Opposing Viewpoints: Popular Culture, edited by David Haugen and Susan Musser
This book is apparently one of a large series of books that seek to combine opposing viewpoints on some subject of contention so that the reader can sort out what he or she believes from the debate. I had not read any of this particular series before, though judging from the quality of this particular volume it would appear worth my time to investigate more fully. And while this book was short, at less than 200 pages, it had a lot to say, not only including dissenting viewpoints about matters relating to popular culture of considerable personal interest (more on that anon) but also providing information for various groups that one can contact to find out more information and to continue or begin one’s advocacy regarding issues of popular culture. All of this made for very worthwhile and intriguing reading, certainly the sort of reading I am not going to turn my nose at. The series as a whole would seem to be particularly worthwhile for younger readers who may not have already participated in these debates and who are forming their own judgments, especially as far as they relate to matters of first amendment rights and their extension, as is the case here.
This particular book is divided into four chapters that deal with different aspects of popular culture that are contentiously argued in contemporary society. the first chapter contains four essays that discuss the value of popular culture. Two of the essays argue for and against the proposition that blogging is journalism (my own biased opinion as a blogger is on the for side of this proposition), and two of the essays look at the value or lack thereof of reality television, where the reader can witness obvious bias as well as the need to distinguish between different subgenres within reality television. The second chapter of the book contains five articles that discuss the impact of the internet on popular culture, three of them about YouTube and the discussion of the replacement of television as well as YouTube’s benefit to society, with the other two articles being about Twitter and its importance or lack thereof. The third chapter contains five discussions about the influence of popular culture on society, with three articles arguing about video games and their role in violence as well as education and two about television violence. The fourth and final chapter looks at the reception of American popular culture abroad, examining the question of local cultures, the relationship between views of American popular culture and geopolitics and the malign or lack of influence of American culture in various places abroad.
Individually, many of these articles are slight and ridiculously biased. Put together, they demonstrate the sort of dialogues that people have about popular culture. Is it a good thing or a bad thing that the federal government has, in recent decades, attempted to promote American culture abroad? Has this been a net positive or a negative for the view that people in other countries have about the United States? What is it about blogging that makes journalists, many of whom are narrow partisan hacks whose ability to approach the ideals of journalistic integrity is limited at best, so upset about free competition? What are the limitations of social media in providing a proper place to discuss issues of social importance? To what extent does violence in movies, television, and video games reflect and to what extent does it encourage violence among the American people as a whole? These are all highly contentious issues which it is not easy to solve, and the book does a good job at presenting these issues as being difficult to resolve and ones about which there is a debate. There is certainly enough of worth here to be interested in other books in the series, to be sure.