I have been fascinated by Philip Ellis’ article The Problem with “Not Caring” About Pop Culture.
While I am familiar with the notions of “highbrow” vs. “lowbrow” culture, I had never taken the time to consider how different forms of entertainment become categorized.
It’s certainly not based on impact, or world-wide recognition. After all, media often dismissed as culturally lightweight (such as the Kardashians or boy bands) can not only be relevant, but often revolutionary.
So, while reading Ellis’ perspective I had a real light bulb moment.
Whether it’s a rap song or a reality show, there is this notion of widely enjoyed media as ‘junk food’ – something to feel bad about consuming. But the very idea of a guilty pleasure has always felt gendered to me, as least to some degree. After all, a football fan might have the same encyclopedic knowledge and fervent love of their team as a Mariah Carey fan, but one of these people is more likely to be taken seriously when they talk about their passion at the office.
These comments got me thinking that the seriousness in which a passion or art form is taken often depends on who likes it, not what it is, how many people like it, or what its own merits are.
I reject the notion that this fissure is just between pop culture vs. all other culture; but specifically pop culture that appeals primarily to straight men (think sporting events, Star Wars, Marvel comics, etc.) vs. other segments of the population (such as RuPaul’s Drag Race, Queer Eye, Sex and the City, etc.).
Ellis writes, “The media that young women and gay men enjoy is often dismissed as campy or trashy…because as a demographic, girls and gays tend not to be taken seriously”.
Furthermore, his example of the Beatles’ transition from a silly boy band to one of the greatest bands of all time was particularly poignant. He writes, “What changed? The fandom. The group’s audience grew to encompass men as well as young women, and the perception of both the band and the music was altered as well”.
To dismiss pop culture enjoyed primarily by women and gay men is to underestimate its ability to both influence and reflect the nation’s cultural pulse and perpetuates repression (even if it is subconscious).
Above all, this article reminded me that if you don’t like something, it doesn’t mean it’s beneath you, and if you do like it, don’t be ashamed! We have so much to learn from each other and accepting that we don’t all have to like the same things while respecting those differences is a big step in the right direction.