One Woman's Trash...

by Vanessa Kelly another woman’s pop culture. Hey! I’m Vanessa, and I’m a pop culture addict. Not recovering, thank you, because I’m happy to be one. I was delighted when Jo and the gals asked me to be a regular contributor to the blog, joining this group of kick-ass women who take interesting and iconoclastic looks at movies, books, TV, music, and anything else they damn well want to.

In the few weeks since Jo asked me to join the blog, I’ve been ruminating on my understanding of pop culture and why I have any business writing about it. The first one – what is pop culture – is a tricky and much debated question, especially among the literati. They like to throw around all kinds of postmodern definitions and use big words like neo-Gramscian hegemony...zzzz...what? Oh, sorry. I must have dozed off. Anyway, let’s just say that probably the cleanest definition of pop culture is that it’s culture for the masses. Which would be you and me, baby, in all our TV watching, Tweeting, Facebooking, smart phone texting glory.

Now that we’ve got our definitions straight, why, you may ask, am I qualified to write about pop culture? Let me assure you, dear reader. I am eminently qualified by virtue of the fact that I write romance novels, both historical and contemporary. Who better to navigate the tricky waters that distinguish high culture from pop culture from trash than a romance writer? Because, you know, romance novels are NEVER considered high art, and they are often labelled as trash. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve had to refute that charge with my own books, even to friends and family.

This is where it gets tricky, but some people (you know who you are, you literary and culture snobs, you!) insist that all pop culture is trash. I know! How could anyone think that? But it’s a fairly prevalent attitude so it got me thinking. What’s my personal distinction between pop culture and trash? Because I do think there is trash out there, and stuff that’s not worth watching, or reading, or listening to. I don’t believe in censorship, but I’m not going to waste my time with something that pollutes my brain with meaningless junk.

After extensive research (er, watching TV and cruising the internet) this is what I came up with. Pop culture is something that appeals to most of us by speaking to our common hopes, dreams and aspirations. Doesn’t matter how silly or bizarre the expression, pop culture reflects who we are, who we want to be and, most importantly, who we don’t want to be. Nothing exemplifies this more than the phenomenon of reality shows like American Idol or The Amazing Race. Sure, they can sometimes be cringe-inducing, but who can’t help being excited by the display of so much raw talent or courage? Who can’t help cheering when a young man or woman is plucked from obscurity to go on to stardom? You’d have to be a cold-hearted bastard not to cheer.

So I’d say that pop culture makes us feel hopeful about our futures and reminds us that it’s good to be alive – despite all the challenges and setbacks that we face every day.

As for what constitutes my definition of trash? Essentially anything that demeans us or debases our humanity. Again, reality TV provides some illuminating examples, particularly with shows like Wipeout. Any medium that deliberately humiliates people for sport is pretty much trash in my book. Hell, why not just bring back bear-baiting or cockfights while we’re at it. We don’t always have to be dignified, but we should always treat people with dignity.

But it’s all objective, right? One woman’s trash is another woman’s pop culture, and I hope to have some very lively conversations here at Pop Culture Divas on this very subject. I know what I like, but what about you? What do you think is trash and what do you think is pop culture? Are they one and the same?


  1. Hey Vanessa - welcome! And I love your first blog post! You bring up some terrific points. I agree with you - that what constitutes trash is subjective. And I agree with you about romance novels getting a bad rap! Heck I made a documentary about it. ;) I think we are attracted to certain reality TV shows where real people transform or accomplish something. The Biggest Loser is another example of a popular reality show. It calls to something deep inside of all us - and producers know that! That's why those shows do so well. I agree about Wipeout. Not a fan. And I find it demeaning. Well you could argue a lot of reality TV is demeaning - people go onto those shows because they want fame and fortune. In the case of the Biggest Loser -they want to lose weight and get healthy - so I think that's a slightly different kind of show - but I'm not such a fan of their approach - yelling at people. Again - creates "great TV" but doesn't translate well to real life. Cheers!

  2. Thanks for the warm welcome, Jo! I agree with you about The Biggest Loser. Its methods may be a little rough, but it's intended to help folks reclaim their healthy lives and their dignity. So much different from shows like Wipeout or some of the Bachelor series. They always gave me the creeps!

  3. Vanessa,
    I couldn't agree with you more. I write romance, because I, like a lot of other people, like to be taken away from the real world for a while. What could be more uplifting than a HEA romance?

  4. Hi, Vanessa! I like the uplifting messages better than the look-how-stupid-they-are ones. This is probably why I haven't watched prime time TV for years (except the occasional "Dancing With the Stars"). Personally, I generally like pop culture (even if I don't like everything about it); there is a reason why it's popular, after all. And over time, pop may last long enough not to be considered trash (my classical music friends used to argue with me about how the Beatles wasn't as important as Mozart). As for romance novels, I'll admit that I consider them more like popcorn - yummy and fun even if not very filling at times, which is more than okay since I'd hate to be on a diet of Brussels sprouts or broccoli no matter how good they are for me.

    Plus, what's considered trash by one generation (say, The Monkees) may be considered nostalgia by the next (say, The Monkees). :)

  5. Hi Cories! That's an excellent point about how the trash of one generation becomes the nostalgia or the high art of the next. After all, Shakespeare wrote for the masses.

  6. Vanessa~
    Not to go all 'Wow-Great-Blog/Question/Comment!" on ya, but that's actually a good question. LOL

    I always thought of pop as 'popular' and with some of the conversations going around online this last week-ish, I'm certainly thinking about 'popular' vs . . . umm, what? 'Literary" in books, for sure.

    I think we're pack animals by nature, which means, in part, we tend toward a mean, without realizing. There's danger in that. But also power, which can used for good. Hey, just like super-hero powers! :-)

    I like your notion that pop culture is hopeful. I agree with cories--there's 'look-at-how-stupid-they-are' shows, and there's 'wow-look-at-that-hope-and-possibility" ones. They're fundamentally different.

    I think, in romance, we aim for hope and possibility, and I think that's worth an awful lot. Even if it's disdained b/c it's popular. We shouldn't worry: they're just jealous. :-)

    Glad to have a new blog to check out, because I'm, you know, a pack animal . . . and I follow my friends around. ;-)

  7. Kris, honey, your friends are glad you follow them around!

    The pack can be a very good thing when its energy is turned to survival and mutual support, eh? But the pack can be notorious for turning on its weakest members, which is what trash seems to be about - cutting the vulnerable off at the knees, at least metaphorically.

  8. It's so true.

    (*So* true. Not just
    'true.' *So* true. See, I'm all pop-y. Like soda.)

    That's the dark side of our communal spirit. I'm picturing old Wild Kingdom episodes right now. Somehow, we have to become stronger than that.

    I have faith we will. (Says the woman who hasn't found the strength to fold laundry for, well, a long time.)

  9. Hi Vanessa. Great post! My editor encountered an English gentleman at a dinner party who told her that erotic fiction was all trash. She told him (spunky Aussie that she is) that his wife might not think so. Wow. She's got more guts than I do (though I agree). I agree about popculture. I also think it's interesting that American popculture is exported and received everywhere, incorporated into non-English speaking countries and printed on t-shirts no one can read. Funny :-)


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