The Futility of Analyzing Pop Culture

Punit Pania
6 min readSep 9, 2021

The Pentagon confirming UFO sightings should have arguably been the biggest news in history. The paucity of coverage it got is the most telling indication of how pathologically inward looking we have become. The biggest trend on any given day continues to be K-Pop and the reel of the day.

As satellites streamline more and more work and pollution blots out the skies, reasons to look upwards and outwards are few and far in between. An entire civilization looking down on their screens zombying through life without ever finding a dream that is worth chasing for more than a few days.

As the most important work; both laborious and intellectual, gets outsourced, all that is left for a wide majority to do is to humor their own existence. And the market finds the cheapest way for you to do it. It is almost never the best way let alone the healthy way but it is the most efficient. Efficiency is the only tenet of commerce. And when the market takes over the creation and consumption of art, the resultant cluster fuck is called Pop Culture.

Most white collar jobs are only vague ideas of worthwhile vocations. And the pandemic has taken even that away along with basic livelihood for many and fundamental freedoms for all. Yet the population remains largely subdued thanks to the tranquilization of social media. And pop culture plays the lead role in this lobotomy.

Most of what we defend as culture is stupidity codified by habit and protected by law. And pop culture is its lowest common denominator. It is roughly equivalent to the Zeitgeist of the times. A blind aggregate that may seem to have a purpose but is only incidental. It is omnipresent. There is no escaping it and there is no explaining it. Eras are defined only in hindsight. Yet people try. The junkies, the aficionados and the Tarantinos. Perhaps hoping that by studying it, by indulging in it consciously they will gain some control over it and by extension their own lives. This is perhaps a better state to be in than the masses who are not even aware that they are slaves to random fashion trends and market forces.

A view just a few years apart from the trends from songs to haircuts will show you the sheer ridiculousness of it. The biggest argument against culture is watching any pop song on mute. People reminisce about old times, songs, movies and products with the useless rhyme ‘Old if Gold’. But what is remembered is a small sliver, perhaps less than 10% of all that was produced. The rest of it was unwatchable even back then. Yet the screen maintains an aura. More than the movies themselves it is the audacity of a person trying to immortalize his thoughts and his own image in film and print that appeals to us. That is what a celebrity is. A person whose very existence is celebrated by people who have never met him.

It is the closest thing to immortality. No wonder it is pursued in all its deranged forms. The internet gives this power to each and every one of us, at least in theory. Which is why social media is consuming a worrying proportion of our lives. We are not chasing social connections, we are chasing our own little outside chance at celebrity-hood.

Since the internet is still somewhat democratic everyone gets an equally poor chance of making it unless they have some actual talent and/or better than filter looks. Reels have proven that what most people really want is to just star in their own music video. All that dancing and and whoring around is just a desperate attempt at registering our existence. And the easiest way to reaffirm one’s existence is talking. Hence, podcasts. Most of our lives are essentially podcasts, self-absorbed ramblings with no one to listen.

It is believed that in an ideal society, everyone would be an artist or at least pursue something creative. Well, we are beginning to get there but there doesn’t seem to be anything ideal about it. Most art comes from discontent. While this is romanticized as the artist’s curse but it is really just a symptom of the monstrous systems we have created to sustain what we call civilization. The poverty in Bengal is perhaps the best example that art cannot save society.

The only person art can truly save is perhaps the artist himself. For the audience it can only be entertainment. And the entertainment/media industrial complex will only keep getting bigger. Most artists throw in the towel mistaking numbers for success and become a part of this giant machine that is designed to sell you sneakers and sodas. They are then called sell-outs by the purists and icons by the magazines who’ve bought them. It is amazing how many success stories end up with the protagonist selling printed t-shirts and mugs.

All expression is but a faint copy of nature. If one is living the healthiest life with people she loves in the midst of nature, the very need for expression would also evaporate. Flowery poetry is often written from lonely cabins. Art; then, is a symptom of the continuing failures of society, not a remedy for it. Post-modernism may try to divorce itself from nature but even the most basic shapes and concepts come from life itself. Random scribbling selling for millions can only give solace to the art dealers.

That art should be pursued as the most esoteric goal is a myth perpetuated by artists themselves. And civilians are too caught up in being ordinary to see through the poetry. Artists can afford to be reclusive but mediocrity is a full time job. So they outsource even basic contemplation to the prevailing magazines. They identify with movies and songs. Dil Chahta Hai defined my generation is perhaps the saddest thing one can say about his personality. To be personified by random pop culture artifacts is the most reductionist view of life possible. A person who understands the patterns of history would never waste time trying to find himself in something as fickle as pop culture. The sights, sounds and styles of an era are merely the prevailing cocktail that we take to be able to sleep at night. Kings get replaced by Presidents, shamans get replaced by therapists, astrologers get replaced by consultants. But the underlying discontent remains the same throughout the ages. That of a cosmic mind trapped in a mortal body. A few dance videos and a documentary are not going to cut it.