Pop Culture Viewed Through the Lens of Micro Culture, with an Examination of Paradigm Shifts

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As our culture has become increasingly frenetic with it's use of the internet as a means of consumption of knowledge, the amount of information we have been given access to has surpassed our ability to adapt to each new turn of events. Instead of having a Kuhnian paradigm through which we might view our world, we have moved beyond a fixed lens, and progressed into an age where there is no permanence to any opinion. Rather, our worldview is amorphous and reactive, able to change with each new revelatory 'viral video.' The tragedy of our time is that there is no shock value, nothing to make us re-examine our values, because we have left them behind in the dusts of the past.
Truly, the excitement of 'groundbreaking' artifacts has long since ceased: nothing can break a ground that no longer exists.

My assertion is that, though we have left the age of the large-scale paradigm, the paradigm survives and indeed thrives in micro cultures. Each micro culture creates it's own paradigm through which it chooses to consume mass media. In most cases, these paradigms arise from personal needs or interests, uninteresting to the world at large. In this paper, I will be examining the evolution of one micro culture's paradigms from late 2011 to the present. I have had the unique experience of being quite enmeshed in this micro culture during that time frame, and my findings will surely prove interesting to my dear reader.

In late 2011, Amir and Marina were preparing to move from South Korea to the US. They were consuming early HBO dramas, namely, The Wire, The Sopranos, and Six Feet Under. Amir developed a unique paradigm, the 'This is how it is in America?' paradigm. The paradigm grew from both a desire to know the place to which he was moving, and a fear of the future he was facing, apparently a country over-run by corruption, mafia bosses, and death. Marina, as the responsible party for answering this question, was also in charge of shaping a view of the US at large. As such, her attention was placed primarily on relating the events of each show to her own life experience, and weighing each scene for realism. In this way, the paradigm provided a question through which to interact with the media, in essence framing the experience.

After moving to the US, Marina started following the TV program 'Glee', which was grudgingly viewed by Amir. Amir's posed the question 'why are these people singing so much and why are we watching this?' While this query was initially quelled by Marina, over time this paradigm grew more salient. As the seasons wore on and the series became more didactic, Marina was forced to realize that the time spent on the program had led to neither enjoyment nor personal fulfillment. The power of that realization has permanently scarred Marina; she has become aware of her own inability to stop watching a bad TV show serially, and yet simultaneously has difficulty distinguishing when TV watching has become compulsory. The 'why are we watching this?' paradigm has lasted into the present, and is often re-visited after gruesome Game of Thrones episodes.

Another staple of the couple's media-consumption diet during this period was Downton Abbey. This series was viewed through two dual and non-competing paradigms: mimicry of British accents and comic comparisons of Downton to the couple's current apartment. The show was watched intently by the couple looking for phrases to repeat for comic effect, the most oft-repeated of which was "Luncheon is served," followed by "You must come to luncheon!" and "Lady Grantham." Observations regarding the living spaces ranged from amazement at the size of Downton in comparison to the couple's studio apartment, to bitter complaints after the show that "I'll bet the hot water never goes out in Downton." These paradigms allowed the couple to both abhor and envy the residents of Downton simultaneously: while the mimicry of speech showed a disdain for a period of time marked by formality, the comparison of property allowed an outlet for a bitterness regarding the absurd rent prices in San Jose.

Amir's chronic back pain led to the development of a new paradigm based on his situation: the 'back strength' paradigm. Practical jokes on television that involved someone falling became worrisome, because they might hurt their back. If, as in the movie Neighbors, the practical joke takes place at work, a discussion might be held between the couple as to whether that would constitute a worker's compensation case. Action sequences are obvious candidates to be viewed from the 'back strength' paradigm, but the couple hasn't limited it's scope to these situations. Moonrise Kingdom can be seen through this lens as a movie, not about two young children in an early romance, but as a film about people with strong backs carrying suitcases together. In the last James Bond movie, it's not only Bond himself that demonstrates a strong back, but also Dame Judi Dench as she escapes through a narrow opening and bends over, defying what an un-initiated outsider might assume the 'back strength' paradigm to consist of. A close relative of the 'back strength' paradigm is the 'that girl is going to need a bunionectomy' paradigm. Any film or TV show that features a woman with very high heels leads Marina to make this comment reflexively, while glancing down at her own feet and rubbing her scarred joints together.

The most recently developed paradigm has been born out of a desire to move. Although realistically the couple can only move in space, this physical restriction doesn't stop them from discussing how happy they are to be existing outside of a fictional medieval world. Breaking Bad was seen through a lens of 'New Mexico looks sunny and affordable,' and Parks and Recreation is viewed from the perspective of 'wow those government employees can afford a house in that area?'

In conclusion, it is important to note that paradigms are no longer being made by culture and accepted by the consumer. Instead, the consumer is creating their own paradigm, and applying it to culture. In this brave new consumer-based world, a feeling of social isolation from a lack of shared perspective might arise. Indeed, the consumption experience is defined by each individual micro culture. However, as evidenced in this paper, the feeling brought by each media artifact is increased in value by the individual's ability to assign their own paradigm, and therefore meaning, through the exposure of each artifact to the viewer, allowing for a truly postmodern viewing experience.

Marina Gafni

Marina Gafni is a 28-year-old speech pathology student. She lives with her husband in San Jose, CA.


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