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Pop Culture Organizing
Questions for creative movement building
Hi, I’m Bianca. Queer - Mixed - Second Gen - Muslim(ish) - Artist, Professor, & Creative Strategist living in Los Angeles. In case you’re new here or a reminder could help, this newsletter began as an exploration of figuring shit out, one day at a time. If you look forward to these newsletters and want to support my ongoing work you can upgrade to a paid subscription.
Things helping me figure shit out:
I couldn’t make it to Barbie’s opening night with my friends, so I used a VPN yesterday and watched it at home. There are laughs to be had (I mean who doesn’t want a Mojo Dojo Casa House?) and the set design is breathtaking. But I think the discourse around the movie has been more interesting than the actual film itself. (No spoilers but the overall movie plot was just a tad too “2017 straight-girl pussyhat feminist” for my liking)
👠 If you read one more piece of Barbie content this week, I hope it’s this abolitionist review of the Barbie Movie from my brilliant friend Eteng Ettah.
“My abolitionist politic and my pop culture enthusiasm remind me that Barbie returning to the zeitgeist fills me with excitement and confirmation that the systems we are fighting against are intact and have a hold on the stories we consume through popular media.” — Eteng Ettah
On Pop Culture Organizing
Eteng is the Narrative Director at MediaJustice and often writes about how pop culture is a rich site for shifting hearts toward abolition. Pop Culture Organizing, sometimes known as “fan organizing,” is a series of strategies by which popular culture can be deployed as a tool for campaigns in support of social change.
This kind of cultural organizing has been around for a long time. However, in the past 10 years, we’ve seen more structural support and recognition of this kind of work. For example, organizations like Pop Culture Collaborative are funding community-based work for narrative change. They’ve supported people like Tracy Van Slyke whose work engages the question:
“What are narrative experiences that are powerful enough that make people want to believe and fight for a world based in equity and justice?”
I both love and am wary of of pop culture organizing. I believe there is a power-building opportunity at the intersection of social and cultural change. I think narratives play a huge role in shaping perspectives. However, I’m wary of it because it can very easily stop at the neoliberalism of “representation matters” (ie I want an “insert ethnic identity” Barbie to be included in the movie instead of “why is this larger narrative reinforcing the patriarchy of stay pretty and be nicer to men?”). I think it’s important to push beyond aesthetics.
My hope for pop culture organizing is that it pushes people beyond conversations of representation and connects them to larger movements. So, in addition to her Barbie review above, I want to uplift the kind of work Eteng is doing with Media Justice.
MediaJustice (formerly Center for Media Justice) is building a powerful grassroots movement for a more just and participatory media —fighting for racial, economic, and gender justice in a digital age. Launched in 2009 by Malkia Devich Cyril, Amy Sonnie, and Jen Soriano — MediaJustice boldly advances communication rights, access, and power for communities harmed by persistent dehumanization, discrimination and disadvantage. Home of the MediaJustice Network, we envision a future where everyone has sustained and universal access to open and democratic media and technology platforms.
It is important that we are just as concerned with the larger ever-evolving systems as we are with the actual media being produced. Which brings me to the last thing I’ve had on my mind - #hotlaborsummer. We have been seeing labor organizing heat up with one historic strike after another ( sag aftra / WGA double strike - UPS). As we see people come together and organize in different ways this video is great at breaking down the differences and affordances of issue-based organizing vs broad-based organizing. (The video is short - get into it.)
This differentiation has me thinking about how pop culture organizing is often issue-based - ie Barbie for gender equality, Wakanda the Vote, etc - and not necessarily broad-based. So I’ve been thinking:
👠 What could or should broad-based pop culture/media-based organizing look like today?
I don’t really have an answer. But, that’s what I like about this “lab section,” it’s for asking questions together. If you know, let me know and send examples my way.
Until next week,
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