Pop Culture and Politics

The Grammys and Oscars have passed and the lights and glamour of celebrity (predominantly American) have subsided while the whole world watched pop culture prove once again its upcoming and invasive impact as an agent of major socialization and political upheaval. Excited by awards and legacy, actresses, actors, musicians, directors, and more hit the red carpet to be extended into pop culture history. Pop culture is currently becoming an essential component of American and international affairs, society, and politics. I found it important to note one of the most interesting parts of this impact is the international component. America is by far the hegemonic leader in mainstream pop sensationalism. The outsourcing of American pop culture and, with it, American ideology to the rest of the world is intriguing and should cause many to ask: What does American media represent? What does American media stand for? And, what are the politics of American pop culture?  Anyone who seriously wants to understand the social implications of what is exported to the rest of the world has to understand that pop culture has an impeccable influence on the rest of the world, and that every celebrity is a public figure with a voice that shapes, molds, and changes society and with that, the individual.

   Never before has pop culture had the impact it has in this moment. One of my professors spoke about it in an ironic way saying, “One thing I hate about celebrity and the media is that the media seems to take these celebrities who have no university education, no expertise in other subject other than acting or music and ask them their unqualified opinions on major philosophical or political issues. Like, ‘What is the meaning of life? Or, how can we solve issues of poverty in the black community?’” Although, the notion that one must have a university education in order to have quality insight into these kinds of questions is a bit modernist and elitist, there is something fundamentally captivating about public intrigue into the philosophies and politics of these celebrities. Take for example, Kendrick Lamar’s comments on Ferguson and the #BlackLivesMatter movement. His one statement spiraled back and forth commentary on the truthfulness or misguidedness of his logic by academics and prominent rappers alike. The relentless attention given to a few words that have probably been said before by many other politicians, educators, parents, friends, and family members alike is a result of Lamar’s popularity and influential prowess. One man had the power to spark rabid intellectual discourse.

Nevertheless, this kind of situation is just a solo moment in the increasing popularity of celebrity insight and influence into political situations. The Grammys left twitter feeds buzzing with Prince’s, “Like books and black lives, albums still matter.” Then the Oscars left twitter feeds buzzing with Common and John Legend’s statement that, “America is one of the most incarcerated countries in the world,” and Patricia Arquette’s, “All women deserve equal pay.” And I couldn’t leave out the dialogue on race and power that emerged in reaction to Kanye’s “almost” interruption of Beck or Sean Penn’s comment about Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “green card.” My insight into why this has emerged is due to our current moment of history. The postmodern moment.

Philosopher Fredric Jameson, in his essay entitled, Postmodernism and Consumer Society, writes, “The second feature of this list of postmodernism is the effacement in it of some key boundaries or separations, most notably the erosion of the old distinction between high culture and so-called mass or popular culture. This is perhaps the most distressing development of all from an academic standpoint, which has traditionally had a vested interest in preserving a real of high or elite culture . . .”

That statement is Fredric Jameson saying to my professor, “Your pissed because you were born into the postmodern era in which Kendrick Lamar’s opinion holds way more importance or, the same importance as your own.” Nonetheless, the decaying of the modernist idea of elitism in terms of opinion has withered away and Kendrick Lamar, Prince, John Legend, Common, and Kanye are as important a catalyst for social change and conversation as any politician, academic, or activist.

The question then becomes: What do we do when we understand the impact these celebrities, not only have on our entertainment, but our conversations, our thoughts, and our behavior? The answers are numerous, but here is one. From a societal standpoint, we must add pop culture as one of the influential social structures in our current society. Pop culture is like politics, economics, technology and history in that it shapes the behavior of the individual and molds and/or showcases a group within society. Pop culture is exciting in that it is indicative of everything present and changing within current society. It is a mirror to our nation’s flaws, worries, gains and follies. The questions still linger, but the simplest statement remains true: Pop culture is becoming political.

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