Barefoot: Pop culture matters

I write a lot of columns that deal with television and film, you might have guessed that by now. I like those things and I like talking about them. I get crap for it too. I sometimes get asked why I don’t write about more “important stuff” rather than talking about pop culture.

I respond that there is more than life than politics, though I agree they are important, and I would rather write about something I care about than write my opinion on topics everyone has made their minds up on.

But it’s more than that. Because you know what? Pop culture matters. You heard me, popular culture is important in today’s society. Why else would we spend countless hours online, playing video games, reading gossip magazines and listening to music, rather than doing something productive with our lives?

Why else would there be classes at Iowa State that focus on the media and popular culture, such as History of Pop Culture, and Race, Gender, Ethnicity in the Media, as well as people whose job it is to analyze pop culture.

Sure people will tell you it’s only a “fill in the blank here,” chill out. They will say pop culture is only entertainment and isn’t meant to be taken seriously, issues in the media don’t matter. But they are wrong.

Pop culture is like a time capsule to the things that were important to us at that time. Look at older eras and what they enjoyed or disliked and you can get a sense of their ideals and ideas of the time. Films during the 1950s show fear of the atom bomb and the rise of consumerism and the 1960s and 1970s depicted our disillusionment with our country as we fought a war many disagreed with.

Sure these same ideas are in the history books, but we can see other things as well, such as power struggles between groups of people and what their social values were.

Now, before those new editions of history books come out we can examine our own culture, and see what is important.

We can compare and contrast family values and structure. Take the 1950s “Leave it to Beaver” style with the nuclear family of the mom as the housewife and the father disciplining the children; to “Modern Family” that shows gay parents and multi-racial families. The changing family structure of the 2000s, is shown in our media. We see television shows with women working outside the home and holding jobs, much like how the United States functions today with the majority of both parents working.

We can see what we are afraid of as a society.

My high school history teacher taught us a fun game. If you want to know who America has beef with during a time period, look at the action movies and see who the bad guys are. The Cold war era featured James Bond trying to stop those dang commies from destroying America. Today we shifted our bad guys as terrorists from the Middle East, in movies like “Traitor” or “The Hurt Locker.” It’s no coincidence that these movies reflect the thought process of many American at that time.

Pop culture not only reflects culture and society but helps creates it. Our ideas of beauty and power don’t just come out of thin air, they are created by the media, usually to help sell a product. Would we go out and buy anti-wrinkle cream if we didn’t have this idea that aging and getting old leaves you unattractive? I think not.

While we live in a global society, where we interact with many different kinds of people, most of these images come from television, movies and music. If you have never met a Native American, you would only have the images of Pocahontas and old westerns, which may or not be true.

If you never met a gay man, you would probably only have the images of the flamboyant feminine man, which isn’t always true. It gives us stereotypes on what different races are supposed to act like, as well as gender roles.

What types of toys are marketed toward girls and boys? Girls get cooking supplies, and dolls that reinforces the domestic role women still play, while males play with action figures that helps instill that boys are supposed to be muscular and more aggressive.

This helps shape how girls and boys are supposed to act.

The thing with pop culture is it’s not all true; not everything is the way the media represents it. Sometimes we know it is over-hyped and wrong, but sometimes we seem to miss it if we are passively engaged with it.

Is a girl really not sexy if she doesn’t have big breasts? Are all African Americans gangsta rappers? Obviously not, but why do we keep seeing the same images in the media? Why are some people always the villains and some the sidekicks?

So, as you watch your favorite TV show, or listen to that award-winning song, think about what is at play. How is race portrayed, what is beauty, what are the gender roles and how does it relate to our world right now?