January 1, 2009

Welcome to Pop Culture Fiend

Okay, this has been a long time coming…

I always imagined those would be the words I’d use to introduce this website once it finally got up and running. And now, as I take a look at it, no, it’s not exactly would I had in mind. But just the fact that this thing finally came to be realized (in any incarnation) comes as something of a happy surprise. So let’s get on with it…

What is this; who am I and what’s my mission?... Simple. To fight injustice, to right that which is wrong, and to serve all mankind!... [Cue the horns and drums.] Da-Nuhh… Da-Nuhh!!!!

No wait, that’s the mission of the Superfriends. 

But this is exactly what I'm talking about. That reference to the old Saturday morning cartoon series, now more than 30 years old, is recognized by so many. (On the other hand, if you didn’t recognize it, then you may quickly come to discover that this is not the blog for you.) But the point is this:

In America, over the last 25 years or so, the elements of our popular culture (more specifically, things including and related to movies, music, books, magazines, TV shows, celebrities, fashion, toys and games, advertising, etc.) have been elevated from being merely just an amalgamation of frivolous diversions and distractions that (entertaining though they may be) have little or no lasting significance. Instead, it is our popular culture that today is both reflecting and indeed shaping our society, as it underscores who we are and what we care about, while binding us together through common experiences and a shared appreciation.

Our American culture includes our societies’ collective sensibilities, mores, belief systems, and behaviors. Examining our popular culture; studying it, creates a window into the hearts and minds of the American people and allows us to see concrete examples of what these sensibilities, mores, and behaviors are and what we (en masse) have come to value, accept, appreciate and embrace.

Think I’m overstating things? Why then, is it our popular culture that continues to endure and permanently etch itself into our memories, even as other, seemingly more consequential things, pass away? Or more simply, why are movie quotes like, “Show me the money,” as easily recognized as “Ask not what your country can do for you…”? How is it that many of us know more lines from Caddyshack than bible verses? And why are events from the early 80s like Iran-Contra and the US invasion of Grenada (events that had not only national, but global implications and consequences) practically forgotten, while a lightweight motion picture comedy from the same era (Risky Business) is fondly remembered and parodied in a new TV commercial twenty-five years later?

Because people, it is the miscellanea of American popular culture that’s providing cohesion for us in this, the most diverse country on the planet. So many of us are of different races, religions, economic statuses... We live in vastly different geographies, have different political ideals, enjoy different cuisines and the list goes on and on. Because of this, any given American’s experience and sensibilities can be completely foreign to those of another. And yet we’re able to find common ground in our shared remembrance of a popular TV show, song lyric, music video, or kids' game. Or in our recognition of a funny movie scene, or a one-liner perfectly delivered by a stand-up comedian. Or in our mutual admiration (or disdain) for a particular celebrity.

Popular culture has now moved beyond trendiness, beyond the realm of the short-lived, and beyond the moment. It has ingrained itself in our society and now influences the way we communicate, how we act, and what we value. As evidenced by the aforementioned TV commercial (and dozens more like it) advertisers were some of the first to catch on to this fact and they now leverage pop culture to entice us into purchasing their products.

It’s a movement that’s likely to continue, as we continue to perpetuate our pop culture the same as we do our religious rituals, political history, family traditions, and the other things that make up our traditional culture. 

And through all of this, even as it is finally being taken seriously by academic types (many colleges now include it as part of their sociology, communications, or psychology curriculums) pop culture remains and will always be one thing… uniquely fun.


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