Monthly Archives: August 2012

Our common popular culture – good job, interwebs.

I was recently shown this neat list on Buzzfeed titled 25 Ways To Tell You’re A Kid Of The ’90s. It is basically a collection of pop cultural references about kid’s stuff of that decade.

Chronologically speaking, I was a kid of the 1990s, which lasted from a few of my earliest memories into my teens. Yet, I didn’t get half of the references. The reason is quite simple – the list is based on American kid’s pop culture of the 90s, whereas I grew up on the other side of the pond. This made me think how unthinkable a national definition of the most marked pop cultural occurrences would be today, thanks to cheap and widespread Internet access.

Take the participation in exploitable Internet memes for example. The kids who make them (and many of them are kids, as evidenced by the frequent themes of interaction of teenagers with their parents, school situations etc.) will probably fondly remember that time well wasted for the rest of their lives. As an Internet phenomenon, however, these memories will be shared by everyone who’s a kid of the 00s, regardless of geographical origin.

This also holds true for more conventional subjects of popular culture, such as TV shows. I did get the Bel Air reference at the top of Buzzfeed’s list, but not because I actually watched the series in its original English language (or at all, not everyone had more than 3 channels after all) back in the 90s. “The Internet” told me. IIRC XKCD in particular deserves credit for my enlightenment in this matter. For current shows, pieces of music etc. such late explanations won’t be necessary. People can consume any piece of media they like whenever they like. This may be a new series that normally would only have aired here a lot later and in a terribly dubbed version (In non-English-speaking Europe, the Cosby Show was actually a typical part of mid- to late-90s TV… quite a bit of lag, I’d say).¬† Or think about otaku kids translating and subtitling the latest episode of their favourite anime and distributing it to their peers around the world just hours after the original Japanese airing – while there might never be an official translation.

This last example is also something to answer people who argue that geographical barriers still exist due to language barriers. It’s pop culture, which literally means that many people like it. So there is likely going to be someone who is able to and will translate, even in case of languages few people speak. But for the most part the world’s proficiency in English will correlate with the advent of more and more content on the Internet – simply because being restricted to websites in your mother tongue is boring.

Another restriction, which is more relevant, is the availability of Internet access. While the necessary equipment has become exceptionally cheap, it’s regrettably not yet available to anyone. I would however, argue that this is a socio-economic barrier, not a geographical one.

Obviously, even though much of it are media items, not all pop cultural products can be digitalized. For example, Buzzfeed’s list included some candy and toys I didn’t know. So some of these barriers will remain. However, I assume that since online discourse popularises products worldwide, chances that they might be marketed in other places rise. Another part of this issue might be solved with the mass production and proliferation of 3D-printers. (Which also scratches at another great benefit the world’s culture, pop and otherwise, gets from the net: the facilitation of creative work – which I won’t go into right now)

So, we see a worldwide pop cultural exchange. We like or hate the same stuff and we laugh at the same jokes, wherever we are. There are still considerable barriers for many people regarding access, but once you got it, you join something that is a genuinely global community. The majority of actual content might be trivial, and I do not expect education and socialization of children to be even close to identical all over the world any time soon.

But just the prospect of getting a cultural heritage that is, to a higher degree than ever before, genuinely common to all mankind¬† is incredibly futuristic and just plain awesome to the “regional 90s kid” that I used to be.

[Now, out with the cultural anthropology trolls to tell me how many books and articles you’ve already written on this trivial hunch of mine]

tl;dr

While “the 90s kids” don’t universally exist, there are and will be genuine “00s” and “10s”¬† kids, thanks to an internet-fuelled common global pop culture. I believe that’s a good thing.