Pop culture is the same as it always was…

I love to watch pop culture. People love magic, and we are always looking for more. We want that sense of wonder, the opportunity to gaze in wide-eyed wonder and go “Ooooh!” From UFO’s to Pyramids, magnetic bracelets to chain letters, we have this odd need to believe these things will actually influence our lives one way or another.

I find it really funny that a society that has been to the Moon and has created the most massive communications and information network in history and stands on the verge of defeating diseases that have plagued mankind for millennia, still thinks that not passing on a chain email will bring Bad Things into their lives.

Hey, I do it too. I don’t pass on or even open the stupid emails that threaten me with consequences; I delete those and if the threat is really bad I pass them on to law enforcement. I do pass on the good luck ones, and I hope my friends don’t mind—some of them are really funny. I’m just sharing the joke. Of course there is always that thought in the back of my mind: ‘Couldn’t hurt and it might even work, you never know…’

That’s the secret to these things, after all is said and done.  There may be only a one-in-a-million chance of a magnetic bracelet helping Aunt Stella’s arthritis, but it is still a chance, isn’t it? It is the newest magical talisman that appeals to our primitive hopes and beliefs. When science has failed us we turn back to the concepts of our past, to the magic and rituals that have prevailed for centuries. It’s exactly the same as the medieval Pilgrim buying a saint’s medallion, secure in the belief that his souvenir will protect him from disease and misfortune.

We follow the ideas of UFOs or angelic visitations because the concept of the powerful strangers from outside our territory is actually normal—strangers do bring new things to us, but they are usually from another country, not from another world. Strangers are often hostile or their motives are at best obscure, so fear and fascination are a perfectly normal response. UFO’s and Angels have a lot in common, really: powerful beings that are mysterious, incomprehensible and bizarre in appearance. We have no idea why they are here or what they are doing, but it must be important, right? UFO’s are still magic, just with space ships substituted for the wings and halos.

Of course we are ambivalent about the entire concept of magic in the first place. Books and shows like ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Charmed’ are wildly popular, but they demonstrate our need for that sense of wonder. Religions have always held that magic is evil, unless it is being done by their own, approved outlets and then they do a spin on it and call it a ‘miracle’. Tales of the old saints commanding strange beasts and healing the sick or causing earthquakes to level an enemy city are just stories about magic by an authorized practitioner. It’s a lot like a trade union, if you think about it.

 What most people won’t tell you is that these things are normal. We pass on the good-luck emails because we all want bit of an advantage in getting through our lives, whether that means carrying a rabbits foot or just ‘hoping for the best’. We tell stories of ghosts and UFOs interchangeably because we are creating our own cultural archive; these are our new mythology. The image of the Scientist has replaced the image of the Witch or bearded Sorcerer; Merlin wears a lab coat and glasses nowadays.

In a way, pop culture hasn’t change in several thousand years. Whether it is Sindbad or the late Neil Armstrong, the adventurer is still going to new and exotic places and bringing back tales of wonder and danger. Poltergeists and EMF fields, Hackers and Wizards are all part of the collective mind; we love these images and use them almost interchangeably. We will still buy and use our talismans and good luck charms even as we check the NASA website for the latest pictures from Mars.

Pop culture isn’t a bad thing, unless you become obsessive on your favorite topic, but that holds true for anything you enjoy.  Pop culture is just us, as we always have been and probably always will be. Enjoy it.

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