Myth, Fan Culture, and the Popular Appeal of Liminality
in the Music of u2: A Love Story
Brian Johnston and Susan Mackey-Kallis
(Lexington Books, 2019)
Now available in Paperback!
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 for college classrooms or advanced high school courses: virtual team-teaching and engaged student support.
One of my students once sent an email, during our class meeting actually, to the author of an academic article we were using in Media Studies for a film analysis. The author emailed him back during class and my student shared with us this author's encouraging and constructive email response. I have also had students lose faith in academics when they reach out to an author who curtly responds “buy the book” instead of providing that student with a thoughtful response or gratitude.
Therefore, we invite an engaged, open and ongoing interaction with your students throughout the run of your academic semester by way of a variety of digital communication platforms. If you are thinking of using our book in your classroom, contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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 personal identity, social justice engagement, and community formation-membership. This is familiar territory for both of us. Susan and I have published academic articles on music and music audiences featuring U2 and each of these serve as additional resources for students and courses on music and popular culture:
Mackey-Kallis, Susan. "'How long to sing this song?': The rhetorical vision of U2's "Holy" community." Popular Music and Society. 14.3, 1990: 51-58.
Johnston, Brian."Haunted Spaces: An Examination of Alternative Memorialization Practices via Live Performances of U2's 'Sunday, Bloody Sunday'." Journal of Communications media Studies. Vol. 7, 2015: 29-46.
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."
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 or consultation for working portions or all of of the book into your course. 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 Themes section of this website break down each of these quickly for how we apply them throughout the book. Our theoretical framework is laid out in chapter two, which is likely the most challenging section for more casual readers but is well suited to deeper dives into postmodernity, mythology, ritual and liminal experience for academic readerships.
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 music industry's cultural impact. Geoscience 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. Students majoring in software engineering 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 writing. 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, transmodernity; innovations in recording 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 forced digital download onto Apple phones for 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 impact 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 initial support of An San Suu Kyi, State Counsellor of Myanmar? These are fascinating “wounds” to the band-fan relationship and are great topics for serious discussion in academic classrooms.
Assignments & Creative Projects
We are happy to help you develop assignments and creative projects for your course:
-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
-Close Textual analysis of song lyrics
Faculty Support, Invited Presentations, & Sample Chapters
We are available for virtual and on-sight presentations on topics and research methodologies applied in U2: A Love Story. We can talk to your students about autoethngography in media and popular culture studies, mythic criticism, social justice in popular culture, transmodernity, fan culture studies, and more. Please also reach out if you want more ideas for working our text or one of its chapters into your class offering.
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.