Do I Go Too Far Defending Pop Culture?

I have an optimistic view of pop culture. I believe it to be a resource of creativity, a space for people to explore, and an interaction between different groups. While I acknowledge that pop culture can have deep ties with capitalism and that customers are just as often viewed as bags of money as they are people (if not more), I do not think of pop culture as a controlling force designed to influence our very way of thinking.

But what about when it is?

I’ve been taking a cursory look at North Korean pop culture recently, and generally speaking its main purpose is to reinforce the ideology that dominates the country. From television to film to music, the purpose of North Korean popular culture is propaganda. What could be considered an implicit effect of pop culture in other parts of the world is a very intentional utilization of media.

Given how obvious the elements of propaganda are in North Korean media in particular, it is very easy to draw a line between “our” popular culture and “theirs.” Their performances come across almost as outdated to our sensibilities, and the fact that they show images of missiles being launched in the middle of concerts says just about everything. However, what if I were born and raised in North Korea, or were somehow indoctrinated into its culture? Given my optimism, would I be defending North Korean pop culture the way I defend anime and manga? Would I ultimately view the cultural output of North Korea to its people as something benevolent?

That question has been with me over the past few years, mainly because I’ve had to really reflect on my approach to popular culture and its effects on people. It’s easy to champion interesting works and to point out how fans can engage with media actively, but even if these actions are possible does that mean an actual de-fanging of the controlling aspects of having what’s considered the “conventional” way of doing things appear in media (appearance, mannerisms, etc.)?

The biggest danger of optimism towards pop culture to me personally is the point at which it becomes blind faith, and it’s what I seek to avoid even as I look at it in an overall positive light. I think it’s very easy to fall towards cynisim in the process, but my hope is that I never do.

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2 thoughts on “Do I Go Too Far Defending Pop Culture?

  1. There are some aspects of American pop culture that can be a “missiles being launched in the middle of concert” moment for non-Americans, too. Same with the occasional anime or video game. Or books. Or articles online. Whatever.

    I think in this post you run the risk of painting with a brush at all. Or at least that’s my issue, like, there are some systemic things, and there are some specific things, that we take issues with. But they’re different things. For example you can talk about lack of racial minority actors represented in Hollywood movies, that’s a systemic thing. Or talk about GATE’s politics, that’s a specific thing. But so what? It’s what you say or the kind of insight that sort of adds to the exploration of these topics, not particularly your attitude (unless somehow your attitude is a part of your unique insight?). It’s just stuff you can use to make some point, I guess. A thing which for critics and writers to build narratives with. You have your position in which you might be more positive than some others, but that would be a thing besides the basis of the validity of your ideas.

    I don’t know about pop culture as a construction in the way you are talking about it, I guess. To me it’s just culture like any other thing people do? Can it be used for good or evil? Of course. can it be used to influence people’s thoughts? Fo sho. Just because you might not believe the problem of commercialism of popular culture as a deeply serious issue as I do, as an example, I don’t know if you actually do or not, it does not invalidate your point per se. I hope ideas that verified and judged on its own worth.


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