How Much Time Do You Spend Consuming Pop Culture?

by James Wallace Harris, Saturday, June 24, 2017

In past centuries, living left little free time. Survival was all time-consuming. Twelve-hour workdays were the norm once. Few people had time for hobbies or pursuing pop culture. And if we weren’t working we were raising families or maintaining our little castles.

Times have changed. The work week keeps getting shorter. More people choose not to have kids or even marry. Some people spend as much time watching TV as working. And a lot more people are retired or unemployed. Probably, if you’re not depressed, strung out on drugs, or chasing someone to have sex with, you’re consuming popular culture with all that extra time.

Pop culture

How many hours a week do you spend reading, watching television, going to the movies, listening to music, binge-watching the internet, looking at comic books, going to museums, attending plays, or any other popular pursuit reported on by Entertainment Weekly? And what about video games? Or VR? Are they pop culture or something new?

Are the hours starting to add up? Is mass consumption of pop culture good or bad? I really don’t know. As a retired person I realize most of my time is occupied with pop culture pursuits. I’d like to think I’m consuming art, that I’m psychologically imbibing in the most creative cuisine our culture offers. Is that true? I also like to believe I’m learning about the past through consuming popular culture from other eras. For example, how well can I understand the 1920s from reading Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Wharton, Joyce, Lawrence, and Hemingway, listening to old jazz, watching silent films, look at art, and reading history books?

Would the time I spend on consuming pop culture be better spent on hobbies? TV watching and going to the movies are a big part of my social outlet. Music and reading are solitary pursuits. Hobbies are generally solitary too. I could get up every day and do something more productive than consuming art and writing about it.

Most biological beings spend most of their time looking for food, mating, rearing their young, and avoiding being prey to other biological beings. Isn’t it rather fascinating that humans excrete art and consume it? We used to say humans were the only animals that made tools – until we discovered a whole bunch of other tool using species. Then we said humans were unique because we have language. Well, we discovered that wasn’t true either. More and more we’re finding examples where animals play, have friends, and show curiosity. But do other animals create art? What about the bowerbird?


Is art tools we make to stimulate our minds? Or is art external remembrances we make for shared memories? Pop culture is art for the masses. Art used to be unique, a one of a kind piece. Pop culture depends on mass producing artwork that we like to share. Pop culture feels more nourishing to my soul than air, water, and food, although I couldn’t survive without them, and I could survive without pop culture.

Maybe I shouldn’t use the word soul. The soul doesn’t exist. It was a creative fiction of religion. (And couldn’t religion be the first pop culture creation?) Even though science cannot find any evidence for the soul, and philosophers have refuted its existence, we all feel we have one. Science shows we are not minds and bodies, but just bodies that are biologically programmed to react to our environment. So what is pop culture?

Pop culture is something we add to reality. Of course, we rearrange atoms and molecules that already exist to create art, but there is something new there. Yesterday I read “All the Animals that Love Touchscreens” and learned another way humans are not unique. Pop culture is something that even animals might perceive.

Pop culture is mass-produced art. But that also means it is art that can be saved and preserved. Pop culture artifacts remember aspects of our collective souls. There’s that word again. Religion is wrong about immortal souls. Nothing lasts forever. Neither we, our culture or our art will survive forever.

If you spend several hours a day watching television you’re consuming pop culture. Is it just a way to kill time. To distract you from life? Or do you value pop culture as an artistic achievement?


11 thoughts on “How Much Time Do You Spend Consuming Pop Culture?”

  1. Well it seems to me we ought to be doing something with our time. What is there? I don’t know about men but
    Yes, we have a lot more leisure time and I think the main question should be about doing healthy things. I don’t even have a TV up here in ND – just decided not to hook it up this year. I rarely miss it.

    Men who had been eased out of their jobs when agriculture got big and not every man was needed as an actual hunter or animal herder or planter so those guys started doing other jobs. They tended to the priesthood and other extras – they made art. And so began civilization as we know it. As time has gone on we’ve needed fewer and fewer direct labor hours to make food and shelter, so more and more extras have been added- trade and bankers, medicine and the arts (whether you call it pop-art or not).

    I think there’s a lot of room for folks like you in the arts, but for it to be beneficial you have to be participating and not just sitting as audience. You write! That’s what Homer did – and Sophocles. Nothing wrong with that!

    Except – you have to stay as healthy as you can – not just plop yourself down in front of some pop-culture/art which ahas been created by someone else. A person has to be physical and create something to be healthy.

    It might be easier for women – women have been industrialized out of our lifelong traditional roles and jobs but many of us still do some of those things as hobbies if we want to. There’s cooking from scratch (me), gardening, sewing, quilting, cleaning (if that’s your thing). Some watch their grandkids. Those things used to be our jobs but thanks to the industrial revolution and so on, we’re free of that so what we fill our time with is a choice. Again, hopefully it’s a healthy choice.

    So what can men do? – I don’t think they’re going to go out in the fields or fix machinery for a hobby. lol – but I suppose there’s plenty when you get to looking for it – do NOT exclude art.

    Me? I do the internet and reading for intellectual stimulation, and I cook pretty healthy foods (beef stew in the crock pot today as it’s very chilly outside). I suppose I could garden or sew, but why bother if I don’t enjoy it? This is all leisure time now that I’ve retired and it’s MY leisure time. (so there – )
    I should probably be more active and take walks or go to the gym more regularly. A little resolution for when I get back to California in very late August. 🙂

    1. What else is there? That’s a good question. Becky, since you’re retired like me, we have all our time free. We could volunteer. We could go back to work. I could be like my neighbor Ernie and work in the yard all the time. I could constantly renovate my house with improvements. I could become a gym rat and pursue sports. We could travel. I could pursue all kinds of hobbies that fascinate me. There’s actually lots to do. But for some reason, I love books, music, movies, and television. I like ideas. I like figuring out how things work or how things got the way they are.

      I think things are changing. But decades ago it seemed that old men living by themselves tended to die off, whereas I knew lots of old ladies living by themselves and thriving.

  2. I spend way too much time surfing the Internet, but watch few movies and little TV (and mostly documentaries about places and history). I read a lot, write a little, and spend a lot of time with my current passion/obsession: sketching, if possible outside just watching people go by and listening to noises and snippets of other people’s conversations.

    I feel like ET landing on Earth when people start discussing movies and TV programs, or current pop music and bestsellers, they are not my thing. I find I am meeting more and more people (artists, writers, etc.) who live in their own idiosyncratic cultural universe, not that I don’t like people for whom pop culture hold a large place in their lives, but I do enjoy the diversity.

    1. I like you comment Sylvie. I’ve wondered if I could pursue a pop culture free life. I’ve always wanted to learn to draw and try from time to time. But it’s a different headspace. I’m thought driven. I imagine drawing would be more meditative.

      I wonder if I could go on a pop culture sabbatical. That might be interesting.

      On my own, I’m mostly into reading, writing and listening to music. I use TV and movies as a reason to socialize. TV and movies are how I connect to a lot of people because that’s what they like to talk about and do.

      If I didn’t read and write I might go back to programming.

      I think whatever we do with our time needs to be engaging. I wonder if the current opioid epidemic is partly due to so many people not having something they want to do.

  3. Jim, I doubt if the current drug issues are as simple as that. I suspect that most of our countrymen are still following the impetus of our forefathers; seek, and ye shall find. Work, and ye shall be rewarded. Live, believe, and follow thy righteous ways and ye shall be rewarded and your families will succeed. Or not. It is still a dog-eat-dog world we live in, no matter
    what our kinder selves teach. And people who believe that truth will do anything they can to make it come true.
    And losers who lose enough, tend to find a way to kill the pain, even as they attempt to follow that rule.

    We have yet to arrange a society that can deal with fallen dreams. Part of that is the problem of “the real world”. Fairness is a human construct in the “real world”. Laws are supposed to be the tools that make an even field for all that are in it. Those who dream and lust for more are constricted by those laws. That is a good thing when it comes to violence and submission.

    They are not so good when it comes to managing a thriving economy. I will not attempt to cite sources; our culture is full of them.

    Winners and losers are the game we play today, and have for a long time. The winners have tended to become bigger winners when the rules have been changed to support them. And those who are in charge of our culture/government have learned those lessons well.

    Those of us who still try to be involved in the process (aka government) have a hard row to hoe. We can’t possibly compete with the giant corporations who can out-fund us by the millions of dollars they can bring to bear. If the Corporations of America believed that their best interest was in preventing drug use, I strongly suspect that it would be a much smaller problem. If unemployment was a key part of their interest in maintaining a happy and involved population of Americans, I think that would be clear.

    But we are a free People, and that is a tremendous bell to ring when somebody asks the questions, “Just what is it your Company does to prevent drug use in America?” And then we give them the excuse, “’cause we can’t stop them from using”.

    Sorry about the rant about the drug thing, but it hits close to home. What is most important (I think) is that there are at least two different cultures in America. There are human people who have specific and particular issues with our economy, and there are the people in charge of that “economy”. And never the twain shall meet. Until Ragnarok, of course.

    1. That’s true Jim, it’s much more complicated. I like your statement, “We have yet to arrange a society that can deal with fallen dreams.” Our society makes people want too much. But just growing up is hard. When I was young back in the 1970s I abused a lot of drugs for years. I think it was my coping mechanism for growing up.

      I remember something a guy once told me when I was young. He said you can’t settle down and be happy in life until you solve three problems. First, you have to finish school at whatever level your ambitions expect. Second, you have to get the job you’re going to keep because as long as you work at shit jobs you’ll never be happy. And finally, you have to find your romantic mate. I don’t think those problems were as hard to conquer decades ago. It’s very hard to feel you’ve finished with education now. It’s very hard to find work other than a shit job. And we have made the whole finding a mate a lot more complicated. I have a nephew who OD a few years back. I don’t think he solved any of these problems and he was in his thirties.

      I quit drugs back in the mid-1970s because I found a book called Positive Addiction. Even then it took several tries and a couple years. I consciously took up running as my positive addiction, but I realize now, I got addicted to socializing. I got the job I stuck with for the rest of my life, my wife, and finished school.

      Our society is being destroyed by wealth inequality. The super-rich seeks out the last large pots of money to consume – social programs. Slowly all the jobs are turning into shit jobs, and corporations are choosing to hire machines over people even for those jobs. High education is no longer a guarantee of success and is becoming a tremendous financial burden. And the dating world has been corrupted by lusts gone wild. It’s probably very hard to find any kind of normal happiness anymore.

      I live with chronic pain now. I’m tempted by pills that could take it away, but I take nothing stronger than Tylenol. I can understand why people take drugs. Sometimes I even envy them. I remember their magic. But I also know we have to live by our positive addictions. In my old age, those are writing and reading.

      Yes, addiction is a very complicated subject. Our current society is suffering in many different ways and does little to help drug users. The real help would be to create a rational, sane, caring society. Free market capitalism is a Ponzi scheme that is producing a lot of economic losers. When corporations only consider the bottom line and want all its workers to work for nothing, and even then will hire robots to replace them, it’s hard to see a positive future.

      1. I think retirement is more complicated than we sometimes think. It’s similar to youth in that we’re looking for meaning in our lives and can fall prey to drugs and alcohol, but it’s also about limited abilities. The reality is that 70 is NOT the new 50s. My siblings and I are all over 60 and everyone of us has limitations – there’s arthritis and knee replacements, heart issues run in my family and one brother has Parkinson’s. Many seniors who still feel “as young as ever” and never get sick are still working – I have one friend like that and have known a couple others. Two were teachers and one was a nurse.

        I’m really glad to be able to retire when I am no longer quite physically able to do the stuff I did. I have no business blaming myself for not traveling like I used to – I did do quite a lot while working – teacher vacations. And yard work is out of the question. I’m just glad I have the money to live comfortably – it wasn’t this way for most of history. Then when you got older you had to live with the kids or keep farming anyway and too bad.

        Now we get media telling us that 70 can be whatever we want – retirement is for doing the things we missed out on – stuff like that. I don’t think we’ve changed that much – retirement is for not having to work when your body starts giving out –

  4. My favorite activity is reading. Yes, I’ll watch some TV (right now I’m down to DOCTOR WHO and BROADCHURCH which starts tonight). During the busy Summer movie season, I’ll see a movie a week. I’m looking forward to the new SPIDERMAN movie that opens next week.

  5. I really enjoyed this; I identify with a lot that you wrote. It seems more, and more our lives are consumed with other, we rarely take time to look at ourselves and our own actions- We merely direct our negative energy or anything else to pop culture.

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