I am a man of many gripes, as almost anyone in my inner circle would be able to tell you. Its a funny little habit that I blame on my father. Though my habit is significantly less pronounced then my fathers. I know, because I have to rein myself in all the time.
But one thing that me and my father do (for the most part) agree on, is the state of pop culture at the present time, is abysmal. Though we do have variations in this conclusion. He has written off pretty much all modern pop culture, wherein I enjoy a small amount of it, though its a mere sliver compared to what I write off. When it comes to the pop culture I am mainly referencing here, for my father, it is mainly the music, movies and television shows that permeate the background noise of our culture at large. However I take it a step further, by including most viral videos/meme’s and other digital scraps that make up the other half of the modern pop culture tapestry, the Internet (in particular, social media).
Being that I am a heavy user of social media, I get to see much of what is popular online. All of those viral videos, memes and other items. But when it comes to the videos, I have learned that its almost always best to NOT click. As most of the times when I do end up caving in and bringing up that awesome video that everyone is talking about, I almost always have the same reaction.
“Uh. Our species is a bunch of easily amused, easily manipulated morons”.
Whether or not my seeming “hatred” of all things popular is based on genuine disgust, or more on a desire of conformity in NON-conformity, is arguably questionable. I admit that even I do not know the true answer to that question lol. I tend to paint the whole picture with the same brush, even unseen.
But even when I do “give it a try”, I usually end up further conforming my previous notions.
Unintentional confirmation bias? Could be.
But this post is not so much about my criticism of pop culture, as much as it is, about a new trend I see happening within the personalized social media side of the pop culture coin.
When I think about pop culture even when I was a kid growing up, and even as few as 4 0r 5 years ago, one can identify a clear line between pop culture and news/information. Both had different television channels and programs, different periodicals, different web pages, and so on. And for the most part, the popular (or infamous) characters on either side of the line, did not cross it.
Today, with personalized social media being increasingly the single (or primary) source of information for many, that is no longer the case. The lines between both sides seem to be increasingly, vanishing.
Take Toronto’s embattled mayor Rob Ford. A year or so ago, he made international headlines after his infamous crack smoking incident. He had his 15 minutes of infamy. Yet, he didn’t. He has become an almost constant in the news media as of late. Two other names that I can think of that also fit this category, are George Zimmerman and Justin Bieber.
Just a few years ago, had all of the above done what they did, I have no doubt that they would have still made international headlines. And I have no doubt they would be the topic of water cooler conversation for a little while. But after awhile, they would have faded back into the background from which they came.
Well, Bieber is questionable in that regard (look at how Britney Spears and Charlie Sheen were covered). But I doubt that Zimmerman or Ford would have remained in the spotlight.
Yet today, they do remain in the spot light long after their original 15 minutes of infamy.
For me, the answer as to the question of “why?” seems to lie in social media.
Many people do not pick up a newspaper, or even read any source of news outside of their social media platform anymore. And at the same time, all of our various social media feeds are increasingly tailored to us based on both past interests (clicks), and the specks that we give to the web portal.
So if a majority of us clicked on articles relating to Ford, Zimmerman and Bieber, then that shows collective interest, and turns those names into easy traffic magnets. If throwing a name onto an article can almost guarantee thousands of clicks, then why would you not exploit that cash cow? Your giving the beast the food it desires.
Because of this, many of these figures are increasingly finding there way into the conversations of the traditional television based media as well. The internet is abuzz about zimmerman, so why not discuss his autograph signings on live tv? People will watch.
This blurring of the line between news and pop culture is bad enough. But something that concerns me more, is how these individuals tend to become pop culture icons.
This is just personal opinion.
But when I think of the list as it stands today, the big 3, none of them really deserve to be icons, or well known. There actions were either despicable or just flat out stupid. They do not add anything good to our culture, society or humanity in general.
When I think of people that arguably SHOULD be cultural icons, names like Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse Tyson come to mind. People that actively add to our culture, society or the collective good of humanity in general.
But I suppose that our culture and society has a history of giving the villains more credit then they deserve (even before social media entered the picture). Names like Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold and Jeffry Dahmer would likely not be still household names today, without the fascination of the underground following they have developed.
But social media has only made it worse. Which in my mind, shows an obvious risk to the increasingly micro-targeted world that we live in.
Do we want our children to be ascribing to be the next George Zimmerman, Rob Ford, Justin Bieber or Phil Robertson?