Searching For Our Pop Culture Gods

Pop culture idols and their stories have the power to shape our earliest definition of places and what we come to expect of them.  
Editorial 13
Photo by: Anouchka/iStock Unreleased/Getty Images

In this modern agnostic world, pop culture is the closest thing we have to a shared religion. Matinee idols, artists and rock stars are our gods and goddesses, feeding us an endless supply of enchanting lore and myths. For this movement to thrive though, it needs fans; followers who have gone beyond aloof observation. Pop culture requires that fans click below to subscribe, not let it just play in the background.

One of my favourite explorations of fandom is Almost Famous, Cameron Crowe’s amusing semi-autobiographical movie about a wide-eyed teen writer and music geek, William, who receives the assignment of a lifetime when a magazine commissions him to join his beloved rock band on the road. William’s mentor is Lester Bangs, a senior critic with a hilarious zeal for mainstream culture. Lester would often launch into passionate defences of popular music, and a few lines from one fiery soliloquy, delivered to William in a diner, have always stayed with me. “The day it ceases to be dumb is the day it ceases to be real. Right? And then it will just become an Industry of Cool.”

Pop culture is the industry of joy, I like to think. Its idols make our lives immeasurably more tolerable. We carry their songs in us, we live inside the fables they create. Sometimes, we travel to be reminded of them. Or other times, they recreate the places for us. Children of the nineties probably bought into two exaggerated but equally popular versions of New York, depending on what they watched—Friends or Seinfeld. If you grew up glued to the former, you thought the Big Apple was a city full of broke singletons who spent endless hours in coffee shops, cracking wise. If it was the other, your New York was a place with impatient eccentrics out to steal your soup recipe.

In NGTI’s seventh anniversary edition, pop culture is the dominant conversation—travelling to relive the stories of famous movie stars, musicians, chefs and authors, to seek out their influences in the places they loved, from Colombia to Vietnam. Our contributors have handpicked their deities—Anthony Bourdain, Don Draper, The Beatles, Harry Potter, Shah Rukh Khan, among 18 names. We are true believers in these men, women and characters. Travelling in their shadow feels wonderful, delirious and appropriate. If this issue comes off as an unapologetic love fest, that’s entirely accurate. As Lester would put it, we are righteously dumb and hopelessly uncool.

  • Lakshmi Sankaran fantasizes about a bucket-list journey to witness the aurora borealis someday. Editor in Chief at National Geographic Traveller India, she will also gladly follow a captivating tune to the end of this world.

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