Do We Really Understand Pop Culture? | An Analysis of How it Influences Our Lives

Have you ever stopped and think about why you are wearing the clothes you are wearing right now with your friends? Or why you download music that you thought was cool after hearing it in the radio the other day? Or maybe why you learnt to play football or dance salsa even though they both aren’t even from your country? The reason is quite simple: it has become part of popular culture. You would only know about a lot of things it because it is popular, but again, what is it? Read more to find out!

Sorry for the delay of the Amsterdam/Netherlands holiday post, the process of getting it onto the blog is more complicated than my previous Turkey or Cyprus trips due to the sheer number of places visited. However, I will assure you that it won’t disappoint, I went to a lot of exciting places there! Some of the places include the Rijksmuseum, a working windmill and a Dutch ‘skyscraper’ that isn’t really very tall at all. You can expect it to be up latest by next week! Now let’s get on with the analysis 😛

selfie
#Selfie? With so many people posing themselves in front their phones, it is definitely part of pop culture! (Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Popular culture itself is a difficult idea to grasp, since the exact meaning can be very ambiguous. The notion of ‘popularity’ is subjective to different people with different points of view. In my opinion, popular culture by definition is a form of shared ideas and practices that transcend social, ethnic and political boundaries and have a massive appeal among a large number of people. Popular culture is channelled through the use of mass communication through print, audiovisual, digital and social media. The notion of popular culture as we know today would be unconceivable if it were not for the advent of modern mass communication. Information today are being propagated at great speeds over vast distances through international radio transmission, satellite television channels, widely-circulated daily newspapers and most importantly the Internet. Millions of people now are able to access various forms of entertainment through the internet, allowing its popularity to expand at an exponential rate.

Pop culture could be defined as a wider, global culture that has been shaped by interactions of millions people, especially via the Internet. However, pop culture could be localised in one country or region, such as “Japanese pop-culture”. Possibly due to differences in language, pop culture enjoyed in a country may not be popular anywhere else due to lack of understanding.

The evolution of pop culture is a two-way process that is played by society, who chooses to accept and set standards of morality for pop culture, and the ‘initiators’ of pop culture itself. These people who initiate pop culture are usually highly influential individuals or companies which the society holds them with high regard. These may be Hollywood actors, singers, musicians, multinational corporations and even politicians. Both the two elements reflect and dictate each other in producing what is known as pop culture.

A line from a movie adaptation of an epic novel series spurred into a hilarious Internet meme (http://www.icge.co.uk)

Society as a whole is the main factor which determines how popular culture evolves as time passes. Generally, in the globalised world we live in today, there is an ever-continuing process of exchange of ideas, thoughts and mindsets from different cultures that have never previously mixed before. As the society becomes less homogenous culturally, global popular culture will reflect this cultural change. A lot of countries in the world used to have very closed, traditional societies with very limited contact with the outside world. A global pop culture we have today could not penetrate them due to their lack of ability to receive information through mass communication. Nowadays, we could find many brands, icons and symbols that have the same meaning wherever you go.

The_Dress
Pop culture in fashion? Feast your eyes on #TheDress that broke the internet. I see blue and black. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

 A lot of the time, the first things that people think of when talking about pop culture are related to entertainment. Indeed, many television series, films, songs and books have made such massive appeal worldwide and have entered daily usage in form of colloquialisms and humorous references. However, pop culture is much more, extending into art, design, fashion, food, etiquette, moral attitudes and much more. In fact, it transcends into everything we do and say in our everyday life. Pop culture, in some way or another, dictate how we are supposed to act, what roles we have to play in society, what you must do and not do, how to dress and how to treat other people. This is partly because we assume that pop culture is a reflection of how society expects you to live your lives.

This mentality is partly true, as society does dictate what is acceptable to be liked by a large number of people. There is absolutely no point of creating something people will choose to ignore or hate. The people who are directly involved in creating the pop culture, the ‘initiators’, know this. That would defeat their aim of selling their products to a large number of people. Singers who sing songs and graphic designers who design advertisements have to take in cultural sensitivities into consideration in order not to offend and receive widespread backlash. An example of this would be that kissing between lovers has never been showed on-screen in any Indian Bollywood film to respect the conservative mindset of many Bollywood fans.

Timeless classics like Khabi Khushi Kabhi Gham contains no ‘bedroom’ romance scenes and is more family-oriented.

Even though this may be the case, there is another side to it as well. ‘Initiators’ may decide to create greater popularity and appeal by challenging cultural norms and testing the limits and boundaries to what is acceptable in society. This would create a sense of confusion and controversy among members of society, leading to some people accepting and rejecting them. One example would be Miley Cyrus’s hit song “Wrecking Ball”, which received a lot of criticism for its overt nudity and highly-sexualised action in its music video. The song itself was not controversial nor was the message; rather it was the music video that received the most criticism by various parties.

Captain America WS
Superhero characters are often portrayed as stereotypically muscular for males and having appealing curves for women (Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Pop culture portrays the ideal world the culture tries to promote and does not always reflect reality of day-to-day lives of the population. Society tends to idealise a certain idea to what is good for everyone, and chooses to promote that above everything else, even if it is not realistic. Examples of ideals affected by modern pop culture would be health, beauty, sexuality, gender equality and gender roles.  In many parts of the world, the notion of beauty and health for both men and women have become so cliché that it became almost stereotypical, thanks to pop culture. The influx of hourglass-shaped women and broad-shouldered, muscular men in Hollywood films and advertisements for branded clothing created a fixed mindset among a large number of members of society, to the point that it becomes part of the society’s expectations. To be a healthy and attractive person, you must meet these requirements or otherwise you are not. This damages the self-confidence of a large number of people in society which could not conform to this fixed image that was in reality representing only a minority of the population. From this we now see that pop culture is defining and dictating how society should be, rather than the other way round.

With society feeling pressured to conform to the ideals presented through pop culture, society becomes a partial reflection of pop culture itself. It is only partial because not everything presented could be achieved and put in practice in real life. This is to preserve the sense of belonging created by pop culture.As a result of the popularisation of the certain body type projected by pop culture and media, more people are working hard to get that same body type. This could be seen by the increasing sales of gym memberships, health magazines and fat-burning equipments. It could well bring benefits, such as creating jobs for new industries and improving people’s health, but could have adverse effects as well. This could be medical overdose of pills meant to burn fat or fraudulent scams to trick gullible people into getting “the body of their dreams”.

In terms of the notion of real versus reality, pop culture is real, simply because it exists and we see it around us. Everything that is pop culture should not be dismissed as ‘uncultured’ or ‘fake culture’. Ultimately, everyone today have absorbed some of the influences of pop culture, whether through buying branded goods such as Prada or Apple, listening and singing to Abba or Eminem, talking about the latest episode of Arrow or Coronation Street or admiring famous icons like Benedict Cumberbatch or Che Guevara. Although the representations of pop culture may not conform to reality a lot of the time, what we see all around us is pop culture that have become part of the reality of day to day life.

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