The overvaluation of popularity


You can’t sit with us.

In one of this generation’s defining films (the satirical “Mean Girls”), popularity is depicted as the peak aspiration of students in high school. Not only is this grossly oversimplified, but it also lends itself to society overvaluing the important of popularity.

Recently, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced the introduction of the category, Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film, to the opposition of most film enthusiasts. Rather than preserving the supposed prestige of the Academy Awards, it is, instead, pandering to general audiences by giving them hope that their favorite blockbuster will show up on awards night. The addition of a “Best Popular Film” category is inherently exclusive, promoting a culture of discrimination and stratification by excluding films that did not necessarily perform well enough at the box office.

This may seem irrelevant to the general public, but the notion of valuing popularity over whether something truly deserves recognition is prevalent in our culture.

During school elections, students may often vote based on popularity rather than merit. Although the most popular candidate may not always win, this trend not only sustains a toxic cultural issue, but also discourages people from working hard and truly earning something. Society’s perpetuation of the false need for popularity is detrimental to the well-being of the population.

Popularity is not inherently bad, and those who are well-liked should not be shamed; many people and things that are popular are deservedly so. It is society’s reaction to popularity that is the problem. Traditionally, being popular means being acknowledged and well-respected. Nevertheless, the perception of popularity has changed over time.

According to the research article, “Understanding Popularity in the Peer System” by Antonius H.N. Cillessen and Amanda J. Rose, those who are perceived as popular are not necessarily the most well liked as the original definition leads people to assume. This differentiation is characterized into two main forms of popularity: sociometric popularity and perceived popularity. Sociometric popularity measures how well an individual is liked and is associated with prosocial behavior (social behavior intended to benefit others). Those with sociometric popularity “display high levels of… cooperative behavior and low levels of aggression,” and are often very successful when working with their fellow peers. On the other hand, perceived popularity describes individuals who are known among their peers as being popular. Those with perceived popularity are “highly socially recognized and frequently emulated but rarely liked”, the type of popularity that is most represented in pop culture.

People should be more aware of the unhealthiness of desiring perceived popularity and, instead, strive for sociometric popularity. Ultimately, if achieving popularity means conforming to social norms and doing things that feel unnatural in order to fit in, then it is not worth it.

By Sarah Aie, Copy editor-in-chief
Editorial cartoon by Amy Lo