Burg: Why keeping up with pop culture is worth it

Madeline Burg, Columnist

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On Saturday I heard someone say we’re now embarking on week four of this quarter, and I felt slightly sick. Could time really be moving that slowly? In my mind I’d already done a quarter’s worth of school work and basically nothing else. Granted this is a thing that happens to me just about every quarter; I didn’t choose the English major life, the English major life chose me. Class, work study job, reading, all repeated endlessly, and sometimes interrupted by an exciting trip to the grocery store or the laundry room.

So how do we even have friends? No one wants to hear about how I read “Giovanni’s Room” by James Baldwin while I sat at the front desk in the English department office waiting for some professor to ask me to scan something. And if you’re a true millennial, you’ve already told social media about everything you’ve done/seen/eaten today, and I’ve already seen it on Twitter and Instagram. Twenty-first century connectedness leaves little to be discovered or discussed. Fodder for pleasant conversation is lacking.

Thus I thank Beyonce for the eternal gossip mill that is the world of pop culture. In an age where Netflix reigns supreme and the binge-watch has become the television standard, where film franchises based on YA novels breed like rabbits and where the only criterion for the newest music video is that it has to be more controversial than the last, there need be no scrambling for small talk. We can at least all agree that George R. R. Martin is probably just screwing with us, am I right?

We relate to each other through pop culture because our work as students leaves little time for anything else, and definitely does not provide for interesting things to talk about when you do have a brief respite from said work. Technology has thoughtfully provided twenty-somethings with a way to always be appraised of what’s going on in pop culture, and I have no doubt that left to our own devices we would gladly sit down to watch the entirety of “Lost” in favor of doing almost anything else, including interacting with our loved ones and feeding ourselves. Escapism is being taken quite literally here; I would like to escape my obligation of having to post to Canvas about the significance of names in “Song of Solomon” by re-watching that episode of “30 Rock” in which Liz Lemon high-fives a million angels.

Pop culture is the great equalizer. Are you into sitcoms? Premium cable dramas? Doesn’t matter, I’m sure we’d both rather be hate-watching “Dance Moms” than doing problem sets. Are you too ashamed of your sensitive hipster music tastes to keep your Spotify session off of private? Me too, let’s gossip about Ariana Grande’s new hairstyle instead of reading that article about the economics of Shakespeare’s histories. I swear I won’t mention James Joyce if we can talk about “Fifty Shades of Grey” instead of me morosely reading “Ulysses” by myself at Unicorn Cafe. Highbrow, lowbrow or “Homeland,” I literally will talk to you about anything that doesn’t remind me of the hulking specter of Blackboard that is still hanging around this campus for some reason.

And so on Saturday, after recovering from the shock of hearing that we were not even a month into Fall Quarter, and after having already slogged through seven books for my classes, I elected to finish “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn in favor of completing any of the tasks I had set for myself for the weekend. Reading for pleasure is something I had lost upon entering college, but the premiere of the film version of this book, starring Ben Affleck, has been getting so much buzz that I wanted to join the conversation. I will spend a significant amount of time on Sunday reading pieces about “Gone Girl” instead of reading Toni Morrison, and some night this week I will definitely coerce my friends into seeing the movie with me instead of writing their papers and being good students. Because then at least we can all get into an argument about whether or not Ben Affleck was the actor for the job. Friendship is choosing Ben Affleck over problem sets.

Madeline Burg is a Weinberg senior. She can be reached at madelineburg2015@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.