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COMMENTARY: Pop culture provides needed distraction amid bleak times

Keeping up with pop culture news, such as Taylor Swift's two surprise album releases in 2020, have helped people stay sane during times of great social and political unrest. – Photo by Wikimedia.com

The pandemic has brought the worst in almost everything. The “worst” meaning that people were losing their jobs left and right, and schools were shutting down here and there — all of which was amid the completely and extremely chaotic 2020 presidential election. Yet, through this insanity of constant stay-at-home-orders and dangerous political protest (if you can even call the recent Capitol Hill insurrection a “protest”), pop culture has helped me to stay sane. 

It does sound a little odd that pop culture was my salvation to the craziness that was the year 2020 but hear me out first. Without Taylor Swift’s two random album releases or the eye candy-filled Shondaland/Netflix television show Bridgerton, I would have constantly been trapped between the harsh reality of a president who can not accept a genuine loss and an ever-growing number of deaths from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Or, in other words, pop culture and media have brought a level of escapism from the bewildering world around me.

By watching random YouTube videos, such as Safiya Nygaard creating soap art or reading Vogue’s “5 Things You Didn’t Know About Harry Styles ,” all the bad news around me faded away for a few minutes and let me think of something that did not cause any stress or anxiety.

The feeling of being so alone, as it was hard to meet with friends, was replaced with laughter from cute, dog-related TikTok posts that have become common nowadays. In many different ways, pop culture and media distracted me from the constant sad news. 

“Social media platforms have also played a role (in escapism) by encouraging people to meticulously curate virtual lives which bear no semblance to their actual lives in the pursuit of likes,” according to Psychology Today.

The idea of escapism through the help of pop culture and media has become prevalent in my current life. Characters from film and television shows remind me of what was once “normal.” It is so odd to see real-life characters on our television screen not wear masks or socially distance themselves — it has become a common pointer now with my family whenever we watch television.

In some ways, what I watch on Netflix or see on Instagram reminds me of what life was like before quarantine and the recent disastrous election. Pop culture has become a form of an outlet to attempt to be still and relax from continuous "breaking news" headlines. 

While pop culture and media have been the answer to my sanity during most of the pandemic and when the overload of false news was arguably at its highest, I do understand how scrolling through Instagram or Facebook to look at pop culture-related content might not be the best answer to keeping yourself sane.

In fact, social media's role in enabling misinformation about certain situations and ideas is alarming — specifically with headlines related to the 2020 election and pandemic.

During the summer, The Washington Post released an article on how Facebook had to take down approximately 7 million posts that were related to false COVID-19 news. Facebook even had to add warning notes to particular claims and state that news sources were misleading, according to the article.

This specific article is reminiscent of the recent action taken by Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies to either suspend President Donald J. Trump’s official accounts or delete them entirely. While social media can contribute to people seeing an overwhelming amount of false information, it is also not fair to ignore how media and pop culture can be beneficial during difficult times.

Without seeing Emma Corrin as Princess Diana in “The Crown” or reading “A Promised Land” by former President Barack Obama, my life during quarantine and the political turmoil surrounding me would have been bleak.

In many ways, pop culture and media rescued me from constant worrying that was occurring outside of my home. Less fixated on what Trump said about bleach potentially being used as a treatment to the virus, I was more immersed in the world of chess with Beth Harmon from “The Queen’s Gambit.” 

To be fair, I am not always on my phone looking at pop culture moments to escape political current events. Neither should you be. But what I am saying is that it is completely fine to use pop culture news to distract yourself from the overwhelming feelings of reality.  

Hezekiel Poluan is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in journalism and media and minoring in psychology.


*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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