Why I stopped posting about pop culture amid the war in Gaza

It feels surreal that glitzy, star-studded events are happening live on our Instagram feeds at the same time as the deadly bombings in Palestine

When two worlds collide … Zendaya arrives on the red carpet for the 2024 Met Gala, left, and grieving Palestinian mother Inas Abu Maamar embraces the body of her 5-year-old niece Saly, who was killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza. EPA / Reuters
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I have a very modest but dedicated following on my Instagram account. I’m no influencer, not even close.

I simply appeal to people who find my dedicated observations and commentary on all things pop culture entertaining, if not interesting.

I’m proud of my more than 3,000 followers. I know they don’t engage with me for posting photos of my breakfast, filtered selfies or a sunset with a Rumi quote in the caption. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of these, but for me I’d rather throw my phone off the Burj Khalifa than post a selfie in a dark restaurant with the hashtag #AboutLastNight.

Most of my followers are as preoccupied as I am with topics that on the surface seem trivial, from awkward celebrity interview moments to who is on the cover of which publication. There's also detailed reality TV analysis on my feed. And of course I create my own a memes – it is one of the most powerful tools at my disposal.

At first, it surprised me that so many people were starting to follow me and were sharing their detailed opinions on the topics.

It reaffirmed to me that pop culture isn’t a niche topic reserved for those who are obsessed with celebrity culture. Pop culture is a great cultural equaliser. It’s also very entertaining.

It's particularly exciting to me when some of the celebrities I post about engage with my content. Between Julia Fox, Kim Cattrall and Pamela Anderson watching my stories, to Bravo's Real Housewives stars Kyle Richards and Lisa Rinna commenting and sharing my posts, it was pop culture ecstasy.

But some time towards the end of February my enthusiasm for the topic I’ve been dedicated to since I was a teenager started to wane. By March I stopped posting completely.

“Maan, where are you? Why aren’t you posting?”

I’ve had dozens of messages in my DMs from followers, all of which I wasn’t sure how to respond to.

“More than 34,900 Palestinians have been killed in just five months,” is what I want to write back.

Since Israel’s response to Hamas’s October attack, I've been unable to keep up with the number of civilians that have been injured and displaced. The stories and images that have taken over our newsfeeds are harrowing.

At first, I wanted to believe it was still important to post about pop culture. Why? Because it’s important, I convinced myself. Pop culture is a collection of organic and manufactured narratives that reveal the underlying power structures, moral constructs and philosophical concerns of society.

This is what I told myself. It’s also fun, it makes people happy.

Actress Niecy Nash thanking herself when she won an Emmy was entertaining but also says something about the culture of modesty. Diana Ross as part of Saint Laurent’s latest fashion campaign unveiled stunning photographs and there was a commentary on fashion moving away from youth-centric narratives and embracing age that was waiting to be written. Victoria Beckham admitting that husband David has never seen her without her eyebrows was hilariously out of touch. But there’s also something there about the pressure women face to always appear a certain way.

But for every point I made, for every pop culture moment that was going viral, there were more bombings, more deaths, more disturbing stories.

Just this week my news feed was a mosaic of Met Gala red carpet looks along with images of dying children and bombed-out streets. I wasn’t even sure if these terrifying photos and videos were of the latest attack on Rafah, or from the continuous bombing operation on the rest of Gaza.

It's incredibly surreal, strange, sad and overall nauseating that these two events were happening at the same time. It feels like the world is in a frozen state of cognitive dissonance.

I’ve never been under the delusion that Hollywood, from which most of the pop culture we consume comes, is a magical place. One of the most frustrating truths about it, though, is that it’s a concept riddled with contradictions and false ideals.

It’s always been an exercise of wit and creativity for me to poke fun at it from this perspective.

As a pacifist who is wholly dedicated to all forms of art, it's difficult to reconcile how one can enjoy or even experience pop culture in the midst of preventable man-made violence.

It’s awkward not to acknowledge the immediacy of what is happening and yet while it consumes our newsfeeds, conversations and our reality – as it should – it feels tone deaf and frustrating to take joy on how cringey Drew Barrymore was last week when she asked Kamala Harris to be the “Momala” of the American people.

I’ve pushed pop culture aside for now and focused more on other things that, while not as immediate, have more resonance to help make sense, if any, of what is happening. Novels and art can help navigate the terrain.

Pop culture was always a caricature of reality. However now, its gone beyond that and become completely devoid of reality, not parallel to it, as art (yes, pop culture is a form of art) should be.

My instagram account has been highly entertaining for me and I hope it's the same for those who follow me. I'm not sure what, if anything, I want to do with it now. I just know that I don’t want to be distracted any more or be a distraction from the fact that Palestinians are dying.

Updated: May 10, 2024, 6:02 PM