Can Pop Culture Conquer All?
I was up early recently, after a restless night of—oh, worrying about the Nation, as one does. This was just after Access Hollywood outtakes seized control of “the narrative.” I had sworn off Twitter for the election campaign. But rather than true unplugging, about which I could at least have written a self-congratulatory Medium post, I had developed a severe addiction to Apple News—basically, by that point, TrumpsApp.
In short, I was depressed. The culture (at large) and my mind (at small) seemed poised to dissolve into slurry. Naturally, I looked at my phone again.
And, strangely, I found good news. The Nobel Committee had proclaimed Bob Dylan its literary laureate. The songwriter himself took his sweet time to respond, but I was instantly psyched for the reminder that we, as a pop-culture country, are good for more than Access Hollywood. I thought of young Dylan, penning inscrutable ballads that miraculously became part of the mass consciousness; I also realized that this means Beyoncé is already a lock for at least the Medal of Freedom. And I felt that much better.
Then my magic phone heralded a new trailer for this month’s Star Wars movie—another American cultural treasure, even if it seems like everyone involved now is British. This teaser informed me that a ragtag band of misfits can battle impossible odds, and at trailer’s end Felicity Jones invoked the rallying cry: “Rebellions are built on hope.” And I thought, I’m with her!
Such is the uncanny power of pop culture: At its most off-kilter and weird, it can still conquer all. At its most predictable, it can still inspire.
This month’s Portland Monthly zooms in—way in—on our city’s signature contributions to pop culture’s great and glorious mess. As arts editor Fiona McCann charted a course from Ramona Quimby to Wild and Ramblin’ Rod to Tragedy, this feature finished what Dylan and the Force started: I snapped out of my funk. This stuff was good! My city is aglow with creativity! The beat goes on, the cause endures, the dream will never die, etc. And even if you have some catching up to do, it’s not too late. I still haven’t read Clan of the Cave Bear, but the library stocks several dozen copies. Just as Dylan records can be lined up for a long listen and Luke Skywalker will always gaze longingly at those twin suns, Portland’s essentials stand ready to read, play, and click—and to remind us what lasts.
Editor in Chief