Publish at June 08 2020 Updated January 26 2023

Pop culture as a way to learn philosophy

How, with the help of Claude François or Star Wars, can we introduce philosophers and their thoughts?

Philosophy is a very dense universe to approach for young people. Because it includes many thinkers who have totally different views on human experience, existence, etc. Presented in this way, it can seem so dry that few will have the courage to go beyond this impression. However, going to discover this universe is of an unsuspected richness since everything that surrounds it touches on some philosophical school. This includes consumed cultural works as well...

Pop goes the philo

This is why some have decided to approach themes and philosophers from elements of popular culture. This "pop philosophy" has seen a growing interest with series such as Game of Thrones which, in addition to immense popularity, has dealt with multiple strong philosophical themes without the viewers necessarily being aware of it. Frédéric Duriez had already, in this article, given an idea how this story and its characters led to various worldviews. In it, he will quote Marianne Chaillan, probably the most interviewed professor in the French media. The one who started this "pop philo" by using Jean-Jacques Goldman to talk about David Hume has become a leading authority on this approach to philosophy.

She even wrote a book solely focused on Game of Thrones in order to address all the themes that were dealt with during the series. For her, dividing culture and its more popular counterpart is absurd because there are as many nuggets of thought in Harry Potter as there are in Émile Zola. There appear, in well-known songs, lyrics specific to Nietzsche in Florent Pagny or Marx in Claude François. In this interview on RTL, she reminds us that fans of J.K. Rowling's Wizard and Disney's animated adventure "The Lion King" have been treated to a heartfelt exposition of stoicism with Rised's Mirror or the melody Hakuna Matata.

Or, she's not alone in this approach. Increasingly, humanities scholars are looking at her connections between beloved mainstream works and various philosophies. Many see Game of Thrones (again) as a milieu where different doctrines intersect.

Whether it's Plato's ideal, the baseness of Machiavelli's Prince, or even Kant in the morality of duty, it thus stands as an extremely fertile ground for dealing with philosophical themes. Another pop culture monument, Star Wars, also offers interesting themes. For Gilles Vervisch, author of the book "Star Wars, la philo contre-attaque", the science fiction saga arouses fascination given the political, religious, technical and identity questions it poses. For example, contrary to many Eastern and Western philosophers who assert that the path of good is the path to happiness, Star Wars poses an almost opposite observation. Instead, evil, the dark side seems more appealing at times and difficult to resist for those on the light side of the Force.

In Quebec, the question of irony in relation to certain elements of pop culture such as country music or wolf-themed sweaters. Yet this leads some to reflect; for example, a Gilles Deleuze would have had no problem wearing this type of vest without irony, which he saw as inward and cruel laughter and not reaching out to the other, the one who finds it beautiful.

Implanting it in class

In fact, even the writers of successful series are aware of the philosophical themes in their work. In fact, the creator of the comedy "The Good Place" discussed philosophy with arts and humanities students at the University of Notre Dame. Some feel that in a world that is sharply divided ideologically, pop culture has allowed a "certain" rapprochement or at least a way to address the divisions.

For philosophy professors, then, it becomes a very interesting channel for dealing with the various themes decided upon in a course. To do this, like this American, one must then prepare well the extracts of films, series, novels, songs according to the themes. They can serve as examples illustrating the theory or as pretexts for exercises. They will have to answer one or more questions based on the knowledge acquired. During the final assignment, he even allowed his students to use any pop culture excerpt to develop a philosophical argument or to make an artistic creation.

Besides, YouTube can be a great source not only of excerpts but also of reflections. Those fluent in English can visit Wisecrack, a channel that has combined pop culture and philosophy for years. Or, for an introduction to philosophy, they could use this vignette from a French videographer who flies over various philosophers (omitting the Middle Ages, though) and summarizes their work in a principle, slipping in, among other things, references to Star Wars or The Matrix, another blockbuster work that has never hidden its philosophical subtexts:

So, it seems that pop culture is, indeed, a superb avenue for addressing many philosophical theories dating from antiquity to those of the 20th century. For the teaching profession, here is a huge pool of realizations that can be used to captivate learning minds.

Illustration: Andrew Martin from Pixabay


Arvan, Marcus. "Teaching a Pop-culture Philosophy Course." The Philosophers' Cocoon. Last updated on May 23, 2019.

Bollon, Patrice. "Game of Thrones, A Coronation For Philosophy?" The New Literary Magazine. Last updated July 3, 2019.

"How to Philosophize With Disney Or Game of Thrones?" Last updated April 2, 2020.

Duriez, Frederic. "Philosophy, Humanities And Pop Culture: The Unexpected Alliance." Thot Cursus. Last updated on October 28, 2019.

Fradet, Pierre-Alexandre. "Le Devoir De Philo - Pour En Finir Avec L'ironie : La Pop Philosophie." Le Devoir. Last updated April 27, 2013.

Gauthier, Richard. "Gilles Vervisch For His Book "Star Wars, La Philo Contre- Attaque, La Saga Décryptée." France Bleu. Last updated: October 22, 2019.

Paillardet, Pascal. "Through 'Pop Philo', Learn You Can!" La Last updated September 25, 2019.

"Pop Culture and Philosophy Converge As The Good Place Creator Mike Schur Visits Arts and Letters Classes." University of Notre Dame. Last updated September 25, 2019.

"Pop Philosophy With Marianne Chaillan." France Inter. Last updated January 20, 2020.

"When Star Wars Explains Philosophy." The First. Last updated October 22, 2019.

Scholtes, Peter S. "In a Decade That Divided Us, Pop Culture Sided with Humanity." Star Tribune. Last updated January 3, 2020.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "How Game of Thrones Embraced the Platonic Ideal." Newswise. Last updated May 24, 2019.

See more articles by this author




Access exclusive services for free

Subscribe and receive newsletters on:

  • The lessons
  • The learning resources
  • The file of the week
  • The events
  • The technologies

In addition, index your favorite resources in your own folders and find your history of consultation.

Subscribe to the newsletter

Add to my playlists

Create a playlist

Receive our news by email

Every day, stay informed about digital learning in all its forms. Great ideas and resources. Take advantage, it's free!