In Defense of Pop CultureWhen under-reported items appear - or more appropriately don't appear - in the media there is an inevitable criticism. Why is the media wasting time covering, say, Jessica Simpson when there are important issues out there to tackle? The point being the media is so busy covering the fluffy, pneumatic singer and her Chicken of the Sea tribulations that reporting resources are being pulled away from the important stuff. The implication is clear - the media is full of incompetent, fluffy ninnies.
I don't think anyone, including the reporters who wrote them, would argue that stories about Paris Hilton's latest sex tape is more important than Iraq. Media outlets carry Paris stories because a certain segment of the population thinks Paris stories are important, or at least entertaining. The same could be said - although rarely as roundly criticized - about sports, comics, recipes, crossword puzzles, and a host of other things that take up space and aren't life or death issues. Simply put, the media reflects all facets of life, even the fluffy parts. In doing so, it portrays the world as the real place it is, fluff and all.
Pop Culture Useless?
For some, the issue is a belief that pop culture is a useless indulgence that degrades serious discourse. But is pop culture truly useless?
Many people do use pop culture to ignore the larger, more painful issues of the day. What happens on their favorite soap or who was caught in the latest nip-slip is central in their world. However, even if pop culture didn't exist, these people would simply find another way to ignore important causes and stories. Such is the way of ostriches.
But a taste for pop culture isn't the exclusive domain of the frivolous and empty-headed. One could argue that the ostrich market brings in money the media uses to fund more expensive stories about major issues. But more importantly, pop culture provides a useful safety valve in our society.
Twins Gone Wild
Even the wonkiest of wonks enjoys the occasional bit of gossip like Twins Gone Wild - Buenos Aries Style. The titillation (pun intended) of pop culture provides a harmless and safe way to look away from the enormous weighty issues of the day for a little relief. Everyone occasionally needs a small break and nothing provides it like Britney's fiasco du jour.
Pop culture also helps people gain a more balanced perspective of the chaos in the world. By indulging our guilty pleasures we realize that death and destruction really aren't the whole of life. We realize that despite the chaos, people sometimes do stupid but funny and trivial things. Each time we see a celebrity slip on a banana peel they've left on the sidewalk themselves, we realize that humans are fallible, quirky, and sometimes dumb - but in less lethal ways than the Celebrity-in-Chief.
It's perfectly legitimate for people to turn a blind eye toward pop culture, but it seems a little disingenuous to me. No one focuses solely on the problems of the world all the time. Pop culture indulgence is simply one way to satisfy everyone's need for a little escapism. Some choose a trip to the opera while others watch Survivor on TV. Complaining about big-boobed starlets is your right, but why isn't saying opera is unbelievably boring just as right? The solution for the chronic complainer is simple and the same one often offered in defense of the First Amendment - ignore the fluff. Turn the TV, radio, computer, movies, et al off. The power of the off-switch is huge...throw it.
It Is Too Important!
Pop culture is important, perhaps in a counter-intuitive way, but important nonetheless. Remember that the next time you shake your head in dismay about that fluffy Madonna story and then flip ahead to see what's up in the sports section.
Escapism is escapism whether it's about Kobe or crotch shots.
Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Tuesday, February 06, 2007