Pop culture matters. Pop culture makes meaning.
A few weeks ago in New York’s Upper West Side, I had the honor of observing a dinner party/salon with a group of leading public intellectuals, a dozen or so in number, whom I personally hold in high regard. The conversation was lively and smart, measured and thoughtful. Then it took a turn. References to television and movies and “the Internet” were made with a certain naive condescension by some. There was an almost apologetic tone, as if these artistic media sources are leading to the downfall of civilization in the U.S.
The thing is, I knew they cared deeply about the subject at hand — about the state of our democracy and the life of the mind of our citizenry, especially our youth. And I think they genuinely feared that our country’s popular culture was leading to our downfall. At first, I was a bit annoyed with the conversation, then I became sad. I won’t go so far as to say I pitied them, but I wished they could see all the joy and happiness and comaraderie it builds among friends and families — and even my colleagues at work.
If I could loan them my eyes, they’d see my wife and two boys singing hip-hop with glee and repeating lines from movies with an indescribable authority. At this moment in my household, there are two things being played and replayed by my immediate family: on the television, the movie Pitch Perfect, and in the car, Lorde’s catchy hit song “Royals.”
Enter Florida State University’s AcaBelles to beautifully merge these two spheres. The video is nearing five million views on YouTube now and is worth posting, if only to hear a flesh-and-bone a cappella group rival those Barden Bellas. It’s a gorgeous rendition that just might compel you to loop it a few times this morning — and in the process smile, groove, and contemplate the message of the song.
Let’s hope those dinner party attendees see this too. I’m convinced they’ll find renewed hope in the state of our society through the creativity, fun, and interpretation of messages being put out there via the larger popular culture.