Beyond Reviews: Writing Pop Culture Personal Essays

Tabitha Blankenbiller, Writer of things that are true. But stretched.

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8 Lessons (46m)
    • 1. Intro to Pop Culture Writing

    • 2. Project Overview: Writing a Pop Culture Response

    • 3. Connecting to Pop Culture: Plots and Characters

    • 4. Essay #1: Elizabeth Ellen's "By the Sea" Review

    • 5. Essay #2: Mallory Ortberg's "Big Bang Theory" Essay

    • 6. Essay #3: Tabitha Blankenbiller's "Sailor Moon/Star Wars" Essay

    • 7. Tips on Publishing Pop Culture Writing

    • 8. Final Thoughts


Project Description

Writing a Cultural Response Personal Essay


Arielle Bernstein's Pop Culture Essay Collection:

My True Detective Pop Culture Essay:

Essay #1, Elizabeth Ellen's "A Review of 'By the Sea,' Or, How to Be an Artist and Female, i.e. How to Be Unlikable, or How to (Not) Pander"

Essay #2, Mallory Ortberg's "The Big Bang Theory (Or Feelings I Forgot I Had About Feelings For Straight Girls And Bad TV)"

Essay #3, Tabitha Blankenbiller's "The Slow Fall of the Hot Heroine"


We all respond to culture. This is what keeps us binging all night on our favorite new show, or secretly flipping through tabloids in the grocery store line. Stories compel us in positive and negative ways. Culture doesn’t exist inside a vacuum, and when we watch or listen to work created by others, it triggers emotions, memories and connections that are unique to our own life experiences.

In writing this essay, we’re going to go beyond a simple review of a TV show or movie. We’re going to connect the experience of emotional investment in culture with a personal experience to dive into the cultural work AND our own lives deeper.

  1. Start by determining the most recent TV show or movie that triggered a strong response from you. It doesn’t have to be the last show/movie you loved; if you had an extremely negative response, that’s worth exploring as well. Before you begin your essay, it may be helpful to rewatch the media again for a refresher.
  2. How did the narrator or character’s experiences speak to your own? In what ways were they different? Did you feel represented in the story told, or did you notice a perspective that was missing? Can you fill in a blind spot?
  3. What themes did the work deal with that especially interested you? How do they relate to the greatest obsessions and struggles in your own life? Example: I watched the first episode of HBO’s The Leftovers, a show about 2% of the world’s population suddenly vanishing in a rapture-like event, while I was on a bus moving away from my home during an unexpected, overnight turn of events. The show hit me in the gut in a way that was uniquely heartbreaking.
  4. What does this show/movie/album reflect about our world, in either positive, negative or obtuse ways? How have you dealt with these facets in your own life?

By brainstorming with these questions, and using the examples we discussed in class, write a 1000-1500 word essay tying a unique personal experience with the plot, theme and/or characters in the work. Remember to use as little overall summary as possible, and instead focus on specific examples and poignant details. Don’t worry if people have watched or seen what you’re talking about. Focus on your experience and it will be powerful enough to convey your message AND inspire your readers to check out the pop culture they’re missing out on!

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