Popular culture is the sum of a society’s actions, beliefs, traditions, and other such similar engagements that define a given society and its people. Although sometimes is described as an expression of the people occupying the lower classes of a society, as opposed to those occupying the higher classes, popular culture effectively encompasses a society’s wholesome activities and expressions.
Since the turn of the 21st century, the use of cell phones has increased tremendously all over the world, and more specifically in the United States. Unfortunately, the use of the cell phone while driving has also increased, posing a danger both for the driver and other road users.
Currently, the use of cell phones for reading or writing text messages while driving causes a significant number of road accidents in the US, leaving victims emotionally traumatised, maimed and even dead. Insurance claims arising, and healthcare needs for these victims puts unnecessary and avoidable strain on the economy. Currently, nearly half of the states in the US have passed laws, or are in the process of passing laws declaring the act of texting while driving illegal, with fines and jail terms of various degrees for the offenders.
The theory of progressive evolution states that popular culture is an expression of inherent and intrinsic activities of a society. Accordingly, the act of cell phone texting while driving – however dangerous – would be an expression of an aspect of the American lifestyle, a part of its intrinsic identity. Indeed, many of the culprits of this dangerous practice are teens and the youth, ordinarily the most ardent expressers of popular culture in a society. Adults, too, use their cell phones while driving, but to a comparatively lesser degree.
Another theory of popular culture that expresses the act of texting while driving is the theory of the culture industry, where consumer needs for gadgets such as the cell phone is the principal contributing factor of the high presence of cell phone amongst Americans, with its use in texting while driving being a logical consequence. The cell phone, according to this theory, is portrayed as a must have communication tool, leading many Americans to acquire it.
Heroes in American society are highly regarded and respected. In the American society, heroes belong to both the past and present times, and are given near mythical attributes (Browne, 2005, p.35). American heroes include former presidents such as Washington and Lincoln, or adventurists such as Charles Lindbergh. Celebrities are more numerous and easily identifiable in today’s celebrity-obsessed American popular culture.
Oprah Winfrey is one such celebrity, and her fame and philanthropic deeds make her a veritable American heroin. Oprah has been the face of the campaign to stop the practice of texting while driving. Because celebrities command a large following, and their followers tend to respect their word, the campaign by American celebrity and heroin, Oprah Winfrey, and other like-minded celebrities has the greatest potential of stopping the practice, especially amongst teens for whom such celebrities are highly adored and respected.
Therefore, by understanding the concept of popular culture, and subsequently applying the two popular culture theories to the topic of texting while driving, the concept of heroes and the cult of celebrities ties into the entire thread when the influence of these celebrities and heroes in curbing the practice of texting while driving is applied.
The insight of applying the influence of heroes and celebrities in positively changing one negative aspect of American popular culture (texting while driving) is attained through the application of the two theories of popular culture.
Browne, R. B. (Ed.). (2005). Profiles of Popular Culture: A Reader. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press.