Popular culture is a ubiquitous concept of ideas, speech patterns, images, perspectives, and phenomena that exist within the mainstream of a given culture. It pervades a wide collection of mediums that, together, reach an incredibly large and diverse demographic. It is through these mediums that a particular society, in this instance the United States of America, presents to its constituents what is acceptable and normative. The images we are fed from birth determine our understandings of ideal beauty, intelligence, success, and identity. In this exhibit, we will explore the methods with which pop culture presents non-normative identities and experiences, and the nature of so doing. There are patterns to the ways "others" are portrayed, and in the creation of such patterns, there is a fine and blurry line between representation and exploitation. Our purpose here is to examine that line, and the ways different mediums dance on top of it. In this case, representation will be defined as a truthful and nuanced depiction. Exploitation will be defined as using another's identity or experience for outside gain. In no way is this meant to imply a strict dichotomy - representation and exploitation are not mutually exclusive. They almost always exist together, intertwining in complex, unavoidable ways. In a capitalist society, it is nearly impossible to present a story without implying some agenda or purpose to telling the story, and in so doing, taking advantage of that story for monetary or social profit. The most crucial thing we wish readers to gain from this exhibit is to recognize there is no such thing as moral absolutism: every image we will present has its beneficial and detrimental aspects. So instead of simply juxtaposing the two concepts, we intend to explore their relationship. How do they feed off one another? Where do they come from? Why are the creators and consumers of pop culture so keen on straddling this delicate line? We will begin to explore these questions by evaluating the degree to which different popular culture phenomena exploit and accurately represent specific experiences and identities.
As students of visual culture, it would be foolish for us to imply that our own writings are entirely unbiased. Our society heavily relies on images to maintain what is normal, and recognizing the systems of power that perpetuate those ideas is very different from actually eliminating them. Nonetheless, we have done our best to present accurate information. We have broken up the exhibit into four pages representing four different aspects of popular culture: film and television, activism and capitalism in fashion, performativity and social capital, and alliance as advertisement. Through these four subgroups, we will explore the morally grey areas in which popular culture lives.
- Sarah Nathanson '19, Olivia Konuk '18