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The year in pop ‘culture’

When I first pitched this column, it was to be a twice-monthly examination of “pop culture,” a powerful buzz phrase within the realm of alt-newsweeklies and the mainstream media hype machine.

And as with all buzz words, the true definition of the term eventually gets convoluted, or lost all together.

What exactly is pop culture?

Wikipedia, the encyclopedia of choice for pop culturists, defines the term as “the daily interactions, needs and desires, and cultural ‘moments’ that make up the everyday lives of the non-elite. It can include ... cooking, clothing, mass media and the many facets of entertainment such as sports and literature.” The populist (in the true sense of the word) online reference also lists criticisms of pop culture, mainly that it’s superficial, and encourages both sensationalism and commercialism.

True dat — and Americans globally reign supreme as the primary purveyors of pop culture (and probably sensationalism and commercialism as well). These days, it seems the fabric of America’s pop culture is woven by the antics of K-Fed and baby Brit, the ongoing saga of Jessica and Nick, and the celebrity trial du jour.

2005 was a record year for pop culture — and, alas, most of it was the slimy, seedy sensationalistic shit that fills the pages of tabloids and keeps Mary Hart employed (speaking of which, Entertainment Tonight now has the brass fucking balls to promote its celebrity gossip segments as “investigative reports.”)

This year, every time we turned around, we heard about the Brad, Jen and Angelina love triangle; the ever-escalating embarrassment that is the Simpson sisters; the epic court trials for the King of Child Molesters; and supermodels snorting coke or proving on national television that their breasts aren’t fabricated.

While this is certainly nothing new, it came during a year when Americans should have been concerned with far weightier issues than Tara Reid’s bad boob job.

I realize this may sound hypocritical, coming from a writer who’s used this very space to rant about visible thongs as fashion accessories, but bear with me.

Entertainment in its many forms has always been an antidote to the travails and tragedies of life. But in 2005 in particular, Americans weren’t using “entertainment news” as stress relief, turning to it in place of current events. In a year when several huge White House scandals came to light and a series of hurricanes destroyed part of our country, it’s sad and pathetic that so much ink was devoted to baby Spears. Maybe the events in Iraq and the Ninth Ward were so heartbreaking and disturbing that we chose to focus instead on lighter issues. But that’s no excuse, folks. It fosters ignorance, and in the year just past set an all-new low in vapidity, shallowness and moral bankruptcy. Check, please.

Yet there was also a backlash to the cultural vacuum, displayed in a renewed vigor from reporters aggressively following Dubya’s questionable foundation for the “War on Terror.” There was also a series of tremendously insightful and weighty films that crept into mainstream cineplexes (Syriana and Good Night, and Good Luck); refreshingly inventive documentaries like the paraplegic rugby-player study, Murderball; and television that was actually — gasp — thoughtful and well-written.

But who has time for all that when there’s Katie and Tom.

More than anything, 2005 illustrated yet another growing divide in our fair nation. Since the last election, our country has reached its most pronounced and divisive split politically — the rift between red and blue states has never been more stark than the dark days of Blue and Gray — and it seems we’re now treading the lip of another chasm: highbrow and lowbrow. Armchair intellectual vs. couch potato. PBS vs. Desperate Housewives. Sierra Nevada vs. Miller High Life.

As if you needed further proof of our continuing cultural genocide, Mariah Carey is now tied with Elvis for the No. 2 slot on Billboard’s list of artists with the most No. 1 singles. If that wasn’t sad and sorry enough, chew on this: If you keep buying her crap, she’ll overthrow the Beatles, who still hold the top spot.

Don’t get me wrong, I was right there with you, giggling shamelessly at Blackeyed Fergie’s pee-stained cargo pants — but I’m really fed up and disgusted with the numbers of people in this country who are more knowledgeable about Nick and Jess’ marital rifts than the current state of Iraq. It’s always been that way, but in ’05 it was clearer than ever. For shame.

In 2006, I beseech of you — put down the mouse, turn off the tube and read a book, fer chrissake. You’re beginning to scare me: In 2005, the word that was most looked up on Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary was ...

... integrity.

That’s fucking sad, man.

Sarah Klein is the culture, or lack thereof, editor of Metro Times. Send comments to sklein@metrotimes.com.

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