The depth of popular culture

 

Some folks see popular culture as inevitably shallow. But is that true? And is it true that shallow is bad?

First, is shallow bad? No. There is nothing inherent in life telling us what we should be into. There are no requirements.

Many have stressful and busy lives and need something undemanding to help them relax and switch gears. Nothing wrong in that. (Although we can question a society that sets us up for such busy and sometimes stressful lives.) At one time or another, easy pop culture serves a helpful function to us.

And for most of us, it’s just one part of a much more varied cultural diet.

Is it true that pop-culture is shallow?

Yes, it’s perhaps true in a conventional and limited sense. There may be less soul and more formulas in much of what we find in pop-culture.

It’s easy to find exceptions. There is often depth to aspects of what we find in pop-culture. Something surprising, moving, or something that gives us an insight into ourselves or the lives of others. And some of what we find in pop-culture obviously has more depth, richness, and complexity to it, for example, stories rich in archetypes like Star Wars (original trilogy) and Pan’s Labyrinth.

It also depends on what we define as popular culture. Bach is quite popular. Is that pop culture? Chopin was a pop-culture superstar in his time.

And it depends on how readily available something is to us. When we have to put more effort and intention into finding something, it can seem more sophisticated, for instance when we are into the pop-culture of another time or culture.

Finally, we bring the depth to it.

When I watch movies, including the most mainstream Hollywood movies, I often look for archetypes and archetypal dynamics.

I take it as I would a dream, see the different parts of the story as parts of me, and find it in me.

I notice what I react to and look for the beliefs or emotional issues it triggered in me.

I notice what I am fascinated by and find what the fascination is about and then see if I can find that in myself.

So when it comes down to it, if we see something as shallow, we can only blame ourselves. We take a shallow approach to it.

We bring the richness or the shallow to it.

A personal note: In my late teens and early twenties, I had judgments about pop culture and went deep into more “high” and “sophisticated” art, music, books and movies. There was nothing wrong with this, and it was very rewarding and I still enjoy that type of culture. But it also came from insecurity. I wanted to be “better” and more sophisticated. I didn’t feel good enough as I was. Now, fortunately, I feel more free to enjoy all of it.

If we have ideas about high or low culture, or one thing being better than the other, it’s a reminder to take a look at ourselves. Where in me does it come from? Do I try to create an identity for myself to feel better about myself? How would it be to enjoy it all independent of labels?

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