Sunday, January 20, 2008

Pondering on popular culture and comics

By nature, pop culture is part of the ephemeral and is meant to be disposable. But sometimes the most throwaway line from a pop song, snatches of dialogue from a movie or comic book gather momentum, meaning and gravitas over time, pretty much depending on your mood and frame of mind.

In the past, the learned would quote Shakespeare or lines from TS Eliot’s Prufrock as part of some witty repartee. With the rise of a global mass culture aided by the internet and Facebook, most students, whether they are church-goers or not, don't catch the biblical references in English literature. They have no idea when I talked about the road to Damascus being long and difficult.

But whether this is truly the age of high culture in retreat and the decline of Western civilization as expounded by cultural critic, Harold Bloom or film director, Penelope Spheeris, pop culture is here to stay. So what if people don’t quote the poets, Keats or Yeats anymore to express themselves? If the young of today could find comfort and expression in The Killers and they help our youths make sense of their lives, that’s good enough for me. Like The Who sang, the kids are alright.

There lies, I believe, one of the most powerful and appealing aspects of pop culture, whether they are songs on the radio or the latest Hollywood blockbuster. At the mass level, they entertain us, inform us of the world (sometimes) and help us to interact with each other when they serve as a talking point among friends and strangers.

But at some other level, they also speak to us, help us understand our own thoughts and feelings because they become the medium for us to project our intellectual and emotional states. The new year brings new resolutions, challenges and choices. Reading the last issue of World War Hulk (Marvel Comics’ mega event of last year) really helps to put things in perspective for me. As the angry Hulk lashes out at the world for the umpteenth time, he came to the realization: “They can call you whatever they want. Saviour, destroyer, all that matters is what you choose.”

I've been reading comics long enough to accept that if it takes a green raging monster to give me some pov, then I’ll take my words of wisdom from wherever they come from.

So whether it’s Radiohead’s new album (“I don’t want to be your friend, I want to be your lover”) or listening to canto-pop king, William Scorpion belting his heart out at Dragonfly when you are getting yours broken, pop culture is about the here and now. It deals with the immediate experience, and by that very nature, if you listen hard enough to that song on your ipod, it shares its secrets (or is it the other way round? – you are sharing your secrets) and provides relief and revelations.

"I'm all the days that you choose to ignore"

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