular culture helps construct, define, and impact everyday reality must be taken seriously, specifically because popular culture is, simply, popular. Rather than assuming that popular culture is an unimportant place of fantastical make-believe with no impact beyond the screen, this series studies popular culture and what it can tell us about identity, gender, organizations, power, relationships, and numerous other subjects." 

We present here a brief survey of several approaches to applying our book, Myth, Fan Culture, and the Popular Appeal of Liminality in the Music of U2: A Love Story, to your course.  

Suggestions for Framing your Course for U2: A Love Story

 Reach out to us if you would like a sample syllabus for U2: A Love Story, consultation for working portions or all of U2: A Love Story  into your course syllabusUntil then, here are a few ideas for framing your course for U2: A Love Story.

Feature the book’s three main themes of myth, love, and liminality in the context of popular culture. The most challenging aspect of our book is also what lends it not only to a deep read for graduate students and academics, but also a reference for longtime fans and students new to the band.

Take a broad, Music & Popular Culture approach for your course featuring the book as the primary case study. This approach is especially appealing for a mixed-major, or multi-concentration grouping of students who can (1) extrapolate from U2 as a case study to other musicians, or (2) explore their major's niche in the larger industry's cultural impact. Geo-science majors can study the impact of U2's massive tours on the environment, business majors can study the trending consumerism as social justice phenomenon, political science majors can critique U2-sponsored campaigns such as debt forgiveness (Jubilee 2000, ONE campaign), music majors can target albums produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois and their equal parts philosophical and production studio-as-instrument approach to making records; software engineers can study the role of computational, sequencing, and experiments with 3-D and Virtual Reality tech in the production of live performances; theatre majors can re-visit U2 tours such as PopMart and ZooTV for these tours' reliance upon staging, characters, and nostalgia; students with a concentration in journalism can merge cultural studies with music review and criticism; literature and religious scholars can have a field-day mining the archetypes in U2's music and live shows.     

 

Organize the syllabus in a chronological fashion, just like the book -- 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s. Additional themes support those of myth, love, and liminality and speak back to the overall popular culture context: modernity to post-modernity, and then to our envisioning of Transmodernityrecording and performance technologies and how these altered the band-fan relationship—from a U2 video game in the 1980s where fans had to help the band escape from fans to the un-asked-for digital download onto Apple phones of Songs of Innocence (2015).

U2’s unique 40-year history and its commitment to social justice activism also calls to question organizational structures and how changes to those structures affect the relationship between band-fan: What were the economic impact factors for U2 basing its organization in Dublin rather than New York or London, and being a brand who’s show was mostly managed by women for its first 3 decades in a male dominated, bravado-driven rock music culture?

The social justice aspect of U2’s brand is widely recognized, however what about digging deeper into the contradictions which we bring up in our book? The Negativeland scandal comes to mind in addition to the free-forced digital download of their 2015 album; what about the “white savior” movement in Africa that pushes back against entertainment icons and other organizations who monetize their plight either directly or indirectly by brand-boosting? U2’s live shows have garnered great acclaim and have been both groundbreaking and award-winning, however at what cost to the environment as the band transports its massive staging and support structures across the globe? What is the ethical responsibility or dilemma of corporate and entertainment driven social activist campaigns, like Bono's Red Campaign and the band's support of  An San Suu Kyi, State Counsellor of Myanmar? These are fascinating “wounds” to the band-fan relationship and is a great topic for serious discussion in academic classrooms.

Assignments & Creative Projects

We are excited to pass along sample assignments and creative projects based upon material in U2: A Love Story:

-Playing with media erotics

-Myth and Media ecology in the digital era

-The meaning of music listening practices

-Autoethngraphy of fan culture

-Narrative inquiry at the Intersection of Music and Identity

-Music journalism "on the road"

-Close Textual analysis of song lyrics

-Quantitative content analysis of song lyrics

...and more!

Faculty Support, Invited Presentations, & Sample Chapters 

Susan and I are available for virtual and on-sight presentations on topics and research methodologies explored and applied in U2: A Love Story. We can talk to your students about autoethngography and media studies mythic criticism, social justice in popular culture, taking the transmodern turn, fan culture, and more. Please also reach out if you want more ideas for working our text or one of its chapters into your class offering. We can provide more support materials and samples from the book chapters.

Academic and Professional U2 Research and Publications

For a complete bibliography of U2 research and cultural history publications, visit Professor Scott Calhoun's U2 Conference Home. Visit the site's U2 Studies page for over 120 academic articles and books from dozens of professional and academic disciplines. 

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