Friday, October 12, 2018

Withdrawing from popular culture

Taylor Swift
by Rod Williams - I have finally, almost completely, withdrawn from popular culture.  Part of it may be a function of getting older. When I was younger, I realized that old people often were "out of touch."  They often did not know the name of popular music, or the latest popular sit-com, or the latest fad or the buzz about the most recent movie.  Now that I am older I may, to a certain extend, be following a long time trend in which older adults simply do not care that much about the latest thing as they did when they were younger.  I think looking back, you realize that a lot of things you tried to stay informed about were very transitory and simply lose their importance with time.  Also, when you are young, up until some point in adulthood, you don't want to be uninformed. Popular kids are well-informed about pop culture. Also, being informed about current popular culture simply gives you something to talk about with other people.

I was never one to follow the crowd however.  I always thought caring about which movie star was dating which movie star was shallow.  I was a fan and followed Country Music for many years and kept up with who had out new music and who was winning awards. I often knew who wrote a song as well as who performed it. I had a slight interest in news involving Country music artist but never cared enough to keep up with latest rumor or arrest or lawsuit.

Throughout adulthood, while I did not purposely seek out knowledge of popular culture I did not avoid it.  There was something unifying about sharing your reaction with co-workers and family about what happened on Johnny Carson the night before or recalling a funny skit on Saturday Night Live.   And, I thought some of the old SNL was really funny and clever.  I enjoyed it and enjoyed sharing the enjoyment with others. Still, there were limits to how much of my bandwidth I was going to let be dominated by popular culture.  I could not believe how many and how much people cared when the Beatles broke up. It was kind of a ho-hum event to me. I didn't cry the day John Lennon died.  I never understood the degree of interest in Princess Diana. I thought caring that much about English royalty was just silly. I could care less.

I guess I have always had a certain feeling that being absorbed by popular culture was some how shallow.  Maybe, I even felt a little superior to those who were absorbed by the Princess Diana story and Hollywood gossip. My recent losing of interest in popular culture is not simply a function of a greater degree of the way I have always felt or a function of getting older however.  Now, I am not simply less interested in popular culture, I am purposely rejecting and withdrawing from popular culture. It is not that it just doesn't interest me; I am rebelling against it.

In the past, popular culture served a function. It has always been awkward to talk about serious matters with people you don't know well.  Politics and religion are best avoided with casual acquaintances, but sports, weather and popular culture were fairly safe. There is little that is safe anymore.  You can talk sports if you can avoid the disrespect the flag movement. You can talk about the weather but someone may pipe up and blame the recent weather on global warming and then you get in uncomfortable territory.  Popular culture is absolutely no longer safe territory.

I think popular culture has always, since at least the sixties, had a leftward tilt. Certainly the world of rock music was part of the left-wing counter culture movement of the late sixties. Other parts of culture was touched less and as the sixties faded, musicians were either less political or kept their opinions more to themselves. While popular culture may have leaned left, there was a distinction between "counter culture" and popular culture. Now, the popular culture is the concluding victory of counter culture. There are politically correct ways to think that dominate the culture.  Acceptance of deviancy, unwed mothers, the "right to chose," diversity, and hating Trump are norms of popular culture. These norms are not opinions that one keeps to themselves. Those who do not share these norms are bullied into keeping quite and are marginalized.

In recent years, especially the last two years since Donald Trump has been in office, popular culture has become part of "the resistance." Popular culture is no longer a reflection of a system of shared values that avoids making others uncomfortable.  The NFL has endorsed the movement to disrespect the flag. The Vice President cannot go see a Broadway play without being called out for booing.  The awards shows of all types have become occasions for Trump-bashing speeches.

The worst offenders are the late night talk shows such as Jimmy Kimmel, Steve Colbert, and Jimmy Fallon. They are liberal through and through.  I have never watched any one of them for very long. I have never watched a complete show of any. I always change the channel in disgust soon after the monologue starts. I have not even sampled one in about the last year.  Jack Parr was before my time, but I watched Johnny Carson growing up until well into adulthood.  Johnny Carson was on TV from 1962 to 1992. That is thirty years and I never knew if he was a Republican or a Democrat.  Johnny Carson was someone that a politically mixed family could watch together without anyone feeling uncomfortable or getting mad.  He could bring people together rather than driving people apart.  Since Carson, David Letterman and Jay Leno were much the same.  They would do humor at the expense of the powerful but it was never vile and cruel and it was not designed to inflame political passion. Now late night TV is more like a political rally and only those left of center could find it funny.

Taylor Swift at the American Music Awards recently went political and took the opportunity to campaign for Democrats. She had previously been careful not to be drawn into stating her opinion on political matters but she recently broke her silence to endorse Democratic candidates for Congress Phil Bredeson and Jim Cooper.

“In the past," said Swift in an Instagram post, "I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions, but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now. I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country.”

At the AMA awards Swift was awarded the Artist of the Year award. “This award and every single award given out tonight were voted on by the people, and you know what else is voted on by the people?” Swift told the audience. “It is the midterm elections on November 6. Get out and vote."

Rather than boycotting Taylor Swift, which would do no hard because I was never going to go see her in concert or buy a Taylor Swift CD anyway, I am withdrawing from popular culture.  Recently, I had the occasion to go see a concert at Ascend of Steve Earl, Lucinda Williams, and Dwight Yokum. I love Lucinda Williams and Dwight Yokum and have several CD's of each of them. Luckily, they did not get political but Steve Earl sure did. He took a couple opportunities to proclaim that the people were going to retake the country and to bash Trump. He even changed the lyrics of a song to bash Trump. It kind of spoiled the evening for me.

I stay informed, and I get news from a variety of sources not just those that tell it fair and balanced. I even watch Rachel Maddow and the left-wing pundits of MSNBC. I want to know what the left is thinking. I am not withdrawing from being an informed citizen.  I am withdrawing from being made to feel "like a whore in church."  I am withdrawing from being lectured to by someone whose views I abhor. I especially am withdrawing from spending my money for someone to insult me.  I will only attend events that I think are safe from offense. Luckily, there are still plenty of neutral non-political things one can do, but if you do not want to be insulted, angered and offended you cannot watch the late night comedy talk shows or most award shows.  Also most stand up comics are funny only if you are a liberal.  Back before dropping Netflix, on several occasions I tried to watch a standup comic. The humor almost always involved bashing of Trump or traditional values.  I think at this point, the only award show still safe to watch is the CMA's. If an artist takes the opportunity of being honored, to offer a political opinion with which I disagree, I will also mark the CMA's off my list too.

My withdrawal has not been painful. I have had no withdrawal symptoms. I am not missing it. In some ways it has felt liberating. In addition to avoiding anger, offense and insult, I am avoiding a lot of pure mind-numbing shallow garbage.  With the choices available through devices like Rhoku, there is much more to watch than the major networks.  I cut the cord about a year ago and do not have mainstream network TV. I do not miss it.  For comedy, I love the Greg Gutfield show on Fox News. It is a news opinion show but he cracks me up. His opening monologues are very funny. Unfortunately, he has a new episode only once a week. I wish his show would be expanded into a format that also covered broader topics and had musical guest. The show is funny but, not something you want to watch with your liberal siblings.

I know my withdrawing from popular culture will not change it, but if enough of us did, it might.  It might change it by making the award shows and late night TV comedy talk shows avoid politics. Some standup comics might find other topics to talk about. Award shows, comics and late night talk shows might move back to being non-political or neutral. They might discover that some things can be funny that both Republicans and Democrats can enjoy. Or, it might change the culture by offering a conservative alternative to a show like Jimmy Fallon.  I can see Greg Gutfield hosting that type of nightly show.  There is a lot of talent that is not left of center or overtly political.  That talent needs a platform and I suspect that we may have reached a point to where there is a market for it.

The danger with the popular culture becoming the exclusive playground of the left is that there probably will eventually develop a conservative alternative. How far will it go? Will we reach a point to where conservative and liberals wear different brands of tennis shoes?  Will we have Republican restaurants and Democrat restaurants?  I would prefer a return to a society that existed when people would talk about the latest Johnny Carson episode around the water cooler. I would prefer a climate in which you could pay money to be entertained and not be insulted.  I doubt that is the direction we are headed.

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