I feel that one of my jobs as a parent is to expand my children’s cultural horizons beyond the commercialized pop culture bubble that mainstream media implies is the only culture worth knowing. They’re not always convinced that this is necessary (and you might not be either), but I tell them to think of it this way – pop culture is like fast food.
Now, fast food certainly tastes good going down (all that easy sugar, fat, and salt). And it’s convenient (no need to cook, just eat). And it’s fast (a whole meal prepared while you text your friends). But, even so, we all know it’s not good for us. While it’s not impossible to find a well-made and mostly healthy hamburger in some places, and while an occasional fast food binge is going to kill us (probably), we can agree that if we ate a steady diet of fast food hamburgers, pizza, and fried chicken, we’d be in trouble.
The same is true of pop culture. It’s full of easy laughs, drama, sex, and violence, so it goes down easy. It’s quick and convenient to consume just about anywhere. But we all know (or should) that it’s not really very good for us. As with fast food, there may be some well-made pop culture that’s conscious (and self-conscious) enough to say something valuable. And, like that beautiful, crispy, greasy piece of fried chicken, an occasional binge on even the most mindless pop culture probably isn’t the end of the world. It might even help us relax after a hard day.
The key similarity between fast food and pop culture, however, is that too much of it too often just isn’t healthy. If we watch nothing but reality television and pro sports, if we listen to nothing but three chord pop tunes, if we read nothing but grocery aisle magazines, our minds will be just as unhealthy as our bodies would be on a steady diet of double-cheeseburgers and soda pop.
People often want to deny this. Look, they tell me, millions of people watch professional football, listen to the top 40, and follow their favourite stars on Instagram. It can’t be all that bad if so many people like it.
Yes, I say, and McDonald’s has millions and millions served. Just because lots of people love it doesn’t make it good for you.
Well, people argue, it’s hard work finding alternatives. You can’t just find them on the radio or Netflix or my social media feed (although you actually sometimes can).
I know, I tell them. Just like it takes more time and energy to go and buy good ingredients, cook from scratch, and eat healthy meals, it also takes more time to look for alternative cultural options, to experience them consciously, and to expand our minds beyond the easy pop culture their used to consuming.
But it’s worth it. Your mind will be healthier for it.
So, I took my kids to a local comic convention yesterday morning, where they got to see various artists actually working on their craft. Then I took them to the jazz festival yesterday afternoon, where we listened to live music while playing in the nearby splash pad. Then I took them to the used bookstore on the way home, where they got to see books that they won’t likely find in big box bookstores.
Sure, we finished the night by bingeing on a cheesy superhero movie and eating chocolate brownies, but that’s okay, just so long as that’s not all were putting into our bodies and our minds.