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Popular Culture, Ageism And Nostalgia Concepts

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The concept of popular culture has been existing as an essential component of life with its advantages and dangers. Since the concept associates closely with the public, the impacts between the two sides are consequential. Popular culture inherent with the youth is considered as the fundamental of the development of this culture. Although popular culture does not age with new trends coming up frequently, the artists can either keep up or be left behind by the flow with their ages. Is age a drawback for artists to maintain their careers? Is aging an impact on the support of fans towards their idols? This essay demonstrates the two above-mentioned questions by analysing the three concepts of Culture Studies: Popular Culture, Ageism and Nostalgia. This essay will examine the landscape of Pop Culture and how Ageism works together with this concept to determine the popularity of artists. Specifically, the essay addresses three celebrities: Robert Downey Jr., Daniel Radcliffe and Michael Jackson and their career with the influence of ageism. This essay will also conclude the viewpoint toward the statement above.

Culture has always been an undecided terminology, as the variety of notions by many professionals. This was proved by Raymond Williams by his statement ‘Culture is one of the two or three most complicated words’. Yet the word ‘Culture’ can be placed in different concepts such as politics; economy and more, the general usage, according to Lewis (2002) preferred to a synonym which describes the arts and the way of life and learning of each individual. This way of life prefers significantly to entertainment and popular culture then becomes ‘the interpretation of ‘Culture’’ (Rosenberg 1980, p.151), as an evaluation of contemporary society alongside with politics and economics. Popular culture has its broad landscape with the involvement of music, films, television programs, the Internet and the significantly close relationship with the public. Popular culture appears to be a daily basis of many people and communities, influences these objectives negatively and positively. The ‘Joker’ mass murder in the USA in 2012 is a remarkable example of the negative impact of pop culture, which James Holmes – the murderer – died his hair red and called himself “The Joker” when he was arrested after the shooting that cause the death of twelves people. On the other hand, pop culture is the opportunity for communities that involve people with similar interests to get together. These communities include people who are from similar backgrounds, races or ages. As a result, the concept of Age and Ageism plays a crucial role in the influence of popular culture on the public.

The concept of Ageism was firstly introduced by Butler in 1969 with his explanation as a process of ‘systematic stereotyping and discrimination’ against people because of their age (Butler 1975 in Allan et al. 2014, p.32). This explanation is later on expanded by Iversen et al. (2012, p.4) that these stereotypes include both negative and positive viewpoints. Ageism is considered as important as other social dimensions such as race or gender, but is neglected due to its nature that ‘Everyone ages’. Furthermore, Ageism causes the perception of elderly people to be locked and stereotyped, whether negatively or positively. However, it has been proved that one of the main concentrations of the research on Ageism is the solution to reduce ageism (Iversen et al. 2012, p.5). This reduction of Ageism in popular culture is not equal to reducing the popularity of the celebrities or changing fans’ viewpoint on their idols, but to prove that age has little effect on the idol culture.

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Firstly, the essay evaluates a celebrity who has his career fluctuated before receiving the support from the public, Robert Downey Jr. Downey began as a child actor for his father’s movie – Robert Downey Sr. – who is an actor and filmmaker. During the early stages of his career, Downey was an average actor who played some excellent roles but also had some roles with poor ratings. However, what the public remembered about him for two decades, is a drug-addicted person who was arrested several times on drugs charge and even went through treatment programs. Only from 2004, after the actor came back from the rehabilitation and got his first role in the big screen, Downey’s career met its turning point and started to escalate. Nowadays, the audience remember Robert Downey Jr. as the success of Iron Man in The Avengers starting from 2012. Nowadays, the audience remember Robert Downey Jr. as the success of Iron Man in The Avengers and the comeback was called one of the most impressive and inspiring stories (Drug Abuse n.d., para 10). Robert Downey Jr. is a significant example of the little effect of aging on celebrities and their fans. His popularity is not defined by his age, but by his talent and the new attitude towards his career and his life. Apparently, after the change, he received more attention from the audience and professionals. The actor is calculated as one of the most paid actors by Forbes in 2013 (Pomerantz 2013). The systematic and stereotyping of Ageism that was mentioned above, especially for celebrities that creates disappointment for fans does not apply to this example of Robert Downey Jr.

Daniel Radcliffe can be considered as a positive example to support the statement. Daniel Radcliffe is not even a popular name as the role that he played during his early career – Harry Potter. Harry Potter became the most well-known play and earned him the popularity from the age of 11. Yet after the series, Radcliffe has been participating in other plays, but the shadow of Harry Potter is overwhelming the other plays he has. The audience nowadays is still familiar with a young wizard and his group at Hogwarts with magics surrounding them whenever the name of Daniel Radcliffe is mentioned. The actor admitted the difficulty of moving away from the typecasting of Harry Potter due to its popularity and the youth image he had (Setoodeh 2014). Harry Potter is the childlike memories for not only the actors but many audiences globally as the concept of nostalgia is linked closely to these memories. There are a few ways to explain the concept of nostalgia, but Higson (2013, p.122) describes the concept as the mediated experience of contemporary popular culture products. Harry Potter is in fact the mediated experience for many people to connect to their childhood, to experience the feelings they had, to see the images; listen to the sounds that they were familiar with as an adolescent. “It is the end of everything” is the way to express the viewers’ feeling after the last chapter of the series Harry Potter was released on screen (Fuoco 2011). Eventually, Radcliffe encounters several obstacles on his way to move on from the play. This does not mean Radcliffe achieves nothing after Harry Potter, he has been successfully pursuing his career as an actor. However, Harry Potter increased the expectation of fans to their idol, that afterward causes disappointment as their idol is no longer ‘a young boy with magic’ but a gentleman performing in Broadway. As a result, Danieal Radcliffe can be an appropriate example for the age of idols impacts heavily on fans’ expectations and creates disappointment.

The third example is Michael Jackson – the King of Pop music. Considering biological age, Michael Jackson is not the most appropriate example since he passed away at the age of 50. However, Jackson started his career as a member of his brothers’ pop group when he was five and became popular as a solo pop artist in the ‘70s. Correspondingly, the age here to evaluate is the long time that Jackson had spent on his career. Later, in 1983, his career reached its peak of popularity when his album – Thriller – was recorded as the biggest selling album during that time, with more than 45 millions copies were sold (History 2019, para 2). Having a successful path in his profession, but Jackson encountered several scandals and changes on his performance as a celebrity, significantly child molestation in 1993 and 2005. Yet the scandal is a stigma for Jackson’s career, he still got the support from his fans for the next album was planned to release just right before his death in 2009. It is undeniable that after the scandals and his long time in the field, Jackson is still called the ‘King of Pop music’ with countless support for several reasons. As a singer and songwriter, the quantity and quality of music he has produced during his career was the main attention for fans and supporters to concentrate on instead of his personal life. Hollander (2010, p.151) demonstrated this support as the emotional identification at its core is the connection of fans and idols. For example, the lyrics of his song ‘Heal the World’ is still able to inspire the audience after 27 years after its release. The song mentions love and care and against war, upholds its popularity in the contemporary world with similarly continuing issues. Eventually, after a decently long-life career, Jackson’s music maintained to be as phenomenal as the beginning of this solo journey with the success of his albums regardless of the scandals. Even after his bereavement, the unique movements that were produced when he was alive, such as the ‘Moonwalk’ dance and the relatable and touching song lyrics, still appear to be famous among young audience. Moreover, his new album including all the unreleased tracks was released after his death, that Jensen (2005, p.112) in Black (2017) described as the world that dead people continue to speak and sing. Michael Jackson was in fact a disappointment for fans due to the scandals and stigma he owned during his life, but certainly the support he got from fans and his supporters for his music out-distances the despondencies.

By demonstrating three different examples of contemporary popular culture, with two examples of Robert Downey Jr. and Michael Jackson has proven that youth culture is not fundamentally ageist, and artist, despite their age, are still be able to pursue their career with the support from fans and supporters. In fact, while Michael Jackson disenchanted hs fans by the scandals, the support he received for his music is undeniable, even after his death. Daniel Radcliffe is the only example to support the statement, but the circumstance is also different as he is still a young actor that can have a life-long career. The only factor that disappoints his fans is his mature appearance that intertwines with his age and career. Apparently, Daniel Radcliffe cannot stay young and attach to Harry Potter for his whole career only to keep his fans satisfied. Furthermore, since Radcliffe’s current image is dissimilar to Harry Potter, there will be new supporters that replaces the old ones ultimately. In conclusion, age is not a fundamental factors of popular culture’s obsession with youth culture. In spite of their age, celebrities can still have their stable and developed career and this success is determined by other factors than age.

Reference List

  1. Allan, L.J., Johnson, J.A., Emerson, S.D. 2014, ‘The role of individual difference variables in ageism’, Personality and Individual Differences, vol.59, pp.32-37.
  2. Black, J. 2017, ‘ The reification of celebrity: global newspaper coverage of the death of David Bowie’, International Review of Sociology, vol.27, no.1, pp.202-224.
  3. Drug Abuse, 2019, Robert Downey Jr.’s Incredible Comeback from Addiction, viewed 28th October 2019.
  4. Fuoco, D.A. 2011, ‘Nostalgia, anxiety, sadness for “Harry Potter” fans’, Gale General Onefile, Tribune Content Agency, viewed 28th October 2019.|A261443410&v=2.1&u=uts&it=r&p=ITOF&sw=w
  5. Higson, A. 2014 ‘Nostalgia is not what it used to be: heritage films, nostalgia websites and contemporary consumers’, Consumption Markets & Cultures, vol.17, no.2, pp.120-142.
  6. History, Michael Jackson is born, viewed 28th October 2019.
  7. Hollander, P. 2010, ‘Michael Jackson, the Celebrity Cult, and Popular Culture’, Culture and Society, vol.47, no.2, pp.147-152.
  8. Rosenberg, B.A., 1980, ‘Was There a Popular Culture in the Middle Ages?’, pp. 149-154.
  9. Iversen, T.N, Larsen, L., Solen, P.E. 2009, ‘A conceptual analysis of Ageism’, Nordic Psychology, vol.61, no.3, pp. 4-22.
  10. Pomerantz, D. 2013, ‘Robert Downey Jr. Tops Forbes’ List Of Hollywood’s Highest-Paid Actors’, Forbes, viewed 28th October 2019.
  11. Setoodeh, R. 2014, ‘Turning the page: how Daniel Radcliffe killed Harry Potter’, Variety, vol. 324, no.17.

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