QJPolitics: Pop culture over politics

It’s difficult to write an editorial about politics that will be relevant to most of my peers. We live in a time of disparate interests and apathy. In North America, traditional political parties are stagnant and many people are alienated from our flawed political systems.

This alienation is occurring in the context of a permanently recessed economy with simultaneous “mind-boggling” corporate profits. Moreover, our societies have incredible social inequality and we live with the threat of an imminent climate crisis. The times are ripe for a reinvigorated politics of youth, but there doesn’t seem to be one on the horizon.

Occupy, Idle No More, the Quebec student protests and the growing radical environmentalist movement are all exciting developments, but they are underappreciated. Just when they should be engaging with and writing about these movements, young people’s political imaginations seem to be dominated by pop culture criticism.

The articles and blog posts are shared incessantly through social media so you have undoubtedly seen them. They deride the latest development in pop culture –whether it be Rihanna getting back together with Chris Brown, Seth McFarlane’s jokes at the Oscars, or the latest episode of Girls — as sexist, racist or homophobic.

I don’t disagree with the immediate conclusions of this commentary. However, I think that this latest online obsession is particularly stultifying because of how it’s formulated.

At its heart, pop culture criticism is anti-capitalist. Critics wish that they themselves, a certain marginalized group, or society at large had greater control over the authoritarian corporations that create pop culture. Unfortunately, this foundational aspect of pop culture criticism is usually left unstated and the reader ends up powerless and confused.

It’s rare that the writers of contemporary pop culture criticism mandate any action at all; they simply deplore the content and wait for the next moment to analyze.

As far as I can tell, no one has even attempted to connect the new online pop culture criticism to the success of a political initiative. Its achievements outside of overtly political campaigns also seem negligible.

There was a time when criticism of pop culture actually changed media and advertising content. While she questions the importance of their victories, Naomi Klein describes the 1980’s as a very successful period for activists who were concerned about the lack of diversity in pop culture. Unfortunately, pop culture criticism has renewed popularity with no contemporary successes.

There might be a purpose for pop culture commentary. It could be a good way to attract young and disinterested people into political movements. Unfortunately, it seems that a relatively pointless form of pop culture criticism is incredibly popular among young people who might otherwise be more politically active.

Academic discourse has not been spared in the rise of superfluous pop culture analysis. Slavoj Zizek is a philosopher who has recently gained great popularity in leftist circles. A big proponent of dissecting popular culture, Zizek writes in his most recent book that “those who refuse to change anything are effectively the agents of true change”.

Pop culture criticism is the politics of powerlessness and apathy writ large. It’s the perfect symbol of our generation’s position within the current political moment.

David Hadwen is QJBlogs’ Political Columnist. He’s a fourth-year history major with a specific interest in American Politics. Follow him on Twitter @David_Hadwen.

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