“Live Long and Prosper”
“May the Force be with You”
“One ring to rule them all”
“You’re a wizard, Harry”
“A Lannister always pays his debts”
If you’re able to recognize any of the above dialogues, then I don’t think you need an introduction to what pop-culture means. But if you still do, and for the layman out there let me define it as best as I can. Pop-culture stands for popular culture and was first coined in the 19th century and was associated with ‘poor education’ and ‘lower classes’ (my inner history nerd keeps unleashing itself). Ironically, today the term is usually associated with mass media (TV shows, movies, games, etc.). I think it’s safe to say, most of the people born in the 90s and after that, are well aware of it (with this I end pop-culture 101).
Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter series (and Fantastic Beasts as well, can’t leave that out, can we), Percy Jackson, Supernatural, Sherlock, Grey’s Anatomy, Modern Family, Game of Thrones, Narcos, Transformers, Fast and the Furious (even Fate of the Furious), Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, One Piece, Marvel & DC universe. You name it and it’s there. Even the multitude of memes on Internet and site like Tumblr (owned by Supernatural fandom) are part of this pop-culture. Pop-culture evolved after the second World War, as a means of hope and entertainment for the millions of people who had seen the most destructive conflict of their times. With its advent came biggies like Stan Lee (God of geeks worldwide). Who then created iconic characters like Spider-man which have stayed alive decades later (Spiderman:Homecoming trailer is so cool, btw). These characters were although primarily aimed at children, but people of all ages readily embraced them. With a little nudge from Capitalism the comic book industry became so humongous that, today, just Marvel Cinematic Universe or MCU is larger than entire countries GDPs. But the picture has not always been rosy and comfortable for pop-culture in general. Many times it has almost become extinct, but then came franchise like Star Wars or Harry Potter which gave it the required push and brought it back to life.
Pop-culture in India isn’t a new development. It all started with Superman. But the limited reach of media like TV and limited access to comics made sure that pop culture didn’t have much influence in the sub-continent. Everything changed when liberalization happened in 1991. TV sets found their way to homes, children started reading comics in herds and Spiderman and Superman started becoming household names. But this doesn’t mean that India didn’t have its own culture of comic books and TV shows. Names like ‘Nagraj’ and ‘Super Commando Dhruv’ might not mean anything to us but, people born in the 80s and before (basically our parents and uncles and aunts) remember them fondly.
But our generation is the one that defines pop-culture in India. Whether books, comics (yes, there’s a difference, Google it), movies, music, TV shows or graphic content, we have been the biggest consumers. I mean, who doesn’t remember religiously watching Pokemon at 5 PM and Beyblade or Digimon after. We’re but too familiar with Powerpuff girls, Courage the cowardly dog, Power Rangers (have you seen the trailer yet?) or just plain old Shin-chan (although there’s nothing old or plain about it). Reading Archies comics or Asterix (remember Deepika in the movie Tamasha?) or the magical world of Harry Potter (JK rowling is our queen) we have all been introduced to the world which is magical, to say the least. We’ve cried when Dobby died, laughed when Joey didn’t share food or Chandler’s sarcasm was on point, idolized Captain America, hated/loved Snape, watched Goku be the best, Dean Winchester die and come back (I’ve lost count, honestly), related with Sheldon or Spock and simply adored Benedict (was it crumplehorn or cucumberbitch? Those who get the joke have my utmost respect) as eccentric but brilliant Sherlock; in short, we’ve lived their lives, felt what they felt and relied on them in times of despair and hopelessness (like when Trump won).
The next addition to this fandom universe was Comic Con. Although the ones in India are nowhere as close to the San Diego Comic Con (the Mecca of pop culture) but they’ve been fairly popular and have seen major footfall. People like Mark Gatiss (Mycroft Holmes) and Kristian Nairn (Hodor) have been guests. As the purchasing power of the middle class has risen (not counting for demonetization) the ability and willingness to come to such events and buy stuff has grown exponentially. Another major part of Comic-con has been the cosplayers, people who dress up as their favorite character. From simply wearing an overcoat and muffler (Sherlock) to the elaborate hand-made costumes depicting a character from Skyrim which takes months to create; you can find them all. The popularity of Manga and Anime in India is also explicitly visible there. Ask about Naruto or Death Note or Tokyo Ghoul, you’ll surely find fans running in hundreds if not thousands. Such events also present an opportunity for startups to showcase their work and create a consumer base without much effort. These events also provide artists with a platform to showcase their work, which is a great thing, especially in a country like India.
But what does this advent of pop-culture really means? Does it mean that we’re becoming potatoes (I don’t think that’s a bad thing, I take it as a compliment) or becoming dumb? Does it mean that we’re losing our ‘culture’ and becoming lost in the consumerism imported from the west? Or it simply means that we’d prefer to see Michael Fassbender in Assassin’s Creed instead of watching Shahrukh in Raees? (I’d watch both if you ask me) I believe the answer is simple. People, young people like us especially, throughout the ages have been the ones who have dared to hope, dared to differ and dared to rebel. We continue this marvelous tradition via pop culture. So when Trump becomes the president-elect of the USA, we respond by quoting Harry Potter (where Voldemort takes over the Ministry of Magic, and you thought Harry potter was far away from reality?), when we are depressed or lose someone we quote the wise words of Dumbledore, when we feel hope slithering away we are reminded that “Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” (Shawshank Redemption), or when we feel different and cast out, we’re reminded of Luna who made us be proud of our individuality. These various comics, sit-coms, movies, games, teach us the values which are a staple of our generation; compassion, acceptance, bravery, rebelliousness, friendship, intellect, selflessness, and above all love. The pop-culture has helped mold our set of ethics, has provided us with a moral guidance in a world which is increasingly filled with racist,sexist, hypocrite, bigots. So, we’ve embraced it. Our conversations are incomplete without sarcasm, puns, and popular references. Our writings are influenced by it, our music taste impacted by it. We’ve learned a great deal out of things which were and are still considered a waste of time. Thanks to the pop-culture we’ve evolved, made new friends, accepted diversity, fought for what’s right and learned how to love. If that isn’t a good influence, I don’t know what is? I can go on and on, but I’d like to end by stating that our lives are molded by the pop-culture around us and maybe that’s not such a bad thing, therefore there’s only one direction for both pop-culture and us, as Buzz Lightyear says “To infinity and beyond”.