8 Ways Pop Culture Warps Our Perception of Reality

Picture of the cast of "Jersey Shore," with the caption, "POP CULTURE: You're doing it wrong... way, way wrong..."


Pop culture is the entirety of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, memes, images, and other phenomena that are within the mainstream of a given culture, especially Western culture of the early to mid-20th century and the emerging global mainstream of the late 20th and early 21st century. Heavily influenced by mass media, this collection of ideas permeates the everyday lives of the society.”

The United States of America would have a mainstream culture even without mass media. However, every aspect of life in America is so saturated with mass media that you can’t even walk into a grocery store or dentist’s office without seeing televisions, magazines, and advertisements. Since every American has been raised on ideas, perspectives, attitudes, memes, and images broadcasted through mass media, those ideas and behaviors have become America’s mainstream ideas and behaviors, and since the rest of the world also consumes American mass media, America’s habits are becoming the world’s habits.

This wouldn’t be a problem if most of America’s mass media were enlightened and humanitarian. Unfortunately, intelligence in American media is the exception, not the rule, because media producers don’t sit down and ask themselves what they can do to edify the general public and make the world a better place. They ask what they can do to make more money, and the way you make money is by creating a product that costs a little as you can get away with paying, and then you sell it to as many people as possible for as high a price as you can get away with. In order to sell a product to the most people, your product has to appeal to the most people.

It’s hard to sell something to everyone because individuals are so different. Plus, we’re all cognitive misers, which means our brains are programmed to use mental shortcuts to help us navigate our way through life without thinking. Sometimes this is efficient and useful to the individual, but sometimes it causes one to think irrationally, which can be bad for marketers, whose job it is to convince people to buy a product because it’s hard to reason with irrational people. This can also be good for marketers because irrational people are easy to manipulate… especially if the manipulator understands psychology, and thousands of trained therapists, who should be making the world a better place, are making a comfortable living advising businesses on how to better manipulate their customers.

Almost every incarnation of pop culture in the mass media is a product. The lyrics to your favorite songs are products. Your favorite movie/television characters are products. Your favorite sports team is a product. Your politicians are products. Even the news you learn about the world from is a product. Most of the products you’re being sold are themselves (just like the advertisements promoting them) designed to appeal to the irrational, short-sighted, base instinctual desires in the primitive part of the brain. Pop culture, in general, is a dumbed down reflection of reality designed to appeal to the most idiotic region of people’s subconscious… for the sole purpose of duping people into consuming profit-driven products. To put it more bluntly than that, pop culture is designed to turn its fans into hardworking, non-thinking, politically impotent consumer whores. To be fair, not all pop culture is as bad as that, but here are a few ways pop culture does warp your perception of reality:


1: Pop culture provides immature authority figures to mimic


Children learn behavioral values by mirroring or imitating whichever authority figures they spend the most time around growing up, which is usually their parents. Adolescent and teenage children also mimic the authority figures in their own social group and age range. In other words, kids tend to look up to the coolest kid in class. When children spend more time home alone watching television than they do interacting with real people, they mimic the authority figures they have to go on. This might not be a bad thing if the adults and alpha kids in pop culture set a good example by acting like mature, self-actualized, educated thinkers. However, most characters in pop culture tend to be irrational, anti-intellectual, petty, whitewashed consumer whores. They come in several different flavors, but they all add up to stupid.

The grotesquely brain dead hero type: Dumb and Dumber, Almost every Will Ferrel movie, Zoolander, Family Guy, Keenan and Kel, Spongebob Squarepants

The lovable, high class, successful, petty idiot type: Modern Family, Big Bang Theory, Seinfeld, Friends,

The overly-sanitized, neutered youth pastor type: Danny Tanner, Mr. Rogers, Sesame Street, every show on Disney TV and Nickelodeon

The petty, sexy, trashy, edgy, ruthless type: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, True Blood, Shameless, The Sopranos, Dexter



The problem with growing up learning from authority figures such as these is they don’t live in the same cold, hard world as real people do. So mimicking them won’t prepare you to survive in the real world. It will only prepare you to be a petty, suburbanite who worries more about having sex and making money than educating yourself or changing the broken world you live in.

Granted, a common theme found across all mediums of pop culture is that you should be yourself, break the mold, dance to the beat of your own drummer, and not worry about what other people think of you. This inspirational message is undermined by the fact that most of the characters telling you this are petty, materialistic, backstabbing, perpetually horny yet sexually dysfunctional, irrational suburbanites. The way they rebel is by changing their hair color, dressing different, listening to different music, hanging out with different people. They rebel by becoming a different flavor of consumer whore, but at the core, they’re all made of the same plastic.



2: Pop culture normalizes a consumption-based economy built on slavery.


Watching fictional characters living exactly like you is like looking into a mirror that reflects the world around you. When you spend your entire life in the same place you were born, and the only thing you know about the outside world is what you see in a mirror, you come to the logical conclusion that the entire world is just like your little bubble. If you only ever experience one flavor of reality, that’s the only reality you can imagine. The longer you experience that reality, the more your brain will rewire itself with schemas to help you navigate and survive your environment without you having to think about it. Eventually, it becomes so ingrained in your brain, that your kneejerk response to anybody criticizing your reality is cognitive dissonance.

The lives of most pop culture heroes take place in a universe much like our own, where people spend their lives working as hard (or as smart) as they can to make enough money to impress the opposite sex, get married, retire and provide for their family. They wear designer clothes and aspire to own expensive things. They accept that suburbia, the ghetto, the gated community and congested city life is the norm. They accept the status quo and structure their lives around it.

Children who are raised on pop culture grow up to become adults who spend their lives working in an economy designed to make the rich richer by setting up the poor to fail. They believe that, like their television heroes, they’ll achieve the American Dream, but in the real world, most people’s lives are never-ending drudgery. Some Americans can’t see that because their brains have rewired themselves to believe they live in Television Land. So they’ll spend the rest of their lives as wage slaves who are destined to become millionaires, and they’ll defend the system that guarantees they never will.



3: Sexual censorship only creates anxiety and confusion.


Censorship laws in America are based on American Christian values, which are not mutually exclusive to what the Bible says. The laws are based on a few cherry-picked Biblical passages loosely interpreted to conclude that sex is a taboo subject that’s immoral and shameful to have anything to do with most of the time, and the more open and exposed to sex you are, the worse of a person you are, and the worse your life going to be. That’s why it has to be censored.

This line of reasoning is based on a loose interpretation of a primitive Middle Eastern mythology, as opposed to a modern, enlightened, scientific, practical, healthy, productive understanding of sexual psychology. There isn’t one single psychological study that concludes it’s mentally unhealthy to deprive humans of sexual stimulation. However, there’s a world of evidence showing that sexual deprivation is mentally unhealthy.

Children who grow up in a world where sex doesn’t exist and civil law even says that sex is bad will have to struggle to cope with the contradiction between their learned values and their biological sexual urges. This is a recipe for anxiety and unhappiness. Coincidentally, a distracted, self-loathing population is easy to control.

At the same time as pop culture censors sex and legitimizes irrational sexual taboos, its creators also understand that one thing most people have in common is the desire for sex. So they cram as much as sex as they can into almost every product they create. They put sexual images in places that don’t even make sense. Even the underage heroes in children’s television programming wear sexy, revealing clothing. PG-13 sexual stimulation is everywhere, which makes everyone want sex more than they already do, but then the censors step in and tell everyone that their feelings are wrong. So the population stays in a constant state of heightened lust, shame, and anxiety.



4: Censorship of verbal vulgarity is institutionalized insanity.


American censorship laws reflect the belief that the words, “shit, cunt, fuck, ass, dick, crap, cock, pussy,” and a few others are inherently evil. They’re cursed phrases that will cause harm to those who hear them… but only some of them some of the time. So these words have to be censored sometimes, usually when kids are around. There’s no logical justification for this. It’s not even based on passages from the Bible. It’s just creating a problem out of thin air where there doesn’t have to be one.

People who grow up with a fake problem their entire life tend to eventually accept, and even embrace and defend that problem. People who spend long enough living under rules that don’t make any sense will eventually stop questioning their leaders when they create new laws that are obviously bad. A population that wastes its days dancing around pointless rules and stressing over pointless anxieties doesn’t have a lot of free time left over to focus on fulfilling their true potential or changing the world.

Granted, it’s not mentally healthy to be vulgar and negative all day, every day. However, the cost of taking away people’s freedom and creating expensive government agencies to police vulgarity does not outweigh the benefit of simply letting people be free to talk however they choose and spending all that money on more vital social issues… especially since sanitizing reality creates a fantasy world that teaches regular, moral-striving people to spend their lives harping on other people’s freedoms instead of harping on vital issues.



5: Entertainment news isn’t news. It’s entertaining insanity.  


If you’ve never left your bubble, and all you know of the outside world is what mass media tells you, then the mass media will shape your view of the outside world. Since mass media is littered with fiction and disinformation, you have to rely on someone to tell you what really happening in the world. News programs advertise themselves as presenting an accurate perception of reality. They espouse to follow professional standards of journalism, but they rarely live up to their claims.

If news sources told the truth, they’d have to admit that they’re a for-profit business competing against thousands of ruthless competitors. Their “news” is a product, and they have to sell as much of it as possible to the most amount of people. In order to do that, they have to give the customer the product they want most. News agencies have spent millions of dollars on focus group research determining that all of their customers have a base instinctual desire for entertainment, controversy, sex, mild violence, gossip, and self-affirmation. The news businesses that sell those products make the most revenue. Those who don’t, go out of business. The biggest and most successful news businesses also have close ties with big businesses and the government, and they cater to their interests even when that’s not in the consumer’s interests.



So news reporters weave a dumbed down, titillating, petty, skewed perception of reality for their sheltered viewers. If that’s all you know of the world, you’re going to be very confused and misguided. In a best-case scenario, this will cause you to devote your life to worrying about relatively unimportant issues while ignoring major issues. In a worst-case scenario, you’ll devote your life to defending your own oppression.



6: Pop Culture is white noise.


The lyrics of most pop songs don’t make any sense at all. Most of them celebrate codependently obsessing over relationships, and even inspirational songs fall short of offering a roadmap to a better life (or mention that the source of most of your problems is that you live in an oppressive economy designed to make you poor).



The plots of most sitcoms revolve around solving minor domestic problems. Reality TV presents a version of reality where everyone is dumb, rich and good looking. According to pop news, the most important thing happening in the world today is whatever the most beautiful celebrity did. The plots of most movies revolve around falling in love or beating a psychotic villain. Pop art may be the vapidest incarnation of pop culture.

It’s all white noise. It’s a screensaver for your brain. Sure, sometimes we all need to give our brain a rest and just enjoy the moment without stressing over all the problems in the world. But pop culture is everywhere all the time, and it’s always hollow. So it perpetually drowns out life. It keeps everyone from fulfilling their potential, which keeps humanity from fulfilling its potential.


7: The radio is all dumb all the time.


Most radio stations play the songs the biggest music production companies tell them to, which is pop music. Even if it’s country, rap, metal, goth, techno, indie or any other genre, they’re all the same songs sung to different sounds. It’s all white noise produced and distributed by the same for-profit companies catering to their customers’ base subconscious desires. In between the songs are advertisements that have been meticulously designed to manipulate your subconscious into buying things you don’t need for an unfair price and being excited about it. The celebrity DJs who narrate this never-ending river of auditory idiocy talk like goofballs and rave about celebrity trivia and petty issues 24 hours a day.



When you wake up every morning, and your first exposure to the outside world is 30 minutes of commercials, songs about codependency and famous people talking about toilet humor,  you orientate your perception of reality around the context you’ve been given. Since your only frame of reference for how to behave is how you’ve seen and heard other people act, your natural inclination is to act like an idiot too. You’ll think anyone who doesn’t act like you is stupid or crazy.


8: The ubiquity of advertisements normalizes consumer culture.


Commercials are brainwashing. They’re designed to bypass your conscious logic and self-interest to subconsciously manipulate you into spending money you can’t afford on things you don’t need. They’re specifically designed to make you think and act irrationally so that you’ll act in your own disinterest.

Every genre of pop culture is fortified with advertisements. There are even advertisements for products built right into songs, sitcoms, movies, radio commentary and news articles. Driving to work you’ll see billboards with advertisements. Ads are spray painted on the sidewalk. They’re put in your mailbox and slipped under your door. You can’t escape them if you tried. They’re all telling you that there’s a problem in your life, and the only way to fix it is to buy something.

When products are all you see, they’re all you know. Pop culture consumers would have a hard time imagining a world without Gillette, Coka~Cola, McDonald’s, Pampers, Colgate, Calvin Klein, and Cheerios. People who are obsessed with buying things don’t have time to stand up for child sweatshop workers or migrant field laborers. Instead, they spend their lives enthusiastically feeding the system that creates and sustains poverty, and by spending all their money on things they don’t need, they end up staying poor and trapped in debt their entire lives as well. They just have better toys to distract themselves from reality with.



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