8 Things Everyone Should Know About Pop Culture


1. What Goes Up Must Come Down

Pop culture includes a whole lot of different kinds of media: books, music (both indie and popular music), art, street art, magazines, zines, fashion, comics, memes, viral videos and other digital technologies. The thing about pop culture is that it’s usually pitched against the snobbery of so-called high culture. People think that if you’re too plugged into “pop culture” then you’re really not all that smart, you’re not “serious.” High culture is supposed to be the space for earth shattering creative brilliance and artistic genius. If you don’t have anything fabulous to say about Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in D minor, then clearly you’re an idiot. The truth is that a lot of the things we valorize today as “high culture” actually started off as popular culture. Like Shakespeare.

2. Pop Culture Is Immediate

Not only does pop culture move very quickly, as in what’s hot today is out tomorrow, but pop culture is set up so that it doesn’t require any thinking or serious reflection. You can watch a TV show without really watching it, maybe while also watching a thing on Netflix, checking your email and talking in Gchat. And that’s how you can know a pop song without even knowing how you know it. Pop culture is explicit in the way that it shows itself to us immediately, requiring zero extra effort to get what it’s trying to tell us.

3. Pop Culture Is A Corporate Product

Like nearly everything in the culture industry, pop culture is a corporation with deep market interests. Whatever social groups you belong to, you are represented on a confusing chart in a boardroom in some dumb office tower. And every week CEOs, creatives, and executives meet to talk about how they can target you and get you to watch their show, download their song, read their magazine, get you to click on their news story. When there are so many music blogs on the Internet, why do you chose one over another? Or why do prefer one news network over the competitor? It’s all a question of market.

4. If You’re Not A Producer Then You Are A Customer

So because pop culture is a market, with interests in selling you a product, for something to make it to you it has to have a certain promise of appeal. Networks are not necessarily going to green light a TV show that doesn’t appeal to a critical mass of people, although sometimes they do. Almost everything that exists in pop culture is choreographed to have the biggest impact on sales and brand visibility. In pop culture, the customer is always right.

5. Everybody Loves Gossip

Nearly nothing sells more magazines or ramps up page views than a juicy piece of gossip. Everyone loves gossip, and not only gossip but scandals. Scandals, or “scandals” if you want, are brilliant pieces of public theater where everyone’s anxieties are played out and watched on the national stage for everyone to enjoy. Also: SALES! That’s why anyone who has ever been in a scandal of some kind wound up with a book deal or a record contract or some other super public gig.

6. There’s No Such Thing As An Accidental “Leak”

In the last few weeks alone Lady Gaga’s song “leaked” so it had to get rushed out early. Katy Perry’s song “leaked” so it got rushed too And Britney Spears’ “Work B**tch” leaked the day before it was scheduled to be released so unfortunately it had to be rushed to the radio. In the 1950s Daniel Boorstin, a conservative thinker who brilliantly theorized the age of intensified media exposure, wrote about what he called “pseudo-events.” A “pseudo-event” is a publicity stunt choreographed by the media that is totally staged and intended to create deep buzz and — what else — to get you clicking that download button.

7. You Can’t Avoid Pop Music

There are some people who will tell you that the only kind of music they like is pop music, stuff that’s played on the radio. Then there are others who swear up and down that they don’t listen to “the radio” or to “pop music.” But what do we mean when we talk about pop music? Is M83 pop? Is Grimes pop? Is Daft Punk pop? Even among the purest indie heads out there, pop music can’t be avoided. It will be playing on a commercial or in the grocery store or you will hear it in somebody else’s car or iPod. Pop music is music that you know without knowing how you know it, even if you don’t engage with it directly.

8. Nothing Tells Us More About Our Cultural Values Than Pop Culture

Pop culture always reflects the cultural values of the moment. And maybe that has to do with the fact that for the form to even make it to us anyway, it has to be something that the suits already know will speak to us. So if you want to know about a given time period, or even the current cultural moment, don’t read the news or try to find more “serious” sources. Take a look at what’s happening in pop culture. Nothing reflects a culture better than the stuff it makes.

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