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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic

An essay I wrote in 2013 for my 1st year Sociology class. I had to de-construct my life, find and apply a common theme that I thought had greatly affected me as an individual.

“Be careful the environment you choose for it will shape you; be careful the friends you choose for you will become like them.” – W. Clement Stone. 


Pop-culture is a social construction, and a sub-culture within Western civilizations, but it is quickly spreading around the world. It involves popular ideologies, values, material items, and people. Celebrities, brand name clothing, and music all play vital roles in pop-culture. It affects multiple social institutions, and other social constructions individually.


I grew up with my two parents, no siblings, in a majorly white neighborhood in a modest home. I would consider my family to be upper middle class. Both of my parents are federal employees, my Mom works for Service Canada, and my Dad works for Corrections, and both grew up in middle class homes. I had high exposure to various forms of pop-culture. Popular TV shows, movies, video games, music, and clothing were all easily accessible because of my parent’s income. At a young age I began watching cartoons, wearing trendy clothes, played sports (which was portrayed as ‘cool’ during youth) and playing video game. Pop-culture has had a big impact on everything in my life in some shape or form.


As I grew up, pop-culture dictated what I wore to school, how I talked, what music I listened to, what I did for fun, everything, it became my generalized other. I conformed to its idea of social norms, the boundaries set for teenagers globally. Pop-culture socially constructed the young society that I was indulged in. As I gave up my freedom, a charter right, my individuality, I gained this society, pop-culture. A functionalist would say that pop-culture plays a vital role for our youth; it is one of the inter-related parts that help the young society work. It is a strong socializing agent that group’s youth with common interests, music, clothing style, sports, beliefs and values, together. I do what is considered popular; underage drinking, eat unhealthy, stay up late, party at all hours of the night, procrastinate, sleep until 3pm, and I do it with people that do the same, the other people that have taken on the identity of this particular generalized other. Pop-culture, in this sense, almost insists on being a social deviant. I, as well as my group of friends, do not consider these acts to be deviant, but rather the opposite; they’re what we consider normal behavior. However my parents seem to think otherwise, and by participating in this “negative behavior” I am breaking the norms that they have internalized. Merton agrees with this and as I internalized the values and norms of pop-culture, I became a social deviant. But, if I were to not participate in these actions, dress the way I dress, act as I act, I would still be a social deviant, just in the eyes of my peers instead of my parents. A functionalist would then say that social deviants, such as myself, play a role in society. They might say that they show youth how not to act or what not to do. They may say that we create jobs by creating crime, such as underage drinking, or graffiti art, which is common in pop-culture.


 I believe that The Looking Glass Self has helped me understand why I have invested myself so much in to pop-culture. I am self-conscious of what other people think of me, and I am always questioning their interpretations of me. What they think about me while I’m playing sports. How I look at school. How I look outside of school. How I present myself on social media. I am always worrying about my ‘image’, trying to look cooler. I imagine what I look like to the other person, not just my physical look but how I act. My persona and my swagger are both things that I have learned how to manage thanks to pop-culture, mostly from celebrities, athletes and musicians. I then imagine how they see me, which results in a feeling of self-consciousness, which causes my anxiety to kick in, and I almost feel a sense of anomie, a disconnect from those around me. It is a vicious, never ending cycle.


I have always invested a fair amount of my time in to my education, and I have always enjoyed school. I enjoy both the social interactions among friends, as well as succeeding in my studies. Pop-culture has had an impact on my life in school, from propaganda, marketing, and has affected my goals, dreams and aspirations. It has helped shape my career goals and my future. TV shows have been the medium for this. By watching television shows like Criminal Minds, Law and Order, Breaking Bad, CSI, and similar programs, I have been able to find out about my interests for a potential career. A symbolic interactionist may say that I am interpreting the symbols that I see in the shows as authority figures, something I have always enjoyed being. Lawyers, FBI Agents, Drug Kingpins that are family oriented, all ideas I got from TV. I’m not saying that I want to sell drugs, but I want to have a job of authority, and TV has allowed me to explore my options. I was debating on doing a Criminology degree and becoming either a police officer, eventually a detective, or criminal profiler somewhere in homicide, or becoming a criminal lawyer after I finish an Arts degree. I have even gone as far as to do a Co-Op program at my former high school at a law firm, and have taken a few Sociology and Psychology classes, which I have an interest in because of Criminal Minds. This is a way that pop-culture is preparing me to replace members in the work force, through propaganda in television. A symbolic interactionist might say that both career options are heavily involved in the legal and justice systems, and that I have a strong attitude towards positive behavior and justice, because of the meaning I have attached to lawyers and cops. This is likely because both of my parents hold authority positions, and have little tolerance for criminal behavior. This meaning is socially constructed within pop-culture, which is why these types of shows are so successful. A functionalist may say that pop-culture provides opportunities for youth to explore and learn about different careers through the use of television shows and movies.


In school I was also fairly successful with my studies, and I was able to maintain a mid to high eighty percent average all three years in high school. A conflict theorist may say that even though being part of pop-culture means participating in deviant behavior, society still ensures those of upper middle class succeed. It is ironic that I succeeded even though I was a deviant in the eyes of my predecessors (parents, grandparents, etc.). Conflict theory says that there is a power struggle between classes, which I think is why I was still able to succeed. Socioeconomic class is the primary determinant in who wins and who loses, and since my parents belong to the upper middle class, I was likely to be successful, as they were. The government wants to ensure that those in power, stay in power, and they can control this by who does well in school. For me, it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. The teachers saw that I came from an upper middle class family, ignored my pop-culture ‘image’, and treated me exceptionally well. This caused me to ignore what pop-culture can sometimes portray, the negatives of school and how it isn’t ‘cool’ to do well, and perform to the best of my abilities. Deviant behavior is not necessarily ‘bad’ behavior, just behavior that differs from the norms. In this case, the norms that I was breaking were the ones that my parents, and past generations lived by.

Popular culture gave me a sense of purpose, fulfilling another of the functional prerequisites of society. Rather than taking on the generalized other role of the church, I took on pop-culture and who/what represents it, primarily celebrities or characters in a TV show or movie. Post-Modernists may look at pop-culture as rejecting the grand narrative of certain religions common in Western civilizations, which is primarily Christianity. In pop-culture, there are very few references to religion, and when there is they are usually negative and sarcastic. I did still however manage to have morals and values, things someone may learn from church, but instead something I learned from pop-culture. 20 or more years ago not going to church, for most families, would have been considered extremely deviant behavior, as belonging to a church or following a certain belief was the norm. But now it is almost the opposite, I, along with a majority of my friends do not regularly attend church, yet it is not considered deviant behavior. I think that this is due to the increase of pop-culture being introduced at an early age to our youth, myself especially. It is taking over certain roles that the family used to provide, such as teaching morals or fulfilling a sense of purpose. Popular culture also involves having different views, ideas and perspectives compared to religion, which is extremely traditional in their practices and ideologies. By comparing pop-culture to religion through the use of Emile Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of Religious Life it becomes clearer to what is being gained or lost from each option. Filling the place of religion, I found myself watching Sunday morning cartoons instead of being at church. Celebrities can leave us with a sense of awe and deep respect, it is almost as if they are sacred, hence why we pay them so much money. I also believe that I am part of a “moral community”, united by our investment of ourselves in pop-culture.


Pop-culture helped distribute goods and services, which were mostly popular material items. Growing up, I remember certain toys, clothes, and gaming systems being cool, because they were commonly seen on TV or in movies. A functionalist may say that pop-culture is a type of marketing, which is aimed at a market with dispensable incomes and high demands, which fits the profile for youth in a middle class home. Youth are the mediums in which it is distributed to, as well as the ones that are advertising it to others that are part of pop-culture. For example when I went to high school, name brand clothing was a large part of your image as teens concern themselves primarily with what they where. Brands varied from Hollister, Abercrombie and Fitch, Crooks and Castles, Tommy Hilfiger, LaCoste, and Nike. I was always wearing name brand clothing, head to toe. Snapback hat, graphic t-shirt with a popular brand’s logo, designer jeans, and the newest pair of Jordan’s. I even wore Nike socks. I helped distribute pop-cultures image to basically 1500 other people, and I paid these companies to let me do it. Music is also distributed among youth, pop music being the most influential. Functionalists may say that teens involved in pop-culture, such as myself, pay for this service for various reasons; personal escape from reality, enjoyment, or just to fit in.


Pop-culture has taken on various roles for me throughout my life, and continues to play a part large part in my lifestyle. I have learned plenty of life skills from it, and have also been able to define myself in my overall society because of its impact. I am who I am because of pop-culture and it’s influences. 

Submitted: December 01, 2014

© Copyright 2021 Ty A D Borden. All rights reserved.

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