Popular culture reflects the most prevalent customs, trends and tastes in society at any given time. It encompasses a wide range of influences that spans everything from music to movies to fashion. Popular culture also embodies the ideas, aspirations and accomplishments of people living in that time period. Although pop culture may not be considered as serious a subject as other academic subjects, the study of it can reveal important insights into history and the values and lifestyles of people throughout time. Whether a new movie hits theaters, the latest fashion trend takes center stage at the mall or a new social media platform launches, pop culture is always in motion. The constant evolution of this ephemeral entity allows us to glimpse into the world of those who came before us.
The 1920’s brought flappers, jazz music and dance to society, while the 1940’s saw people struggling through the Great Depression. In the 1960’s, MTV and its groundbreaking videos captivated audiences, hip-hop made its way into music and the Beatles took over Shea Stadium. The next decade saw the beginnings of teen angst with the onset of teen movies and a rise in grunge rock music. The teen genre of film and TV continued to dominate in the 90’s with movies like “Footloose” and “The Breakfast Club,” while the Internet transformed the ways we access and consume media.
As a result, we are experiencing an even faster-paced transformation of pop culture. With the advent of social media, celebrity status has shifted from an unattainable, elusive icon to a relatable, accessible and more human figure. Celebrities now face the challenge of balancing their professional lives with the demands of public perception. For example, Britney Spears experienced a reversal of fortunes when her fans initiated the #FreeBritney movement that ultimately led to her conservatorship being terminated. Lil Nas X capitalized on the power of fan engagement to elevate his image and propel pertinent political issues like mental health into mainstream consciousness.
In a similar vein, artists who are classified as Pop Artists have embraced the post-World War II manufacturing and media boom by celebrating commonplace objects in art form. Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and James Rosenquist all began their careers in commercial art, allowing them to use the visual vocabulary of mass production to create works that merge high and low art. With the ever-changing landscape of technology and global events, there is no doubt that pop culture will continue to evolve at a rapid rate. As the trend shifts, Gale’s resources will be here to assist and benefit studies of this dynamic aspect of our shared cultural heritage.