Devaluing mainstream futile: it’s not that bad, hipsters

By Opinions Editor

The labeling of cultures, genres and even people has been a crucial aspect of American society since before Ponyboy slicked his hair back and called himself a greaser. It is built into the American psyche to quantify, qualify and categorize culture—the 1960s mainstream vs. the counterculture struggle being the most all-encompassing yet old school example of cultural divisions. 

Today, U.S. popular culture—mainstream or otherwise—is one of the most exhaustingly divisive topics both in real life and online. Arguments about music, movies, television and literature quickly become bloodbaths on social media, further proving the importance Americans feel for what they consume. 

Too often this leads to dismissing the cultural value of a specific television show or piece of music because of its perceived existence in the “mainstream”—which Wikipedia defines as “the common current thought of the majority … typically disseminated by mass media.” 

Ignoring or devaluing media because it is consumed by and created for the masses—and not tailored for an individual’s weird little niche interests—is ignorant, particularly given the entertainment industry’s ever-evolving climate and its growing commitment to innovation and creativity. From the rise in visibility of the LGBTQ communities to the boom in racially and ethnically diverse casts seen across network television, the mainstream is becoming a place that is no longer as homogeneous as it once was.

CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” and “NCIS” notwithstanding, network television is making strides to create shows and programs that reach a broader, more diverse audience. With the runaway success of shows like Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black” and Amazon Prime’s “Transparent,” network executives are actively pursuing story lines and perspectives not previously seen on primetime television. Networks are positively altering the mainstream to its audience’s will by producing shows that stray from and subvert the white, heteronormative male narratives typically seen on television, whether done intentionally or not.

Fox’s inimitable new show “Empire”—a King Lear-esque look at a record company’s CEO and his family’s ventures—has broken viewership records every week since it first aired, according to a Feb. 12 TV by the Numbers report. The show, along with ABC’s “Black-ish” and “Fresh Off the Boat,” features a predominantly non-white cast—a rare phenomenon in the otherwise overwhelmingly white history of network television. 

Although criticism and praise fluctuates for these shows, their place on network television speaks to the broadening of the mainstream’s horizons and its willingness to explore stories and ideas that are often overlooked by studios but certainly appreciated by consumers.

Considering how streaming services are not only revolutionizing the ways television, music and movies are produced and consumed while also offering more opportunities for changes in the mainstream’s collective conscience, the current and oncoming wave of media is the answer to those who reject the mainstream simply on the basis that it is common, base or caters to a person who does not exist. With more options come more hidden gems for those who curse the baseness of what the mainstream can often represent or seem like.

This is not to say that media will become all-inclusive, all-encompassing and altruistic; that is a pipe dream. It simply means that, although the likes of “The Big Bang Theory” and “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” will live on, the mainstream—if it should even be called that anymore—is fast becoming a more complex and dynamic beast that is willing to cater to the more diverse and compelling majority that America really is. Condemning the mainstream should become a thing of the past if the entertainment industry continues to strive to represent the myriad cultures and identities of the U.S. through the media.