Tragedy struck many on the evening of Aug. 25, as millions of people in North America caught sight, even mere glimpses, of twerking, grinding and other feigned sexual acts.
Within minutes, social media outlets began to blow up as appalled viewers criticized Miley Cyrus’ controversial performance with Robin Thicke. Both millionaires took the stage with what was judged to be obscene gestures and questionable attire. For weeks this performance outshone headlines such as “Obama weighs possible military response,” “Hurricane Irene heads toward land,” and “Random shooting spree in New York.” All of these issues seemed to slip past us as we stressed and wondered about the pop princess’s downward spiral.
Why are we so numb to the issues impacting not only ourselves, but millions of people fighting every day for survival? Pop culture has worked its way into newspapers, news stations, radio, magazines, film and television. It can be found in curriculums, where educators lead discussions on current events and issues. It can be found on billboards, buses and social networks. Our lives are being consumed with “who wore it best?” “fashion don’ts,” and many more pointless discussions. It seems that people are shying away from what is really important.
I ask that you pull yourself out of pop culture and dive into the social and economical crises across the globe. Issues like militia invasions, poor labour conditions and the stripping of human rights need your awareness and engagement. Take a look around you and see what many have fought for you to have. Take a minute to think about the innocent people of Syria who may surely perish at the U.S.’s “humanitarian” bombs. I ask that you take a minute to think about the people of Guatemala who have had land stolen from them so the Canadian and US mining companies may collect their gold. I ask that you take a minute and ask yourself, who is fighting for them?
It is great that we have privileges such as forms of entertainment and great that we may enjoy them, but it also important that we acknowledge the individuals who fought for such freedom. Many of us essentially have all our needs at our fingertips and maybe even more, but for every extra we have, someone out there lacks a basic need. They lack shelter, food, water and equality.
Around us are many opportunities to get involved and simply become educated about the situations occurring around the globe. Most importantly, being educated is a necessary start. We play an important part in most of these issues and can become an even larger part if we actively participate. So let us unplug from pop culture and get plugged into the world around us.
For the past several weeks, my Facebook newsfeed has included at least one status, link, or photo about Miley Cyrus and/or Robin Thicke. People have had a lot to say about these two. There were the people who found “Blurred Lines” offensive, and the people who didn’t know what the big deal was. There were hilarious parodies, disturbing photomontages, and impassioned talk about rape culture. There were the people who analyzed Miley’s performance and then the people who analyzed these analyses. The conversation permeated all forms of social media, classroom walls, and conversations with friends and coworkers – it was simply everywhere. I learned what it meant to “twerk.” I learned that people do not like Miley’s tongue. I learned that Robin Thicke is married with kids. I learned interesting, informative debates about cultural appropriation, along with meaningful insights about how art develops from the blending of different cultures.
I hadn’t watched the MTV awards and I hadn’t heard “Blurred Lines” until sometime in early September.
That’s not to say that I have anything against pop culture. In fact, I seem to defend it more often than criticize it. I like to listen to Katy Perry when I work out and I know all the words to most Eminem songs. There are many things to enjoy about popular culture. Most of our “highbrow” entertainment was popular culture at some point. Like Shakespeare. Or Mozart. Or Mark Twain. And no one can justly reject The Beatles, who once had their faces on enough merchandise to clothe and house a small family.
And the recent explosion of Miley and Rob proved two things. First, that popular culture is inescapable. No matter how indie your films, how alternative your rock, and how far you hide and hate the Britneys and Madonnas – you can’t avoid it. It will find its way into your conversations and into your subconscious. If you go to stores or on the computer, then it is pretty much inevitable that it will affect your life in some way. And for this reason alone, we can’t discount it. The fact is that pop culture is produced to be as immediately accessible as possible, so chances are that we will all consume it in one way or another. Second, popular culture reflects the culture – the ideas, the beliefs, the stereotypes, the fears – of the moment. Miley twerks, and this expresses something meaningful about women, about our bodies, about black people. Robin rhymes “hug” and “fuck,” and this too reflects something disturbing about how our society deals with the body, with power and with sex. So again, we cannot discount it.
But I also believe that while they may reveal valuable insights about our culture, there really are more important things to also pay close attention to. I know it’s a tired argument. But there is so much fantastic, poetic, wonderful, moving art available out there, even just around the corner. Pop culture is not usually designed to make us think or feel particularly deeply. They are often the television shows that we can watch while doing five other things, or the music and the movies that are entertaining but that don’t trouble us with messy thoughts. It is not designed to change our lives; it is designed to make us spend as much money as possible. I admit that it can enjoyable, but the magnitude of the obsession with Miley and Rob was unnecessary. There needs to be balance.
We should always try to think at least a little critically about the pop culture we consume. I don’t object to dancing to “Blurred Lines” and I don’t think that after said dance we should go home and write an academic paper on it. But I think with every top-40 song, with every Hollywood film, and every passing television show that we watch, it’s important, maybe life changing, to be active in our consumption rather than passive. Easier said than done. I am regularly guilty of being a passive consumer. But I really do want to make more of an effort to wonder about how people are represented, to compare it to other art forms by other kinds of artists, and to object, at least in my mind, to some of the things that are done and said and sung.