Why does this Matter?

Sooner or later, anyone who analyses pop culture gets asked why it matters – if we’re lucky – otherwise we just get *told* that it’s trivial, that it doesn’t matter. And we all come up with our own answers why it matters. Here’s mine.

I think it matters exactly because of that sense of triviality. Pop culture is the culture we have when we aren’t trying to be cultured. It represents the thoughts we have when we aren’t particularly thinking, what we communicate when we aren’t bothered about what we communicate, and the agenda we follow when we’re not worrying about an agenda. Pop culture – “popular culture” or “culture of the populace” – shows a baseline in a way that nothing else can. And if prejudice can survive in the baseline, it can re-infect anywhere else, despite whatever progress it looks like we make.

Every single little bit of pop-culture seems trivial on its own. Because of that, not in spite of it, the whole thing is vital. And because of that every component of that whole thing matters.

So that’s my answer. What are yours?


  1. Purtek says

    I don’t know why I missed this post a few weeks ago when it came up (must have been one of my too-busy-for-internet weeks), but I think linking back to this post is actually my answer, now.

    I made a comment in reply to Betacandy’s comment on my ANTM post that essentially says that if images of the beautiful dead were unique, they would be shocking, but they wouldn’t matter so much. The chicken-or-egg question of whether pop culture feeds or is fed by real world attitudes doesn’t really matter, since the answer is probably both, but either way, what we’re seeing is unacceptable.

  2. says

    Pretty much what you said, Nick. Pop culture is also where we disseminate cultural norms. In the 1950’s for example, the US faced a problem: it had put women to work in factories during WWII, and they’d done well, and now they didn’t want to obediently return to the kitchen and let the menfolk have their jobs back just because they were male.

    The government recognized the growing power of TV and instructed the networks (whom it licensed, and could un-license if it decided to) to make shows featuring Mom happily at home while Dad happily worked, to reprogram us all to get back to “normal”.

    It worked. We should be terrified at how well it worked, because that means most of us lack either the will or the intelligence to think critically when someone’s already done the thinking for us.

    But pop culture doesn’t have to tell you what to think. It can leave you with no clear answers, or leave you with several alternate answers. It can present various types of households or workplaces or heroes or villains. It can challenge us to meet higher standards instead of pandering to the lowest common denominator.

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