Tag Archives: taylor swift

Your Lyrics Will Be Graded

I’m not a stranger to song/singer analysis.  You’ll recall I had a particularly scathing post about John Mayer a while back, and my friend, Liz, analyzed the nuances (or lack thereof) of Taylor Swift’s character.

As some people know, I am currently studying to become a high school English teacher in Texas.  This involves a lot of repetitive reading about how we should probably focus more on engaging students in school, and less on lecturing at them.  Turns out they learn more if they’re emotionally invested.  Who knew?

Anyway, as a fun activity, I decided to grade a couple songs as if they were student essays.  Starting with Katy Perry’s “Firework.”  Click to enlarge!


I didn’t bother doing the rest of the song because it’s just “Boom boom boom, even brighter than the moon, moon, moon” repeated a bunch of times.

So the thing is that – while that was fun – I haven’t graded any other lyrics.  I was going to do Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” because no one who can easily shake off negative comments goes on to write an entire song about all the “mean” things that are said about them for the world to hear (Irony!).  But that seemed like low-hanging fruit.  Ol’ Tay-Tay’s already suffered our wrath, as you saw above.

This activity left the subject of education knocking around in my brain.  It feels important to get a few things written down, even if they’re obvious.  At the end, as a thank you for reading my wall of text, I have presented you with a drawing of an Ice Chinchilla, which was commissioned by my friend, Liz.

  1. If the goal of schooling is to increase student knowledge and understanding, then the current model is waaaaay off base.  A fifteen-year-old can memorize all the significant dates related to the American Revolution.  S/he can regurgitate facts onto a test and get a good grade, but that does not mean that s/he understands this conflict.  The student likely has no feelings about the American Revolution one way or the other.  Because s/he has learned that the goal of school is to get A’s, not to understand the content.  Along those lines…
  2. Our methods of assessing students are crap.  We live in a country where C is average, but only A’s mean anything.  That means we are pressuring our students to jump through as many hoops as necessary to get top letter marks.  As I said in point 1, this rarely requires genuine understanding.  Just look at the term “Standardized Test.”  It is literally a test that measures students’ abilities to fit into a mold.  At the beginning of the year, all students start with an A in their classes.  The best thing that can happen for them is for their grade to remain exactly the same.  Most likely what will happen is their grade will drop.  This is expected to motivate them.  All I see is a practice in futility, neatly packaged with buzzwords.  “If you don’t do well here, you won’t get into a good college.”  How about this?  How about every student starts with a zero.  Not an F, mind.  A zero.  As they do assignments, they get points.  At the end of the year, the number of points they have can be translated into a letter grade.  It’s not a perfect system, but you’ll notice with this design, the only direction students can go is up.  Instead of losing, they’ll be working to gain.  Every day, every semester, every class.
  3. It turns out that every person learns in a different way.  This means that a significant portion of “Special Ed” students might not need drugs or a psychological diagnosis.  Maybe all they need is someone to approach teaching in a different way.  It’s hard to cater your teaching methods to suit the needs of a fifty-student class, but we can start by abandoning the “Sit still, shut up, and listen” model.  From where I’m sitting, “Special Ed” is a lovely euphemism for “We’ve given up on you.”  That probably does wonders for kids’ self-esteem.
  4. You’ve heard this all before.  Studies that prove kids aren’t learning in school have been coming out for decades.  Kids aren’t learning.  Kids aren’t motivated.  Kids aren’t supposed to be put through test after standardized test.  It’s common knowledge at this point.  As far as I can tell, we as a country have gone, “Oh, look.  Schools are failing our children.  What a shame,” and then moved back to reading the morning paper or whatever.  Just shrug and move on, America.  Your education system is a mess.  Oh, well!  It happens.  Right?  No!  No, damn it!  I have read paper after paper from people saying we’re in the middle of a “paradigm shift” and “we need school reinvention, not school reform.”  (See writing by Ornstein and Hunkins for more details about school reinvention)  By “paradigm shift” do they mean that about 0.5% of the schools in this country have made changes to the way education is accomplished?  That’s not a shift.  That’s not even a blip on the radar.  So why aren’t we seeing real change?  Well, for one, politicians love using education to boost their numbers.  They throw out buzz words, cite the studies that I’ve been reading for my classes, and promise change.  Then they introduce new standardized tests or cut more music programs.  Meanwhile teachers are left floundering in a system that forces them to dish out education like it’s a punishment.
  5. No more complacence.  Educators need to band together.  Families need to support them.  We need a separation of school and state in a lot of ways, because educational policies are being instated by people who have never stood in a classroom full of bored sixth graders.  As an individual, all I can do is try to beat the system one classroom at a time.  And write ineffectual blog posts about it.  Hopefully one day I’ll be able to do more.  If enough individuals decide to make real changes, maybe it’ll have a ripple effect.

I don’t know.

Here’s a chinchilla.

Ice Chinchilla

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Filed under education, Humor, Language, Music, Politics, reading, writing

Taylor Swift, Mary Sue

The long awaited post by Liz is here!  I want you to know that everything from here on is going to be her material, with the exception of the one drawing I did.  Be nice, as this is her first post here.  Any comments you leave will be directed to her, and responded to by her if she deems them worthy.  Without further ado, Liz’s post!

Half of my preposterously superfluous degree is in literary theory. So, today, I thought I’d share two brief examples of the various readings an academic might apply to your writings, should you produce an insanely good book, or an insanely popular waste of arboreal destruction. As an example, I am going to use a poorly written character with whom you are probably familiar:

Taylor “Bubbles” Swift

For those of you unaware, Taylor Swift is the above wooden plank. Critics have called her “charming,” “sweet,” “the girl next door,” just a shrug, and “inoffensive.”* She’s meant to be some sort of musician, but the writer that penned her into existence failed to specify a genre. (Although, from her lyrics we might discern that she sings the sort of Pop that lulls her audience into a false sense of security while she steals their money.) The fact that she’s a musician, however, is an insignificant detail of the character. Now that you’re acquainted with Bubbles, let’s get knee deep in theory!

*Bex said that.

A Feminist Reading:

This would probably be the most troubling analysis. From her dialogue (“I love Karlie Kloss. I want to bake cookies with her!”), to her lyrics (“Abigail gave everything she had to a boy / Who changed his mind and we both cried”), Taylor hardly seems a paragon of gender enlightenment. Her primary preoccupations appear to be boys, the fact that she won’t wear the same dress twice, boys, and hoping that a ghost doesn’t sneak up on her to undo her nose job.

Also: boys. She never refers to her temporary male obsessions as “men.” Unless the 22 year old has a dark secret to share, this implies that the reader is meant to see her as considerably younger than the grown woman she is supposed to be. “But her songs are from the perspective of a teenager!” says nobody whose taste is good enough to be reading this blog. Shut up. I’ll get to that in four seconds.

This infantilization is common in badly written female characters and it sends the message that she is inexperienced, only fulfilled by men (sorry, “boys”), and virginal, to the detriment of virtually any other characterization. In other words, some asshole has written the Christian Right’s perfect woman into existence. It doesn’t matter what age or what level of experience she’s meant to possess; her carefully constructed image and not-so-carefully constructed musical drivel exude a coy yet artificial innocence that is devoid of any relatable personality.

This is not to say that the women you write shouldn’t enjoy baking cookies for boys. Or that they can’t be relationship-obsessed, offensively inoffensively good looking, sexually innocent or void of any complexity. But to do so without any awareness of the  feminist implications makes your character – and the rest of your work – pretty easy to attack from this perspective.

A Freudian Reading:

As you may recall from two paragraphs ago, Taylor is a one-dimensional character with virtually no human fears, aspirations, or anus. This would make it somewhat difficult for a Freudian scholar to reduce the entirety of her mental and emotional existence to her childhood (yes) sexuality.

I kid, of course. Freudian scholars never have trouble with that.

Freud was surprisingly prolific for one so addicted to cocaine and incest, making it impossible to sum up his writings here. For simplicity’s sake, a good place to start this type of analysis is with a simple question: “Why is this character so super depressed about sex?” While the answer may seem obvious (humans sometimes have to do things that are not sex, and that is super depressing), it is
actually quite complex. “But my characters aren’t depressed!” you might shout to nobody who cares or can hear you. Well you are wrong, and probably deeply (subconsciously) concerned about the feelings you exhibit towards breadsticks and your sister.

The root of Taylor Swift’s sexy depression is that she’s made a living by being repressed. And extolling the virtues of said repression. See, the central conflict in her life is murky and variegated, and her lyrics plumb the depths of human existence. Sometimes boys don’t notice her, and she really wants them to notice her. And sometimes, terrible women steal the boys who don’t notice her, or boys
notice her and then stop noticing her.

The point is, her incessant yearning for a four-year-old musical theater fan’s idea of romance is almost disquietingly chaste, and that can only mean that she is repressing her baser urges. To bone, is what I’m saying. I could provide some evidence here in the form of any one of her extremely boring quotes, but I won’t. You get it. She’s a terrible character and you can do better.

Word of the Day: Repression (n) – the ego’s ridding itself of unacceptable desires and ideas by dumping them into unconsciousness.

So that was Liz’s post you guys!  I have nothing to add except that you should read this comic by The Oatmeal.  It’s long but it’s worth it.  It describes my thoughts and my life really well.  I’ve got two comics lined up for my next couple posts, so be sure to check back!  And really don’t forget to thank Liz!  She worked really hard on this.

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