Why Popular Culture Matters to All of Us

By Joyce
New Organizing Project blogger
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When brainstorming what to write about for my first official post, a plethora of ideas came to me. I could not WAIT to get started. Then I realized I could blog all day and night about popular culture (aka pop culture). Because of my love for this topic, I decided to take the time out to share with you dear readers about why I feel it is important and, really, why it even matters to me (so I don’t come off as just another talking head).

Jenn Fang wrote a dope piece y’all should check out over at change.org about why pop culture matters to those who blog about race. As someone who always has her ‘race lens’ on when consuming pop culture, I might not necessarily consider myself solely a race blogger, but I do agree with just about everything she has to say in her article.

Pop culture is not created nor exist in a vacuum. It is influenced and represents a particular time period. Don’t just take it at face value. Stop and take a step back. Pop Culture is a reflection of current ideals, trends and value systems. It has the power to not only create certain ideas but reinforce and possibly alter them as well. And then these ideas are fed to the masses, oftentimes a much wider audience than academia. Millions upon millions of people consume some kind of pop culture, i.e., movies, television, magazines, youtube, etc. every single day. And you’re telling me it’s irrelevant? Nuh uh.

I think that’s one of the main reasons why I’ve always been drawn to pop culture: accessibility. I’ll be honest, academia was never one of my strong suits. But you can be sure I was always up-to-date on my ‘Dawson’s Creek’ episodes or reading the latest issue of ‘People’ magazine.

Clearly, I had my priorities in order. But I digress.

While it was (and still kind of is) difficult for me to wrap my head around dense theories academics sprout out, I never had too much trouble digesting an analysis of the latest episode of ‘Mad Men’ and then rabidly discussing and theorizing with friends about what we thought would be Don Draper’s next moves.

And that’s the other thing – pop culture has the scary ability to reach a gigantic audience. Maybe it’s presumptuous of me to assume, but there are probably more people out there who have heard the latest Justin Bieber song than read any theories by feminist Judith Butler. Am I wrong?

So how can I put this into context with current events?

Increasingly, more references have been made to 9/11 (think of movies such as ‘World Trade Center’ and ‘United 93’). But, how many movies have you seen dealing with the relationship South Asian Americans have to 9/11? Or about the horrendous hate crimes that have [and still are] committed against Muslim and Arab American communities? And how they are to be sympathized with, not portrayed as villains?

To be perfectly honest with you, I can’t immediately think of one off the top of my head, which signals to me that it does not exist or it’s not part of the mainstream. To me, this absence is significant and unsurprising.

People of color characters that are three-dimensional, have depth, are flawed and ultimately human in mainstream pop culture are hard to come by, if seen at all. Thus, to expect something in a mainstream pop culture medium that would honestly portray the experiences of South Asian Americans post-9/11 was probably not going to happen. I hope that changes.

I’ve rambled on about pop culture and I’m not even sure I adequately answered my own question as to why I care about it and love to ANALYZE it.

But I think the most pertinent take-away I want you to get from this is: next time you sit down to enjoy an episode of ‘True Blood’ or watch the MTV Video Music Awards, look a little more at what’s being fed to you. What character roles do people of color play on ‘True Blood’? Are there racial implications behind the whole Kanye-Taylor Swift debacle at the VMA’s last year?

Think about it. Be critical.