By Lauren Scott
Upon first thought, one wouldn’t necessarily peg bagpipes as a contrivance of popular culture. However, after research and a careful eye, it is clear that the bagpipes are used in popular reference much more than I’d originally anticipated.
Bagpipes are actually incredibly popular in movies and television! Their influence can be seen in such shows as Saturday Night Live, The Simpsons, South Park, The Three Stooges, Third Rock from the Sun, Rocko’s Modern Life, and How I Met Your Mother. They are also featured in such films as Tommy Boy, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and The Little Rascals. A common bridge between all of these programs is that they are all part of the comedic genre. Bagpipes are used in these shows and movies as both a comedic tool and as a symbol of culture. Whenever the Scots are referenced, there is always a bagpipe gag to back it up. However, this can be seen as a very powerful tool of cultural identity. To have an instrument symbolize a culture so prominently is certainly a cultural phenomenon, and one may see the influence that the bagpipes have on both Scottish culture and the outside perspective on that culture through television.
Other shows that feature the use of bagpipes include E.R., Law and Order, and NYPD Blue. These shows highlight the evolution of bagpipe use from its historical roots to now. Bagpipes were historically used in celebrations and festivals as well as wartime and funerals. However, in modern culture outside of the UK, bagpipe usage dictates mourning. In each of these television shows, the bagpipe is used in a funeral setting and therefore used to stir a feeling of melancholy and remembrance.
Not only may bagpipes be seen on TV, but also on the big screen. Bagpipes are featured in such films as Braveheart, Dead Poet’s Society, and Titanic. Bagpipes may be seen in each of these movies as a symbol of culture (just like the aforementioned comedies), but they display the bagpipes in a more traditional light. In each of these films, the bagpipes are played as a symbol of national identity, bravery, celebration, and mourning. The use of the bagpipe, specifically in the film Titanic, shows the more celebratory and entertaining facet of the instrument that is often ignored in modern reference. The film Braveheart is perhaps the most well-known adaptation of Celtic culture to the big screen. This movie shows the bagpipe in the traditional wartime and mourning settings.
Finally, modern reference has proven itself to be a teaching tool! The bagpipes have been featured on such programs as Bill Nye the Science Guy, Barney, and Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. These children’s shows all have features on how the bagpipe is made, played, and seen as a cultural staple. This example shows how children are taught from a young age that the bagpipes are a cultural symbol. They very quickly associate the bagpipe with the Celtic culture. This interpretation is misled, and is discussed on the “Origins and History of Bagpipes” page.
Modern reference has certainly provided many different facets to the bagpipe! There are plenty more references out there – keep an eye out!