The Supreme State of Pop Address: It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine
Alex Almario (The Philippine Star) - July 24, 2015 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Our distinguished members of the Internet, the pabebe girls, the pabibo trolls, the torrent pirates, the social media tyrants, the know-it-all Facebook ranters, the #foodporn Instragramers, and other pop culture consumers who are somehow still not connected to this 24-hour party of intense trifle:

A good day to you all.

One score and one year ago, our fathers brought forth on this archipelago the great Al Gore invention called the Internet. They didn’t quite know what to do with it at the time — and based on our country’s slow-even-by-Third-World-standards connection speeds, we still don’t — but they sowed the seeds of a revolution that would change the way we see, consume, and talk about pop culture forever.

Maybe the change turned out to be too dramatic. Today, naysayers and doomsday prophets are blaming the Internet — and by extension, the entire youth culture — for the alleged decline of civilization. They will point to the sex videos, the twerking, the songs about twerking, the social media hating to confirm a bias about the youth’s lack of morals. They will tell you that the Internet killed the record industry, forcing it to resort to hyper-sexuality, Autotune, and musically untalented celebrities with large fan bases for salvation.

But from where we’re standing, everything seems all right — civilization, pop culture, kids. In fact, I am here to report to you that pop culture has never been better.

It is easy to look at historically-low worldwide record sales and the death of print media but it is equally easy to look at new industries experiencing growth. The music streaming industry recently hit the billion mark and is showing no signs of slowing down, especially now that Apple and YouTube are joining the fray. Video On Demand (VOD) is on pace for a compound annual growth rate of 8.1 percent by 2020. Digital advertising revenues continue to rise every year, so it looks like print media has died and gone to Internet heaven. Even the old American film industry, forever threatened by piracy, is looking at a 20-percent growth this year.

But none of these things fit the narrative of a present in shambles and a future that is even bleaker. Yes, the older generation is forever doomed to find the current one lame, but what we’re seeing today seems more like a case of an entire demographic legitimately confused at a world that not only looks unfamiliar, but makes little sense. Previous cultural signposts — radio, MTV, Billboard, even rock music itself — are now irrelevant. It’s all very disorienting. In these times, we must take comfort in the words of the great philosopher, Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish from Game of Thrones: chaos isn’t a pit; it’s a ladder.

Consider the state of Philippine cinema and popular music. From afar, they look like lost cities, sunken by a digital tsunami that washed away age-old industry models. But diving deep into their realms reveals a bustling community of artists driven not by commerce, but by a desire to connect. By any measure available — overall releases or yearend lists by those in the know — more than half of local cinema and music are comprised of their independent segments. The only thing that ever died within our shores is the sustainability of popular art as a capitalist venture. The kids have no use for middlemen. This is true DIY. This is true old school.

My message to those of my generation and the ones before, GenXers and older geezers: seize the day, for these are the golden age years before we even realize it is the golden age. Like the Wild West, pop culture may seem like a mess, but it’s also exciting.

We are in the midst of the gold rush. No one’s figured out what’s going on, especially in our country, and so the rules have yet to be written. This is the ambiguous lull between the destruction of an old paradigm and the creation of a new one. This is not going to last long. Before the exploitative few figure out a way to re-monetize and re-homogenize facets of our still newly freed culture, we must seize the moment. This is our time — young and old alike. Opportunity is not an ageist.

You may complain about the kind of music and movies that are coming out today, and that’s fine. People of a certain age are entitled to yell at kids to get off their lawn. But there is no lawn. There is only a continent where your cherished past co-exists in some sort of parallel afterlife with the present. It is big enough to let you live in a never-ending ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, or ‘90s. In this space, Back to the Future and The Breakfast Club will always be relevant; Ian Curtis and Kurt Cobain are still alive; and Angela Chase is still making Brian Krakow’s life miserable.

Of course, not all complaints about the state of pop culture can be simply dismissed as crazy old man talk. Many of them are legit. There is, after all, a finite amount of tolerance in the universe for things like EDM, digitally-enhanced vocals, “(insert word) pa more,” Kardashians, Taylor Swift’s pontificating, comic book movies, Miley Cyrus and her strangely overexposed tongue. At some point, they have to be flat-out called out.

But freedom, as they say, has its price. And in this case it’s viral videos of girls picking made-up fights on YouTube, levels of bigotry previously unseen by the public, and other sources of 21st century cynicism. What makes these possible is the same technology that allows us to interact with our favorite famous people in real time, read Ta-Nehisi Coates regularly, consume loads of music and TV shows at a rate that would have been inconceivable 20 years ago, and raise people’s consciousness on a wide scale.

More than ever before in pop culture history, great responsibility is thrust upon us, the consumers and commenters. Pop culture is now more than just the celebrities — it’s now about us, too. In this new reality, comments and arguments about a Taylor Swift vs. Nicki Minaj Twitter feud can become more compelling than the feud itself. It’s no longer just about the subjects, but about the narrators, the contributors in the cacophony that makes pop culture more interesting, contentious, and simultaneously ridiculed and taken seriously than ever before. This, despite everything, is ultimately a good thing.

In the words of another wise philosopher, comedian Louis CK: everything is amazing and nobody’s happy. Let’s all lift our fingers off our keyboards, take a break from all the hate-typing, and stop. Just stop. It’s time to smell the roses. It’s easy if you ignore the thorns getting in the way. Actually, they’re more like vile vermin. Like snakes. Like a whole army of them. You know what, just smell the damn roses.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the Internet.

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