Arts

A love letter to pop culture — our great escape from the discomfort of our new normal

"Art has served as a life raft on which we can stay afloat while braving the storm of global tragedy and its countless unknowns."

'Without art, we'd have no choice but to face reality without the balm that makes being alive bearable'

Left to right: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. (20th Century Fox)

In my million-or-so years on the internet, I have never needed screencaps, gifs, and memes from pop culture the way I do now.

In this new mundane, terrifying, horrible life, I get up and look forward to seeing the way clips and images from movies and TV shows will be used to reflect the thousands of feelings we're currently sorting through. I live for the way something ridiculous like a Succession quote can embody the panic or anxiety we're dealing with. But perhaps most importantly, I've come to find solace in the way we're using art as a means of escape and of coping and of relating to each other. Everything right now feels dire and scary. Pop culture, however, is comforting and familiar.

Of course, if you've ever binge-watched The Great British Bake Off or waded too deep into the ocean of The Shining (a shockingly comforting movie for reasons I can't truly explain), this isn't news. Art has consistently provided the emotional and mental support some of us can't glean from anywhere else (not all of us can afford therapy), and it's a crucial tool in recharging, escaping, or even serving as a foundation on which to build your own dreams. Without art, we'd have no choice but to face reality without the balm that makes being alive bearable. It saves us from being stuck in the world we actually live in.

Left to right: Paul Hollywood, Prue Leith, Noel Fielding, and Sandi Toksvig on The Great British Bake Off. (BBC)

My own relationship with art has never had an ounce of chill. As a kid, I threw myself into Star Wars and Sabrina the Teenage Witch and The Sound of Music (I contain multitudes) — first enamoured with the stories and music and the acting, but then eventually with the idea that real people made these things. The further into my tweens and teens I got, the less I focused on storylines and musical numbers and the more I obsessed over the actors, writers, and costume designers who made my favourite pop culture moments possible. I fixated on the idea of being able to tell stories for people I liked (or hated) to consume, and to somehow contribute to this world where you could tap into and release feelings — or escape from your feelings altogether if that's what you need to do.

And then I fell into real, perfect, reciprocal love. Or, maybe more specifically, I fell suddenly into the world of essay and pop culture writing. Unsure of where my mid-20s were taking me, I used music journalism to access a realm that fed my need for creative freedom while tapping into something I'd come to love even more: forcing my opinions on everybody. I wanted my writing to be personal, to be funny, to be sad, and to make (maybe) anybody who read them feel a little less alone. I also found myself surrounded by brilliant, thoughtful, hilarious people who carved their own paths through the creative industry and forged careers that were just as unique as they were. Even now, I'm inspired by the work I get to read and watch and consume daily, shocked that a kid who wrote a middle school speech called "What I Like About Star Wars" has gotten to exist in a universe populated by people whose work so beautifully keeps people afloat.

Art has served as a life raft on which we can stay afloat while braving the storm of global tragedy and its countless unknowns. It isn't a solution, but it's a necessary shelter we've all come to huddle under.- Anne T. Donahue

Because that's what the best art does. As we've come to see especially over the last couple of weeks, art — whether books, music, film, comedy, or television — has served as a life raft on which we can stay afloat while braving the storm of global tragedy and its countless unknowns. It isn't a solution, but it's a necessary shelter we've all come to huddle under to remind ourselves that feelings (no matter how fleeting) outside of anxiety, fear, anger, and helplessness still exist and that we're capable of still feeling them; that while our realities have all changed, the kaleidoscope of emotions that make us such beautiful disasters remain a part of who we are, even if we are only reminded through perfectly-phrased Twitter jokes, Devil Wears Prada memes, and TikTok videos set to music from the early 2000s. Without art, none of these would exist.

Now is the time to appreciate and stand up for the artists who help us to feel and think and grow. Demand transparency and fairness for those whose work you love so much. Advocate for them to the MPs and MPPs who represent you. Champion them on social media. Share links to grants and resources you come across. Most importantly, pay good money — as much as you're able — for the art you consume. These are baby steps, yes. But as we've seen recently, they're also necessary in ensuring the arts world and artists themselves don't crumble during this terrible time.


 

My favourite art will never stop meaning to me what it did as a sweet baby angel, trying to emulate Carrie Fisher when she refers to Han Solo as "flyboy." It will always be the world I love most, populated by the people whose work has taken my hand and gotten me through personal worsts and bests in equal measure. It has distracted me and inspired me and sparked joy — even ensured that I could still feel joy, despite being convinced I might never be able to. It's a unifying force, making us feel a little bit closer amidst the madness of this huge, at-times cruel world. So the least we can do is give back in the ways we know how, hopefully making the lifeboats they gave us big enough for the artists we love to fit in, too.

CBC Arts understands that this is an incredibly difficult time for artists and arts organizations across this country. We will do our best to provide valuable information, share inspiring stories of communities rising up and make us all feel as (virtually) connected as possible as we get through this together. If there's something you think we should be talking about, let us know by emailing us at cbcarts@cbc.ca. See more of our COVID-related coverage here.

About the Author

Anne T. Donahue is a writer and person from Cambridge, Ontario. You can buy her first book, Nobody Cares, right now and wherever you typically buy them. She just asks that you read this piece first.

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