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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29 thoughts on “Advice from Popular Culture”

  1. This is all excellent life advice: a splash of cold water in the face many folks urgently need, especially the younger ones who have not had time to learn lessons through experience.

    Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other. [Franklin]

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  2. All of these are a buncha Hallmark-y claptrap.  But especially “Follow your heart” and “Just be you”.

    You don’t “follow” your heart, any more than you “follow” some kidnapper who drags you off and holds you for ransom and forces you to say things you never would voluntarily say!  Your “heart” is either your captor, or, (as I think you’re saying,) it is a completely feckless  and unreliable mime , popping up in your path and mugging extravagantly; it doesn’t lead you, in this guise; it waylays you.  And those two personae are the only two in which the “heart” can manifest.

    And, no sooner do you hear “just be yourself”, than panic sets in, for any thoughtful individual!  Who is “myself”? Where’d she go, she was here a minute ago? !  What would do if “I” were me?   Who or what is saying “I” anyway?

    No, I admire the various ladies who have, over the years, penned advice under the pseudonym  “Dear Abby”.  You don’t ask your “heart”, or waste time trying to contact  your “self”; you ask your brain—that’s what it’s for:  “Am I better off with him, or without him?”

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  3. Speaking of “advice from popular culture”, has anybody been following what has happened to Jordan Petersen?  He went on an anti-anxiety drug when his wife got breast cancer, got addicted, and had to check into a rehab facility .

    I reckon standing up straight and petting stray cats are not, after all, a panacea for all of life’s ills.

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  4. Perhaps the hardest thing to visualize and address is – yourself. Not who you think you are, nor who the sycophants around you claim you are, but who you are in real life. There is no mirror that shows you just who you are nor demonstrates to you the moral compass that you have but don’t always recognize, choose to ignore, or wish to pay the price of listening to. So we get back to Dr. L’s comment about experience. The most succinct statement of that I heard a long time ago during pilot training.

    ”Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement.”

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  5. Hypatia:
    Speaking of “advice from popular culture”, has anybody been following what has happened to Jordan Petersen?  He went on an anti-anxiety drug when his wife got breast cancer, got addicted, and had to check into a rehab facility .

    I reckon standing up straight and petting stray cats are not, after all, a panacea for all of life’s ills.

    I have been following Jordan Peterson and the limited news about his difficulties. The first I ever heard of Jordan Peterson was something Dime put up on Ratburger. I think the guy is brave, honest, intelligent, and insanely conscientious. I think all of his advice is good (if mostly somewhat obvious) and nothing like “follow your heart” or “be yourself.” Somebody said it’s the duty of conservatives to constantly restate the obvious, and that is sort of what he has done.  Quite sure he never said standing up straight and petting cats are a panacea for life’s ills.  I think he said life is suffering but you can choose to face it head on and take worthwhile risks….and I think it’s fair to say he did that himself.

    I hope he and his wife both recover.

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  6. John Walker:
    Charles Murray’s short book, The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead, provides an abundance of Lindy-tested wisdom about life and careers, especially for young people entering the workplace for the first time and encountering very different incentives and expectations from their experience in with family, friends, and school.  The Amazon page for the book contains a long excerpt which gives a sense of what it’s like.

    “Who hired that ?”

    Hahahaha

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  7. Jojo:

    Hypatia:
    Speaking of “advice from popular culture”, has anybody been following what has happened to Jordan Petersen?  He went on an anti-anxiety drug when his wife got breast cancer, got addicted, and had to check into a rehab facility .

    I reckon standing up straight and petting stray cats are not, after all, a panacea for all of life’s ills.

    I have been following Jordan Peterson and the limited news about his difficulties. The first I ever heard of Jordan Peterson was something Dime put up on Ratburger. I think the guy is brave, honest, intelligent, and insanely conscientious. I think all of his advice is good (if mostly somewhat obvious) and nothing like “follow your heart” or “be yourself.” Somebody said it’s the duty of conservatives to constantly restate the obvious, and that is sort of what he has done.  Quite sure he never said standing up straight and petting cats are a panacea for life’s ills.  I think he said life is suffering but you can choose to face it head on and take worthwhile risks….and I think it’s fair to say he did that himself.

    I hope he and his wife both recover.

    Some people seem to enjoy piling on Jordan Peterson, kicking him when he’s down. It’s cowardly, mean-spirited, and cruel. I never was much of a fan of Peterson’s but he appeared to be helping some of his followers, especially younger folks, so good on him for that. He always seemed a bit weird to me; then again, I’m not his target audience.

    I liked your quote, “it’s the duty of conservatives to constantly restate the obvious.” There’s truth and wisdom in it. Peterson’s restating of the obvious was probably my most significant, albeit misguided, critique of him.

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  8. drlorentz:

    Jojo:

    Hypatia:
    Speaking of “advice from popular culture”, has anybody been following what has happened to Jordan Petersen?  He went on an anti-anxiety drug when his wife got breast cancer, got addicted, and had to check into a rehab facility .

    I reckon standing up straight and petting stray cats are not, after all, a panacea for all of life’s ills.

    I have been following Jordan Peterson and the limited news about his difficulties. The first I ever heard of Jordan Peterson was something Dime put up on Ratburger. I think the guy is brave, honest, intelligent, and insanely conscientious. I think all of his advice is good (if mostly somewhat obvious) and nothing like “follow your heart” or “be yourself.” Somebody said it’s the duty of conservatives to constantly restate the obvious, and that is sort of what he has done.  Quite sure he never said standing up straight and petting cats are a panacea for life’s ills.  I think he said life is suffering but you can choose to face it head on and take worthwhile risks….and I think it’s fair to say he did that himself.

    I hope he and his wife both recover.

    Some people seem to enjoy piling on Jordan Peterson, kicking him when he’s down. It’s cowardly, mean-spirited, and cruel. I never was much of a fan of Peterson’s but he appeared to be helping some of his followers, especially younger folks, so good on him for that. He always seemed a bit weird to me; then again, I’m not his target audience.

    I liked your quote, “it’s the duty of conservatives to constantly restate the obvious.” There’s truth and wisdom in it. Peterson’s restating of the obvious was probably my most significant, albeit misguided, critique of him.

    Stand up straight and pet stray cats are rules 1 and 12 in Peterson’s 12 Rules  book.
    But yes, I wish Mr and Mrs.P. well, too. I really don’t have any brief for or against him, cep’n I like his refusal to give up gender specific pronouns. So don’t let this sidetrack the post!

    I think Sawatdeeka’s point is that platitudes, as is to be expected, are flat and shallow.

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  9. John Walker:
    Charles Murray’s short book, The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead, provides an abundance of Lindy-tested wisdom about life and careers, especially for young people entering the workplace for the first time and encountering very different incentives and expectations from their experience in with family, friends, and school.  The Amazon page for the book contains a long excerpt which gives a sense of what it’s like.

    Murray mentions that AEI had “…tips for interns and entry-level staff on grammar and English usage.” That strikes me as odd given that these individuals were likely college graduates. How did they get through school? Come to think of it, that applies to many of the topics addressed in his book.

    Unlike Mr Murray, I’m not a closeted curmudgeon. I’m out, loud and proud. If those whippersnappers don’t like it, that’s just a bunch of malarkey. And they can get off my lawn.

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  10. Hypatia:
    I think Sawatdeeka’s point is that platitudes, as is to be expected, are flat and shallow.

    I agree with Sawatdeeka’s point and also find merit in JoJo’s point about the need to restate the obvious, especially for those who have less life experience. What’s obvious to an older person may not be so to a late teen or young adult. Peterson’s and Murray’s advice is directed at younger folks.

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  11. Hypatia:
    I think Sawatdeeka’s point is that platitudes, as is to be expected, are flat and shallow.

    You could hardly find a less-platitudinous, less popular culture source of outstanding, life-affirming, responsibility-building advice than JP.

    I’m assuming that you have been exposed to more of the pop-culture negative opinion sources on him rather than exposed to the man and his works proper.  I selected — with you in mind — this video which I think you will find entertaining enough to justify its length, and substantial enough to see why people get touchy about JP.

    There are weak-minded fools everywhere, and some of them like Peterson, and say stupid things.  Let the man speak for himself.  He did write a book after all, which I have listened to many times over.  I’ll put up a separate post on JP.

    Meanwhile, here’s this.  My guess is that this is not at all what Sawatdeeka had in mind when she spoke of platitudes from poop-culture — I was certainly surprised to see the connection drawn, and frankly would like to erase it.    I hope that you do watch it.  I think you will like it.

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  12. John Walker:
    Charles Murray’s short book, The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead, provides an abundance of Lindy-tested wisdom about life and careers, especially for young people entering the workplace for the first time and encountering very different incentives and expectations from their experience in with family, friends, and school.

    Throughout, Murray argues that what are often disdained as clichés are simply the accumulated wisdom of hundreds of generations of massively parallel trial and error search of the space of solutions of human problems, and that we ignore them at our peril. This is the essence of conservatism—valuing the wisdom of the past. 

    And when you get a tattoo or piercing, consider how it will look when you’re seventy.

    Bingo! I’m in the middle of Human Diversity right now, but this book sounds like a collectible indeed to sit alongside The Bell Curve, Coming Apart and Real Education in my home library. The thing that attracts me most to Murray is that he uses scientific data to support societal harmony/prosperity and  plain ole common sense.

    He is an unusual author for daring to make these connections.

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  13. drlorentz:

    Haakon Dahl:
    I think you will like it.

    What’s not to like, right? The more interesting question is, why does Peterson trigger so many people, especially leftists?

    That would be interesting if you were studying what triggers Leftists. But I really don’t much care. Not much of anything I hear from the Left makes any sense, and I don’t have enough time left on earth to waste it worrying about triggering the left.

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  14. Devereaux:

    drlorentz:

    Haakon Dahl:
    I think you will like it.

    What’s not to like, right? The more interesting question is, why does Peterson trigger so many people, especially leftists?

    That would be interesting if you were studying what triggers Leftists. But I really don’t much care. Not much of anything I hear from the Left makes any sense, and I don’t have enough time left on earth to waste it worrying about triggering the left.

    Leftists need no inspiration; they self-trigger.

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  15. Haakon Dahl:

    Hypatia:
    I think Sawatdeeka’s point is that platitudes, as is to be expected, are flat and shallow.

    You could hardly find a less-platitudinous, less popular culture source of outstanding, life-affirming, responsibility-building advice than JP.

    I’m assuming that you have been exposed to more of the pop-culture negative opinion sources on him rather than exposed to the man and his works proper.  I selected — with you in mind — this video which I think you will find entertaining enough to justify its length, and substantial enough to see why people get touchy about JP.

    There are weak-minded fools everywhere, and some of them like Peterson, and say stupid things.  Let the man speak for himself.  He did write a book after all, which I have listened to many times over.  I’ll put up a separate post on JP.

    Meanwhile, here’s this.  My guess is that this is not at all what Sawatdeeka had in mind when she spoke of platitudes from poop-culture — I was certainly surprised to see the connection drawn, and frankly would like to erase it.    I hope that you do watch it.  I think you will like it.

    I didn’t realize petting  the cat was a metaphor for seeking moments of sensual pleasure even in the midst of overwhelming grief or sorrow.

    I guess that’s good advice, but I’m not sure  it’s possible.

    At moments or days or months of all-consuming grief, can  you take pleasure in anything?  At such times in  my life, I felt that if the situation didn’t resolve favorably, the person who would  once have taken pleasure in such things was gone.  Dead.  And good riddance to the foolish deluded creature!

    still, it’s aspirational.  I’m sorry I brought JP up; I had just read about him very recently, it came to mind.  Consider it erased. Please. Thanks.

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  16. EThompson:

    Devereaux:

    drlorentz:

    Haakon Dahl:
    I think you will like it.

    What’s not to like, right? The more interesting question is, why does Peterson trigger so many people, especially leftists?

    That would be interesting if you were studying what triggers Leftists. But I really don’t much care. Not much of anything I hear from the Left makes any sense, and I don’t have enough time left on earth to waste it worrying about triggering the left.

    Leftists need no inspiration; they self-trigger.

    Because they are half-cocked!

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  17. drlorentz:

    Haakon Dahl:
    I think you will like it.

    What’s not to like, right? The more interesting question is, why does Peterson trigger so many people, especially leftists?

    I think the thing that originally got him crossways with the Left was saying that you will have a better life if you take responsibility for your own actions and attitudes and not blame your acts and attitudes on others, which came with the suggestion that getting “triggered” was the opposite of good behavior.

    Then he ramped things up significantly by suggesting that males should embrace manliness rather than ambiguity.

    And then he really capped things off by refusing to use weird neologisms for pronouns.

    Jordan Peterson is not my cup of tea, but he deserves his hero status on the right for refusing to kowtow to Leftist blather.

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

    That was always a crazy extrapolation.   It came out of the ancient wisdom that encouraged us to perseverance; that you could do things you had thought impossible if you persevere.  That got laundered through romance into something unrecognizable.

    Pop culture embraces romance.

    Romance is bad.   Romance is emotional porn.   It gives you wrongheaded ideas of all sorts.

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