Argument Essay 1 (KD)


Pop Culture:

Deceptive Definitions Become Reality


Kylie Davis


Mr. Fricke

AP Language & Composition

The movie Mean Girls reached nearly 130 million dollars in box office sales, not to mention the sales of its sequel, Mean Girls 2. The reasoning behind its success is simple.

The dramatic high school setting, the stereotypical members of the abnormally dramatized class, and the underdog’s win sets the stage for many teen’s ideal big-screen film. The movie, however, is a false representation of a teenager’s actual world. Stigmas and stereotypes infest the film, each finding their way into the minds of countless teenagers.

This film, along with a myriad of other cinema showings, books, and music each portray situations in a dramatically altered and false manner. It is the cinema’s very own definition of high school, gender, or race that eventually becomes the definitions of people outside the cinematic world.

Popular culture’s deceptive definitions of race, genders, and age-groups shift into the definitions of society’s reality, skewing the thoughts of many pop cultured individuals.

Popular culture’s influence on society is continually increasing and its stereotypes are consistently used and reused. From Native Americans and historical landmarks, to high schools and femininity, popular culture has defined these people, terms, and events. The stereotypes and definitions, however, do not stop with the films, books, or music, they are

carried into the lives of people across the world and used to judge, draw conclusions, and

2 live by.

Popular culture defines race and history cinematically, removing the truth from a movie’s story line. Because of its relevance in society, people begin to take the big-screen’s word rather than defining races and other groups of people with their own terms and experiences. Vine Deloria Jr., a Native American researcher, author, and religious thinker claims that the media has wrongly defined Indians through movies and television, “One reason that Indian people have not been heard from until recently is that we have been completely covered up by movie Indians. Western movies have been such favorites that they have dominated the public’s conception of what Indians are.” (Deloria 727). Movies have defined the Native American “image” through the battle-fighting warriors, wiseelders, and their elaborate headpieces, but in reality, these big-screen images are much different from the historical Native Americans. Movies including The Last of the Mohicans and Dances with Wolves display the stereotypical version of Native Americans and these images now define much of society’s ideas of the Native American culture. “The danger with…ethnic studies theories is that they present an unrealistic account of the role of minority groups in American history. Certainly there is more to the story of the American

Indian than providing cocoa and popcorn for Columbus’s landing party.” (Deloria 732), the representations of people displayed in films have an incredibly large affect in the real world’s view of the group or race. Because a large amount of movie stories are rearranged in order to fit the ideas of cinema, society begins to believe that these tales of races, groups, and people are history and not solely a tale. Pop culture’s definition of groups and races is simply a stereotype that society has grown to believe is reality.

It is not just today’s society that follows the ideas and thoughts of others; this bandwagon approach on life has been occurring for centuries. Mark Twain, a renowned

3 novelist, discovered the effects of outside influences far before today’s people, “Morals, religions, politics, get their following from the surrounding influences and atmospheres, almost entirely; not from study, not from thinking.” (Twain 719). Rather than studying cultures, races, and events, people draw conclusions from movies, books, and magazines.

Too many times people follow the crowd and simply rely on the information from popular culture. We rarely, however, question these so-called answers and seek to find the truth.

Twain commented on the issue of outside sources when he claimed, “He must get his opinions from other people; he must reason out none for himself he must have no firsthand views.” (Twain 718). Popular culture is today’s “other people”, it is rarely questioned and often followed; it is seen as historical fact rather than entertainment.

Year after year movies dealing with the dramas of high school are released. From

Clueless to High School Musical, the same story seems to be on repeat. This plotline, however, does not correctly represent life as an American teenager. David Denby, a writer for the New Yorker, and author of multiple books, refers to the making of high school themed films when he asserts, “Genre films dramatize not what happens but how things feel – the emotional coloring of memory. They fix subjectively into fable. At actual schools there is no unitary system of status; there are many groups to be a part of, many places to excel (or fail to excel), many avenues of escape and self-definition.” (Denby 711). When reviewing the sales at box offices, it is clear that drama sells. The exaggerated definitions of life as a high school student occupy big screen after big screen, and eventually people begin to connect with the exaggerations, find hate within the situations, and believe that in a way,

high school really is this dramatic. Society deems high school as a time of drama and self-

4 searching, but much of this definition is drawn from the fictional stories of books, movies, and television.

It is easy to say that popular culture has taken on the role of sharing history with the youth, reminding the elderly of the past, and sharing the stories that will eventually become history. But, when these stories are false and dramatized, does popular culture actually hold a positive role in society? The stories shown on the big screen and the drama shown on television provide people with an easy way to judge cultures, races, and groups of people. Society cannot let popular culture’s definitions of Native Americans as longhaired warriors, or the idea that high school is simply a place full of lonely outcasts and wealthy mean girls, influence their definitions of these groups. Popular culture must not be confused with reality, and its stereotypes must not leave the pages of a book or big screen of a theater.

Popular culture’s definitions of race, events, and cultures move outside of the fictional world and begin to become the definitions of society. People must push beyond the stereotyped images launched upon projector and find their own definitions of groups and events. So as our society pays millions and millions of dollars to watch stereotypical movies each year, people must remember to make their own definitions of cultures and groups based on reality, facts, and experiences.

Works Cited

Deloria, Vine. “New Tribes, New Turf.” We Talk, You Listen: New Tribes, New Turf. 1970.

Rpt. In The Language of Composition. Ed. Renée H. Shea, Lawrence Scanlon, Robin

Dissin Aufses. 1 st . Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008. 727-32. Print.


Denby, David. “High School Confidential: Notes on Teen Movies.” The New Yorker. 1999.

Rpt. In The Language of Composition. Ed. Renée H. Shea, Lawrence Scanlon, Robin

Dissin Aufses. 1 st . Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008.

Twain, Mark. “Corn-Pone Opinions.” Europe and Elsewhere. 1923. Rpt. In The Language of

Composition. Ed. Renée H. Shea, Lawrence Scanlon, Robin Dissin Aufses. 1 st . Boston:

Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008. 718-19. Print. 711. Print.