Popping Pop

Posted: 16th May 2009 by onyxhawke in Uncategorized
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The text below was written a while back for a psychology class. It was written with no thoughts to the issues of my last post, but it does have some neat tie ins when you look at what is being done and how.


So what is “Pop” anyway? And why is it so popular? Everyday, every minute almost, it seems we here something being dubbed “Pop”. At the grocery store check out lanes we here that Brittney Spears is the “Princess of Pop”. Michael Jackson’s family, fans and friends would defend him and daily refer to him as “The King of Pop”. Every time you turn around there is a new gadget that is “Pop”, at one point it was the MP3 player, than it had to be that MP3 player by Sony, or Fuji, or some other company. Then it was the Ipod, then there was an Ipod with a bigger memory. Later there was an Ipod with a different color. All of these things were “Pop”. Then the Ipod shrank, it got less memory, and it was “Pop”. Now there’s the Ipod Photo, and the Ipod Video which has either thirty gigabytes of memory or sixty. My first computer had 100 mb of memory, and it, like the Ipod Video, was (wait for it); Pop.

Wow! All those things are Pop. But how did they get to be Pop? That’s an even more interesting question. From a lifetime of observation, Popness seems to result strictly from someone deciding that something should be Pop. This someone needs to be influential. They need to be Pop themselves. Yup, to declare Pophood you need to be Pop. When the Emperor declared his new clothes Pop, he did so because someone told him they were. He wanted to be Poppy. Nearly everyone seems to want to be Pop. Some people are just a bit more selective about who they decide to be Pop with. An “emo teen” ostensibly is not Pop, except in emo circles, where if they have all the requisite emo-culture divine properties they could personify Pop. If for a given group someone is Pop their opinions of things will define where on the empirical minefield lie Pop, anti-Pop, proto-Pop, formerly Pop and all other states of Popisity in between. But even having someone who is Pop declare something Pop or anti-Pop isn’t always enough. There’s seems to be some sort of critical mass for Pop persuasion. Honestly, Nancy Reagan as First Lady was Pop, she declared Drugs anti-Pop, and yet drugs are still, a quarter century later pretty Pop in some circles, in some circles they are even more popular. This just emphasizes what I’ve known for some time; Pop is subjective to social groups and individuals, and if something is Pop enough in a group, outside pressure, even countervailing Pop won’t make much headway until it insinuates itself into the social groups influential peoples perspectives.

Now what in the world is causing people to decide what Pop is or should be? It would seem from the complete lack of congruity of various Pop music acts that unless one is trying to be just like someone who already is Pop that there is no real connection. Honestly, think about it, Aretha Franklin, The Beatles, NWA, and Cyndi Lauper were all Pop in their day. But comparing a group that put out a song called “Fuck the Police” with a group that put out “Yellow Submarine” doesn’t leave much room for comparison and common ground. Moreover a flamboyantly dressed poster child for eighties gaudy dress hardly compares with the chic styles seen from one of the legends of Motown. Similarly, the VW Beatle, the Ford Mustang, and the El Camino don’t seem to have much in common, but all of them were Pop. Popular Mechanics, GQ, and the Enquirer are again all Pop but trying to draw comparisons between the three is at least as ridiculous as doing so with any of the earlier groupings.

All I can see is that draws all things Pop together is that people like them. Not only do they like them, but they want and need others to like them too. What they seek in this is validation or social reinforcement. All the people that I’ve met who are driven by staying up with who, what, where and sometimes how is or are Pop palpably need to accumulate reinforcement. Not just lack of disagreement, but active, enthusiastic support. A great example of this was a coworker who insisted I was gay because I didn’t care for the same physical type in women as he did. His girlfriend (of the week) was an extremely thin, wiry, and sparingly curved body type that I probably compared a little to pointedly to that of a thirteen year old boy. I told him she was attractive, and well worth a second look, but this wasn’t enough for him. He craved validation and social reinforcement the way a junkie craves their next fix. This type of behavior is endemic to Pop ‘Culture’, the search for someone to make them feel good is ceaseless and all consuming. Pop Culture is about little more than providing a crutch for people who don’t have the internal integrity to stand up and decide what they like, what they think and pleases them. Pop is a socially accepted, or less positively put, a socially pushed excuse for mental and emotional idleness in exchange for easy validation simply by falling in lockstep behind whichever sheep in Judas goat attire is leading the parade.


  • Interesting thoughts, particularly in light of your career. Arguably you're selling your prediction of what is going to be Pop (in certain circles) to those who in turn try to sell it as Pop. Meanwhile the target market would rather feel as though they "discovered" the Pop thing themselves because nobody likes to admit they're a marketing lemming, especially in a fandom subculture (like emo teens as you said, or let's face it sci-fi/fantasy fans). We want everything to seem personal, and the moment it doesn't seem personal, we reject it. So the marketing will be a subtle dangling and seeding of the thing so we can tell ourselves it was all our idea to begin with. And I think that is probably the key to Popness, it has to feel as though we picked up on something ourselves, or from people we perceive to be (or wish we could say were) similar to us, which reinforces our liking of it and in turn influences the people around us to like it more.
    LOL, you got my brain moving this Saturday morning. Great pondering!