10 Ways Pop Culture is Like Real Art

| Wednesday, November 6, 2013

If you guys have been hanging around me for long enough, you'll know by now that I have a not-insignificant amount of disdain for people who equate intelligence with academia. It's classist as hell.

You'll also know that I love love love talking about pop culture and popular media. Whether I'm doing a big ol' feminist critique or I'm just enjoying it, I love pop culture. I think it says fascinating things about us and reveals a dark side many of us don't like to dwell on. I also think it's very much artistic.

Now, granted, I'm not arguing everything that comes out of pop culture is high art, and I'll be the first to drop someone to the mat when they do something pedestrian and jerky while hiding behind the claim "I AM AN ARTIST AND ART MEANS FREEDOM TO DO MY SHITTY ACT WITHOUT CONSEQUENCE" the second the critics come out. Just because I'm arguing it's art doesn't mean I'm arguing it's all good art. The fact that it's art doesn't mean it's free to do what it pleases without criticism.

But I am saying it's art. In fact, I'm going to give you ten reasons why I think pop culture is like "real art."

Bubblegum Pop Culture
Photo Credit: Helga Weber via Compfight cc

1) It can reach a wide audience. It is "popular" culture, after all. It's known for appealing to the masses. You'll find it anywhere, much as many great artists of our age can be found on dorm room walls in any university today.

2) It can reach a niche audience. It may seem oxymoronic to say pop culture can be niche, but this is where cult followings come in. We all know a hipster or six who knew about a band well before they were booked for all the summer music festivals. The exclusivity makes people feel special, whether it's an obsession with The Postal Service or a dedication to medieval Germanic poetry, and you'll see the same reaction when it begins to gain traction with the masses. I DID IT BEFORE IT WAS COOL! YOU'RE NOT A TRUE SCHOLAR FAN!

3) People can relate to it. Not every piece of art is created to be relateable -- in fact, some art is specifically created to be difficult to access. That's cool. But art is such a human thing. We create it because we must, because there's something in us that drives us to make something beautiful, enjoyable, entertaining, or all of the above. When we look at art, we often want to see ourselves.

4) It can be studied. If you think you can't take an entire class on analyzing Top 40 radio hits, you'd be wrong. Pop culture is social. It's story. It can be pulled apart and reviewed through a hundred different lenses to reveal its strengths and shortcomings. If the designation of "real art" is that it can be reviewed in an academic setting, than popular media easily fits the bill. I mean, Overthinking It, guys.

5) It's a marker of the culture and period we currently live in. Some people get stuck in this rut where art has to be old, or proven, or approved by years of study. This is the reason so much of our "real art" is westernized and white and male and fits in a very particular box. Culture and society matter. Much as Age of Enlightenment-era art reflects the changes occurring at the time, our present multimedia exploits, our television, our film and music... they all represent the technological and ideological shift happening in our culture. And it's amazing.

6) It can be enjoyed or appreciated regardless of education or class status. There are two kinds of art lovers: those who argue that great art is great because anyone can sense its greatness even if they don't understand its every nuance, and those who argue that great art is great because they went to school to learn about it for a really long time and know more about it than you ever will and you don't like it because you're uneducated. I tend to lean toward the former. One is a recognition that art can be appreciated by all, while the other is the insistence that art is class-based and only the upper crust can appreciate the good stuff.

7) It exposes us to ways of thinking we never considered before. Art changes us. It reveals insight into ideas and lives we haven't been exposed to before. Reading fiction can literally increase our capacity for empathy. This doesn't just apply to classic literature or Renaissance art. This is why representation matters, and why people who are underrepresented in media fight so hard to be seen. On some level, we all understand that seeing ourselves in our art and entertainment means that our lives are important, and other people can come to understand that.

8) It makes us feel. Have you ever looked upon a great work of art, seen a well-acted play, or listened to a piece of music and felt overcome with emotion? Art makes us feel things we can't explain. It makes us angry, and joyous, and full of despair. One only needs look at fandoms, or see people reduced to tears while they tell an actor that their character saved their life, to know that pop culture moves people.

9) We're often told it's not good simply because it wasn't done by a white man first. One of the earliest science fiction novels was written by a woman named Mary Shelley. Some of our most beloved music -- jazz, blues, reggae, hip-hop, rock 'n roll -- was born of Black men and women. What is thought to be the world's first modern novel was written by a Japanese woman. But so often, especially today, we're told that these things don't matter. Worse, we're told something is trashy/valueless until it is properly "elevated" by someone white, or someone male. How often do we witness timeless homestyle cooking from a non-white country "transformed" into haute cuisine by a white chef? Pop culture is the same. Rap is "ghetto" and othered until a white rapper sings something about being okay with queer people. Romance novels are useless pulp until some man does it and makes it a "human story." Again and again, art is stripped of value until an approved member of society "reinvents" it.

10) It IS real art. Stop being a butt. Nothing more to say on this one, really.

The next time you find yourself getting ready to go on a rant about how stupid the general public is because they don't read ~REAL~ books or appreciate ~GOOD~ music or understand ~QUALITY~ culture, be a pal and don't.

***Super special note because this argument always comes up*** Once again, this does not mean pop culture is immune to criticism. There's some damaging and poorly-done shit floating around out there. This applies to pop culture AS A CONCEPT, not as a blanket "all pop culture is good!" argument.


{ Andrew Leon } at: November 6, 2013 at 3:25 PM said...

A lot of the stuff we call ART today was the equivalent of "pop culture art" when it was created.

{ Stephanie Ingrid Sarah Kristan } at: November 7, 2013 at 5:23 AM said...

Yup yup yup! And good point from Andrew Leon, too.

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