Our Culture is Meaningless. Let’s change this.
Why challenging popular culture should be part of the post-woke mission
Welcome to TaraElla Report Culture, where I take a step back from the more political talk, and look at things from the wider cultural perspective.
To explain the purpose behind this new series, we need to start by acknowledging the fact that political, philosophical, and sociological debates do not occur in a vacuum, but are immersed in, and strongly affected by, the mood of the wider culture. Of course, the process goes both ways, for example the toxic culture wars that originated in politics have also had a negative effect on the wider culture. The important thing is, the wider culture, including the popular culture, is an overlooked potential site of action, if we want to end the toxic culture wars.
When I first started blogging nearly 20 years ago, I actually focused on popular culture. As a singer songwriter, I was very plugged into the news of the music world. From there, it was natural to also be plugged into the world of movies, television, celebrities and so on. When I was a teenager, I actually thought these things were having a positive impact on people, simply because it made them happy, and made life easier for people in difficult times. I thought that, by somewhat ‘participating’ in that world and making it even better, I would be contributing to making people’s lives better. Back then, I thought that the adults were underestimating the value of popular culture.
As I grew older, I became more passionate about important social issues. The 2003 Iraq War, which I strongly opposed, was the first time I passionately got involved in politics. Soon after, I also got passionate about several other things. The politics around the Iraq War got me interested in the impact of religion on politics, which was part of what led me to become passionate about gay marriage. There was also this big evolution vs intelligent design debate back then, which made me realize the importance of respecting scientific facts. I also realized that I really liked being immersed in these debates, which were debates about fundamental worldviews, morals, and truth. For me, these meaningful debates contrasted sharply with the lack of such meaning in the popular cultural world, and as the years went by, I gradually drifted away from popular culture.
During the late 2000s to the mid 2010s, I actually drifted in and out of popular culture for a while. While in earlier times, popular culture would generally avoid the big controversial questions of our time, things appeared to be changing by 2008 or so. More and more, movies and TV shows started dealing with these questions, and some celebrities started to take strong stances. At that time, I honestly thought it was an improvement. But later on, I would be disappointed again, because a lot of this would be superficial and therefore even counter-productive sometimes. In the case of celebrities taking stances, it honestly felt like virtue signalling a lot of the time, whether this was their actual intention or not. I realized that the superficialness of our popular culture meant that we couldn’t actually be having truly meaningful debates within it. This was when I finally ‘gave up’ on popular culture.
Since then, popular culture has only gotten more superficial, with the rise of viral videos, meaningless trends, and influencers who don’t stand for anything. In this world, popularity is about how you look, and not what you stand for, and taking a stance on anything would only alienate your fans. Some people have said that this is an inevitable consequence of the internet. However, is this superficial culture really inevitable? Or could we try to turn it around? I believe it’s worth at least trying, because I think the toxic woke vs anti-woke politics ultimately stems from our culture being very superficial.
I once thought that I could escape the superficialness by leaving popular culture behind, but now I realize that the superficialness is everywhere, because culture, politics and intellectualism are not separate things. This is why I believe the antidote to the current polarization is to bring back in-depth thinking and discussion. We need to do it across all of our culture, especially popular culture, which remains a strong influence in many people’s lives. I still believe we shouldn’t underestimate the value of popular culture, in terms of healing the social fabric, after all.