This question is at the heart of a lunch-hour debate between two middle school teachers. As they sit in the teacher's lounge over their lunch breaks, Kim, the more open-minded and optimistic teacher and Karen, the more conservative teacher, find that their opinions about the benefit of popular culture are quite different. Kim sees the positive, beneficial side of popular culture, reasoning that popular culture encourages the arts, communicates the sign of the times, and allows many artists to go forth in a purposeful way to use their fame as an advantage to communicate a good and valuable message. Karen, on the other hand, does not view popular culture as beneficial to society because the entertainment industry is out of touch with the public, dangerous media images influence real-life behavior, and some artists do not set forth to be model members of society and don't care how they impact society. The two teachers are quite knowledgeable and well-informed about their points of view on this issue.
Kim: Popular culture is beneficial to society because it encourages the arts. Popular culture is an art form itself. Barbra Streisand put it quite well when she suggested that art exists to enhance the "constant search for the truth," as well as "to entertain." Streisand asserts: "to deny artists, or any of us, free expression and free thought ... is to weaken the very foundation of our democracy" (493). Streisand herself is a vocal artist who believes that "arts programs" "bring culture, education, and joy into the lives of ordinary Americans" (494). Arts programs in schools and communities were not just thought up one day by a room full of suits. Arts programs are deeply rooted in the audio and visual forms of our culture; in other words, they are rooted in popular culture. So of course popular culture encourages the arts, which are clearly a valuable entity. If the arts were not valuable, schools would not fund art programs. The arts are characterized by creativity and open-mindedness, qualities that inadvertently entertain. Without the arts, there would be less unity because art brings people together. People can identify with the arts and find commonality. If not for the influence of popular culture, there would be no call for the arts. As a result, society as we know it would be gravely damaged.
Karen: The arts would still exist if not for the popular culture of today. Perhaps then the focus could be placed upon true art forms, such as famous paintings by real artists. Most people appreciate the art of Van Gough and the early days of film when choreography enhanced the movie set, but what positive impact can possibly be derived from scantly clad vocalists who have computerized voices and use obscene dance moves? Popular culture is not beneficial to the development of society because the entertainment industry is out of touch with the public. Michael Medved discusses the "joke" that violence has become in entertainment today, despite the fact that "most of us deplore violence" (490), showing proof that the entertainment industry is not in touch with the public. The entertainment industry should dedicate itself to being more public friendly. No one wants to watch a program or movie that has a high percentage of violent content. If the general public does not condone violence, what warrants the over-bearing presence of violence in popular entertainment? There is obviously a mismatched link between what the public receives and what the public desires for entertainment. Another example brought out by Medved is the music video, "Black or White," by pop artist Michael Jackson, whose sexual and violent nature led to controversy (490-493). Medved goes on to question how those in charge could have been "surprised" by the "public's outraged response" (492). A very relevant issue is brought to the surface. The video clearly contained sex and violence that the public had no desire to witness. The public's voice was heard in this case, and the video was edited, but that was then (490-493). Today, such content is so commonplace that we don't even blink an eye at the violent and sexual content and innuendos that popular culture offers as entertainment. The public does not necessarily like or accept what they see and hear, but they merely have no choice but to ignore the inappropriate scenes and references in order to suck some enjoyment out of today's sorry excuse for entertainment. My personal experience has illustrated this public disapproval of entertainment. My 19-year-old cousin saw the movie American Pie II and was very disgusted by the thick sexual focus. I remember her telling me once that she regretted paying money to see such a worthless film and the ideas behind it. My cousin's reaction to American Pie II is just one more example of how out-of-touch popular culture is with the ideals of the public, and even the young public that the movie was catered to in this case.
Kim: It is obvious the "public" previously discussed all come from a very conservative sector of society. I know people who enjoyed the originality of the music video "Black or White" and the humor of the movie American Pie II, so the evaluation of overall public disapproval is an unwarranted generalization. The benefits of popular culture truly do outweigh the drawbacks. A second benefit of popular culture is the way it communicates the sign of the times...
[Kim then completes her second speech, and Karen responds with her second speech. They then have one more exchange, arguing for their third reasons. After Karen's third speech, we reach the concluding paragraph below.]
There are conclusively two very distinct sides of the debate over whether or not popular culture is beneficial to the development of society. Kim, an open-minded middle school teacher with enthusiasm about the benefits of popular culture, explains that it encourages the arts, it communicates the sign of the times, and many artists go forth in a purposeful way, using their fame as an advantage to communicate a good and open-minded message. Her fellow middle school teacher, Karen, who is quite conservative, refutes Kim's viewpoint, claiming that the absence of popular culture's benefits is too great because the entertainment industry is out of touch with the public, media images influence real-life behavior, and some artists so not set forth to be a model member of society and don't care how they impact society. One o'clock approaches and the noon hour comes to an end, as does the discussion between the two middle school teachers who remain on opposite sides of the fence of popular culture's impact on society.