Impact of US pop culture

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Thursday, August 7, 2014


LET’S face it: America is an empire in decline.

And like all fallen empires before them, America’s society seems to be at war with itself. Its very institutions are in doubt, its political system in gridlock, and its citizens polarized. The country’s economy, once the driving force of the international financial system, continues to sputter.

Even more evidently, their power and influence across the globe are rapidly waning. In fact, America’s ability to shape world affairs has become laughable.

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Consider: Russia has just annexed a portion of Ukraine. Israel keeps bombing helpless civilians in Gaza daily. China is threatening to take over parts of the South China Sea.

To all of that, America — the once mighty policeman of the world — can only respond with speeches and useless sanctions.

Yet despite all these, there is one area where America continues to rule the world. It was after all, their empire’s biggest export and its most powerful tool: culture. Specifically pop culture.

Like many Filipinos who have unabashedly embraced all the cultures and races that make us who we are, all I can say is: “Isn’t that a great thing!”

Because let’s face it: when it comes to American pop culture, there ain’t no bigger fan than us Pinoys. To a certain extent, we were conquered through pop culture.

So what’s in America’s arsenal this year? What or who are the latest culture-bending, money-making, trendsetting exports? Summertime in the States is always the best time to find out.

Movies, of course, top this list. 2014 has been loaded with big-budget special effects blockbusters. Among these are the latest installments of Captain America, Spiderman, Transformers and X-Men. But the latest word-of-mouth has many praising the recently-released “Guardians of the Galaxy,” another Marvel Studios franchise.

I have not seen this latest Marvel creation but of all those which I’ve seen (including all the sequels stated above), my 2014 favorite popcorn movie for now has to be “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” I was never a fan of this series even as a kid. But the new reboot showed me different thematic threads I never saw before.

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” improves on its prequel “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” It is thought-provoking, disconcerting and told in a cinematic style that refuses to fall for the usual bombast which accompanies films like this.

“Maleficent,” too, was a standout among the summer releases. It is, for me, the first reimagining of an old story or film using the villain-as-hero formula (or in this case heroine) that is truly imaginative and utterly pleasurable.

On the music front, this summer’s runaway pop ditty is Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.” It is so ubiquitous that you are here in the streets as well as in high-end bars. As for me, insofar as fast beats and dance music is concerned, there’s no other summer song but Tiesto’s Birthday Treatment Remix of “All of Me” – a remix of John Legend’s smooth-groove hit song released early this year.

For indie alternative types, Coldplay has a new album out and Jack White (formerly of The White Stripes) has released a vinyl-only album that has everyone talking about vinyl’s long-awaited comeback.

But the real talk of the music world centers on 24-year old songstress Lana Del Rey with the release of her second album “Ultraviolence.” The highly-critical Pitchfork Media in its website says of her: “She’s a pop music original full-stop, and there are not nearly enough of those around.” BBC cites “her ability to slip from deep-toned haughtiness to breathless ecstasy to velvety vamping—often in the same gorgeous melody.”

However, what is really intriguing about this young provocateur – her music can turn from cynicism to irony to anger in a single song – is that many see her as a product of well-researched marketing and brand-imaging. Del Rey has already been compared to the late vocal genius Amy Winehouse.

I wouldn’t go THAT far but one listen-through of her album and you’ll know: this girl’s the real thing. But don’t take my word for it. Go and take a listen for yourself and experience what it’s like to float away on the gentle wisps and rough edges of a unique talent.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on August 07, 2014.

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