Where have all the real pop stars gone?

What’s going on? Where are all the pop stars?

I’m not talking about the ones you think I am.

“POP” quiz
1. Who is your favorite contemporary scientist?
2. Who is your favorite contemporary literary writer?
3. Who is your favorite contemporary painter?
4. Who is your favorite contemporary sculptor?
6. Who is your favorite contemporary photographer?

I mean the popular cultural icons that live with us forever.

There was a day when it was cool to love Fitzgerald and Hemingway and Dali and Picasso and Stein and to be inspired by Oppenheimer and Einstein and Curie and Salk and Sabin.

And there are current day cultural icons such as Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates and I am right with you on those. Elon Musk is really pushing the envelope. They are inventors, creators, tycoons, some leaders such as the recently passed Nelson Mandela. But it’s out there. Have you seen the new Chinese innovation for the train that doesn’t stop when it picks up passengers?!?!?!?

Today, it feels like we are losing sight of what made us truly incredible. Music is important to me. Sports are important to me. I have heroes in both arenas. But it seems to end there for too many people. And I’m not saying you have to be into all of these things. They used to come to us. We were told about them. Now, to get a name out of the world you have to peel layer after layer of muck and sensationalism of news and opinion to find out we (and when I say we I mean humans) developed another AIDS or Alzheimer’s vaccine that is doing wonders, or that Richard Prince is painting gorgeous views of American culture.

The internet has to be the greatest invention ever unless you put electricity first, because without it there wouldn’t be an internet.  Now, information is saturated into millions of data points organized in our minds by what we like and what we don’t or what makes us comfortable and what doesn’t. Just twenty-five years

The Commie Cascades
The Commie Cascades

ago, as I graduated from high school, I walked out a champion of the Dewey Decimal System…barely, and I had to go ask my great-great uncle if he knew the name of the mountain range in southern Kazakhstan, then the Soviet Union. He said it was the “Commie Cascades or something like that.” The real answer is Qarataū, Kazakh Qarataū Zhotasy, Russian Khrebet Karatau, in the Tien Shan. He was close though. But does the internet drown out the serious players? Are they washed up in the piles of ‘everyone else,’ saturated to a point of just another piece of information?

Stephen King, JK Rowling, the Twilight author, Malcolm Gladwell, the Fifty Shades author and more are out there; well-known and successful. Jonathon Franzen, Margaret Atwood and the elegant Nobel winner Alice Munro certainly carry a torch as best they can for well-known literary icons. If you are an avid reader or a writer, you know there are incredible writers out there. But the world doesn’t seem to know.

Side-note Quit ripping on the Fifty Shades of Grey author. She wrote the best book she could at the level she was at, and then self-published a little book that took off like mad. And at that level she still knocked it out of the park. The bottom line; she connected. Maybe her writing wasn’t at a level of great writers, but now that she made it with a self-published novel and she can go and better her craft if she wants. Pretentious craft snobs can go put their head against their pillow and cry and while they’re at it, hit it against the headboard a few times.  Good for her.

And what of Art? Like writing, we are inundated with art that comes from the internet or individuals who dare to share through public offerings. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it and I appreciate their courage and efforts. Keep doing it.  BUT-for too many people, that art has replaced what should be

by Zao Wou Ki
by Zao Wou Ki

irreplaceable works of contemporary artists. There are those who have studied the classics their entire lives, and worked hard in studios to develop their own style. We should be celebrating their achievements and in the art world we do. But walk around downtown in your city and get someone to name one, just one contemporary artist. This has to change. Names like Wou Ki, Peter Doig, Gerhard Richter, William Egglestein – should be known along with Banksy – the Robin Hood of artists.

And Science? Right now science is going through a weird stage. I don’t really get it. There are some pretty well-known scientists out there. Neil Degrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins (although not always for scientific reasons), Bill Nye, Jane Goodall, and Stephen Hawking. But no one knows why. People spend their entire lives trying to understand one or two concepts in a way that would make the rest of our heads explode. I couldn’t point to the where the moon was during

Stone Reynolds won sexiest anthropologist of 2013
Stone Reynolds won sexiest anthropologist of 2013

the daytime at a given moment, but someone can build a satellite, calculate the speed and route of a comet a million miles away and hit it?! Are you kidding? And the medical advances are astounding. We should be following these people. There should be an US magazine for scientists. That would be hilarious. The white lab coat Dr. Jane Goodall was designed by Georgio Armani.

Music is tough. Yes it is popular as ever. But transcendent acts have been few. There is nothing wrong with what Miley, Beyoncé, Timberlake, Jay-Z and Taylor Swift do. But important? Hard to say that? Meaningful? Bob Dylan was important. The Beatles. You know the list. I have read that some feel Nirvana was the last meaningful musical act as in ‘big picture, transcendental, changers.’ There are important musicians out there. But when you went out and changed music in the big sense, I suppose that might be right. I would put the early rap acts as well since they were about the same time.

I think about this quite a bit. How do we get this turned around! Whose fault is it? Probably theirs and ours. Great discoveries didn’t stop when Edison and Einstein and Marie curie died. Great books didn’t stop being written when On the Road was published. Some of this is their fault. Scientists certainly fall into a bubble and only talk to each other. Writers definitely can write for each other, sometimes putting out long boring spoon-in-eye stabbers that feel more like a contest of academia rather than a well-written story. And an artist draws a red dot on a huge canvas then tell us we don’t understand it. ‘Um. No, no. I get it. Got it. I don’t like you.”

We need to bridge the gap. Just a small dent in our priorities would be a pretty big change in our culture and progression as a society. Just think what we could do if we actually supported and were passionate for meaningful popular culture.

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Published by Dave Mainelli

Small business owner, former International franchise business consultant, musician, father, husband, and writer. Served on the B.O.D. for Red Hen Press and Fine Lines Literary Magazine, an MFA in Writing from the University of Nebraska, and a teacher for Wayne State and Iowa Western. A short story collection, 'How To Be Lonely' due out January 2021.

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