My Love Affair with Pop Culture or: How I Can’t Wait for New Moon
by Lani Blechman, PEP Young Women's Leadership Council
I spent quite a few years actively rejecting popular culture. I embraced listening to alternative radio stations, dressing in alternative ways, being oblivious to the newest blockbuster hit movies.
And then I found myself and embraced my love for all things pop. Don't worry. I didn't ditch my feminist perspectives or start to ignore blatant racism when I was staring it in the face.
I like to think about my relationship with pop culture as similar to my closest and most intimate relationships. I'm most critical of those that I love the most. Just ask my parents - I spent a good five years or so fighting with them non-stop. We might give each other the silent treatment or agree to disagree, but when it comes down to it, we're there for each other.
There are those obvious times, when indulging in the affair rewards me with instant gratification. Like when Daniel Radcliffe (aka Harry Potter) became a major donor of The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ crisis and suicide prevention organization. Or when Lily Allen came out with the lyrics, "so you say it's not okay to be gay,/well I think you're just evil./You're just some racist who can't tie my laces./Your point of view is medieval". I was moved by Mo'Nique's live performance at the Ohio Reformatory for Women and the subsequent film, I coulda been your cellmate, which brought attention to and challenged the fact that our society de-humanizes incarcerated people.
And, every time I see Beyoncé perform my.heart.skips.a.beat.
As with all meaningful relationships, my love affair with pop culture takes a lot of work. Let's look at an example: Twilight. As I type this sentence, I have exactly one month, three hours, and twenty minutes until the debut of New Moon. (Remember to breathe!) I'll be totally honest with you - I cannot wait. But November 20th is going to be hectic. Here's what it will look like:
7 AM Wake Up
9 AM Arrive at Work
4:30 PM Leave Work
5:30 PM Attempt to Nap
8 PM Begin Drinking Coffee
9:30 PM Pick Up Friends
10 PM Begin Standing in Line at Theater
10:15 PM Think Positive Thoughts About Getting Good Seats
12 AM New Moon Begins!
3:30 AM Home in Bed
7 AM Wake Up
A schedule like that says (1) commitment, (2) love, and (3) a lot of work. With such intense passion flowing, you know there's drama. The Twilight Saga and I have an on-going dialogue about gender roles, race, class, and sexuality - among other things. I question why all of the woman-identified characters are so flat and stereotypical. Between the warm maternal figure who loves to redecorate (Esme), the bubbly make-over and party obsessed teen (Alice), and the woman who needs no other personality trait than her unmatched beauty and secret yearning to be a mother (Rosalie), sometimes I question whether I'll ever find a female character that I can identify with.
The members of the Quileute tribe, particularly Jacob Black, are very interesting. I have a problem with the fact that the Quileute men turn into dog-like mythological creatures (i.e. werewolves). While I applaud Stephanie Meyers for pulling out some truth (Quileute creation myth says that the first Quileute people were transformed from a pair of wolves), I'm bothered, at least in part, because the mostly white vampires don't turn into bats! Why are only the people of color likened to animals?
At the same time, Jacob Black is by far the most interesting and dynamic character. in the Twilight series. He seems to be the only character that learns, grows, and questions power. As the direct descendant of historical tribal leaders, Jacob is expected to assume the position of power. But he doesn't want power over his tribe and he turns it down.
If you are at all familiar with Twilight, I'm sure you know that I've barely scratched the surface here. And believe me - there is so much to engage with! At the same time, you may be wondering why I spend so much energy on such a complex - and sometimes troubling - relationship. But here's the thing; when I was doing my best to ignore pop culture, I still couldn't block out the dominant, mainstream messages. Instead of engaging, enjoying, questioning, and acknowledging what was going on, I was pretending that I was immune to it. My teenage self was still under siege by troubling ideas of body image, gender norms, classist ideals, and covert racism. And I was pretending that it wasn't happening to me because I was choosing not to actively engage.
So now I'm coming out about my guilty pleasures because unless I'm in it and know what's going on, I won't know what I'm questioning or where to push for narratives that do reflect my ideals. I'm not a pop culture media-maker. But I'm entertained by it, challenged by it, and I engage with it through my conversations and my writing. I live it and love it and question it. And it's an open relationship - so I hope you'll join me.