[I have a love of learning, so I continue to take college courses when I can. The following post was originally an assignment for one of those classes.]
The class was asked to read the articles “Introduction Songs of the Unseen Road: Myths, Beliefs, and Values in Popular Culture” (Nachbar/Lause), and “Four Morality Tales” (Reich), and then come up with our own impression of popular culture and how it relates to mainstream culture. Sounds simple enough, and I could jot down the usual pat answers and wait for the usual pat grade… but would it be my true impression of popular culture – absolutely not.
I’m old enough to be the father of half the students in this class, and I have a very poor outlook on popular culture. Even when I was young I never cared about the latest fashion trends, or whatever was supposed to be “in” at any particular time. In fact, I see popular culture as a method by which the leaders in various areas of society (government, business, media, religion, etc.) can successfully corral the majority or mainstream society – which are predominantly followers as psychology so readily points out – in order to keep them within their prescribed limits or boundaries. In other words, fashion or trends are simply another person’s opinion of how you should look, act, or believe.
I learned at a very young age not to count on people close to you when it comes to what to believe or how to act. And a short time after that I learned that no government system really cares about the people individually: I just wish I would’ve learned it prior to my injuries in the military.
Therefore, my honest impression of popular culture is that it’s the “fashionable” way to lead the majority or mainstream society around by the proverbial ring in their noses and a hand in their pockets.
Now for the sixty-four dollar question, do I actually practice what I preach? Let’s put it this way, I don’t buy anything because it’s the latest, biggest, or fastest. I have two vehicles, both over twenty years old: a pickup to carry things and a small car for gas mileage. They were bought out of my needs, not trends. I still have a bulky TV set, a video recorder, and a cassette player. They still run great so I continue to use them. My computer is out-dated; I have never owned a cell phone, I-pod, or any other trendy gadgetry just for the trendy value. If I don’t have a practical need for it I don’t waste the money. I vote across party lines, I don’t check what I say with the “political correct” police, and environmentalists can go to hell before I agree that wasting millions of dollars on the mating habit of the cockroach is better spent than feeding starving children in our own country or getting people back to work. And I love the western genre not because of any alleged underlying mythology, but because it suits my taste. Having been a stuntman for years, and performing a lot of westerns, it fits my kind of entertainment need: just like my love of horses and shooting.
How many teenagers have to commit suicide because they were convinced they could never “fit in” with their popular trend following peers before the “popular” kids learn they too are merely puppets following a puppet master? And how many wives have to self-medicate with their substance of choice (Doctor’s choice, not theirs) because they’ve never been able to keep up with, or look like, the “superwoman” down the block (who, unknown to them, is seeing a shrink twice a week)? And how many more men are going to die before their wives, simply because they’ve worked themselves into an early grave trying to support the constantly rising costs of the elusive “American Dream?”
Until there can be a system of checks and balances to ensure those who perpetuate popular culture do so with integrity, than I feel the American culture would be better off without it. The detriment to individuals, families, and communities far outweighs the positives presently. That is my honest impression of popular culture.
© JW Thomas