The question, whether art influences life or life influences art has been a much debated. While many state that art is the representation of human life and nature, many others argue that artistic depictions result in trends that have the ability to influence the human mind. It definitely seems as if “art” has influenced the society if popular culture is considered. (D) Popular culture, or as it is otherwise known, “pop” culture, is the body of ideas propounded by the majority of a society through various artistic means, such as television and cinema, and it has a impactful influence on the actions, attitudes, and lifestyles of the people. However, the other connotation of the word “pop,” which refers to an abrupt suddenness, also seems to define this culture, as the trends that it comprises of always come with an expiration date. For instance, while Madonna remains an icon for style etc., she is definitely beaten by Lady Gaga in terms of popularity today (Meadows). Popular culture does have a positive influence on the society although not to its fullest potential, as it is also often derided for being purposely obtuse to gain mass appeal; but if one actually considers the enormity of the influence of popular culture, its potential of influencing the society in a positive manner remains hopeful. Not all influential popular culture is obtuse. Some independent “indie” movies, such as, Pulp Fiction, have enjoyed tremendous commercial popularity (Pulp Fiction). However, despite its cinematic brilliance,the movie does use a unique technique to gain the audiences’ attention (Kolker 250). Does this mean that obtuseness is the state of mind of most of the human civilization today? Can the popular culture be blamed for this then? The general sentiment of all those who analyze the sociological trends in human behavior say yes, to the last two questions. The examples of social and economic development in the past centuries show the positive influence of popular culture. The examples used in this paper are as follows: the witch trials around the sixteenth centuries, especially the Salem Witch Trials; slavery; economic dominance of nations; technological development; and the popular influence of Lady Gaga on the youth..
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(TS) The world has progressed in its thoughts as the superstitions of the past that decided the actions of the people when they could not explain the world in their terms has long given way to scientific reasoning and philosophical clarity. (SP) If one were to consider the western society over the past few centuries, the development in terms of attitudes and values seem to have taken an uphill stance. Where people once believed in witches and demons, they now believe in fate and actions. The Salem Witch Trials—although the most famous witch trials are not the only of their kind—are an example of how once people reacted to the unknown and their fear about the mysteries of the world (Gretchen). It was the increasing trend of people adopting scientific ideologies some years later, which provided many answers regarding that nature of these events that led to the realization of the dreadfulness of the witch trials. The trials were simply the result of an uneducated society prevailing on the popular culture of the day. Once, education and realization dawned, people started changing their ideas. (CA) It is not the world, but perhaps only the western civilization that has progressed in its attitude towards superstition. In remote villages of countries like India, the illegal practice of sati, that is, placing a woman on her dead husband’s pyre, is still carried out. Even in places like the U.K., Asian migrants have been known to conduct honor killings of their women. This is not very different from the witch killings of the past centuries. (R) While popular culture has not calmed the superstitious thoughts in many parts of the society, a large chunk of the world scoffs such thoughts. While acts like sati still take place, they are illegal and fewer, and the abhorrence of such practices does reduce their rate. The effect of popular culture is always gradual, and it is natural that the degree of economic development, technological progress, population control, and corruption levels all determine its impact. In the U.K. too, the condemnation and strict control of these acts is holding back the carnage they cause.
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(TS) The abolition of slavery is a good example of a popular cultural trend changing the society for good. (SP) The subjugation of certain races, castes, and types of people by others was another feature of the previous centuries. The domination of the migrant blacks or the slavery of the forced migrants with African heritage is a dark mark in the western civilizations’ making. The abolition of this practice is another example of how changing trends have changed the point of views about such ideologies for the good. (CA) Slavery existed for centuries and human beings attempted to exert their power over each other for years. This must mean compassion does not come to humans naturally. (R) It will be a waste of time to be saddened by the fact that human beings are inherently greedy and insecure, and that practices like slavery is a direct consequence of this trait. Rather, one must be practical and thank the eradication of slavery due to a positive popular cultural trend at a certain point in history.
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(TS) Asserting dominance through wars was a popular cultural trend in the past era. This has given way to democracy today. (SP) The influence of dominating cultures is controlled by humanitarian organizations, wartime rules, and peace accords. This is the result of changing popularity in cultural trends. The actions of the bodies like the U.N. and Amnesty International is commendable. The Geneva Conventions ensure that humanitarian remains important even during wars. (CA) Dominating cultures do remain, and the U.S. involvement in wars such as those in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, etc., are instances of the nation trying to assert its power over the countries of the world. (R) It is human nature to assert dominance, and if not the U.S., it could be China as the world power. It would be a far more harmful situation if the world is at the mercy of communist philosophies, for although the philosophy is not wrong, the people who have adhered to it have always become power maniacs. Hitler is a glowing example of this fact.
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(TS) On a smaller scale, popular cultural trends in artistic expressions that are propagated via media or artistic endeavors, which generally involve the media, have also attempted to bring in ideas that have a positive impact on the human condition. (SP) It is true that Lady Gaga is often ridiculed for her simplistic and inane work, but her means of expression is certainly useful in providing a sense of identification to the youth. She often states her support to the minority communities, such as at the homosexual community and stresses on the freedom of expression (Renee). While her activities might seem unsightly, over the long run she is hardly all that much of a negative influence. (CA) If we look for smaller instances of negative influences of popular culture, Lady Gaga can be better replaced by someone who has a true taste in music. The youth today hardly realize that once upon a time Jazz was the popular culture, and it increased the artistic abilities of the listeners. Can it been then conclusively said that popular cultural changes have actually improved the world? (R) The emerging popular cultural trend in a certain period can bring a long-term change that can be useful for the world’s betterment. One has to look at the “big picture” to understand this. If the people with the taste for good music deny Lady Gaga her place in the society, the youth could probably have worse self-adjustment problems to deal with.
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(TS) The influence of popular cultural trends might is significant over a period of time. (SP) The facts mentioned in this paper, that is, abolition of slavery, the western civilization’s lack of empathy for superstitious, the acceptance of democracy in the world, show that popular cultural trends are useful in the long run. Human beings have developed in their abilities and the development of technology has been influenced by popular cultural trends. (CA) It cannot be forgotten the world in the nascent stages was perhaps a far better place for human civilization. While we applaud the technological progress of humans, the problems it continues to create are often tremendous. For instance, although the use of Internet is the most popular cultural happening in the world today and the advantages of Internet use for the youth are many. However, they remain the group most vulnerable to its ill effects. College students, especially, are afflicted by a number of problems caused by Internet overuse (Rotsztein 1–13). A more useful example of this is the trend of accumulating explosives for defense purposes, which led to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This would not have happened without the advent of the atom bomb. A dominating nation, such as the U.S. can use its defense mechanism to harm many small countries. The trends in commerce might have made human beings the complex and forward species of the world, but the pains and tribulations it brought along with destroyed the quality of human life and the nature in which the humans live. (R) One must realize that popular culture has, although gradually, increased the world’s acceptance levels. The idealistic world where popular trends are pleasant as they are effective is impractical and infeasible. However, the insights given in this paper about the effectiveness of popular culture on the mindsets of people and times shows that popular culture does have a positive influence on the society. Perhaps, if individuals focus on the illustrating the usefulness of certain human ideals through popular culture the level of effectiveness will be accelerated.
DuShane, Renee. “Professor Gaga? Lady Gaga Teaches Youth at the Launch of the Born This Way Foundation.” The Huffington Post. (March 5, 2012). March 7, 2012
Gretchen, A. The Specter of Salem: Remembering the Witch Trials in Nineteenth-Century America (2009). Illinois: University of Chicago Press
Kolker, Robert. A Cinema of Loneliness: Penn, Stone, Kubrick, Scorsese, Spielberg, Altman, 3d ed (2000). New York: Oxford University Press.
“Memes in Popular Culture.” Think Quest (2000). March 7, 2012
Meadows, Mia. “Lady Gaga Beats Madonna in Popularity Contest” Clebs Gather (February 12, 2012). March 7, 2012
“Pulp Fiction” Box Office Mojo March 7, 2012
Rotsztein, B. “Problem Internet use and locus of control among college students: Preliminary findings.” The 35th Annual Conference of the New England Educational Research Organization (2003). Portsmouth : Boston College.