Pop Culture In the Time of Corona

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A mask, remote control, and Nintendo Switch are depicted. Photo by Julian Ford.

Maybe this sounds familiar. 

After another long, exhausting day of treading water in the Coronavirus doldrums — laundry work, fixing meals, watching shows, trying not to think about whatever online deadlines you have to keep track of — you do the only thing you can think to do after a day of constant stress, and that is to settle comfortably and mindlessly into whatever mode or media of entertainment is most readily available. It might be the next episode of whichever new docuseries has become the societal meme (remember “Tiger King?”), it might be the next big serial killer podcast to hit the network, and it might be gathering fossils for Blathers in Animal Crossing. 

Whichever sounds the most familiar to you, there is no denying that the quarantine — a detestable and worn out word, but one which cannot be avoided — has unearthed some of the best and simplest ways of removing oneself from an uncomfortable reality. 

The numbers behind the scenes only confirms this trend. “Animal Crossing: New Horizons,” the newest critical darling from Nintendo, has surpassed all sales records for the Nintendo Switch thus far. As reported by BusinessInsider.com, the game had already sold 13.41 million units within its first six weeks of launch, higher numbers than ever seen before for the series. This same article goes on to state within the month of March alone, video game related hardware, software and game card sales topped out at around $1.6 billion dollars, a number not seen in over a decade.

Elsewhere, Forbes reports that between the three month period of January and March, Netflix saw an additional 15.8 million subscribers join its service. With all these numbers taken into consideration, there is no denying that in the past few months, the masses have embraced any and all forms of entertainment that might get them through the day. 

Although these statistics are out of the ordinary, they should come as no surprise. From the very beginning of the pandemic, trends come and go, each one as obsessively discussed, endlessly analyzed and then thoughtlessly forgotten, as the next.”Tiger King” was the perfect storm of controversy, Carole Baskin memes and a Southern anthropological study, to bind together a society still reeling. And it is only one example of the countless pop-culture artifacts of 2020. 

From “Animal Crossing” villages to Joe Exotic Twitter discourse, from out-of-stock Nintendo Switch’s to the latest rediscovery of “Avatar: the Last Airbender,” 2020 has become, among other (and less honorable) titles, the year of pop culture. The true question is what these developments might reflect on society. 

Maybe “Tiger King” would have been just as big a hit without a pandemic, but the statistics above indicate that 2020 has only amplified the importance of pop culture phenomenons. In a year dominated by social distancing, political upheaval, racial injustice, election anxiety and an endless cavalcade of “new normals,” perhaps one of the best things for society to have realized is that a little break from reality is a good thing. It is easy to criticize pop culture phenomenons as meaningless distractions from important world issues, but if anything, these sudden surges might have been the social bonding routines so sorely needed in the early and uncharted weeks of social distancing. 

At the end of the day, cultural phenomena will come and go with or without the Coronavirus, but this year has illustrated how valuable such things are, something easy to take for granted in day-to-day living. 2020 has been an isolating, intense and oftentimes fearful year, but if it has taught anything, it is that sometimes, a distraction is something to celebrate. Hopefully, it is a lesson that outstays the year itself.


Julian Ford

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