This Made Me: How Pop Culture Has Shaped Our Lives

Introducing a new HuffPost series on the pop culture that unlocked something in us, helped us fit in, taught us something or became an entry point to something bigger.
Illustration: Ivylise Simones/HuffPost; Photos: Getty/Everett/Netflix

Building my pop culture knowledge has been an integral part of my life — first as a pop culture obsessive, and now as a culture reporter and writer. But at some point in my adolescence, it also unwittingly became a way of writing my own primer to life in America.

As a child of immigrants, pop culture more or less helped me teach myself American culture since I didn’t have existing reference points from my parents. There are still lots of gaps in my knowledge: references I have to look up, work I’m not familiar with because it predated me and wasn’t something my parents would have known about because they didn’t grow up here. Watching movies and television, reading books and listening to music were like steps toward assembling an identity for myself. I was putting together some building blocks to understand a culture unfamiliar to me and my parents.

I thought I was alone with this approach. But over the years, I’ve seen that it’s a common experience for many immigrants and their children. For instance, when actor and comedian Bob Saget died earlier this year, I spoke to a range of immigrants and children of immigrants about how his work on “Full House” and “America’s Funniest Home Videos” — two ubiquitous and widely appealing shows of the 1980s and 1990s — were formative for them. (And somehow, the story I wrote ended up in John Stamos’ eulogy for his dear friend and colleague.)

All of that got me thinking about how lots of us have a story to tell about a movie, TV show, book, song, artist or album that unlocked something in us, helped us fit in, taught us something or became an entry point to something bigger. Maybe it was something we consciously sought out, or maybe it was simply whatever was available to us. Maybe it was something that, upon reflection in adulthood, we realize was imperfect or deeply flawed. Maybe it was something we haven’t thought about in a long time, something buried deep in the recesses of our minds. Or maybe it was something that still plays on a loop in our heads, making us wonder: “Do other people think about this too?”

Those are some of the big questions and ideas behind This Made Me, a new HuffPost series featuring a variety of pieces about the pop culture that shaped our identities and served as our guides and companions. In this first batch of stories, I excavate my own upbringing as a child of immigrants who had to teach myself pop culture, HuffPost editor Jillian Capewell explores the fanatical impact of “TRL” on her preteen days, writer Joshua Mackey pays tribute to Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin’ Bout You,” and HuffPost producer Ellen Lee talks to Korean American families who have united through their love of BTS.

This Made Me will continue over the next few months, with essays, Q&As and features about formative pop culture. Go ahead, hit play.