Hey guys, kind of a departure from my usual entries, but I just finished writing this for my Intercultural Communications class and thought it turned out pretty well. So, if any of you were ever curious about my opinions regarding pop culture and the media, here you go ^_^
American pop culture as related to my generation is rooted in instant gratification, excess and nostalgia, usually a very white-washed form where minorities are still relegated to secondary roles. Since our realities are so inextricably linked with the act of mass consumption, originality of thought has become a rarity as evidenced by the stream of endless movie and television remakes. Instead we focus on the same ideas being re-hashed over and over again in slightly different forms or use technological storehouses to revisit days gone by. Netflix makes it simple for all sorts of shows from yesteryear to be seen at the touch of a button; because my generation’s collective memory is so thoroughly entwined with the media, childhood memories become indelibly linked to television shows. Still, this nostalgia comes equipped with rose-tinted glasses that somehow cause us to bypass the incongruities of those shows that we glossed over as children, such as all-white casts with one or two token minorities thrown in for good measure.
Our virtual worlds mirror our perceptions of the real world, and so my generation has been collectively conditioned, from childhood to see minorities as supporting characters in the sitcom of life, thrown in to affect a very controlled form of “diversity,” amongst a cast of mostly whites who function as the “major players.”
In advertisements, Americans have been shown to be happy, bright-eyed, optimistic, prosperous and “All-American,” (read: white as Wonder Bread). Although this has changed somewhat, most people throughout the world still see the stereotypical blonde-haired, blue-eyed American cowboy, or buxom model made popular by characters such as the Marlboro Man and actors such as Pamela Anderson (who isn’t even American).
On the other, less glamorous side of the spectrum, Americans are connected with excess. Excessive gluttony for food, entertainment, surgical enhancements, tanning, brand names. We are connected with a type of caricature of ourselves. In our zombified media-inundated world of excess, even other human beings become a commodity. In America, everyone is your friend. People send you requests for friendship on social networking sites after sitting in a class with you and scarcely exchanging two words, just to add you to their collection. We collect people like trophies and never really listen to them or form any significant connections; another reflection of our excess.
When I met a Japanese/Korean young man from Germany at a party, he spoke about his experiences in America as compared to his native Germany, saying he was surprised by how unattractive he perceived the women to be compared to the women in Europe. He cited larger bodily proportions that he was surprised by, because he thought they would be skinnier and prettier. Perhaps in the media he’s been exposed to regarding American women, what he saw was a model or actress and associated her appearance with that of all American women. This very same type of image wreaks havoc on many American women’s self-esteem. We are bombarded with glamorized advertisements about every type of delectable junk food, yet concurrently, are also flooded with images of skinny, traditionally “beautiful” women who force many young women to choose between enjoying the meal of their choosing or starving to fit into a cage of someone else’s creation. And yes, whose creation is it? Is it our collective creation perpetuated by a few top tier advertising and media moguls? Is it a dark, inherent need for self-destruction? Certainly that must be one of the motives behind our lust for reality television, our need to stave off the darkness associated with our own self-destructive needs by focusing instead on others’ very public acts of self-destruction for our own amusement and distraction.
We derive much entertainment from the media, and as mentioned earlier, media and reality have become indistinguishable to my generation. This is even evident in the title of “reality tv,” although most audiences are at least partially aware that this is a controlled, skewed version of “reality,” it appeals to our psyches as an extension of our mundane lives. We take these experiences with us, even though they are not ours and relay them to friends and co-workers as if they were.
We are constantly connected through the pervasiveness of social media, through our phones, iPods, laptops, and tablets, we are literally always connected, needing four of essentially the same object in different forms. Consider that you might pay for a phone with internet access, while your laptop at home, which is also portable, like your phone is also capable of internet access, as is your tablet, even your kindle reader and your video game console. Why is internet access so necessary now? Because media and reality have merged. We live and breathe through our experiences which we relate through Twitter and Facebook. Life has become a series of text messages for most of the younger generation, and what are they texting about? Reality television. The new video game or electronic device they bought. A Facebook game they need more tokens for. Even our work hinges on technology. When the company e-mail is down, messages are unable to be relayed and production literally shuts down. Even the securing of a job hinges on one’s internet access and competence with a computer. Our recreation likewise centers around technology as well.
In conclusion, we cite all these developments as technological advancements and therefore as advancements of the human species and our global culture. One must ask themselves, however, have we truly advanced, and if so, towards what? We have moved from a culture that connected with one another, to one that connects with technology. It is a colder form of communication, one that lacks depth or emotion. Consider how many misunderstandings are caused by misunderstood meanings in text messages. The subtleties of communication are not applicable in such a context. Though we are slightly more culturally aware, racism is still perpetuated through stereotypes and relegation of minorities to supporting roles in many television programs. We need to take the best of this generation, the minor improvements we have made towards cultural inclusivity, expand upon them and merge them with the type of close-knit familiar communication evident in yesteryear. We can still use technology without being slaves to it or having a phone as an extra appendage. When my power was out, which happens often where I live, I spent time in a candlelit living room listening to my grandmother tell me about her life, her stories, the rich depth of her existence on this plane. And it was amazingly enriching and entertaining! More than any cheap form of filler entertainment like vacuous reality shows or the self-entitled Twitter ramblings of some acquaintance I barely know in real life. It was real. If we can somehow form an appreciation and recognition of that type of “realness,” lasting and genuine advancements in exchanges, especially intercultural exchanges, are sure to follow.