This is a condensed version of a talk I gave as an alumni speaker at Beurling Academy’s annual Comic Con. The students of Mr. Alexander's Grade 10 English class stole the show and we had a great discussion together.
What does it mean to consume pop culture responsibly?
Chances are you’re already consuming large amounts of pop culture, whether in the form of books, movies, video games, music, TV, YouTube videos, podcasts or any other kind of entertainment. In fact, as students, it’s possible to spend nearly as much time consuming pop culture as studying in school. The average Canadian spends about 30 hours a week watching TV, to say nothing of gaming and YouTube videos.
So, why the need for responsibility? Well, that’s a big chunk of life we’re filling with pop culture and, just like education and work, we should think about what we’re doing with that time. As responsibilities go however, consuming pop culture is a fairly enjoyable one—even when we take it seriously!
The Responsibility of Choice
There’s too much pop culture out there for anyone to enjoy all of it. So consuming pop culture responsibly starts with making choices—good ones, preferably. Don’t entrust your valuable entertainment time to the algorithms of Netflix and YouTube!
Choosing starts with your own interests, of course, but you’ll also want to get comfortable with criticism. Read websites like The Playlist, A.V. Club, and the pop culture sections at websites like Vox, The New York Times, and the Washington Post. Nothing is good just because one writer says so but by reading reviews and paying attention to why something is good or bad, you’ll learn to make better choices.
Don’t worry though, everyone is allowed a guilty pleasure (or two)!
The Responsibility of Engagement
When you start being choosy about the pop culture you consume, it will become clear that a lot of entertainment has something to say about the world. Documentaries and news shows aren’t the only things that tell the truth!
So, now that you’re making better choices it’s time to challenge yourself. Read that classic book you’re afraid of, or find a story about experiences and people you’re unfamiliar with.
An easy choice? Black Panther. It’s the best Marvel movie in years and first with mostly black cast, director and writers, and uniquely African story.
Try Ex Machina if you want to stretch your mind around what it means to create, be created, and the weight of responsibility.
Be careful, stories can change you
Bilbo Baggins was right when he told Frodo that “it’s dangerous business, going out your door.” He was talking about going on actual adventures, but it’s still true of the adventures we take in movies, books, and games. The most important reason to be a responsible consumer of pop culture is that it’s dangerous.
In a time of autoplay videos and binge watching, it’s easy to overdo the empty calories of pop culture. While it’s ok to have a bit of junk food now and then, you want to make sure you’re getting the good stuff more often than not.
But if you’re looking for good stories and seeking out challenging ones, sooner or later one of them is going to have an impact. In my life, the pop culture that’s shaken me has often been unexpected. One time it was a relaxing farm game Stardew Valley teaching me about my tendency to avoid my community, other times it’s the latest life lesson from The Lord of the Rings.
Lastly, talk about what you’re watching—tell your friends why something is good and worth their time. Even bad pop culture is less unhealthy when enjoyed with friends.