Here’s a small collection of work on the themes we like most: pop culture, identity, and meaning.
On the latter theme, Helen Razer asks in The Saturday Paper (potential paywall) whether all pop culture has to mean something. She turns her gaze in particular to reality television and writes:
If it hadn’t been made to matter so much, it really wouldn’t at all. Big, disagreeably wholesome programs such as My Kitchen Rules or The Voice or MasterChef would just peddle the ideology of aspiration in the background. Smaller, agreeably depraved programs such as Australia’s Next Top Model would offer us the pointless but delightful spectacle of gorgeous teenage girls who accuse one another of sustaining an eating disorder… These shows would function as family sitcoms and sporting shows traditionally have: a route to uncomplicated workplace bonding and a weeknight way to unwind as someone else laughs and cries on our behalf. It doesn’t “matter” more than any other thing we use to maintain our productive habits. It’s not a morally instructive text: it’s a way to get back to work.
Our identity, including our gender, often has implications for the kinds of things we pay attention to. Genevieve Gannon investigates whether men would be into chick lit for Executive Style, if only they were comfortable in picking up a title far outside their comfort zone.
Emma Watson and bell hooks had an amazing conversation in Paper. Among other things, they talk about the power of stories. Watson reveals that “the character of Hermione gave me permission to be who I was.”
The power can be a negative one though, fueling hate and envy. In an older essay for Femsplain, Erika W. Smith writes about how Rory from Gilmore Girls has a profound impact on where she applied for college, and the devastation she felt when rejected.
I didn’t get in. And with my rejection letter came a seething, jealous, bitter hatred for Rory Gilmore.
Rory gets everything she wants without even trying. College acceptance letters, boyfriends, money, internships — they all just arrive in her life with no effort at all. In seven seasons, she never gets a zit, never fails a class. It didn’t matter that she was fictional: I hated Rory Gilmore.
Finally, when we talk about the power of art, sometimes it’s not so clear what artifact (if any) actually holds power. For Aeon, Noah Charney writes on the real and the inauthentic, and about how most gallery-goers can’t tell the difference. Does this matter?
The feature image for this post is from Curtis Cronn via Flickr Creative Commons.