What Makes Anything (Pop)ular?

I must borrow here from Horkheimer and Adorno (1944) and say that I believe the popular is the dope of the masses. And for those of you who don’t know who they are, I’ll borrow from Malcolm X (or at least Denzel as Malcolm X) and say ya’ll are being “bamboozled” by the culture industry.
Popular is whatever someone else says is popular. Popular is whatever you can consume without consciously engaging. For example, how many of the words can you think of right now to any rap song on the radio? Do you, like most people, claim not to “listen for the words, but for the beat”? Do you think that because you don’t know the words, that it makes you immune to the messages encoded in the lyrics?

As many Wisewomen have once (or twice) told me, there is a time and a place for everything. I by no means believe that you have to turn your critical eye on everything all the time — if you need to analyze every Crest toothpaste commercial that comes on, that’s your prerogative, but it may become a bit exhausting if you’re just trying to sit through an episode of Lie to Me. However, it is helpful, in the very least, to have a critical lens, or the ability to do the critical work; ask questions of the stuff that you’re mentally ingesting.
That entails first being able to identify messages that the “popular” thing is sending you. Then, (I know, a lot of steps…) ask yourself if you buy the messages it’s sending you about self, nation, and “others”. Fine, you watch the Jersey Shore because you think it’s ridiculous, but it’s a whole ‘nother process to really ask yourself why you think it’s ridiculous and a whole ‘nother to start asking questions about class, about racialization, about reality television, voyeurism, and the consumption of other people’s misery.
Those are the questions that get obscured as you’re sitting there laughing at Snookie get her extensions pulled out, and those are the questions that MTV hopes you don’t ask while you’re watching that commercial for Axe body spray and Redbull energy drink.
I know, I know, you’re thinking: “Dr.” Lane, that’s way too much work. I just want to watch The Jersey Shore and laugh and not think about anything.
And I say to that: Fine. Sit on your sofa and watch your insides rot.
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