I don’t know about you, but usually the first thing I do when I wake up is turn on the TV, always set to CNN. Something about the warm company of Anderson Cooper and friends as I brush my teeth and prepare for the day is beautiful. Plus, I get caught up on the start of the day’s news. Between that, political podcasts, newspapers and online media, I have a steady stream of election coverage and world events available to me every day. I quite enjoy this routine and take pride in the knowledge it provides me.
However, there always comes a day in which nothing seems better than cutting myself away from all of it. Relaxing in a warm refuge of lighthearted entertainment and shows I already know and love is therapeutic, as well as stress-relieving. We all do this one way or another, some to avoid the stresses of class, and others to escape the looming knowledge that election season is rapidly approaching. NPR calls it “Pop Culture Comfort Food,” because, like comfort food, it’s what we turn to when we need to feel happy.
Maybe it’s a book you’ve read a half-dozen times and never tire of, or a classic television series with characters you know and care about like old friends. Whatever it may be, it’s not something you pour over with a critical eye, just something you enjoy, regardless of perceived taste or quality.
The primary way I tend to relax is by binge-watching a few of my favorite TV shows and re-reading a book or two. For television, the answer is always animation. Recent works like “Over the Garden Wall” and “Adventure Time” never fail to pick me up and give me a laugh, while classic anime is my favorite way to fall deep into a good story. When I’m in the middle of studying for three finals and buried in the throes of nervous worry, I know I can put on an episode of “House” or a “Bon Appetit” cooking video. They distract me from the world around and the pressure I put on myself as a student. They place me into a world of characters I already know I love and proceed to distract me with jargon I’ll likely never put to good use. I’m not the only one that finds joy in the simple pleasures of pop culture.
Michal Pate, a nuclear science graduate student and friend of mine, says one of his favorite ways to relax after a long week is to listen to tons of 80s pop classics. Anything from the Billy Idol to David Bowie works. The reason he says this works so well to relieve stress is that he was taught to love all these classics by his mother and still connects with that music today. It’s pretty easy to relax when you hear the soft sounds of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears. Or you can jam out to one of my personal favorites, “In the Air Tonight” from Phil Collins. Music is easily one of the main ways we detach ourselves from the chaos around us and sink into a comfy state of bliss brought about by Duran Duran and Eagles.
Chris Rogers, a computer programmer here in College Station, told me that nothing puts his mind at ease like sitting on the couch after a week of work and putting on an eclectic playlist of good YouTube videos. Now, this I related to because who among us doesn’t have a few channels they can reliably turn to for short-form entertainment. He says that a combination of Twitch streams, “Primitive Technology” tutorials and music videos is the perfect way he zones out and sees the worries of the world fade away. Anyone who’s seen the non-speaking gentleman from “Primitive Technology” knows exactly the strange peace he puts his viewers into regardless of what he is building.
Consider what you would put into this category. The trick is not to feel like you’re trying to impress anyone. So much of what we consume in pop culture is intended in some part to better ourselves. We want to either learn something or familiarize ourselves with a piece of pop culture we feel is important not to miss out. This exercise can often prove incredibly valuable and satisfying. Take for example when you watch a black and white classic film and realize just why it’s considered a masterpiece. The same goes for the perspective gained when you willingly read a book that others might get assigned in class and understand how it came to be so important. The idea of Pop Culture Comfort Food is to identify those books, movies and television shows you turn to time after time for real joy and comfort.
Don’t feel ashamed for watching “Bachelor in Paradise” each week or putting on the tenth episode of “House Hunters” in a row. These pieces of pop culture are just as valuable as any other because they help you relax and remember that the world is vast. So much of it is devoid of the cutthroat politics and cynical arguments made every day on the news. We work hard to be informed citizens, and we deserve to take a welcome break every once in a while.