Why pop culture matters
Pop culture took over our short attention span in the past week or two. Any consumer of mass media, whether avid fan or mere spectator, would know why.
First, “Game of Thrones” finally debuted its final season after a wait of two long years for its agitated viewers. The premiere drew an audience of 17.4 million; who said TV was dead? Following suit was another highly anticipated work, “Avengers: Endgame,” the 22nd film in the vast Marvel universe that took 11 years to completely unravel in cinemas. In the Philippines alone, its premiere earned over P200 million, with 24-hour screenings in certain cinemas.
Not only television and film dominated social media; music wasn’t far behind with the release of Taylor Swift’s lead single, “Me!” from a yet untitled seventh album. The song, according to Spotify analytics, was streamed the most in Quezon City! Because of this, the Philippines was named as Swift’s third largest demographic, after the United States and the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, Beyoncé, who also has a legendary following, released a documentary film, “Homecoming,” on Netflix featuring her Coachella performance. It is predicted to earn an Emmy nomination.
This must be it—the pinnacle of popular culture, or pop culture as we call it, that will define my generation. This movie, that show, or those artists will soon become the icons of our storied youth and turbulent decade, just like how “Star Wars” and Kiss represented my parents’ generation.
During their time, though, it was the public that shaped pop culture and decided the fads and craze. Today, it’s the other way around. We are conditioned to consume what “should be” watched, listened to or read. So, yes, I crammed a couple of missed Marvel movies and seasons of “GOT.” As author Soraya Roberts asked on Longreads, “When did pop culture become homework?”
It is interesting to trace the trajectory of pop culture—how in centuries past, it was associated with the lower class and was utterly distinguished from the fine arts. The Industrial Revolution, however, ushered in the rise of a working class that had disposable income for entertainment and recreation. Fueled by technological advancements in cinema, television and radio, the masses gained more access to the arts. Today, with internet and social media, pop culture has greatly defined our experiences.
But pop culture still gets a bad rep, mainly for being often associated with consumerism and commercialism. Luke Buckmaster of The Daily Review, for example, wrote that the “Avengers” films “are elephantine slabs of advertising” and that they fit snugly into our age of brand management. Buckmaster quoted the late great film critic Pauline Kael, who commented on the commercialization of movies in the 1960s: “We are reaching the point at which the purveyors don’t care about anything but how to sell and the buyers buy because they don’t give a damn. When there is no respect on either side, commerce is a dirty word.”
Admittedly, this cheap commercialization is even more widespread today. Indeed we are such massive consumers of entertainment fueled by mass media, resulting in ever-bigger revenues for content conglomerates. But is there anything beneficial from this cycle? Is pop culture the art we want future generations to inherit from our era?
Our responsibility as audience members is to be careful about what we sensationalize and popularize. We should seek not only to be entertained, but also to be educated. Not necessarily in a scholarly way, but rather, in a compassionate way that would make us see the world in a clearer and better light.
A study by Furman Daniel and Paul Musgrave published in 2017, “Synthetic Experiences: How Popular Culture Matters for Images of International Relations,” concluded that pop culture serves as “synthetic experiences” that can shape our beliefs or even displace established knowledge.
For me, pop culture embodies our experiences, aspirations and desires. It is not perfect art, but it can serve as a platform for very fine ideas and craftsmanship.
Stan Lee films, HBO, Swift tunes: Their endurance in the years to come will prove their mettle. But, today, on the simplest level, they make us feel deeply and passionately. Isn’t that what truly matters?
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.