What is pop culture?

As a term, “Popular Culture” was brought to life in 1876 by a British statesman bemoaning the increasing knowledge gap between the lower and higher classes. Back then, the phrase personified the scraps that were left once “High Culture” was defined. Less than a century later, Pop Culture had become the all-encompassing voice of the mainstream and the surrogate parent of a generation.

Put simply, Pop Culture is the voice that pervades the everyday lives of our society. It’s not the voice of the people, it’s the voice spoken to the people. Pop Culture is mass culture – it makes and breaks common trends, it dictates fashions and promotes icons. Pop Culture is the oracle from which a generation draws both their influence and their marching orders.

Pop Culture tells your daughter what to wear and your son what to listen to. It oversees the ever-changing parameters of “cool”. It is the flagship that guides art, music and fashion.

As an influencer, Pop Culture can be found everywhere you look, but its footprint is largest in the media. Pop Culture has delivered us the phenomenon of social media, with multi-million user websites like Facebook shifting personal boundaries and slowly convincing us out of our private lives. Reality television has gone one step further, thrusting the lives of others into our very laps and elevating voyeurism to new heights of acceptability. Popular Culture has completely changed the way we live our lives. We have become co-conspirators in this, active participators en masse, continuing the circle of keeping Pop Culture popular.

For years, social commentators have expressed their concerns about Pop Culture. American social critic Dwight MacDonald calls it a “trivial culture that voids both the deep realities and also the simple spontaneous pleasures.” Van den Haag argues that such a dominant, all-encompassing voice serves only to “alienate people from personal experience and…intensify their moral isolation from each other, from reality and from themselves.”

Of course, concern like this has almost been rendered moot. Pop Culture is here to stay and it has changed the lens through which we view the world. It has become the principal voice of influence in the modern world, which makes it the most powerful arena for anyone with something to say.

Pop Culture and the entertainment industry have a symbiotic relationship. One influences the other; the two are co-dependent. American essayist Susan Sontag once went so far as to say that society’s most “…intelligible, persuasive values” are now drawn directly from the entertainment industry.

In a world where Pop Culture defines a generation’s very value structure, musicians are the new politicians and artists the new theologians. The song, in particular, has become a powerful commentary. We live in a world where preachers quote U2 from their pulpits and the person on the street cites Bob Dylan lyrics as their doctrine.

This is the area in which Parachute Music is compelled to work – not to fight Pop Culture, but to shift it; to enable Christian musicians to be responsible commentators. To enable them to be a voice of hope in a hopeless world, showing true depth in a shallow industry. Not to proselytize, but to offer a guiding light and a stable footing in an ever-shifting, fickle culture.