Landing : Athabascau University

On fielding a press inquiry about how pop culture depicts the oil industry

English professors don't often get press inquiries, but a writer for EnergyWire, an oil business-facing news service, contacted me last week to ask what I think of the video for Justin Bieber's new song "Holy." I haven't seen any story run yet, but here's our exchange (redacted for the journalist's privacy):

Friday, September 18, 2020 at 11:40
Good afternoon, Dr. McCutcheon,
[...] I'm a reporter on the Energywire team at E&E News, based in Washington, D.C. I'm reaching out with a bit of an odd request, but I'm hoping you might be able to help me for a story I'm writing.
I'm looking at the following music video from Justin Bieber and I'm wondering if you might be able to weigh in on the message he could be trying to send here about the state of the oil and gas industry. To what extent do depictions of the oil and gas sector, or energy sector more broadly, play into public perception of the industry? Here's the video: [URL].
If you have any thoughts, please let me know by 8 p.m. (eastern time) today, Sept. 18.
Sincerely, [...]
Friday, September 18, 2020 at 13:57
Dear [...],
Thank you for your inquiry, and for bringing Bieber’s new video to my attention. It’s the latest in a long line of Canadian (or at least Canadian-ivolved) pop culture depictions of the oil business that emphasize both modern society’s dependence on oil and the volatility of that dependence. On first view, the video appears to show a middle-class image of working-class life, in which the shutdown of a US oil field provides the setting for a romantic, multicultural story of love and solidarity in hard times. But what’s intriguing about the Bieber video’s scene of the oil field closure is the boss character’s claim that “there is simply no way that we can keep afloat”: these words resonate with Bieber’s first verse, which is full of water imagery like the line “the way that the sky opens up when we touch.” So the video subtly comments on rising ocean levels and heavy weather, climate-change phenomena that pop culture (like science) has long linked to the oil business.
Thank you again for your inquiry.
Mark A. McCutcheon (he/him)
Professor of Literary Studies
Athabasca University

I suppose I'm sharing this transcript for a few reasons: to be transparent about going on the record (i.e., to publicly document public intellectual work); to illustrate close reading's application to a pop-culture text; and, in case I get quoted in any story that comes of this inquiry, to document the complete context for any such quotation.

Works cited

[Redacted]. Personal e-mail to author, 18 Sept. 2020.

Tilley, Colin, dir. "Holy." Perf. Justin Bieber and Chance the Rapper. Def Jam/UMG, 17 Sept. 2020,



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