In Summary
  • Pop culture allows the masses to create and shape it through their own experiences.

  • It is from this sense of ownership, the shared identity, its authenticity, meaning and purpose that it draws its immense power.

  • Whether art shapes culture or culture shapes artistic expressions is debatable.

  • An attempt to understand the interdependent relationship between art and popular culture is like trying to unravel a giant puzzle, experts note.

  • Whatever the case, use of Facebook, the cultic global following of Game of Thrones and some computer games have garnered mass acceptability around the world and are now part of our lives.

A few weeks before April this year, the world was abuzz with talk of Game of Thrones. The long-running blockbuster HBO drama series was entering its grand finale in mid-April. Millions of GoT fans talked about it.

RAZZMATAZZ

Who among the stars would survive the battle of the Army of the Dead? Who between John Snow, Daenerys Targaryen and Cersei Lannister would take over the Seven Kingdoms post-war? In slightly over five weeks, the eighth season came and ended. With it went the razzmatazz and thrill.

No one talks about GoT anymore.

Human beings are inclined to pounce on trendy idioms, catchy words and moving lines from movies, music, books, politicians and cultural icons, and infuse them into their daily chatter.

“Bindu bichenjanga” rings a bell in the minds of many Kenyans. Drawn from Amos Barasa’s Luhya song of the same title, the phrase means circumstances change.

This hilarious phrase was widely used as a campaign slogan in the 2017 general election to warn greedy politicians that they would be voted out.

Politics aside, you will not fail to hear “utaaambia watu nini?” when Kenyans engage in chatter. Loosely translated, it means “what will you tell people?” and is used to chide people who fail to make critical decisions when circumstances are inviting, only to end up with egg on their face. Comedian DJ Shiti of the TV show Housewives of Kawangware is credited with coining the phrase.

Aspects of attitude, behaviour, beliefs, customs and tastes that define people in any society are all components of pop culture, according to American scholar of popular culture Ray Browne, now deceased.

EXPRESSION

Tim Delaney, an American professor of sociology, defines popular (pop) culture as the products and forms of expression and identity that are frequently encountered or widely accepted, commonly liked or approved, and characteristic of a particular society at a given time.

In a nutshell, popular culture is encompassed in how we consume different genres of art — music, film and literature — and how these influence our behaviour. It enhances an individual’s prestige in their peer group, with language and behaviour as the accurate markers of this identity. Take Kenyans on Twitter, popularly known as KOT, for instance. Members of this group identify each other with remarkable ease online.

It is not uncommon for them to dismiss some users as “belonging to Facebook”, because of their mannerisms “and lack of sophistication”. KOT has now become a community, with even regular outdoor group activities and parties.

Dr Jim Taylor, a psychology expert, argues that popular culture is grounded on expressions that are fundamental to the society.

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