A large part of why I am often hesitant to label myself a “journalist” is due to the lack of representation that anything other than “hard news” gets in journalism classes. Professors act on the assumption that we all want to be helicoptering into Iraq, or walking the streets of a broken-down city to get a story of a struggling kid with a heart of gold. They act on the assumption that those kinds of stories, hard news and gritty, are the only of substance.
And while there is literally nothing wrong with that kind of reporting—we obviously need it—I’m tired of that being the primary. I was in a journalism class where the professor was discussing the skills we’ll need if we want to succeed. But those skills were only really marketable if I’m going to be pursuing a career as a Woodward and Bernstein “on the case” reporter. He demerited the importance of “first person narrative” and how it has no place as the first mode of storytelling.
But the kind of journalism I want to do—pop culture—relies on my voice and my narrative and the ability of an audience to trust me to be funny and knowledgeable and real. And I couldn’t maintain a straight face because, three years into it, I was tired. I was tired of feeling like I was dumb for wanting to talk about pop or that my career wouldn’t have as much value as if I was to follow a more traditional career path.
Not every journalist wants to write for the New York Times. Not every reporter wants to be going undercover, tailing a lead or spending hours into the night poring over ancient tomes. And that’s okay.
I love pop culture. I love dissecting it and discussing it and thinking about it. Because pop culture, of which celebrity culture and the “Stars: They’re Just Like Us” is only a very small part, is the representation of what people are thinking. And that’s as important as knowing what’s going on. I love people—from celebrity to politics to local news—and I love studying them. I love seeing what makes them passionate or angry or happy. I’m a pop cultural anthropologist.
And here’s why pop culture matters: because we can take individual celebrity instances and stretch them into a wider scope. Nicki Minaj calling out Miley Cyrus publicly at the 2015 VMAs pointed to the complex way that the media portrays black women. The world buys into the “Angry Black Woman” model and it plays out over and over, with Nicki, or with Amandla Stenberg. And the portrayal of Caitlyn Jenner as the leader of the trans community because of her white, priviledged, and cisnormative conventional beauty is a reflection of our desire to keep the status quo. Because trans people aren’t making her their leader. Cisgender people are looking to her because she is palatable.
Pop culture brings conversations of cultural appropriation, transgender politics, and gender equality into the public dialogue. And that’s important. And it’s important how we laud women like Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Schumer for being “real” while simultaneously shaming women by putting a size 10 model—below the national average for women’s sizing—on the forefront of the Calvin Klein “Plus Size Range.” And even the fact that we use language like “plus” to alienate woman and other them is mind-blowing.
Pop culture simultaneously shows how far we’ve come and how far we have still to go. It can be both serious and silly, stimulating and mindless. And that’s why it’s amazing. Because it is what we are talking about, what we think about. And if the day-to-day journalism of pop culture is as prevalent in our lives as hard-hitting news, why is it not represented in my journalism classes?
I just want to feel like my interest is valid. I want to be in a classroom where I can stand next to someone who wants to write about Middle Eastern conflict and I can say that I would rather discuss the career trajectory of Hollywood It-Girls or the media empire of the Kardashians. Like, wouldn’t that be so cool?
And on a large scale, wouldn’t it be so cool if we could all feel accepted and lauded for our career interests?
If you have an interest and a driving passion and it’s not hurting anybody and you want to pursue it, I want you to. I want to write about pop culture and write books about myself and review TV shows and live-tweet the red carpet of the Golden Globes. And that’s dope that I want to. Like, I’m not cooking cocaine in my kitchen. I just want to be weird and funny and make people laugh and think. I want to be someone’s “having a bad day so I’m gonna read this.” I want to be someone’s security blanket. I want to uplift and take our collective minds off the bad things and just, if even for a moment, laugh and cringe and be happy.
And that’s as important and as valuable as being a New York Times reporter. Cue the Hailee Steinfeld “Love Myself” emotional collage.