Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

Lazy Pop Culture

I am embarrassingly “out of it” when it comes to pop culture.  I don’t watch TV or read magazines or newspapers.  Even though I like movies, I usually have no idea what’s currently playing.  When I read the Rolling Stone’s list of 2012’s top movies, the only one I had heard of was “Batman: The Dark Knight Rises.”

And that’s mostly because my ultimate team back home is called “Gotham City” and we each have our own Batman character; they were the ones who alerted me to the new movie.  Plus the Colorado shooting in the movie theatre – I may not read newspapers, but I listen to the radio every day.

Often it’s frustrating that I can’t follow the conversations of my peers as they discuss TV shows or celebrities or even new technology innovations.  On the other hand, ejecting myself from contemporary trends is a somewhat calculated attempt to keep myself happy and informed.

What?  How does remaining ignorant contribute to my education?

First, I’ll explain the “happy” part of that statement.

To be blunt: I hate advertisements.  I hate reading article in women’s magazines that tell me I’m not good enough, but don’t worry they have a quick-fix to improve my appearance/waistline/sex skills – you know, the most important aspects of being a woman.  It took me years to realize that reading a Cosmo magazine takes less than hour, but the damage to my self-esteem is endless.

Secondly, I feel more “informed” when I ignore pop culture because it’s full of propaganda to maintain the status quo.  That’s why magazines play up women’s insecurities: in the big picture, if women are more focused on their leg hair than their job performance, how are we ever going to break that glass ceiling?

In her book “How to Be a Woman” (which is hilarious feminist book that I highly recommend), Caitlin Moran argues that pop culture is the fastest measuring stick we have for accessing what’s acceptable in our society.  That’s true, which is one of the reasons why I find it so depressing.  For example, below are some excerpts from Matt Taibbi’s take on the movie Zero Dark Thirty (which I admit I haven’t actually seen – maybe because I only just heard of it.):

“A more accurate movie about the torture program would have been a grotesque comedy that showed grown men resorting to puppet shows and dance routines and fourth-rate sexual indignities dreamed up after spending too much time reading spank mags and BDSM sites – and doing this thousands of times to thousands of people, all over the world, “accidentally” murdering hundreds of people in the process, going to war by mistake at least once as a result of it, and having no clue half the time who they’re interrogating (less than 10 percent of “terror suspects” at places like Bagram were arrested by American forces; most of the rest were brought in by Afghanis or other foreigners in exchange for bounties).”

Zero Dark Thirty is like a gorgeously-rendered monument to the fatal political miscalculation we made during the Bush years. It’s a cliché but it’s true: Bin Laden wanted us to make this mistake. He wanted America to respond to him by throwing off our carefully-crafted blanket of global respectability to reveal a brutal, repressive hypocrite underneath. He wanted us to stop pretending that we’re the country that handcuffs you and reads you your rights instead of extralegally drone-bombing you from the stratosphere, or putting one in your brain in an Egyptian basement somewhere.”

“This film got nominated for Best Picture – it could even win. Has anyone thought about how Zero Dark Thirty winning Best Picture will be received in places like Kashmir and Waziristan and Saudi Arabia?”


One reason pop culture thrives is because it doesn’t require much brain power to get swept up in it: it’s an interesting distraction from reality.  On the other hand, if you stop to analyze it then there’s a lot you can learn.

I admit that I should put more energy into staying engaged and thinking critically about the world around me; opting out is actually the lazy option.

But that’s one reason why I love editorials so much!  Other people are paying attention and forming opinions for me!

Oops.  There’s my lazy side asserting itself again.


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