Mainstream Pop Culture: The Pros & Cons From a Quarantine Perspective

Words by Cerys Jones

The presence of popular culture within contemporary society has become more prevalent than ever during the coronavirus pandemic. Different forms of media have adapted their content following the requirements of society, thereby molding the cultural industry into one solely focussed on education and entertainment.

The execution and global dissemination of the ‘#Blackout Tuesday’ trend and campaign which took place on Tuesday, June 2, 2020, was a collective action to raise awareness encompassing the deep-rooted racism and police brutality existent in America, in response to the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. A collective total of 22.8 million black tile images were posted on Instagram’s social platform representing solidarity supporting the campaign, thus successfully raising awareness surrounding the decentralized social movement. Instagram became an outlet for activists and those of an influential status to spread awareness, news, and resources to a wider audience.

“A collective total of 22.8 million black tile images were posted on Instagram’s social platform representing solidarity supporting the campaign…”

Varying concerns and criticisms surfaced regarding the implementation of the Instagram trend, and the motivation behind its creation. The social media campaign was created by Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang with the purpose and intent of holding the music industry to account for profiting from Black talent creatives. In their initial statement, Thomas and Agyemang claimed that “It is a day to take a beat for an honest, reflective and productive conversation about what actions we need to collectively take to support the Black community”. Many expressed criticism regarding the overabundance of black tiles obstructing the discovery of resources regarding the movement, and the occurrence of any urgent or crucial news content. The American rapper and singer, Lil Nas X expressed his concerns regarding this issue on Twitter through stating “this is not helping us. Bro who the hell thought of this?? Ppl need to see what’s going on”. An alternative vein of criticism is that the black tiles alone without the accompaniment of material resources or the provision of financial donations renders the dissemination of a trend which is temporary, as opposed to a crucial and permanent social movement.

Influencer culture, inextricably associated with consumerism has rapidly declined consequent to the continuous decrease in marketing budgets across the global economy. Influencer advertising through sponsored content across social media platforms such as Instagram and YouTube is a declining business. According to a report from the marketing-analytics firm, Launchmetrics, sponsored content on Instagram’s platform declined from representing 35% of influencer content in mid-February to 4% of creator content in mid-April. This decline occurred as brands postponed campaigns due to Covid-19 measures, the elimination of sponsorship deals and the cancellation of events thus impacting the influencer economy. Numerous brands postponed influencer marketing campaigns and brand trips in attempt to avoid appearing inconsiderate and insensitive during a world-wide crisis. Many companies are delaying campaigns/sponsored content in order to ensure the implementation of logistical alterations to influencer work that would have required travel or on-site production before COVID-19. For creators, the possibility of the continuity of sponsored content or brand deals is unclear. Such uncertainty has encouraged some creators to peruse alternative revenue streams such as consulting, teaching and coaching through varying schemes such as makeup-classes or fitness regimes, thus generating an alternative income flow.

A plethora of social media creators utilised their influential platforms to inform and educate their audience regarding the current climate, inclusive of the coronavirus and the BLM movement. Many individuals on YouTube’s social platform, including ‘sophdoeslife’ who has over 1.19 million subscribers created a BLM Fundraiser video from which she donated her generated advertising revenue of £2000 to the Black Visions Collective charity. A sense of community was created on the platform when creator Holly Boon, who has over 716K subscribers provided underappreciated black creators within the community to share their content on her channel for a week, to increase their exposure and for them to speak openly about their experiences as black members on the platform and part of the YouTube community.

“Many individuals on YouTube’s social platform, including ‘sophdoeslife’ who has over 1.19 million subscribers created a BLM Fundraiser video…”

Consequent to coronavirus restrictions and limited gym access, fitness influencers experienced a rise in engagement and direct-to-consumer sales as people seek at-home exercise alternatives. Digital fitness influencers across visual social media platforms such as Instagram and YouTube saw an influx in followers and engagement, as they provide flexible, often free of charge resources during the pandemic to benefit the general health of the public. The increase in fitness content encouraged a sub-sector of society to prioritise health and well-being during the pandemic, providing a sense of motivation, clear direction and purpose during a period of such uncertainty.

The frequent utilisation of technology during the lockdown period equalled a screen-time increase of 36% across social media platforms. Instagram’s engagement increased by 25%, thus further embedding its affects, both negative and positive into our current culture climate. The continuous exposure of unrealistic beauty ideals to impressionable members of society has contributed to the decline of the mental health of many during lockdown, which can be especially harmful due to mental and physical isolation. The fluctuation of content shared online for entertainment and educational purposes has coincided with pressure to be productive, which can lead to comparing and a sense of unfulfillment and demotivation. The dissemination of hateful comments and messages has also elevated due to the increase of time spent online. Influencers such as Imogen Horton and Kate Hayes have communicated openly to their audience the devastating negative impact that such hateful comments have had on their mental health. Horton stated “I think it’s such a hard time for everyone at the moment that the online hate and abuse went from being manageable to completely unbearable, and that is when I really began to struggle”.

The strike of the coronavirus pandemic encouraged the emergence of streaming services as predominant sources of cultural output. As social distancing measures remain compulsory, streaming has become the main form of collective cultural experience, where fans unite, alone behind screens. The expansive libraries of predominant streaming sites such as Netflix, Disney+ and Apple TV have become the nexus of popular culture consumption, thus moulding the entertainment industry to tailor the needs of society during the pandemic. The global desire for escapism and entertainment generated a dramatic increase in streaming revenue. Netflix more than doubled its projected number of new subscribers since the beginning of lockdown, whilst Disney also gained 22 million subscribers.