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 Their performances come across almost as outdated to our sensibilities, and the fact that they show images of missiles being launched in the middle of concerts says just about everything.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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