5 ene 2010

Pop Culture After 9/11

Key landmarks such as 9/11 did not significantly affect the current trends of the media and popular culture. Popular culture is certainly a key element to consider in order to understand Americans’ worldview. After reading a chapter from Leroy’s book, With Amusement for All. A history of American Popular Culture since 1830, I came to the following thesis which I will attempt to defend in the following lines: even though popular culture reflects Americans’ mindset and it is a powerful tool for both propaganda and inspiration, its fundamental propose is pure entertainment because this is an industry that works for a profit. 

This chapter starts with a brief recapitulation of the recent history of the United States such as September Eleven and The War on Iraq. The author also talks about some scandals which have brought a wide national coverage such as the Janet Jackson’s breast appearance in the 2004 Super Bowl. Then the author explains what this have meant and symbolized for the United States. After such events, some people from conservative sectors proclaimed that the future of the media would be different, having a more wholesome contents in which the exaltation of values and family content would be more important than contents with the mere purpose of entertainment. This forecast wasn’t completely wrong, though. For it is certain that one of the main features of American idiosyncrasy is its ambivalence. There is not a single correct answer, many factors are predominant, some of which are contradictory with one another.

Certainly, America is a nation deeply interested in wholesome family values, even if in reality this is quite hypocritical, just as Christopher Bigsby stated, “America is a puritan nation deeply in love with pornography” (Bigsby 2006, page 9). However, values are really important in the content of the popular media. Patriotic and Christian values are the most important ones. If there is something that John Moore’s war film, Behind the Enemy Lines, and Rick Warren’s Christian self-improvement book, The Purpose Driven Life, have in common, it is that they have sold millions of copies of their works. Odd enough, this book and movie are usually bought by the same people. And there is also not surprising that they would also watch Buffy, the vampire slayer. However, those who bought The purpose Driven Life, would probably never watch Michael Moore’s film, Fahrenheit 9/11 (but the ones who bought John Moore’s film and watch Buffy might, so I assume that it might be two poles, but I don’t have enough data to prove this).

However, all popular culture realizations have something in common: its main purpose is to sell, “The religion of Hollywood is money” (Ashby 2006, page 512) and entertainment is very important to gain a profit. It doesn’t matter whether they have a hidden (or not so hidden) agenda or not: it won’t sell if it’s boring (I cannot state whether Warren’s book is enjoyable or not, but I am using it as a paradigm for evangelical popular content, but I am certain that It has to have some kind of entertainment elements in it). In fact, all this content is quite similar at its core. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ is just as violent as any other violent box-office success. And the Left Behind series can be easily read for the mere purpose of entertainment just as any Stephen King’s fan would read The Cell. They all contain action, good defeating evil, and action heroes. Writers, producers and the industry of entertainment ultimately will go where the money is. Having said that, we cannot forget that this will not collide with the fact that fictional content mirrors reality: “Movies, television, radio, novels, music and a host of other amusements had long provided Americans with perspectives on who they were and what they wanted”. And it also does not mean that popular content and mass media cannot have compelling stories and good quality. History will show us which elements of today’s American popular culture will last.

This chapter of Leroy’s book is quite useful to have a good outlook of the current trends of the mass media in the United States. The author is objective and does not demonize nor praise today’s popular culture. I certainly love American popular culture and I consume it almost every day just as most people in this planet. I do think that we have to consume it with caution, but in general, it is not evil, and it does provide people with dreams and inspiration.

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© Pablo Camus
Maira Gall