Pop Culture Art

Anthropology: Pop-Culture and its Influence on Culture and Society

We see it and soak in pop-culture every day without even realizing it. We are influenced by the media and what is popular turning every corner we walk around. It is everywhere, but what is it really? A broad subject, yes, but specifically it is necessary to look at the recent social changes that the media has taken part in. As the Gen Z’ers continue growing in a consumption-based society, there are topics to note on how exactly daily life on social media platforms will continue to lead impressionable lives on those surrounding.

Some Backstory

From a social outlook, we can notice quite obviously how there has been change over time. If we look at the past forms of media and propaganda, we understand how it has always been groups of people guarding ideologies and placing them in society. To get deeper on this subject in order to identify how the twenty-first century has truly taken a large turn in social change, The Social Theory and Neoliberalism are significant to take note of.

The Media and Social Theory

The mass media in the West have always been centrally an institution of the market. It began with the rise of mass-circulation newspapers, beginning in the United States in the 1830s, and later in the nineteenth century in Europe. First, were the strong ties that existed between the media and the organized social groups. This included spaces like churches, political parties and trade unions.

Daniel C. Hallin on this topic

In an peer reviewed book titled, “The Media and Social Theory” written in 2008, this topic of neoliberalism and social movements is brought about. Let’s look at the chapter Neoliberalism, social movements and change in media systems in the late twentieth century, by Daniel C. Hallin. He says, “In terms of Bourdieuian field theory, we could say that these ties, together with the related fact that broadcasting was organized as an institution of the state, meant that the influence of the political field on the media counterbalanced to a significant extent that of the economic field,” (page 44). This relates to how the media first developed from a more political standpoint with specific economic power to gain. Hallin then brings in other theories that identify other structural transformations in society. The first, in the nineteenth century featuring large-scale mass media. The second taking place in the post-World War II period in Europe, which involves the displacement of these organizations. With the development form private owned media broadcasting methods to more commercialized systems, this brought on a different approach to delivering society information.

Pop Culture Builds Empathy

Have you ever felt deeply connected to a film or TV series? The power of stories that are told via electronic screen transport the viewer has audiences seeking ways to engage with each other and the content they are watching. The internet as a creation involves many controversial aspects, like Facebook, which are considered an issue more than a blessing to human civilization. However, right now we can understand the benefits of engagement between people on a brighter note.

Successful TV shows steer away from a flat narrative or one-dimensional characters. They appeal to the viewer by being built around complex characters and stories that are relatable. It is the connection that becomes formed over time that creates the ultimate entertainment education. By doing so, writers behind these shows can display a series of situations and topics within their story. Modern Family, for example, draws on family experiences with blended members with truly modern components. As a sit-com, it makes you laugh. But, the success behind this is not only the laughs that come about, but the emotional reality behind family events and relationships. For almost a decade this show aired. Not only was it a hit, but the awards, audience engagement and participation show the real connection between audience and the screen.

Westernized Mindset

Media plays a large role in who we are as a society. In an anthropological mindset, this is a large topic to understand how we develop as a culture. What does well in the media and in entertainment sectors represents how we are as a culture. This is speaking from the Westernized world of Hollywood, specifically. Here in North America, much of the media is

Images of Oscar nominated and winning actors/actresses
The 2021 Academy Awards were recorded as the Oscar’s most diverse year

pushed by organizations that are American based. Not all stories in movies are American, but the west-side of the country takes on a large role in developing blockbuster movies to put international voices on screen. When you look at award organizations like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, again, much of the nominees and winners belong to American made movies and actors. With their international categories, perhaps that could be enough for some to accept that they represent a larger spectrum of motion picture talent. However, it was only until the 2020 Oscars that an international film won best picture. It was only until the 2021 Oscars that the first Asian actress won best actress in a supporting role. It was only until this year that more people of color with diverse backgrounds were officially awarded for their work on screen. This says quite a bit about where the influence for audience members comes from, and who controls it.

Stories Help Change Opinions

Back to Modern Family: a show about new family models also created a new support for the LGBTQ+ community. According to a poll done by the Hollywood Reporter, data suggests that actually seeing gay couples in families makes it more socially acceptable. Views on gay marriage have gone in its favor from the last twenty years with help from the influence of gay-friendly TV. From this poll, the voters are asked how the shows in the last 10 years have influenced them: 27 percent said gay TV made them more pro-gay marriage. Young people also say that the more they see gay characters the more they support them and gay marriage. Impressionable young people are more open to changed views and behavior, which is why the demographics of exactly who is watching these shows really matters. The effect millennials and Gen Z have as generations strive to intensify the effect of media involvement in social change.

Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet as Mitchell and Cameron on Modern Family
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet as Mitchell and Cameron on Modern Family – 2009

A Look at Glee

We can even look at the show “Glee” for its messages behind social issues like bullying, importance of the arts, same-sex couples and the general acceptance of others. The show does include many minorities as characters for the plot development to challenge social norms, however, there are still problems with it. Viewers can notice that those minority characters really are still a minority–always centred around the “normal” characters. It still revolves around white, straight characters. ‘Normal’ people are expected to ‘naturally’ embody the gender norms associated with their ‘biological’ sex. People who do not conform to these categories are generally stigmatized or forced to take sides. With characters such as the football coach, Shannon Beiste, is meant to highlight her transgression of gender norms. This occurs because of her nature as a large woman with a low voice, acting ‘masculine’ while working in a ‘masculine’ profession.

The cast of Glee from Season 1

In an article written for Inquiries Journal from 2013 titled, Challenging Stereotypes in Glee, or Not? Author Katherine Wolfenden states, “Instead of challenging the sex/gender binary and sexist ideology behind masculinity, the show merely expands masculinity to incorporate tolerance of (‘naturally’ weak, effeminate) gay men, and it deploys the same kind of gender policing that traditional masculinity uses to garner support for gay rights”. This fact is exactly how some shows although attempting to accurately represent new norms for society, can also fall into flaws with doing so. Still, seeing these issues arise on screen for a number of years within just one TV drama contributes to a society of opening eyes.

Political Views

There have been many research studies looking at this very subject of the propaganda investing in the minds and lives of people. On a daily basis, one is surrounded by messages from various sources, all driven by consumerism. This has been the case for decades now, but in retrospect, is fairly new. The consumerist mindset is a dangerous one to overfeed, but that remains an issue in many parts of the world. The role of media takes charge now, specifically through social media, of what people are reading and digesting. Instagram allows you to view public profiles while also viewing the ones you follow personally, but the “personal” side behind it is starting to disappear. With sponsorships becoming the new norm for

Image of a woman with cell phone and laptop making content
Social Media Influencers allow for a more personal marketing strategy on products and services, making it easy for them to make commission from consumers online

influencers” and “micro-influencers” of digital platforms like Instagram, TikTok and Youtube, we can notice just how much media has truly changed since it began in the 1900s. The demographics suggest that it is the age group of 16 to 30 who began this trend of online consumption. The defining traits of this generation is that they are naturally resistant to marketing tricks. Millennials are more likely to trust a product recommendation that comes from a friend, a relative, or a person whom they admire, which is why influencer marketing is much more likely to appeal to them over traditional methods.

Who really runs these operations of developing such addicting messages online? It is a  number of privileged groups that contribute to the production of media accounts, including social and political institutions. The algorithms of these sites are what govern what a user sees, always with the next move of other suggested content on public pages. As said by Catherine Happer and Greg Philo, “In the face of such structures of power, the media acts more as a release for frustration and discontent rather than forum to explore potential alternatives,” This comes from their journal publication, “The Role of the Media in the Construction of Public Belief and Social Change” published in 2013 by The Journal of Social and Political Psychology.

Buzzing Apps of Today

A different look at current social media brings the conversation to Tik Tok. With the main function of popular culture is entertainment, this app is exactly what users are looking for. It is a public feed of short 30 to 60 second videos that contain mostly humorous, witty and exaggerated content. The idea of how individuals present themselves through the opinion and inspiration of others is a factor here. This is because of the trends that follow through on this app. When a type of video becomes popular, other users recreate it to also gain popularity themselves. They follow the leaders of the threshold to create a sense of belonging. The more satisfied the media users are,the more dependent they are on the media.

Tik Tok has impacted popular culture and the delivery of online content
Tik Tok has impacted popular culture and the delivery of online content

Since popular culture is a daily cultural form that adapts to the development of market economy, Tik Tok has become part of that world of consumerism. This kind of consumption is not only seen as an economic phenomenon, but also a cultural phenomenon. Users look to Tik Tok for educational purposes as well, with “real life” dermatologists, doctors, dentists, estheticians, etc. creating videos with information to pass onto people. Although created for the purpose of entertainment, there are many users who seriously rely and take advice from leaders like this. And because of qualified speakers on certain subjects like skincare and makeup, the market for “trending” products to purchase is on the rise.

A screenshot of Hyram's page on the TikTok app with URL linked
A screenshot of Hyram’s page on the TikTok app

For example, TikTok star Hyram: His videos consist of skin care routine critiques, product reviews and beauty ingredient explainers. They are all somehow informative, creative, entertaining and nonjudgmental at the same time. With about 6 million followers on Tik Tok and 4 million on Youtube, this influencer has made a real impact on his audience. However, qualifications are not even the basis for gaining a following this large. Hyram does not have any degree or license in dermatology or to become an esthetician. According to an article on Today, he claims to pursue his own merchandise line for fans to purchase. This is a perfect instance of how social media influences real change in how people make their money. He is fuelling off the consumer mindset that who, by now especially, will listen to almost anything he says about skincare.

Significance in Anthropology

This is a subject that calls for an abundance of research and conversation. In a changing world, there will always be something new to understand and learn of, social media being one of many. As for popular culture, the past twenty years or so have developed strategically for the economy and consumer based thinking. Users have also adapted to this new social style of the online world, specifically through newer apps like Tik Tok, Instagram and Youtube. These platforms have allowed for the expansion of individuals’ voices on a variety of entertaining topics. It is truly a blessing…and a curse.

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