Popularity used to be simple. We had the chart-topping song, the top-rated TV show, the No. 1 best seller, the highest-grossing movie of the year. You could define yourself, taste-wise, as either in league with the popular or against it, and while you didn’t have to like what was popular, you certainly were aware of what it was…
Now the concept of cultural popularity has been flayed, hung by its heels and drained of all meaning.
Popularity may not guarantee artistic quality, but it does confer viability. No matter how it’s quantified, popularity ultimately serves as a form of validation, and we all benefit when it’s dispersed more generously…
In fact, the rise of micropopularity implies the opposite: Things that are good are more likely to be recognized and, on some scale, to thrive….
Popularity is not just about making cultural products financially viable; micropopularity encourages creativity in more ephemeral ways as well. Maybe your band is not at the top of any Billboard chart, but if you have 1,000 fans on Facebook, that puts some wind in your artistic sails.
You might not be writing jokes for Jimmy Fallon, but 500 retweets of your best one-liner will keep you dreaming up punch lines. And 50,000 retweets might just get you a job writing jokes for Jimmy Fallon.
As it turns out, cultural popularity functions best when it’s liberally interpreted and freely distributed.