Removing the Bricks in the Wall : How Popular Culture Attracts and Affects the Present Generation
The proverbial wall, in focus, here refers to the emotional barrier that Roger Waters’ Pink built around himself owing to the adverse events in his life that propelled him to lose touch with reality, materialized in the song We Don’t Need No education. But, the present generation seems to be removing the bricks in the wall, one at a time, as they increasingly embrace popular culture offered to them by the globalizing world. Instead of building emotional barriers around themselves, they seek to reach out: something that has been made easier by social media platforms.
Any discussion on the effect of pop culture on youth is sure to spark debates, with vociferous disputants aggressively pushing their arguments. Like most things in the world, there is no absolute good or absolute bad in this case too. The coin has two sides and both equally demand our attention.
Popular culture (pop culture) or mass culture is that specific set of practices, beliefs, and objects that are dominant in society at a particular point in time. Behaviors produced through interaction with such practices and objects heavily penetrate our everyday lives. Pop culture also shapes our attitudes towards certain issues. It may include forms of entertainment, such as films, music, television, video games, sports, fashion, technology, and so on. One of the most frequently used ways to define pop culture is to contrast it with ‘high’ or intellectual culture.
Pop culture has also evoked considerable scholarly interest. Neo Marxist scholars such as Theodore Adorno in his work the Dialectic of Enlightenment have argued that capitalist mass culture is hardly a ‘culture of the people’, it instead serves the purpose of domination by the elite. Similarly Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, in their book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of Mass Media critique it as a ‘propaganda machinery’ of the hegemonic elite who control it based on their interest and manipulate what information is presented in the mainstream.
What Attracts the Youth towards Pop Culture?
We see pop culture all day, every day. The kind of movies we watch, the music we love, the technology we use, and even the language we speak in are all influenced by pop culture. One of the most frequently quoted arguments in favor of the influence of pop culture on the youth is that it allows them to interact with the world. Pop culture can be a great conversation starter. Just try to recall how many conversations you’ve started with, “Hey, so did you watch the latest season of Money Heist?” or have wanted to dye your hair green like Billie Eilish.
The youth is not just passively affected by pop culture, they interact with it and affect it actively. It provides the young people a conduit to connect with and interact with the world around them. It not only keeps them updated about the latest events but also provides easy entertainment and leisure. Your smartphone technology allows you to know real-time updates about national and international events or sports, it allows you to watch movies, listen to music, or chat with your friends. In other words, pop culture permeates the world of the youth and helps them build their own little space; customized according to their interests, hobbies, and comfort zones.
Looking at Mass Media As a Part of Pop Culture
One of the most vital wings of pop culture is mass media. In the twenty-first century, mass media can range from TV serials, news, films, music, video games, to social networking sites and the latest hype: web series. Which of these, the youth consumes and which of these it rejects, depends not only on their individual tastes but also much of it is determined by their socio-economic background. Also, what kind of content one chooses to consume has a profound effect on their mentality.
Experts sometimes attribute it to pop culture that today’s youth is much more accepting and vociferous about issues such as queerness, homosexuality, gender, ethnicity, and climate. Pop culture depictions of queer characters (we love Captain Ray Holt from Brooklyn 99!) or strong, independent women (Deepika Padukone as Piku) allows them to relate to such characters and look at the world through their eyes. Mass media has also offered the young people a platform to be vocal and protest against injustice, discrimination, and practices that plague the society.
However, the continuous flow of information, sometimes termed as information overload, often proves to be an irritant instead of a stimulant. Jumping into the bandwagon is often not a good idea. Similarly, trolling and spreading hate or provocative (often fake) information via media is increasingly becoming a matter of concern. Our generation has unfortunately fallen into this trap. A survey of 3000 Americans shows that 41% of women have experienced online trolling or serious abuse of other forms. SNL cast member and the all-female Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones was quoted saying she left Twitter with a ‘sad heart’ because of the hatred she received. It is, therefore, not wrong to pronounce (almost canonically) that pop culture has helped unlock a barrage of misdirected hatred.
A Sociological Lens to Examine Pop Culture
The spread of pop culture has helped the dissemination of varied ethos throughout the world. We can well say that the process of cultural dissemination that had begun with colonial expeditions, has reached its peak with the spread of pop culture in the age of globalization. The diversity one has exposed to invariable influences their behavior and thought process. The youth of today seems to be not only receptive but also welcoming of such diversity.
It has also been instrumental in breaking a series of stereotypes about certain places or communities. For instance, in her work on South Asians on the US Screen: Just Like Everyone Else? author Bhoomi Thakore writes that the recent depictions of South Asians on mainstream US television, like Kelly Kapoor (played by Mindy Kaling) from The Office US or Tom Haverford (played by Aziz Ansari) from Parks and Recreation, has broken several stereotypes about Asian minorities in the US. Both Kapoor and Haverford were portrayed as quirky, complex human beings who despite displaying stereotypical ‘Asian’ characteristics seem very much relatable to a large section of the Asian youth. This is not to imply that the gendered or racialized gaze completely vanishes, but does bring young South Asians as well as Americans closer to the reality.
Another impact of pop culture has been that it has thrown open hitherto taboo topics, such as sexuality or abuse for dinner table discussions. Parents who often join millennial youth in consuming pop culture would not shy away from educating themselves on and openly discussing matters such as homosexuality, sexual violence, or domestic abuse. This gives the youth considerable freedom to open up to their parents in case they are with such issues.
However, very often pop culture actively enforces gender or racial stereotypes. Consumed and shared widely by the youth, it becomes a problematic source of encouragement for discriminatory and abusive practices. For instance, films, comic books, or TV series depicting women as oversexualized and submissive entities; re-enforcing racial or regional stereotypes or upholding violence, often do more harm than liberate. This is also one of the arguments pushed forward aggressively by the anti-pop culture squad. Some recent Indian movies and web series have been heavily criticized for their portrayal of women and marginalized castes as powerless or wicked. Echoing Chomsky and Adorno, we could well say that such examples become successful machinery for the continued domination of the less powerful by the patriarchal class elite.
Beat the Blues or Otherwise: Pop Culture and Mental Health
Pop culture has been instrumental in breaking several taboos and opening up discussions on matters considered embarrassing. One of the most significant of these has been the initiation of conversation on mental health. Movies, TV series, books, and music have taken the forefront in raising concerns about mental health. Celebrities, fashion icons, authors have opened up about their struggles with depression or other serious issues. This has helped the millennial generation to come to terms with their own problems, confront the issues, and seek help whenever necessary. Social media is becoming an increasingly important platform for the youth to talk about and seek comfort or help with mental issues.
However, it is equally necessary to take a look at the darker side of things. The Journal On Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking relates low self-esteem leading to depression in online activities on social media. Their 2014 study found a positive correlation between time spent on social media and depressive symptoms. Very often haters or troll armies operating in social media platforms harm mental peace and disrupt personal spaces of anyone they dislike or disagree with. The young generation is increasingly falling prey to this. Pop culture’s depiction of abuse or assault forces real-life victims to relive a dreaded past, causing immense pain and disturbance in the process.
In conclusion, it must be noted that most things in the world we live in cannot be straight-jacketed as good or bad, white or black. Most of our experiences, our beliefs, ideals, and ideologies fall into the grey area in between. Pop culture is no different; after all, some darkness does exist beyond the dazzling brilliance of the lamp.
Edited by Annanya Chaturvedi