Impact of Pop Culture on Society
By Sre Ratha
With the advent of social media, it has become easier to disseminate culture across the globe transforming the world into one global society. This has also seen the penetration of pop culture into various aspects of society.
To understand the impact of pop culture, we first need to understand what pop culture is. The simplest definition of pop culture is “Modern popular culture transmitted via the mass media and aimed particularly at younger people.” It has been noted across various surveys conducted that the youth is most influenced and is the biggest consumer of pop culture.
Pop culture affects society in many ways. The first and most rudimentary effect of pop culture is how it builds and strengthens interactions with people who are also into the same kind of things. Events to celebrate pop culture such as Comic-con help foster bonds among people of different background. Pop culture thus acts as a unifying agent for youth across the globe. As Shreyash, a student of BITS says, “It is amazing to see how people gel at Comic-con.” Pixie, a student of Liberal Arts from Delhi says, “Comic- Con helped me make friends and gave me more topics to talk about in social settings.” Mukund, the manager of Blossoms, a bookstore in Bangalore talks about his observations about people getting into intense discussions based on a comic, or a book especially something like Game of Thrones that is quite current. He says that he has also seen people recommend each other different books and make friends.
On a more personal level, pop culture helps people grow and be more accepting considering the vast amount of representation throughout the various genres in pop cultures. There have been instances and reports about students taking an interest in Chemistry because of Breaking Bad or history because of Dr. Who.(for a more detailed study:) It is even speculated that the Motorola flip phone was inspired by Star Trek. As said by Pixie and his friends, pop culture icons even influence them on stage while portraying a character because they tend to draw similarities between the two characters. It also helps the actors to connect with the audience because of the lasting influence of pop culture icons/characters. Shreyas also says, “It helps people become more creative and expands their imaginative horizons.”
With pop culture taking over the large and small screen, merchandise based on these fandoms has experienced a boom in sales. Earlier, it was just hardcore fans of a particular genre buying merch related to it but now fandom merch is flooding the streets. From stores like Forever21 or Zara to the street shops, you can find band t-shirts, superhero t-shirts, wrist bands etc. Zain, the owner of a small store that sells fandom merch on Brigade road in Bangalore says that he has seen an increase in sales since the mass media saw an increase in the adaptations of comics, book series etc. He says he sees a boom in anime merch now that a lot of people are taking to it. He predicts that the hype would persist for at least the next decade. An Iron Man fan, Zain talks about how the character helped him get more confident as he tried to imitate the Tony Stark swagger. He even talks about the more obscure characters such as Iron Fist, Luke Cage etc. are now gaining ground because of the TV shows which can further help boost sales.
However, apart from the mainstream merchandise, there are various small shops that sell customised merchandise commissioned to local artists. Case in point: Hysteria, a small grungy store in Church Street, Bangalore. It is managed by four people- Selvin, Theja, Ryan and Anita who themselves are self-confessed fans of various aspects of pop culture. The store sells only customised merch that is “out of the ordinary” and is designed by the owner, Theja, who then outsources her concept ideas to local artists. This is not only helping people earn money but is also giving local artists a chance to showcase their work. All because of pop culture.
There are websites on the internet that just sell fandom merch and posters and customised collectibles such as “Batarangs” etc.
In terms of generating business, there has also been a growth of themed restaurants and cafes throughout the country. There is a F.R.I.E.N.D.S. themed café in pretty much every big city in India. In some places across the globe, Starbucks has been known to sell Harry Potter themed drinks (Butterbeer Latte). Bars and restaurants have been known to craft drinks and cocktails based on food preferences of a character or based on the character themselves. In fact, pop culture has influenced food so much that there is a site that has recipes solely of dishes inspired from popular books. “Two friends Cauldron” is a Harry Potter themed café that is located in J.P. Nagar in Bangalore.
Not least, the influence of pop culture as tools of protest can be seen in reference signs in various protest marches and these are the signs that go viral [Images below]. Also, pop culture has evolved into a tool for propagating dissent and bringing to light various social issues that run rampant but are ignored. Even though it is said that “These things are made for kids”, they are rife with social and moral messages. It is largely attributed to pop culture that the present generation is more accepting and dynamic and vocal about injustice and issues that plague the society.
Even to spread awareness, pop culture icons are used so as to be more relatable and fun to the youth and children. For example, for child cancer awareness week, cartoon characters were used.
Possibly, the most interesting and entertaining impact of pop culture is pop culture references in other pieces of pop culture. For example, J.R.R.Tolkien’s work being referenced in Led zeppelin songs or when Iron tells Hawkeye “Pipe it down, Legolas” in ‘The Avengers’ or The Big Bang Theory which is rife with references to pop culture or Ted and Marshall from How I Met Your Mother being obsessive fans of Star Wars or Dean and Sam from Supernatural listening to classic rock and referencing Star Trek, Harry Potter and Disney; the list is endless.
Mainly the youth? Well, it is partly because the youth is more attuned with social media which in today’s age is the most powerful tool in disseminating culture in general. An interesting observation made by Mr. Himanshu, a product manager is that usually the youth is driven towards or attracted to pop culture because it makes them stand against the crowd. He says that he himself was highly influenced by star wars growing up, especially the Jedi code of conduct and attributes that are now humanitarian to him. Also, pop culture gives the youth a lot many avenues to explore. It helps people express their identity better. For someone who may experience difficulty in figuring out their own identity, can express themselves in terms of a character or icon they relate to. Social media and blogs are full of people who have spoken about pop culture icons and characters helping them accept themselves and come out of the closet. (for an entertaining TEDx talk on pop culture)
However, we cannot just push away the fact that pop culture has negative influences as well. The depiction of violence, blood and gore can have serious psychological repercussions especially on young children. Some people can get so immersed into the fictional universes that it becomes difficult for them to distinguish between what is real and what is not. It can also be heavily distracting for people. In some ways, pop culture can discourage intelligence and learning as is seen in the way Ross and Ted’s friends react to them acting ‘smart’ on various instances in F.R.I.E.N.D.S and How I Met Your Mother respectively which can produce a harmful effect on the youth.(for more, visit )
It is undeniable that pop culture has gone a long way in making the concept of “ global society” a reality by giving people across the world a common subject to talk about. Who among the internet community heavily into pop culture can say that they have not made even a single friend overseas through fan accounts and chat rooms? Pop culture keeps changing from generation to generation and has a pronounced effect on the youth. An article I read while researching for the topic said, “It is refreshing to see so many people unapologetically being themselves. Enthusiasts happily share their potentially unusual interests with no reservation or thought of the stereotypes with which other people might associate them. Say what you will, but fandoms attract and support independent thinkers who are accustomed to the potential isolation of the road less travelled.” and that I think that sums it up pretty well. (for more information)