There is an assumption about popular culture as ‘mindless’, which begs the question – then why is pop culture so widely consumed and enjoyed? After all, popular culture is a massive industry that depends on the talents of artists, musicians, actors, writers, poets, directors, photographers, speakers, voice artists, puppeteers, dancers, etc., to even exist in the first place. Its basis on human creativity and its connection to (influenced by and influencing) society make it a valuable field of study. Not to forget the massive appeal that it has – further boosted after the internet came into being.
The pop culture industry is always aware of society’s values, norms, perceptions, preferences and stereotypes – as well as the change in them, and adapts itself accordingly. Where its benefits as a medium of communication are concerned, it’s various forms such as music, books and movies are what people spend most of their time consuming. If they’re lucky, they also get to spend the time allotted to working hours studying, consuming and creating these forms as well. Combined with mass media, the internet and social media as its primary delivery channel – the flow of communication between popular culture and audiences is almost unstoppable.
There is scope for feminist pop culture to hit back against patriarchal pop culture.
Given its deep connection to society – popular culture also portrays and glorifies patriarchy, caste, capitalism, toxic masculinity and heteronormativity. A chest-thumping male chauvinist film like Kabir Singh generated hundreds of crores – where makers were sure that in a patriarchal society, violence against women can be made fashionable in the garb of ‘true love’. What’s more, a humongous profit can be generated from this barbaric act. For benefit where its due – the critical backlash against Kabir Singh and its glorification of toxic masculinity was long needed.
But this is a dynamic culture, where there is scope for feminist pop culture to hit back against patriarchal pop culture – wherein films like Queen and Kahaani are widely enjoyed, and repeatedly so. Another example could be films like Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman, normalising the idea of women taking the lead in action cinema. As such, feminism was carried forward outside the activist and academic circles.
At Breakthrough, we prioritise challenging gender norms – and to get there we begin with questioning patriarchal culture and making it unacceptable. Through cultural mediums and by contributing to pop culture – the narratives and flows in dialogues change. For example – working-class women, men, local authorities, etc., speaking up to challenge the patriarchal customs in their area. The expectation is that the latter will encourage patriarchal norms or stay silent – but with the reversal in this assumption, there is scope for more and more stakeholders and audiences to get intrigued, sit up and listen.
Looking back on Breakthrough’s twenty-year-old journey, here are five examples of Breakthrough harnessing the force-to-be-reckoned-with that is pop culture to address a wide number of topics such as domestic violence, bystander intervention, girl’s education, sanitation facilities for women and married couples sharing the workload at home.
1) Mann Ke Manjeere
Where it all began – and based on the true story of the first women truck driver in India, Shameem Pathan. In the process of sustained efforts to make people pay attention to and take action against violence against women and girls – the track ‘Mann Ke Manjeere’ was made and Breakthrough, as we know it, came into being. The song establishes that women are people first, with their own aspirations and dreams.
2) Bell Bajao
The timeless question – what can WE do about it? Those who do want to make a positive change and want to intervene should they come across incidents of violence against women, often find themselves deterred by a fear of aggressive backlash. Fortunately, Breakthrough’s Bell Bajao campaign had a very precise answer and a universal ask to solve this dilemma.
3) Rashmi Matric Pass
This video is the story of Rashmi who dreams of being a matric pass, though the people in her village actively discourage her from having such high hopes to the point of leaving her in a despondent state. But her father happens to be a person who dares to be different, defies patriarchal norms and encourages his daughter to aim for the stars.
4) Washroom anthem
Among many factors, the lack of safe access to washrooms and sanitation facilities is a crucial barrier preventing women from stepping into workspaces and public spaces. In collaboration with Azad Foundation and a spin on the Queen classic ‘We Will Rock You’, Sakha cab drivers put forward their demands for washrooms through a power-packed medium of song and dance.
5) Laal Laal Akhiyon
A woman and her husband both work long and tiring hours. So why does the burden of domestic work such as cooking and cleaning only fall on her, while the husband gets to stretch his legs and enjoy a cricket match? In this track, she has decided enough is enough and cajoles her husband into sharing the double burden of work with her.