Does popular mean? Is it selling records? Getting YouTube views? Is it being a part of the conversation? It is bad, or is it good?

The problem with popularity is that it is all of these things, and the New York Times are currently trying to get down to the bottom of the idea. It’s all part of their new buzz dubbed “the Culture Package,” and they’re taking a look at the “Driving forces of pop culture.” Vi the introduction:

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. For example: “NCIS,” the naval-police procedural, is the highest-rated non-football program on television, routinely drawing 17 million viewers a week. By a straightforward accounting, that makes it the most popular show on TV. Yet by a different definition — the extent to which, say, a show saturates the cultural conversation — you could make a case for “Mad Men” as TV’s most popular show, even though it draws only 2.5 million viewers. Or “Girls,” which draws a paltry 615,000 viewers a week but sometimes feels as if it has generated at least as many essays. By one measure, no one watches “Girls.” By another, it’s fantastically popular.

After pontificating on popularity, the package explores various modern pop culture establishments, including TV’s “Duck Dynasty,” Taylor Swift and the most pirated movie. Check out the full package via their interactive webpage.

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