I have a kernel of an idea. Maybe it’s more than a kernel, more like “half popped.” I want to spend time researching it. Hopefully there is enough substance to the idea for a dissertation: something about how popular culture changes the course of current events; teaches younger generations about historical events; and is, actually, more important than most give it credit for.
This will just be my overview, my attempt to explain the idea. I’ll focus on my generation (“X,” obviously). How did we learn about the Depression and the migration from the Dust Bowl? In history class, obviously; but from a text book? No. Lectures? Not really. Rather, the teacher popped in a tape of “The Grapes of Wrath.” Maybe a better one gave us the book to read. This “Dust Bowl” example is one I’ve been using for the last few months, since I’ve become obsessed with this idea. Here’s an even better example.
How did we learn about the Korean War? I’ll let you think a second…”MASH!!” Honestly, even though I took AP American History in high school, it was still that show that gave me any background about the war. How sad is that? I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. Maybe others may not admit it, but I know I’m not alone.
Here’s what I learned: Army doctors are very dedicated; sometimes get too involved in their cases; have liquor stills in their tents; and are very good at one liners. Now, an embarrassing fact: The only reason I learned that General MacArthur was the big cheese, is that I kept getting his name mixed up with Senator McCarthy, whose infamous blacklist I was studying at the time, as it was one of my well known obsessions. Someone finally corrected me, and I never made that mistake again.
Then we have the Sixties – pop culture heaven. The decade brought us the first war to be broadcast on television. Did those images have a lasting affect on the people back at home? What about the music? It definitely affected the youth and counter culture. Were those effects a lasting influence? And on and on. These are cases of pop culture changing the course of events at the time, as opposed to the examples above, which were examples of it teaching us history.
Later…Journalism – Yellow Journalism (obviously The Jungle – popular literature changing a whole industry) to the new journalism – insane growth of the paparazzi and the 24 hour news cycle and cable news channels.