Pop Cultural Pluralism

Pop culture seemed to follow in the tradition of modern culture. Especially in the beginning, pop culture reinforced the rugged individualism and can-do spirit that symbolized modern culture. People watched first hand as the persona of a rough-and-tumble cowboy unfolded on television and theater screens. By the 1960s, the image of the Marlboro man had become a cultural icon that carried the ideals of the American people around the world. The Western world followed in the path of America’s pop culture heroes. The masses solidified their place in modern society as they hitched up their Levi’s and lit up another Marlboro cigarette.

In addition to the products of television, music and movie industries, pop culture grew to include sports, politics, religion and anything else that could be exploited through the media for profit or political gain. Pop culture grew out of Western cultural traditions but was subjugated to consumer ideologies. Every ideal, icon and tradition became grist for the mill. Mainstream art and high culture fell off the radar as consumerism and pop culture rose in prominence. Pop culture was a commercial facsimile of modernism; a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It was an animated people’s culture: enlivened by rock music, empowered by mass media and exploited by political and commercial interests.

Pop culture and rock music gave the expanding middle class their own cultural identity; set in the context of modern society and consumer culture. Rock music, while considered part of the counterculture, was the soul of pop culture. The self-affirming innovations of rock and roll music provided subjectively-realized cultural values for generations of young adults. During the same period, other venues of art and culture were losing their ability to evoke a response. Rock music provided meaningful cultural experiences that validated the emerging ideologies of pop cultural pluralism.

The fads of commercially-based pop culture proceeded in a linear sequence in the tradition of modernism; hula hoops, skateboards, bell bottoms, disco . . . Flower power and the peace movement came and went as well, but the hippy subculture would live on to become part of the polycentric mix of contemporary society. It was indicative of the times; by the 1970s, popular culture started to override the hierarchical order and historical context of the modern paradigm.

Subsequent generations would coalesce around the interests of pop culture and establish subcultures offering accessible cultural experiences, a sense of continuity and belonging, shared values and a defining history of significant events. Pop subcultures are modeled on ideologies and lifestyle choices. Participants identify with the incorporating ideals and activities of the group; i.e., surfers become part of the surfer clan and assimilate the experiences of daily life from that perspective. Members of the group embrace the realities of a complex world as part of a close-knit community.

A growing array of self-sustaining pop subcultures would remain on the sidelines as the ongoing parade of media-driven fads perpetuated the illusion of leading edge culture in the tradition of modernism. While rabid commercialism sucked the lifeblood from Western culture to sell mass-produced products to a habituated television audience, a kind of cultural isolationism was taking place that protected the values and autonomy of the various pop subcultures. Mainstream culture was generating splinter cultures that existed outside the hierarchical order and philosophic framing of modernism. The old ways were breaking down as part of a grassroots transformation, but there was no sense of direction or underlying objective.

Basking in the glory of America’s wealth and power, the high ideals that forged the persona of the Marlboro man in the 1960s became tarnished by an overriding sense of entitlement. By the 1990s, the social prejudices and political prerogatives of majority culture had fallen out of synch with the times. Pop subcultures were part of a disenfranchised pluralistic society facing declining social conditions shackled with outmoded consumer ideologies and a democratic process corrupted by corporate money.

The production of fine art and popular culture, revived by the prosperity of post-war expansion and the rise of the middle class, was turning into the lifeless pastiche of overworked genres about the time the web and flip phones reached the general public. The long-anticipated paradigmatic shift in cultural values began as information and communication technologies opened the door on a new way of knowing the world. Mainstream culture would retain its prestige, but actualizing personalities would turn to various ideological and pop subcultures to find meaning in life.

Social media recast the role of group culture in late modern society; the concept of a close-knit group (with its camaraderie and intimacy) grew to include social networking groups. The status of pop subcultures, lying in the shadow of mainstream culture, expanded exponentially with the introduction of social media. Pop subcultures, along with all other ideological, ethnic, religious and minority subcultures, came into their own as autonomous entities in a nonlinear continuum of all cultural variants. It was the beginning of an internet-engaged social order destined to change the course of politics and culture in America.

Interpersonal pop culture represents a seismic break with the hierarchical order and historical progression of modernism. Instead of rock music and television, the principals are social media and computer games. There is no central point of view, no linear historical context and there are few shared cultural experiences outside the subcultural group. The new social order pursues diverse ideologies as an aggregate culture. Pop subcultures are part of a cultural mosaic where economic class structures have merged into a monoclass of internet-engaged subcultural groups.