Pop Culture and Politics: Engaging Students in American Government through Art, Music, and Film

Laura Merrifield Wilson
University of Indianapolis
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA


Strategically and thoughtfully employing popular culture in teaching political science can enable students to better understand, analyze, and relate to the material. In a discipline that can be viewed by students as too boring, too distant, and too polarizing, the use of relevant music, TV/film clips, toys, memes, and other popular culture artifacts can engage otherwise unengaged students in a meaningful way. This paper argues that using popular culture in teaching political science can demonstrate relevance, serve as a generational translator, expose the bias of experience, and enable an expression of self. In demonstrating relevance, popular culture makes material fresh and applicable for students; by operating as a generational translator, the material transcends the time in which it originated; biased experiences are exposed through popular culture mediums through which students are comfortable projecting new and different ideas that challenge what they already know and believe; finally, students can learn to express themselves in relationship to the material by using these mediums with which they are already familiar but in a new and intentional way. Watching clips from the hit TV show “Parks and Recreation” (2009) can illuminate the complexities of the bureaucracy and the role of regulation in everyday life; likewise, listening to the award-winning Broadway musical “Hamilton” (2015) with clever lyrics regaling the debates of federalism demonstrate the passion and ideas behind such constitutional conflicts. This paper first provides an overview that establishes the value of applying popular culture specifically to political science pedagogy before reviewing the relevant literature. It then charts the four ways in which popular culture can be beneficial to teaching and learning political science, concluding with a larger analysis of the advantages and potential for such approaches.

Keywords: political science, politics; government, TV/Film, music, memes, cartoons, popular culture

Author Bio 

Laura Merrifield Wilson is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the Assistant Director of the Strain Honors College at the University of Indianapolis. Her research specializations include American political behavior, campaigns and elections, and politics in popular culture. She hosts and produces “Positively Politics” on WICR 88.7 “The Diamond” as well as serves as a regular political analyst and commentator in various news outlets. She believes politics is important and should be accessible and easy enough for anyone to meaningfully engage. Wilson completed her Bachelors in Theatre (2008) and Masters in American Politics (2010) from Ohio University and her Masters in Women’s Studies (2014), Masters in Public Administration (2012), and PhD in Political Science (2014) from the University of Alabama. 

Recommended Citation


Wilson, Laura M. “Pop Culture and Politics: Teaching American Government through Art, Film, and Music”. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy. vol. 7, no. 3. http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v7-issue-3/pop-culture-and-politics-engaging-students-in-american-government-through-art-music-and-film/


Wilson, L. (2020). Pop Culture and Politics: Teaching American Government through Art, Film, and Music. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy. 7(3).http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v7-issue-3/pop-culture-and-politics-engaging-students-in-american-government-through-art-music-and-film/

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