"Popular culture is largely colonized by corporations and is increasingly used to reproduce a culture of consumerism, stupidity, and illiteracy. Mainstream popular culture is a distraction and disimagination machine in which mass emotions are channeled towards an attraction for spectacles while suffocating all vestiges of the imagination, promoting the idea that any act of critical thinking is an act of stupidity, and offering up the illusion of agency through gimmicks like voting on American Idol. What is crucial to remember about popular culture is that it is not simply about entertainment, it also functions to produce particular desires, subjectivities, and identities. It has become one of the most important and powerful sites of education or what I have called an oppressive form of public pedagogy. Film, television, talk radio, video games, newspapers, social networks, and online media do not merely entertain us, they are also teaching machines that offer interpretations of the world and largely function to produce a public with limited political horizons. They both titillate and create a mass sensibility that is conducive to maintaining a certain level of consent while legitimating the dominant values, ideologies, power relations, and policies that maintain regimes of neoliberalism. There are a number of registers through which popular culture produces a subject willing to become complicit with their own oppression. Celebrity culture collapses the public into the private and reinforces a certain level of stupidity. It infantilizes as it seduces and promotes a kind of civic death. Surveillance culture undermines notions of privacy and is largely interested into locking people into strangulating orbits of privatization and atomization. A militarized popular culture offers up the spectacle of violence and a hyper-masculine image of agency as both a site of entertainment and as a mediating force through which to solve all problems. Violence now becomes the most important element of power and mediating force in shaping social relationships. Market culture functions largely to turn people into consumers, suggesting that the only obligation of citizenship is to shop. This is largely a way to depoliticize the population and distract them from recognizing their capacities as critically engaged agents and to empty out any notion of politics that would demand thoughtfulness, social responsibility, and the demands of civic courage.
As the late Stuart Hall argued, there is also a subversive side to popular culture both as a site of resistance and also as a sphere in which education becomes central to politics. This was particularly clear when he argued that the left "has no sense of politics being educative, of politics changing the way people see things." He was pointing in part to failure of the left to take seriously the political unconscious and the need to use alternative media, theater, on-line journals and news outlets. At the same time, there is enormous pedagogical value in bringing attention in the rare oppositional representations offered within the dominant media. In this instance, popular culture can be a powerful resource to map and critically engage the everyday, mobilize alternative narratives to capitalism, activate those needs vital to producing more critical and compassionate modes of subjectivity. Film, television, news programs, social media, and other instruments of culture can be used to make education central to a politics that is emancipatory and utterly committed to developing a democratic formative culture. At stake here is the need for progressives to not only understand popular culture and its cultural apparatuses as modes of dominant ideology but to also take popular culture seriously as a tool to revive the radical imagination and to make education central to politics so as to change the way people think, desire, and dream. Stanley Aronowitz is right in arguing that "education would be one of the crucial tasks of a radical political formation" and would need to launch a comprehensive educational program extending from the creation of online journals and magazines to the development of alternative schools."
C. J. Polychroniou, "An Interview with Henry Giroux on Democracy in Crisis," Counterpunch, 5/30/2014