Because of pop culture, we are forced to imagine our own irrelevance on a daily basis.
Through television and music and tabloids and the internet, we are constantly reminded of the fact that not only are we one of 7.046 billion other people, we are also not even all that special. We live in the world alongside amazing artists, Nobel Prize winning authors, and musicians who may be remembered for decades to come.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we also live in a world where it’s easier than ever to become famous. Everyone from the local repo man to the local alligator wrangler have their own reality show and it seems like for every theme show on one network, there’s one exactly like it on another.
It’s as much about what we expose ourselves to as anything else. It might be just a movie. It might be just a TV show but I would argue that these things, the pop culture we choose each day to consume, does affect us. From a very early age, movies, television and books give us an idea of what normal is. They define the world for us.
People argue quite a bit that Disney is dangerous because of the ideas it gives little girls about romance or the impact video games and violent movies have on teens but they rarely bother to extend that argument to themselves. Just because we’re older now doesn’t mean that these stories don’t have an impact on us.
We cry over films. We get angry. We experience catharsis just as Aristotle said we would all those thousands of years ago. So why have I had someone tell me time and time again “it’s just a story”? It isn’t. Stories affect us as much as adults as they ever did when we were children, for good and for bad. We react to the way a news story is presented on CNN. We base our decisions each and every day on the careful wording of newspaper articles and the words that tumble out of news anchor’s mouth. As a journalist myself, I’m all too aware that the way I present a story and the way I choose to arrange facts has a huge impact on how my story will be perceived. My story can be about a devoted mother volunteering her time or about the shocking lack of volunteers in our local school system. It all depends on how I frame it.
Scripted or reality television is not much different. Reality TV is all about presentation. Everyday actions of unremarkable people are given flair and interest by editing and punctuating their lives with a soundtrack and camera angles.
And their stories, their carefully edited stories, do enthrall us. People talk about t.v. shows around the office. They bond with friends over a shared interest in American Idol. So how can anyone argue that the media we consume doesn’t impact us, for good or for bad?
It does every single day. We become accustomed to violence because we see it all the time. We are no longer shocked by sex because it’s readily accessible. I’m not going to pass judgment on whether these are good or bad things but it is evident that pop culture holds much more power than people think.
I will pass judgement on Bridezillas though. SO MUCH ANGRY JUDGEMENT
Our normal is defined by shows and movies because they present a mirror to what we assume is the real world, although it usually isn’t.
We think we know what a woman looks like but we don’t. Nobody looks like Scarlett Johansen because even Scarlett Johansen doesn’t look like that. She’s got professional makeup artists, expensive clothes and a nutritionist to boost her beauty while the average person has only themselves.
We think we know what the perfect family is because we’ve seen the sitcoms. We know that, while hijinks and occasional misunderstandings happen, the families always patch it up. Parents can be reasoned with. Children will behave. This is the world we see in the television.
We think racism is over because there are black people on our TV. Clearly, things must be alright if Ice-T is on Law & Order right? (hint: everything is still very, very messed up).
We are put down and stomped on each and every time we turn on a television. It’s a subtle, invasive evil and I’m tired of it already.
We know this isn’t what the world is really like. But we also are forced to see this TV world, in comparison, as perfect. Perfect bodies. Perfect hair. Perfect minds. We don’t have those. We can never achieve those.
This is the dark side of pop culture. I love pop culture. I love movies. I love TV. shows. I love music. I blog about it. I talk about it. It’s a favorite topic of mine, obviously, since this blog is all about pop culture.
Our normal is defined by what we see on the TV., from a very young age. Some of my earliest memories are of movies or television shows and I can attest that the reality they presented definitely gave me some idea of what the world was. I based my assumptions of what people were like and what the world expected me to believe on pop culture. I think a lot of people do this and some people do it their entire lives.
I’ve had acquaintances tell me that gay marriage shouldn’t be legalized because “it always ends in death.” That acquaintance was talking about the movie they saw based on the life of Matthew Shepard.
On one memorable occasion, I had a guy at a party tell me that he knew that women liked to be talked down to because he’d seen Mel Gibson’s “What Women Want.” And yes, he was serious.
We absorb what we watch, whether we mean to or not and that is dangerous in a lot of ways. In the act of telling a story, you’re also creating your own idea of normal and presenting your own view of the world. You carve a world out or you present a world just like ours, only slightly altered. And that can be very, very dangerous.