Don’t underestimate pink flamingos
Brief historical background.
Pop culture is a set of cultural goods produced by small media groups and consumed by the masses. During the 20th century, media groups had exclusive ownership of pop culture production as well as full control of communication channels like television or radio.
Newspaper editors, publishers, and news shows approved all content and information before it was aired or published and the audience had no or limited ability of interaction.
During the 60’s, counter-culture movements and artists opposed this mainstream media system. Their aim was to educate working class people and create local structures of cultural production and distribution.
Although their ambitious projects had solid theoretical bases, their effectiveness was poor. Traditional media retained their power and TV shows, news and advertising remained powerful.
New technologies & Media transformation.
Where social artists failed, new technologies succeeded. The emergence of the internet degraded the long dominance of traditional media which led to an unprecedented democratization of content production.
Today, our social media feed is a fluid field of mass culture and trends. Millennials spend 30 percent of their media time consuming peer-created content.
As new technologies have become more accessible, user-friendly and affordable to the general public, large numbers of individuals are now able to post online content, with little or no “gatekeepers” or filters.
So, any individual is a culture maker?
John A. Walker argues that: “Art produced by amateurs tends to be extremely limited in content, form and social functions. For example, amateur photography relates mainly to the positive moments of life and is linked to free time and tourism.”
What Walker points out is that, in terms of culture, we mostly produce boring stuff. As users, we usually imitate the visual conventions of mainstream media, with which we are already familiar.
Apparently, the ability of publishing photos and videos doesn’t make you an artist or a cultural influencer. Conscious cultural content is produced by people who recognize and challenge the social contexts.
Organic trends and media exploitation.
With the advent of social media, yet, an unprecedented phenomenon is also emerging: The organic rise of trends from the masses. For example, a photo of your favorite inflatable flamingo has no cultural value on itself. However, if thousands of people start posting flamingo photos then we have an emerging trend. Users tend to imitate each other. Imitation creates trends that eventually re-shape pop culture.
Big brands understand this dynamic and they try to keep up with the ever-emerging trends. They either integrate them into their communication or ask people to create content around them.
Regular users are like fishes.
Since traditional media lost the monopoly of content production, masses have gained ground. As Tham Khai Meng says: “The audience today is so powerful, they can make you incredibly famous or click you to death.”
Truth is, we are away from the ambitious visions of the 60’s. Although individuals have the means to produce cultural content, their communication techniques and fundamental aesthetics remain undeveloped.
Social media users follow the trends like fish flocks drifting from the stream of water.
Pop culture in the era of social media is an ocean full of currents. Some streams emerge organically, while others are being promoted by the media. In any case, user flocks that follow them release great dynamics that affect culture back.
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