A Thought on Pop Culture

Pop culture is usually discussed in the most superficial way, which is completely appropriate. After all, “pop” anything is as it sounds: fleeting, depthless. Imagine a kernel exploding into popcorn. Pop! You get the picture. The other side of the equation, the “culture,” sounds more bacteriological, as though it were a sentient, growing thing. An entity. Speaking of what is popular, fragments and tangents appear to be in vogue, ’cause complete coherent cogitations can congeal.

All of the preceding is a pretty good example of the absurdism “pop” embodies in itself: an endless loop of randomly connected sparks, all noise without signal — sound and fury that signifies little. Popular culture, to spell it out, elevates style over substance; it carries on with pretentious airs. Like most self-aware organisms, pop culture aggrandizes its own image and imagines having a way with words it does not actually possess, and then abruptly terminates.

Pop culture is “commercial culture based on popular taste,” according to the definition in the New Oxford American Dictionary. I want to look closer at that last bit, based on popular taste. Vox populi. The people can be wrong, or at least mistaken. To say so is now condemnable as “elitist,” but why? The belief that “millions of people must be right” ranks as one of the worst there is in modern human history. Of course, the customer is “always right.” Millions of consumers: are they, too, always in the right? This implies some kind of qualitative difference between an individual and a mass, which does exist. As smart herd animals, humans have a tendency to roam in packs and disparage the lone wolves and the dissidents.

The lighter stuff rises to the top, hence pop. Lighter does not necessarily mean lesser, though. All work and no play, as no one has said before, makes for a dull blade in the forge of our collective creations. As you can see, I have mixed feelings on the subject. I judge it for its emphemeralness and acknowledge that its absence would make things too serious.


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