Pop Culture and ‘the Other’

Given the state of the world, as consumers of media, there’s value in mindless entertainment. But we also can use these avenues to understand those who differ from us, who face challenges we cannot imagine. The following can be found on Netflix, Apple Music, Apple Podcasts, Amazon, and YouTube.


What Doesn’t Kill You: A Life with Chronic Illness—Lessons from a Body in Revolt
By Tessa Miller
Spotlight on: The Sick

For the healthy, it is unimaginable that your body could work against you. For the chronically ill, it’s an everyday ordeal. In her book What Doesn’t Kill You, author Tessa Miller guides readers through her diagnosis of Crohn’s disease—from stubborn denial to begrudged acceptance. But it’s the audiobook, read by the author herself, that gives the pain and humor behind her story some added heft. What shines through is how misunderstood the chronically ill are and how it is our duty to walk this journey with them.

Miller reports that three in five Americans suffer from a chronic disease. What Doesn’t Kill You sheds light on a real problem for millions of Americans.


The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
By Mark Haddon
Spotlight on: The Disabled

This peculiar and funny novel from 2003 centers on Christopher Boone, a British 15-year-old with Asperger’s syndrome investigating the murder of his neighbor’s poodle, Wellington. Narrated by Christopher himself, our hero is a math prodigy, deeply intuitive, and challenged by crowds and loud noises. But under the careful watch of author Mark Haddon, Christopher isn’t helpless. Rather, he leans into his fears and limitations—while solving a crime that nobody but he seems to care about.

Uncannily written, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time gives much-needed agency to those diagnosed with Asperger’s. It’s a beautiful read.


The Not Old—Better Show
Spotlight on: The Aged

According to a late 2021 survey, 26 percent of those 55 or above listen to podcasts regularly—and that number is growing. Seniors looking for an impactful podcast that informs and inspires should check out The Not Old—Better Show. “A show for those 50+, by those 50+,” this engaging and informative podcast tackles everything from digestive health to climate change to the golden age of Hollywood.

But what it shows us is that Baby Boomers have interests, trials, and curiosities as varied as their grandchildren. This podcast explores (and sometimes pokes fun at) the joys and challenges of aging.

Culture reviews from St. Anthony Messenger magazine


Spotlight on: The Addicted

Director Elaine McMillion Sheldon packs quite a punch in this documentary short. On the surface, it’s about the opioid epidemic in a working-class West Virginia town. But we quickly learn its true focus is three women on the front lines of it: Jan Rader, a fire chief; Patricia Keller, a judge; and Necia Freeman, an urban missionary. All three women are pitted against a powerful foe: According to a 2022 report by the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, 15.8 percent of the US population qualifies as having an opioid use disorder.

Heroin(e) pays homage to these women fighting the epidemic but wisely shares the spotlight with those in the throes of addiction or new to recovery. And it shows how compassion and love can help an addict at any stage.


Girl, Interrupted
Spotlight on: The Mentally Ill

Long considered by critics (and film elitists) as a lesser One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, 1999’s Girl, Interrupted, based on a true story, is a standout examination of mental illness on its own. Winona Ryder is career-defining as Susanna Kaysen, a young writer who buckles under the weight of mental illness and admits herself into a psychiatric facility in 1967 Massachusetts. There she is helped—and in some cases hindered—by the other patients in the facility.

Mental illness is a risky theme to explore in film. Even with the best material, it can promote scenery-chewing. But the story behind Girl, Interrupted unfolds slowly, quietly. And Ryder lends humanity to her portrayal of a brilliant young woman trying to outrun her demons.


When They See Us
Spotlight on: The Imprisoned

On the evening of April 19, 1989, a White female jogger was raped and left for dead in Central Park. After a hasty investigation and trial, five young men of color would serve time for the crime. But there was one issue no one in authority seemed to care about: The Central Park Five (as they came to be known) were innocent. Writer/director Ava DuVernay—one of the best filmmakers of her generation—weaves together an intricate story of injustice, systemic racism, and healing while giving a voice to the imprisoned.

The United States leads the world in wrongful convictions annually. Thanks to organizations like the Innocence Project, over 2,400 people have been exonerated in this country since 1989. When They See Us, a miniseries of startling honesty and power, tells but a few of these stories.

TED Talk and Carole King's Tapestry

Ted Talk

The Issue of Homelessness
Spotlight on: The Unhoused

A recent study showed that over 553,000 Americans experience homelessness on any given night. Over the past two years, COVID-19 has only worsened the problem. The Issue of Homelessness is TED Talk’s stab at addressing the issue from a high level. The four videos included in this library are short and impactful, particularly writer Becky Blanton’s talk on how depression was a slippery slope into homelessness.

What makes TED Talks time well spent is that the presenters never pander—they bring you into a lived experience. And when that experience is homelessness, it is our obligation to watch.


Spotlight on: The Human Condition

“So far away. Doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?” Carole King croons on her seminal album Tapestry. Who can’t relate to the painful distance—regardless of the circumstance—between you and a loved one? Who hasn’t experienced sadness that lingers longer than it should? King’s 1971 masterpiece still resonates today because she wrote the songs squarely within the confines of the human condition.

Tapestry spent 313 weeks (roughly six years) on the Billboard charts largely because it’s so perfectly relatable, so expertly rendered. And it’s worth a revisit.

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