Pop Culture Power Base

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By Gary Cutrer
March 2010

It used to be that America’s values, our moral anchors—the ideas and concepts about life and living that we consider correct and good—came from tradition, from what our parents taught us, from our school teachers and from our religious life. Some of our values came from books and some from movies. Some came from role models, whether they were historical or political figures, heroes in books or movies, or our family members we looked up to.

These days, for a whole lot of Americans, values come from the popular culture and only from the popular culture. Even if a young person is grounded in family and religion, is well educated and well read, there is some amount of influence on the way they see things and what they consider moral and correct and good that comes from the constant barrage of messages from TV, movies, newspapers and magazines and sources on the Internet.

I say all this not to be preachy nor to condemn anyone for what they view, read or listen to, but to suggest that there is a power base in this country that is often overlooked as a power base. Whoever holds the most power in the popular culture, shapes the culture of the country. And because many, many young people are raised without much of a moral compass, the popular culture, mass media and entertainment, becomes their reference point for developing a set of values.
There’s not a conspiracy in entertainment and media to promote a certain political ideology or to present a list of concepts and standards they think we should embrace. There’s not a conspiracy, but there’s a trend—a long-term one. The trend for 45 years or more has been to more and more present a left-leaning political point of view, a strongly urban point of view, an anti-Christian point of view, a “business and corporations are not to be trusted” point of view, and an anti-military position.

There is a mindset, a prominent way of thinking. Not all players in the mass media and entertainment think this way. But for a big, big percentage of the power players in news media, publishing, and especially in the movie business, this is the conventional wisdom.

The powerful influence of the pop culture movers and shakers mainstreams things like reactionary or even radical environmentalism. Agriculture use of privately owned land often is presented as destructive or harmful to the environment. Trapping is mean and bad. Wearing fur is absolute evil. Shooting wolves or coyotes from a helicopter is cruel, even when the goal is to control the population and prevent predators from wiping out deer or elk, never mind livestock.

The pop culture mavens subtly and sometimes not so subtly promote their politics as well. Stereotypical conservatives or Republicans in a movie wear  three-piece suits, are intolerant of all points of view but their own and are mean to dogs and kittens.

Armed services members are portrayed as poor, uneducated recruits who are trained to kill, kill, kill and more often than not return home mentally unstable as a result of their experiences.

Movies and music tell young people that casual sex is good. Tattoos are great. Being a “gansta” is where it’s at. Pants should be so saggy it takes double stick tape to hold them to plumber’s crack level.

Do you notice product placement in movies? The influence of movies alone is so great, so strong, that Coca-Cola or Google will pay millions to show actors using their product in a big one—which is not bad. But it demonstrates the power movies have to influence opinion and action. When the movie “Urban Cowboy,” came out in 1980, everyone from the Wall Street tycoon to 9-to-5 Joe was sporting a fancy cowboy hat and boots and dancing the two-step. And that was only a couple years after they’d been disco dancing in their white leisure suits after seeing “Saturday Night Fever.”

I don’t want anyone to shut down Hollywood. I don’t want to censor the New York Times. I don’t want to preview and approve the lyrics to the latest hip-hop song—East coast or West coast.

The remedy to bad speech is more speech, not less. Those who care to influence America’s values and its culture—for the better—need to become players in pop culture. How to do that? I don’t know.

Time to invest in a movie project you believe in? To create a “new, improved” Hollywood? Those interested in changing the popular culture and thus influence values, must participate, and that means they must finance and produce compelling entertainment and informational content that conveys their message, their ideals.

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