Tag Archives: college life

Is It Possible to Be an English Nerd and Love Taylor Swift?

6 Dec

So this semester I was forced by my university to take a literary criticism course.  All English majors must take this course to graduate which is why I was mandated to sit through this nightmare for 15 weeks. I passed with a good grade, but my experience in the classroom was so boring.  I’m not a “theoretical” person so spending large amounts of my life on “would of” “could of”  theories was not pleasant for me.  However, my professor really did try hard to make the coursework relevant to students which leads me to today’s post:

I thought it would be funny to share with you guys my professor’s literary analysis of Taylor Swift’s song “Love Story” through the critical lens of gender studies, deconstruction, Marxism, reader response, and psychoanalysis. Enjoy 🙂

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Taylor Swift, “Love Story”: A Critical Casebook

Text:

Taylor Swift

Love Story

We were both young, when I first saw you.

I close my eyes and the flashback starts-

I’m standing there, on a balcony in summer air.

I see the lights; see the party, the ball gowns.

I see you make your way through the crowd-

You say hello, little did I know…

That you were Romeo, you were throwing pebbles-

And my daddy said “stay away from Juliet”-

And I was crying on the staircase- begging you, “Please don’t go…”

And I said…

Romeo take me somewhere, we can be alone.

I’ll be waiting; all there’s left to do is run.

You’ll be the prince and I’ll be the princess,

It’s a love story, baby, just say yes.

So I sneak out to the garden to see you.

We keep quiet, because we’re dead if they knew-

So close your eyes… escape this town for a little while.

Oh, Oh.

Cause you were Romeo – I was a scarlet letter,

And my daddy said “stay away from Juliet”-

but you were everything to me-

I was begging you, “Please don’t go”

And I said…

Romeo take me somewhere, we can be alone.

I’ll be waiting; all there’s left to do is run.

You’ll be the prince and I’ll be the princess,

It’s a love story, baby, just say yes.

Romeo save me, they’re trying to tell me how to feel.

This love is difficult, but it’s real.

Don’t be afraid, we’ll make it out of this mess.

It’s a love story, baby, just say yes.

Oh, Oh.

I got tired of waiting.

Wondering if you were ever coming around.

My faith in you was fading-

When I met you on the outskirts of town.

And I said…

Romeo save me, I’ve been feeling so alone.

I keep waiting, for you but you never come.

Is this in my head, I don’t know what to think-

He knelt to the ground and pulled out a ring and said…

Marry me Juliet, you’ll never have to be alone.

I love you, and that’s all I really know.

I talked to your dad — go pick out a white dress

It’s a love story, baby just say… yes.

Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh.

’cause we were both young when I first saw you

From Lyrics Mania

Critical Responses:

Gender Studies:

The speaker of “Love Story” imagines herself as an independent young woman.  She chooses the love interest she desires, although her father (the explicit patriarch of the song) demands that the two young lovers “stay away” from each other.  She sees her love as transgressive, not simply of her father’s desires, but of the norms and values of “this town.”  Violating conventional gender types, she is the primary active agent through most of the song, and the boyfriend seems rather passive (she is the pursuer (“just say yes,” he the pursued).  However, the speaker determines her identity entirely in terms of her relation to male figures; a boyfriend is the only means of rebellion against her father, and he is, tellingly, “everything” to her.    The putative happy ending of the song reveals the song’s patriarchal gender dynamics.  The final stanza depicts the father and the lover as actually acting in concert with each other, exposing that the “choice” between lover and father on which the plot of the song was based is an illusion.  In the final stanza, the speaker becomes passive and the boyfriend becomes active (now she is the pursued, he the pursuer).  This return to passivity eliminates the tensions around which the song has been based; it is what makes song’s ending “happy.”  “The speaker’s identity always has and always will be determined by patriarchy; men are truly “everything” to her.

Deconstruction:

On the surface, the song “Love Story” tells a stereotypical tale of idyllic young lovers who triumph over the opposition of their families and their town.  Their love is so compelling, in fact, that it ultimately converts everyone who opposes it.  The father who has functioned as an oppositional figure throughout the song gives his consent by the end, and the lovers who fantasize about “escape” from the area need go no farther than “the outskirts of town” before returning.  However, the song casts itself as a classic “love story” by means of a series of references to classic works of literature that center around a love plot.  These allusions retain traces of their original context that the song cannot wholly suppress; these textual traces serve to unravel the optimistic narrative they were used to construct.  The boy in the song is both explicitly Romeo and implicitly Arthur Dimmesdale (as the speaker is his “scarlet letter”).  In Romeo and Juliet, there is ultimately only one way to “escape from this town for a little while”: suicide.  In The Scarlet Letter, the attempt to rebel against social norms produces for Arthur Dimmesdale only masochistic self-destruction.  By casting the boyfriend as Arthur Dimmesdale, the song suggests the psychic damage that comes with attempting to rebel against social constraints and against one’s socially constructed identity.  The characters in this song do not exist as individuals; they are the products of social forces from which the only real means of escape is death, and in their attempted rebellion they will simply unmake themselves.  The song unconsciously reveals the impotence of the idealized love it purports to celebrate.

Marxist:

The song “Love Story” purports to be anybody’s story, a celebration of individual love with which any teenager could identify.  However, the characters’ individuality is an illusion; they are products of their bourgeois class status.  Their romantic union simply consolidates the class structure to which they belong.  The speaker assumes a world where all women can afford to wear “ball gowns” to fancy parties at reception halls where elaborate “balcon[ies]” are a standard architectural feature.  Moreover, her upper middle class home contains such ostentatious class markers as an external staircase and a carefully landscape garden area.  Each of these traits is emphasized in the song in an almost fetishistic manner.  In a sense in which the song probably does not intend, the speaker really is a “princess” who could make a romantic union only with a “prince.”  The song perhaps unconsciously also reveals the difficulty of escaping interpolation.  In attempting to resist the determination of her identity and emotions by the family I.S.A.—those who are “trying to tell [her] how to feel”—the speaker simply runs into the arms of a man of whom her bourgeois father ultimately (or perhaps secretly) approves.  The song reveals that it is actually impossible to “make it out” of the “mess” that is capitalist society; there is no “escape” from interpolation.  The happy ending of the song occurs when the speaker abandons even her largely imaginary resistance to social norms and simply accepts her interpolated identity.

Reader Response:

Marxist critics, feminists, and deconstructionists predictably conclude that “Love Story” reflects and is shaped by class and gender hierarchies and the indeterminate nature of language.  However, each of the schools of thought omits the actual experience of reading the text in favor of mining it for data that supports its predetermined conclusions.  The reader of “Love Story” encounters and shapes a text that is fundamentally a blank or absence.  The couple in the story are devoid of names (other than the literary references that they have ascribed to themselves) and they come from nowhere (no detail betrays the size or location of “this town”).  They possess no physical traits or interests and experience only prototypical setting from teenage life, like prom. What little we know about them comes from references to texts any teenager would encounter in a standard high school reading list: Romeo and Juliet and The Scarlet Letter.  And whatever little we feel that we do know about the characters comes undone as the narrative unfolds.  She is a “scarlet letter” of which he is not ashamed (he “love[s her] and that’s all [he] really know[s]”) and she is a Juliet who marries Romeo. To hear the song is to find what little we know about the characters taken away from us.  They are two star-crossed lovers—except that everyone approves.  Their love is an escape from the town—except that they stay.  But perhaps this process of negation actually accounts for the popularity of the song with its teenage listeners.  In the end, we are left with a title (“Love Story”) that designates a textual blank onto which readers can project themselves without interpretive obstacles.  The song transcends the laws of logical noncontradiction, as it allows teenagers to identify with its narrative whether their own “love stories” are approved of or disapproved of, rebellious or conventional, or involve leaving home or staying.  The song’s absence of content is actually a narrative triumph.

Psychoanalytic

The speaker of “Love Story” exists in a liminal space, in a border area, uncertain how to reconcile the competing demands of loyalty to her father and sexual attraction to her boyfriend.  This tension is minimized in the song’s conclusion but projected strongly in the song’s relatively few concrete images.  Freud reminds us that both houses and gardens are symbols of women, female spaces.  The speaker is suspended on a metaphorical external staircase between the demands of her father (the house of her parents, the familial structures, the superego) and her boyfriend’s summons from the ground (sexual attraction, the id, the desire to go off her pedestal).  She and her boyfriend meet in “the garden,” both a feminine space and a symbol of fertility and sexual desire.  In the next line, the speaker says they must be quiet and they are “dead” if anyone finds out, reflecting a classical Freudian association of sex and death.  The song also implicitly equates sexual desire with the death drive—the only true “escape [from] this town.”  The ending of the song is a fantasy where the demands of the ego, superego, and id are reconciled as the father consents to pass the speaker on to the boyfriend.  However, whether the fantasy can fully resolve the psychic tension depicted in the song remains unseen.  The speaker’s ego never successfully balances the demands of the superego and the id, which must be magically resolved, as via wish fulfillment, by the intervention of external forces.  Underneath a conventional story of young love and marriage, the song depicts the psychic angst of the contemporary teenage girl.

*If you want to use any of the content in this post I beg you to please email me for permission first.  This is not my work, it is my professor’s, and therefore needs to be credited to him.  I did not list his name in the post because I do not wish to give up my location or his.  Please be respectful and follow my request.

Image: Weheartit.com

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