My younger brother was the first person to show me “What Makes You Beautiful,” released in 2011. We probably played that song 30 times that afternoon and danced nonstop around the living room the whole time. We watched the music video and critiqued the attractiveness of all the lead singers as they bopped around the beach in their preppy British summer clothes. It was amazing for us even though everybody else on the planet was sick of that song. It was 2013.
Everybody consumes media, but the generation that I’m a part of is particularly attracted to it. We absorb and accumulate pop culture, so our relevance hinges unwaveringly on how well we understand all of it and what we decide to share online.
I made a Twitter for the first time exactly two and a half weeks ago and I’ve been too afraid to retweet something. I live off the pop culture grid and I don’t know why.
Theory 1: I discovered pop music in the girl’s locker room in middle school.
On the first day of gym class in seventh grade, I wasn’t wearing a bra. The idea of revealing this to my friends and the practically adult eighth grade girls in the changing room was unappealing at its best.
But I stripped down to my underwear to Katy Perry’s “Firework.”
I’d grown up listening to some of the Beatles and a little bit of Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks on the stereo in my family’s living room, but the driving synth beat blaring in the locker room was completely different. The next day I pulled my pants down to “Raise Your Glass” by P!nk, in complete amazement.
I listened to these anthemic female vocals sporadically during the five minutes we had each day in the locker room. How did all of these people fall head-over-heels in love with the same songs?
A lot of my friends knew the songs, but they didn’t know how to dance. They swapped their pastel pink blouses for their blue and yellow cotton gym shirts by putting them both on at the same time, pulling one out from under the other. It was awkward and contrived; they elbowed each other a lot. I didn’t know how to tell them that I didn’t know what song was playing, but that I loved it.
Theory 2: Sour gummy worms and “Harry Potter” don’t mix.
When my parents split up, my dad faced the shocking notion of actually being a parent. He decided to do the only sane thing a person who’s afraid of consequences does: He fed me obscene amounts of sour gummy worms and showed me iconic American movies.
We would sit in the dark, my tiny high school freshman self swimming in one of my dad’s oversized reclining armchairs, and nobody would say anything. I watched Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter scream in despair as Sirius Black fell through the veil in the Ministry of Magic. It represented so much in loss and grief. I cried quietly, but I couldn’t hug somebody and tell them Sirius was my favorite character.
I watched all of these movies that had been released ages ago, now in this very awkward, condensed two-day span, every week and a half. It was like a makeup session for growing up.
But it didn’t do anything to create a familial bond. There were little blips of conversation, but they lacked any emotional resonance. I think this inability to emote took away a lot of the joy that consuming cinema usually inspires. No media is designed for the definitive purpose of being alone with it.
Theory 3: My half-baked Twitter.
I made a Twitter because somebody I think is really cool told me I should. After the initial embarrassment that follows from telling somebody you don’t have a Twitter, now having one feels like being let in on a secret.
There’s a camaraderie that comes from being present on social media platforms. Sure, it’s all digitalized and distant. I often don’t propel my own opinions into its pixelated void, but people are teaching me things. They’re sharing their feelings about media with strangers on the internet and me, and it’s inclusive and familiar as much as it is impersonal.
In real life, people get excited that you looked at the same content online and you’re interested in it in the same way they are. It’s comforting. Now they get to be the ones that are shaping the way you look at the world.
I was standing in line at Yogurt Park a couple of weeks ago with some friends, talking about Wes Anderson’s movies. One of my friends said she loved the color scheme in “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and I nodded and said that it was really such a shame that he’s such a terrible person.
Everybody got really quiet. In between big bites of chocolate ice cream, I went on about how he married his stepdaughter or something like that. I felt really proud of myself for knowing something about the debate about separating the art from the artist.
But then one of them said, “Olivia, that’s Woody Allen.”