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Dead at Last

The world is in ruins… and according to many, pop culture itself is dying, and some even consider it dead. Inevitably, tweets, idiotic TikTok mini-videos and tiresome memes fill our feeds. Information spreads at the speed of light and mutates even faster. For those of us living in the online space, life seems more chaotic than ever: of course, we’ve long since stopped trusting mainstream media, so we rely on podcasts and newsletters.

The fact that pop culture is now more nuanced than it was decades ago, i.e. not a monoculture, is a welcome development. Mainstream culture in the 80s and 90s was mostly defined by MTV and the charts, which were compiled by a select few lucky DJs, publishing executives, fashion gurus, curators and film producers, all basically from the same social and economic elite. But today’s cultural visionaries represent a much broader spectrum. The biggest indicator of this huge change was of course the emergence of social media platforms in the 2010s. The ‘machines’ have taken over from the cocky, once omnipotent gatekeepers of culture, and content based on online behaviour has emerged.

In the last few years, culture has become even more dispersed. Although social media platforms still have a firm grip on the content we consume, giant platforms like Netflix and Instagram are now in decline as consumers subscribe to multiple streaming sites at once, and there is a growing group of people who consume only Twitch streams and podcasts. People are more willing to pay for independently produced digital content, but social media platforms have also emerged where artists, writers and content creators communicate directly with their fan base on Discord servers.

The impact of online micro-celebrities is growing year on year: Discord servers (most of which are based in New York) are both highly active and isolated. Memes, jokes, streams, podcasts. It seems that people are much more enthusiastic about giving $10 a month to Red Scare than $20 a month to Netflix, which is ironic because Netflix obviously has a much wider margin. The pop culture for the youngest generations is very fragmented: poor- and low-quality content, Tiktok, micro-trends every few weeks. However, the dying of pop culture is nothing new: just look at popular TV shows like Euphoria, whose witty one-liners and screenshots are all carefully crafted and available on all social media platforms, but Lil Nas X and Harry Styles’ music videos are also being made to go viral on TikTok.

And how will all this develop further? With 58% of young people saying that social media is the only place to be themselves, there is an emerging online underground subculture where young people can come together and get creative, and pop culture is being replaced by a new internet culture with new laws.