thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

The Top 5 Things I Learned from Pop Culture in 2012

In books, music videos, Television on December 29, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Sarah T.

1. Acclimate yourself to rejection as soon as possible.

That way, the fear of getting turned down never prevents you from doing anything. Accomplishing this is easy. Just start asking for what you want, and people will start telling you no. It works for everything: job applications, dating, carbon tax proposals, writing pitches, conferences, ordering very popular dishes at too-busy restaurants. The great trick of rejection is that it’s not so bad. The way your skin grows calluses to protect the parts of you that work the hardest, the word no helps you build vast reserves of Leslie Knope-ism–the bright eyed, bulldozer-ish determination to follow through on every good idea.

Sometimes you’ll decide you need to find a different way to reach the same goal. Sleazeball councilmember trying to sandbag your dog park? Fill his backyard with puppies. Behind in the polls? Don’t go negative; beat your opponent by contrasting his words with your own. Sometimes you still won’t get what you want, which by the alchemy of enduring rebuff just becomes more fuel for your fire. And sometimes your efforts will pay off, in which case the only thing to do is to take in the win the way Leslie Knope would. “I just said let’s get to work,” she tells her co-workers moments after a victory. “How else do people enjoy things?”

2. There will always be someone shinier than you.

Someone more famous and successful. More blonde. More likely to be invited to sing at President Obama’s inaugural ball. Say your brand of talent doesn’t have quite that same sparkly blockbuster razmatazz. The best thing in the world to do, should you find yourself in a position similar to Solange Knowles, is to not even try to be like Beyonce. Instead, she’s quietly and impossibly cool, edgy and offbeat in her bright orange zoot suits, crooning in a crowded shuttle bus her sister would probably never ride. From Solange’s gorgeous cloud of natural hair to the easy way she dives into the pool fully clothed, “Losing You” showed the world how comfortable she was in her own skin. Of course her music made a splash this year: When you act like yourself, the right people find you. And those who don’t miss out on one sweet dance party.

3. You don’t have to be special to spark change. 

You don’t even have to particularly want to change the world. All you have to do is be someone who, despite her gruff silences and paranoia and readiness to start slinging arrows just to get a person’s attention, starts every choice she makes from a position of compassion.

Katniss looks out for people who aren’t protected. She forges alliances based not on how much a given partner can help her, but on whether she recognizes a piece of someone she loves in the new person standing before her. She doesn’t believe that rational behavior means always choosing what’s best for yourself– a logic that ends with a hungry girl in District 12 who dies by an empty dumpster, and a baker’s son who, wanting to avoid a whipping, goes inside without tossing the bread. Crucially, her suspicious, rough-and-tough personality lets the audience know that she’s not being kind because she’s simple and pure. She’s kind because she has integrity. In the end, Katniss’s revolution doesn’t start with the poisonous berries she and Peeta use to call the Capitol’s bluff. Change starts the moment she sees a future of suffering that she can’t abide and steps forward to stop it–even though it would have been much safer not to.

4. Few things are as scary as they seem.

“I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked. Every time I heard a sound of unknown origin or felt something horrible cohering in my imagination, I pushed it away. I simply did not let myself become afraid. Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power. And it wasn’t long before I actually wasn’t afraid.”

–Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

5. The only way to beat a bully is to stop caring.
Remember that just because someone says a cruel thing does not make it true. When he yells, don’t apologize. Don’t be rude either. Say as little as possible–Hmm. Uh-huh. Remember that you can always walk away. When you pass him in the hall, smile. Look him in the eye. Soon you’re unsmotable like Jessa on Girls, confident enough to wear genie pants, refusing to save numbers into your phone. He must have a sniveling monster inside him, if he can only feel big by making others feel small. It’s a sad way to be. Unoriginal too. Anyway he’s the one getting smaller each time you see him, a reverse shrinky-dink. One day, you’ll just bat him away.
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  1. Woah, great post. Very inspiring, especially the one from cheryl strayed. I just found this blog, and it’s one of my fav blogs now :)

  2. Great post. And also a great example of why pop culture (at its best) is awesome.

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