Why Pop Culture Criticism Is Going to Matter in Donald Trump’s America
Look, we get it. Writing articles shitting on terrible TV, underwhelming blockbusters, and mediocre albums can seem self-indulgent and trivial, especially right now. In such turbulent times, it’s easy to say that commenting on the zeitgeist of entertainment is hardly the most important thing we can be doing with our time. In a sense, that’s correct: Everyone, the Crossfader staff included, could certainly stand to reassess how much time we spend consuming entertainment when we could be learning about the goings on of the very real world around us, and taking action to change them.
That being said, Donald Trump is the pop culture president, and as such, pop culture has more than ever simply become culture. Of all the other things you could say about the Donald, this is absolutely part of how he’s going to be remembered historically. You’re going to tell me that the man who became a household name as the host of a reality TV show didn’t win this election through his place in pop culture? The Simpson’s predicted this 16 years ago, for Christ’s sake. He can even be a pretty self-aware and insightful critic himself, when he wants to be.
He’s been ingrained in popular culture for as long as most of the people who will read this have been alive. Our entire perception of who Donald is has been crafted largely by the image he’s created for himself in popular culture, or at least it was before he began to run for the office of the president. If popular culture can at all be considered responsible in some way for the rise of Donald Trump, isn’t it worthwhile to critique pop culture itself? We’ve directly compared BATMAN V. SUPERMAN to Donald Trump’s candidacy, but I believe it’s almost as important when we simply examine and critique the Marvel cinematic universe without the open political analysis. Why is this important? Because passivity in how we consume entertainment is how we come to accept some things as fact that simply aren’t and how we lose sight of the objective truth of a situation.
And this is where it really comes down to pop culture and how it influences all culture. The only person who seems to have accurately predicted this election is a comedy writer who writes under a ridiculous pseudonym. David Wong was able to accurately put together that this election would come down to a “city versus country” mindset. And how was he able to explain that? Partially by examining the movies that we watch. He points out that basically every epic action movie we watch involves some form of “simple farm boy stands up to decadent city folk and triumphs.” In this election, the farm boys came out in droves, and now, based on all the movies they’ve ever seen, they believe that they’ve won. Our cultural language is encoded into our films, what we value and what we see as truth is asserted (and subverted) by the entertainment we choose to consume. If you don’t criticize the popular art that we all consume for its flaws and drawbacks, you lose sight of the objective truth about a piece of content you’re consuming.
You don’t have to agree with every review or article you read on this site; in fact, we’d be pretty disappointed if we’ve never rustled some feathers over the course of our past year or so of publishing. What I am hopeful for, in the light of this new world we’re living in, is more people who are willing to have their feathers ruffled. To have their cultural assumptions challenged, to look at the things that they have passively consumed and considered good and to reconsider. Your movies are informing your reality, your television is affecting your behavior, your music is affecting your feelings, and your video games are changing the way your brain works.
The easy thing in the coming months is going to be to hide in your house, turn on Netflix, and watch the same old movies and TV that have always brought you comfort. To put on the same music that made you feel good when you were 13 and wrap yourself in it. It’s going to be incredibly tempting to sink into that lovely, memberberry nostalgia and just give up. But we can’t do that anymore.
As fun and rewarding as it is
We need new art, we need new cultural narratives, and we need new ways to define ourselves, because the farm boy defeating the city folk just doesn’t reflect the reality of 2016. In an era where we so desperately need better popular culture, we’re going to need to hold our popular culture to a higher standard. How you choose to do that is your business, and if you decide to change pop culture by engaging with it less as a whole, more power to you. But if you’re going to keep watching movies and TV, playing games, and listening to music, you’re going to need to start expecting your pop culture to do more for you than provide passive entertainment. Your pop culture is part of how you define yourself, and now is the time to be sure that you’re completely comfortable with your definition.
Frankly, the Crossfader staff don’t know how to reform a broken political machine; I know all of us pretty well, and none of us are that smart. But we are really good at picking apart the media we consume. You don’t have to agree with our take on the art you consume, but hopefully in actively disagreeing with us, your definition of why you enjoy your art becomes a little clearer, and you become a little surer of who you really are. This week has forced a lot of people to define what really matters to them, and I have to say that for me at least, this is something that really matters, and I think it’s safe to say the same for most of the people who write for this site.
After Tuesday, we all have to start taking the time to step back and critique all the information we consume, to assess whether or not what is being presented as truth, actually is. This is going to be essential in Donald Trump’s America. If we’re not careful, the pop culture president will change the way we speak. He’ll change and simplify the way all of us see ourselves as heroes in a world of increasing villainy. I know right now a lot of you either don’t want to consume entertainment at all, or you desperately just want a mindless distraction. That’s fine, for now, but very soon we’re going to have to start doing the hard work of examining the reality of our modern world, and one way or another, we’re going to do that through our culture. You don’t have to read or agree with another article on Crossfader, but I hope at least in some small way that you’ll begin to examine the culture you consume with a little more objectivity. Because otherwise, four years from now, we could be looking at a Kanye West presidency, and even Thomas Seraydarian doesn’t want that.