How To Find Opportunities to Use Pop Culture

If you work on efforts that dominate the news at certain times, it’s easy to find jumping off points in popular media (think #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, etc.). But in most cases, it takes a bit more digging.  Here are some pointers to help you get started:


  • Talk to your people.
    This includes staff, volunteers, members, partners, social media followers, friends and family, particularly people who think about and care about your issues as deeply as you do. Chances are they notice when these topics come up in entertainment. For example, if sexual health is a focus of your work, your colleagues can probably tell you when they’ve seen shows, like “Master of None,” that feature safe sex storylines. If you work on juvenile justice, your staff is probably full of people who have strong opinions about which procedurals do a good job of portraying the legal system or which characters on certain shows represent your issues well. It’s important to ask a diverse population about its pop culture consumption, because there’s a lot of entertainment out there and no one can watch it all.


  • Search online.
    A simple Google search, such as “TV shows about government corruption,” will yield numerous results, some of which will be relevant to your particular focus. But even if shows don’t exactly hit the mark, they can still provide windows of opportunity. For example, “This Is Us” tells a very specific story about transracial adoption. If this is adjacent to your areas of interest (like adoption from China or foster care adoption), you can still take advantage of the opening a hit show provides.
  • Set Google alerts.
    You probably do this already for media coverage of your areas of interest, but set a separate alert for your issue plus the word “television” or “movie” so that you’ll get a heads-up when shows or films are focused on the things you care about.


  • Follow the shows and players on social media.
    In addition to keeping up with scholars and policy experts who talk about your issues on Twitter, follow the films, shows, writers, producers and actors on programs that touch on your areas of focus. For example, if you work on legal issues, follow the very active Twitter accounts of shows like “How to Get Away With Murder,” “This Is Us” and “Black-Ish” as well as the shows’ writers room (yes, they have their own Twitter) and the head writer or show creator.  Again, a little online research can help you figure out who’s active in social media. For shows with an active Twitter following, keeping pace with their feed and hashtags during the live airing of the program is also a good idea. This will help you see how fans are reacting to specific storylines and which issues within a show are resonating with viewers. If your show doesn’t air live and is instead a streaming-only program, pay attention to scheduling so you can follow related social media activity around release dates and finales. Notice the shows and movies that are generating off the entertainment news coverage. “Handmaid’s Tale” and “Big Little Lies” generated conversations about feminism and women’s role in society. “Brooklyn 99” introduced a bisexual character. “The Good Place” actor Bambadjan Bamba revealed his status as an undocumented immigrant and partnered with Define American for a campaign encouraging fans and followers to support the DACA program. These are all opportunities to take advantage of if these are your issues.


  • Pay attention to culture writers and others who cover entertainment.
    Don’t skip over the arts pages in the paper or the entertainment articles on your favorite websites. There’s a lot of smart, insightful writing and podcasting about entertainment these days, and it’s worth seeking it out to learn more about trends, controversies and what’s popular. We recommend NPR’s “Pop Culture Happy Hour”, Vulture, Vox and The Atlantic to get started.



  • Pay attention to awards season, film festivals and local screenings.
    Between January and March, there are about a dozen entertainment awards shows, including the Golden Globes, the NAACP Image Awards, the Screen Actors Guild, Critics Choice, the Grammys, the Independent Spirit Awards and the Oscars. This creates a lot of coverage and excitement – something you can capitalize on if your issues are in any way represented by the nominees. It’s also smart to keep your eyes on the film festival circuit to see if any films emerge that are relevant to the issues you care about. Sundance, Cannes and the Toronto Film Festival are the most well-known, but actually thousands of film festivals take place every year, perhaps even some near you.


  • Know which celebrities have a connection to your issue.
    Again, a simple Google search such as “celebrities who care about refugees” or “celebrities who were once homeless” or “celebrities who were bullied as children” will bring interesting results and give you a sense of who is active on your issue.