I've been trying to think of the add-on to this entry, but other stuff keeps interfering in my head, so it might be a few more days. We thank you for your patience.
But during the process towards wrapping my head around it, I've come up with some fairly interesting tangents, and I'd like to explore them now.
Mainly, it has to to with one of the big criticisms against academic critiques of pop culture, which can be summed up thusly: "It's just entertainment! It doesn't mean anything! Sometimes people want to turn their brains off! You're just thinking about these things too much!"
I think this is a bad way to think.
Entertainment influences people. Fables, myths, parables, etc. were intended as entertainment, after all. And in a related idea, the stories that a culture tells itself will clue you in to what sort of things that culture finds important, praiseworthy, condemnable, etc. I submit that modern-day pop culture serves the same function. Oh, the didacticism isn't overt; seldom is there something at the end of a movie that says "This is the moral of the story," but it's there nevertheless. If everyone can agree that it's good for kids to read the Harry Potter books because they teach lessons about real friendship and remaining true to yourself, why is it so difficult for non-academic people to believe that a lot of Disney movies present some pretty dodgy values? After all, it's the same basic assumption that drives both opinions: That entertainment has an effect on kids that's either good or bad.
Ahh, but we're adults, not kids; we know what's up, we've got experience, we know it's "just entertainment." But why should age make a difference in our thought processes? I would also submit that we, as a culture, get our values from the popular mass media. This is not a bad thing in and of itself. Where it becomes bad is when people accept what the media say uncritically--without thinking about what messages these media present, why these media present these messages, and whose interests these messages serve.
And this leads me right to the next point--the idea that quite a few people have that they have a right to "turn their brains off." The related idea is that thinking itself is some kind of chore that's too difficult for most people to keep up all day.
Something I said in a prior entry applies best here: Burning books is not one-tenth as effective as removing the desire to read. Oh, it's not like this is some dastardly conspiracy by some shadowy cabal in power that runs everything behind the scenes; individual people make the choice not to read for themselves. The problem is, the end result is the same: a population not only unwilling to question the world around it, but a population that considers the act of questioning a waste of time at best and heresy at worst. And I think this is the theme that runs both Farenheit 451 and David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest (though Wallace, I think, is going more against the whole "turn-your-mind-off" aspect of entertainment in general, which I think is good of him. Where Wallace is not so good is that he uses the novel as a platform for his whole death-of-irony wank session. I fucking loathe the whole death-of-irony movement, and when I'm king of the world, everyone involved in it will get my foot in their asses).
My intention here is not blame. I realize there's a lot of room here for readers to see my view as just one massive ad hominem attack against the things they like. So let me just be clear: There is nothing inherently wrong with you if you believe that pop culture is "just entertainment." I do not wish to make you feel guilty or dumb or manipulated for holding that opinion.
What I do wish is for you to consider the things you say, and to consider the consequences of your opinions.