Thursday, 15 September 2011

On pop culture

Pop culture. What is it? Well I'm sure it means a lot of things to a lot of different people, but hey the way we're going with media today we should really expect nothing less. Media; there's just so much of it, and in so many mediums.

So back to the question: What is it? Literally it's pretty easy to decipher: Popular. Culture. i.e. Whatever the masses are into, or as Wikipedia says:

"...the totality of ideasperspectivesattitudesmemes,[1] images and other phenomena that are deemed preferred per an informal consensus within the mainstream of a given culture."
Thank you Wikipedia (and as a side note it's interesting that they specifically mentioned "meme").

As the quote mentions though, popular culture in its broadest sense encompasses a whole lot of what's going on, and when you consider that many forms of media today involve some kind of interactive component (the Internet, Wikipedia, fan-made playlists on YouTube, even Forum pages in "old-school" newspapers) then you come across the problem of a whole lot of information coming in, and a lot less processing of that information by the individual person.

Is that bad? Mm...well I'd say it's debatable either way, but in that sense it's interesting to consider that when we speak of defining popular culture each and every person is probably going to define it in his or her own way, or alternatively in such a superficial sense that it barely scratches the surface of any one facet of the topic. I guess if you have the time then the positive effect is that you get a swathe of unique results...but then again in this day and age of instant uploads, instant messaging (and instant...noodles?), who has the time?

Good question? Maybe. But here's the point: I personally think that the best way to describe and represent popular culture is to...
  1. Bear in mind that there's both huge breadth and depth involved, and then to...
  2. Disregard part 1 and just go deep into one aspect alone. If you have the time after that then you can look up other peoples' opinions, which will invariably provide another side to the metaphysical coin.
So. Now with all that out of the way, you're probably asking me: Hey, what aspect are you gonna talk about? Curious? Take a look:

Aaand welcome back. So don't kill me because I kinda cheated. The link I sent you on wasn't to a specific page, but to a YouTube. Playlist. You with me so far? That's 2 levels we're on now. Firstly, YouTube is a popular video sharing site that has anything from serious, official channels from movie and TV companies to promote their works, to fan-made videos (i.e. that fat kid next door who decides to find out what happens when you mix Mentos and Coke). No kidding.
Told you so. But actually in the broadest sense this kind of fan-made pop/media culture opens doors to some potentially amazing places because it runs the gamut from silly facepalm-worthy moments like the one above, to astounding pieces of...well art like in the case of the following musically-talented dynamic duo:
Fan-made. Professional. Stuff. But that's not all, and those of you who remember my original YouTube link in this post will realize that I haven't even touched on those videos yet. Ready to go deeper down the rabbit hole? As a wise man once said, "Here we go!" (you want 0:20)
So that video playlist. They're all songs, but the question is: From where? Well the simple answer is Vocaloid. The not-so-simple answer? Vocaloid is actually a voice synthesizer, that has gained immense popularity in Japan for its use of virtual "diva" characters to promote said program. All the songs in the playlist were created by fans.

But it doesn't stop there. See, once the songs are made some people take it upon themselves to replace the program's voices with actual singers. Here's a quick recap: People covering songs sung by machines made by people. Have I lost you yet (I'm certainly trying :P)?

But wait, there's one more level to this yarn. See, after all the songs are made someone has to go through and decide what fits where (remember what Wikipedia said about "informal consensus"?), kind of like how Google puts similarly-grouped searches together when you look for por-..I mean scientific studies on dentistry in the search box, except it's an actual person doing the work instead of a set of pre-programmed algorithms designed to hand you your much-needed dental information on a silver platter.

It's basically putting together an album. For free. That you get to watch and listen to. For free. And if you want to copy that playlist and edit it some more you' to do so (Vannevar Bush's ideas on Memex trails anyone?).

Or maybe you'd rather copy it to your blog and tie it in to some post on pop culture and social media usage instead, where it subliminally spreads through the minds of your unwitting readers. You're free to do that too.

Thank you and good night.


  1. It is always amazing to realize how much of a media rich environment we are in with the internet readily available. The secularization of the types of media people consume is something that will continue to bring interesting and unique forms of expression. I think as time goes on we will have to change the way we think of as "pop culture." Thanks for your post.

  2. Thanks for reading! I think it will always be possible to define pop culture in its widest sense, but it'll be increasingly difficult to go into the details as the sheer volume, minutiae and overlap of the various kinds of pop culture continues to develop.

  3. NOW I think I know where "Mario: It's a me..." of that poster in the lounge came from... XD

  4. Actually, your guess would be right..

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Love the way you think, great post! I can see you spent a lot of time on it. I definitely agree that pop culture will always be defined on the broad spectrum of what people are into. It's combining the masses' opinion on pop culture and therefore; loosing the singular, uniquely complex opinions of pop culture.

    "then you come across the problem of a whole lot of information coming in, and a lot less processing of that information by the individual person."

    Exactly, that's what I always resolve to when I consider the stupidity in popular culture. In our information age, there's TOO MUCH information for an average mind to ponder upon and comprehend, thus the result of all these mindless, meaningless themes in pop culture.
    In retrospect, the previous generation could be boiled down to three mediums: Television, Radio, Newspaper. It certainly gave people enough time to ponder upon and process the information just received, rather than just indulging in the superficial, empty, joyful aspects of it (like humor, enjoyment in sounds, or pretty pictures). That our current era inevitably delves into. The outcome is the current zeitgeist of...shallow pop culture, to put it in nice terms.

    But I'm sure we all have that in the back of our minds, I just had this relentless need to put it in words.

    "Here's a quick recap: People covering songs sung by machines made by people. Have I lost you yet (I'm certainly trying :P)?"

    Hahaha! This reminds me of a video I saw a few years ago! I'm sure you will enjoy it, it's hilarious! Please let me know your opinion on it!

    Hahaha, get it??? It's humans simulating the movements of video games characters that (poorly) simulate the movement of humans! Ironically he relegates to work at creating this movements for the characters themselves!

    ...Plus the street fighter death was awesome! :P
    *Sorry I made too many typos on the last comment, had to repost...

  7. Mm I dunno if the overload of information is necessarily a bad thing, assuming one knows how and what to with it. But certainly just due to the sheer load there are gonna be people who won't be able to manage that properly, or wisely and that's probably when you get the kind of people who passively absorb media content without running the information through their heads to see if it's true, or just hyperbole.

    I've actually seen the video you mentioned. It's an interesting spoof, but the sad thing is that people are probably affected in lesser ways by the kinds of media available today. Depending on where you would draw the line between media usage, and media addiction you might even call people attached to their Blackberrys and handphones in that group (and there are lots of people in that category)

  8. Most definitely, people just love starring at their pretty iphone graphics when they're actually not doing much on it, just flipping through screens. It's just to human to even catch our selves doing it. In a way it's like television, I like to call it "the zombie box" because that's what ppl turn into. Thanks to the internet I watch what I want when I want (torrents ;) ) but not everyone is keen to catch themselves delving into the pretty colors and sounds. Imagery is the biggest culprit at gaining peoples attention, obviously, from all the visual junk out there, but then again, Pop music can unsavory, too.

  9. On the other hand it's easy to call it all negative, but in a way (and I think I read this from somewhere before but I forget where) interactive mediums like the Internet, and even video games are one step away from the passivity of a television. You have to actively interact and choose what to do in the game world or what links to click and what to search for on the Internet so at least that's one example where "modern" pop culture promotes less of that "zombie" effect.

  10. Specially when those games require you to shoot Zombies! :D

  11. lol, I think I may know just the game..