Pop culture helps change social norms

While seen by many as a representation of our society’s most shallow attributes, popular culture is a dynamic phenomenon that should not be trivialized. Its influence is apparent in western society. With expanding media outlets and growing media consumption in 2016, pop culture is at the forefront of everyday life for many U.S. citizens.

Pop culture has long played a role in the United States through its influence on social issues, cultural change and individuals whose identities it helps mold. From Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and its impact on food safety to artists like The Beatles and Bob Dylan, whose work personified the sentiments of the civil rights generation, pop culture has played a substantial part in the development of the world in which we live.

Today, we see celebrities using their influence to confront social issues and promote positive reform. Just this year, we saw Bernie Sanders ascend to pop-icon status. He influenced the way millions of people view the world and the ideologies he promoted continue to mold multiple identities.

Pop culture has also recently rejuvenated the feminist movement, as celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence and Seth Rogen have expanded awareness and solidarity in the fight to close the gender pay gap.

Pop culture also frequently influences and even dictates social norms. Social norms are constantly changing and as a study published by the American Sociological Association indicates, celebrities have greater power in affecting social norms. These pop-icons are able to influence societal and individual attitudes toward style, sex and even desired occupations. This influence over collective and individual attitudes results in many people basing their personal identities, preferences and ideas off of popular culture.

Though it is often used to promote and spur positive social change, this drastic impact does have drawbacks. The disproportionately high influence pop culture holds over social norms can result in undesirable outcomes. This is evidenced in a study by Dr. James D. Sargent, which illustrates a link between tobacco usage in popular movies and an increased likelihood of adolescent smoking.

Negative behavior depicted in a film or demonstrated by an individual of iconic stature can be interpreted as positive and something worth emulating. This heavy influence of pop culture can result in social norms with adverse or even devastating consequences.

Given the widespread influential power of pop culture, there is a clear danger of misinformation. Many celebrities voice their opinions on a wide variety of issues, even when they lack the necessary expertise.

This reckless behavior can and already has promoted the spread of harmful beliefs, such as those behind the anti-vaccination movement. Many celebrities, including President-elect Donald Trump, have endorsed such scientifically baseless beliefs, in addition to the idea that climate change is a hoax. Through his celebrity status and various media outlets, Trump has been able to influence supporters with pseudo-science and endangered public welfare.

More and more people are relying on various internet sources such as Facebook and other forms of social media. Lately, this segment of pop-culture has faced a major issue in the availability and mass sharing of fabricated news stories. This fake news has the potential to affect political elections if it has not done so already and only serves to further the devastating social tensions the United States is currently facing.

In a part of the world dominated by pop culture, people should welcome the social good that this phenomenon can promote. Embracing pop culture can help encourage positive and much needed social change.

It is absolutely vital that people understand the capacities and harmful facets related to pop culture. Unless people comprehend these unfortunate realities, they will be vulnerable to adopting detrimental social norms and accepting misinformation when molding their personal identities. Pop culture is a vastly influential force and it is vital that everyone makes sure it is utilized to improve the world.