Sunday, August 30, 2009

Power Pop

Alyssa Rosenberg has an excellent defense of pop culture and of pop culture criticism:

In the middle of those terrible and momentous events, amidst the opinion polls that seek to interpret how people feel about those events, pop culture can be a strong barometer of what people seek out, what they shy away from, what interests them.

What she says is inarguable, if a bit axiomatic, though her peripheral points on the double-sided nature of influence and marketing are key:

But our susceptibility to advertising also measures what we are influenced by. And ultimately, even more than polls, even more than votes, the pop culture we choose to experience shows what we care about, because we spend money on it.

Where I think she underestimates the effect pop culture can have on mass consciousness/memory, I'd say that it more than just reflects our values and interests, it constructs the way we see the world. Most of us are born into these swirls of music or movies or tv, and we grow up in learning a cultrual language circumscribed by these media. So, for those of us who have have more than a glancing relationship with pop culture (and if I were bolder, I'd say everyone who participates in some cultural sphere, since the swapping between high and low culture has always(?) been more porous than extant modernist thinking allows*), pop culture is a foundation upon which we find ourselves reacting with or against.

Even if we reject something posited by a pop cultural artifact, we operate within a space that makes room around itself for our opposition, and all the while the thing we disagree with is the central kernel around our stance. For instance, the way 24 portrays torture has helped to shape the debate where one side says torture is a necessary and valuable, and the other side says WTF. In this case, the debate is centered around a notion where methods developed by China's Communist party have come to signify American patriotism, or not -- behold the discursive power of pop culture's binary space.

(However, I think that what I'm arguing is broader and therefore more diffuse and works at a more abstract level.)

* I've also been thinking about high vs. low culture and how such distinctions are irrelevant. Clearly, I don't think high and low mean much in terms of worth, but they still retain aesthetic meaning. Something for another time, though.

Indie rating: The Knife - "Marble House"

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