When ‘popular’is a way to hide things in plain sight.

Pop music, or popular music, was at least broad in its appeal and verified by sales, hence the ‘Top 40’ charts which showed that certain songs were indeed popular. When I was at school certain peers were said to be popular, which meant that they were well liked, and attested by the number of friends and positive relationships they had.

The word popular now means more than accepted or well liked.

The ‘popular vote’, ‘popular cause’, ‘popular religion’, or ‘popular culture’, are phrases that are no longer used to describe a thing, process or person which is well liked, but rather to hide the fact that the opposite is true. Philosopher Pierre Bourdieu puts it this way: “The idioms that include the magic epithet “popular” are protected from scrutiny by the fact that all critical analysis of a notion touching closely or distantly on the “people” is subject immediately to being identified as a symbolic aggression against the reality so identified …” (P. Bourdieu ‘You Said Popular?’ in, Alain Badiou et al, What is a People? New York, Columbia University Press, 2013, p. 33.

So, if you want to protect a cause or course of action, simply call it popular and it becomes impregnable. The use of ‘popular’ buries the truth of what is claimed. It is emerging in the U.K. that the Brexit vote may well not be ‘popular’ after all. And in the U.S. is Trump really ‘popular’? Perhaps ‘when I was at school’ has coloured the meaning, it meant that someone was naturally drawn to you without any inducement or requirement. In Trump’s case, my definition disqualifies him from ‘popular vote’ as he induced, coerced the vote (I note that he is now dropping key policies that won him the election). In Trump’s case ‘popular’ is hollow, a lie.

‘Popular’ is a bulwark against criticism, and a justification of unpopular. As Bourdieu says, criticism is a symbolic aggression against that which is deemed ‘popular’ which leads to shutting down the voices of dissent. I sometime wonder if I’m living inside Orwells ‘1984.’ In the case of Trump, or Brexit, the lies are hidden in plain sight, protected by being ‘popular.’

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