Metapop: Self-Referentiality in Contemporary American Popular Culture

Metapop: Self-Referentiality in Contemporary American Popular Culture

Metapop: Self-Referentiality in Contemporary American Popular Culture

Metapop: Self-Referentiality in Contemporary American Popular Culture

Excerpt

When I began writing about country music in 1983, I set out to show that the amazingly popular songs written and performed by country music "outlaws," such as Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Jerry Jeff Walker, were actually about their professional lives in the music business and not about the rugged lives of cowboys or bandits on the lone prairie. While listening to this music, I realized that pop and rock musicians--Leo Sayer, Paul Simon, and Bob Seger--were equally likely to produce songs that were thinly disguised references to themselves and their musical careers. I decided to probe further, hoping to detect some sort of pattern in this self-referentiality.

As usually happens following such a decision, examples began to appear everywhere. Soon, not only the songs I was hearing, but also the films I saw, the comic strips I faithfully followed, and the commercials I watched on television seemed to scream out their self- referentiality. I felt like the character in a sci-fi movie who detects an alien presence that no one else seems able to see. When I voiced my discoveries to others, however, I found that I was not alone. Students, colleagues, relatives, and casual acquaintances might not immediately recognize the term self-referentiality, but everyone seemed familiar with the songs and shows I mentioned, and most were eager to draw other examples to my attention. In a variant on the sci-fi plot, I then began to suspect that everyone knew about self- referentiality in popular culture but for some unspoken reason was keeping mum about it.

Subsequent research demonstrated that this conspiracy of silence was by no means unbroken. Literary critics, including John Barth, Robert Scholes, and Linda Hutcheon, had written very provocatively about the self-referentiality of postmodern metafiction and fabulation. Film critics interested in Federico Fellini and Jean-Luc Godard . . .

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