Popular culture is my thing. I study it, consume it, and when I’m feeling particularly inspired, I create it. I cannot remember a time in my life when the images and ideas of popular culture did not affect how I moved in the world. This is not to say that I was and am a passive receptacle for all the junk (and gems!) that media seems prone to throw at me. I’m smart enough to know that I can’t believe everything people tell me. So I carry a long history of questioning, challenging, and even rejecting popular ideas that don’t quite jibe with my understanding of my authentic self.
But let’s be honest. Media, this popular, public collection of ideas, is a powerful force. The songs, the videos, the movies, the sitcoms, the reality shows, the magazines, the billboards, the ever-publicized antics of true and aspiring celebrities, even the high school-esque drama of the political scene permeate every aspect of our daily lives. So it seems safe to assume that all of us, everyone who goes out into the world with their eyes and ears and mind intact, is influenced by popular culture.
As a teen, ideas about how I wanted to dress, who I wanted to attract, even my expectations for how those exciting encounters would play out came from popular culture. I was fortunate enough to have parents, extended family, and friends who could help buffer some of the more damaging messages. I was not allowed to straighten my hair or start dating too early just for the sake of attracting boys. I dared not ask to wear anything that hugged my developing form too closely or showed too much skin. Did I enjoy being so different than what seemed to be the popular/norm? No. Of course not. No fourteen year old wants to stand out even more than they feel they already do. But would I change that experience? Again, no. Being able to filter the popular messages gave me the space to develop into a self-assured, competent woman. Hooray! The End.
Or not. It would be nice to package the impact of popular culture into the “it only happens to teens” box. But even as an adult I continue to struggle with the images that confront me, and if I’m not vigilant, I can feel these message seeping into my self-concept, affecting my opinions about my own life and my own desires. What should my family look like? Who should I partner with? How much money should I make? What should my religious life be? Answers to these serious life questions are disseminated throughout popular culture. And it’s easy to adopt them as my own. But without some sort of analysis, without taking a moment to place these ideas in a greater context that reflects my own values, is to let the popular decide what is best for me.
And so I am here. Taking note. And reflecting on the ways that popular culture continues to influence my life and the lives of girls and women around the world. And it’s my hope that I won’t be alone in this. Let’s talk. Let’s think. Let’s take what makes sense, and reject what doesn’t. Not just because we can, but because we must. So let’s go!