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Friday, January 3, 2014

Why Pop Culture Matters

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's mid-speech swig from a small Poland Spring water bottle during his GOP response generated instant reaction in social media circles and on cable television. (Screenshot)

NPR’s Linda Holmes says people were fascinated by the Marco Rubio water incident because it was an unscripted, spontaneous moment in an otherwise predictable process.(Screenshot)

If you think the life of pop culture writer is fluffy and involves watching movies and listening to music, well, you’re partially right.

But NPR’s pop culture blogger, Linda Holmes says that studying pop culture has an important social function — what we pay attention to in pop culture is how we say what is important to us.

Take the debate over “Duck Dynasty,” whose star was suspended after he made homophobic remarks.

As Holmes writes in her blog, Monkey See:

There are over 750 comments on a post I wrote about [Duck Dynasty], even though the post was really very mild. And in those comments, you will see multiple and profound cultural divides that touch on issues of region, class, religion, race, sexuality, trust, authenticity, and power. Duck Dynasty is not important, but that story exposed that divide and, just as importantly, shows how easy it has become to exploit it.

The utter lack of importance of the underlying subject, in fact, is exactly what tells you how close to the surface and at how high a temperature these conflicts are simmering.

She compares writing about pop culture to studying monkeys.

If you want to understand monkeys you have to study both what they should eat and what they actually eat.

The same is true for people and culture, you need to look at what they should consume and what they actually consume.

“If you want to understand people, like monkeys, you have to understand what they’re actually doing,” Holmes tells Here & Now’Meghna Chakrabarti. “You’re looking horizontally at the society around you and what people are surrounding themselves with, because everybody knows that those things effect the way you think, whether they should or not.”


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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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