Popular culture

Popular culture

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Popular culture is the totality of idea
Idea
In the most narrow sense, an idea is just whatever is before the mind when one thinks. Very often, ideas are construed as representational images; i.e. images of some object. In other contexts, ideas are taken to be concepts, although abstract concepts do not necessarily appear as images...

s, perspective
Perspective (cognitive)
Perspective in theory of cognition is the choice of a context or a reference from which to sense, categorize, measure or codify experience, cohesively forming a coherent belief, typically for comparing with another...

s, attitude
Attitude (psychology)
An attitude is a hypothetical construct that represents an individual's degree of like or dislike for something. Attitudes are generally positive or negative views of a person, place, thing, or event— this is often referred to as the attitude object...

s, meme
Meme
A meme is "an idea, behaviour or style that spreads from person to person within a culture."A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena...

s, image
Image
An image is an artifact, for example a two-dimensional picture, that has a similar appearance to some subject—usually a physical object or a person.-Characteristics:...

s and other phenomena that are deemed preferred per an informal consensus within the mainstream
Mainstream
Mainstream is, generally, the common current thought of the majority. However, the mainstream is far from cohesive; rather the concept is often considered a cultural construct....

 of a given culture
Cultural anthropology
Cultural anthropology is a branch of anthropology focused on the study of cultural variation among humans, collecting data about the impact of global economic and political processes on local cultural realities. Anthropologists use a variety of methods, including participant observation,...

, especially Western culture
Western culture
Western culture, sometimes equated with Western civilization or European civilization, refers to cultures of European origin and is used very broadly to refer to a heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, religious beliefs, political systems, and specific artifacts and...

 of the early to mid 20th century and the emerging global
Globalization
Globalization refers to the increasingly global relationships of culture, people and economic activity. Most often, it refers to economics: the global distribution of the production of goods and services, through reduction of barriers to international trade such as tariffs, export fees, and import...

 mainstream of the late 20th and early 21st century. Heavily influenced by mass media
Mass media
Mass media refers collectively to all media technologies which are intended to reach a large audience via mass communication. Broadcast media transmit their information electronically and comprise of television, film and radio, movies, CDs, DVDs and some other gadgets like cameras or video consoles...

, this collection of ideas permeates the everyday lives
Everyday Life
Everyday Life is the first solo album made by Life MC of the British Hip Hop group Phi Life Cypher....

 of the society
Society
A society, or a human society, is a group of people related to each other through persistent relations, or a large social grouping sharing the same geographical or virtual territory, subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations...

.

Popular culture is often viewed as being trivial and dumbed-down
Dumbing down
Dumbing down is a pejorative term for a perceived trend to lower the intellectual content of literature, education, news, and other aspects of culture...

 in order to find consensual acceptance throughout the mainstream. As a result, it comes under heavy criticism from various non-mainstream sources (most notably religious groups and countercultural groups) which deem it superficial
Superficial
Superficial may refer to:*Superficial , an album by Heidi Montag*"Superficial" *The Superficial, a website devoted to celebrity gossip...

, consumerist, sensationalist, and corrupted.

The term "popular culture" was coined in the 19th century or earlier to refer to the education and general "culturedness" of the lower classes, as was delivered in an address at the Birmingham Town Hall
Birmingham Town Hall
Birmingham Town Hall is a Grade I listed concert and meeting venue in Victoria Square, Birmingham, England. It was created as a home for the Birmingham Triennial Music Festival established in 1784, the purpose of which was to raise funds for the General Hospital, after St Philip's Church became...

, England. The term began to assume the meaning of a culture of the lower classes separate from (and sometimes opposed) to "true education" towards the end of the century, a usage that became established by the interbellum period. The current meaning of the term, culture for mass consumption, especially originating in the United States, is established by the end of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. The abbreviated form "pop culture" dates to the 1960s.

Definitions



There are multiple competing definitions of popular culture. John Storey, in Cultural Theory and Popular Culture, discusses six definitions. The quantitative
Quantitative property
A quantitative property is one that exists in a range of magnitudes, and can therefore be measured with a number. Measurements of any particular quantitative property are expressed as a specific quantity, referred to as a unit, multiplied by a number. Examples of physical quantities are distance,...

 definition of culture has the problem that much "high culture
High culture
High culture is a term, now used in a number of different ways in academic discourse, whose most common meaning is the set of cultural products, mainly in the arts, held in the highest esteem by a culture...

" (e.g. television
Television
Television is a telecommunication medium for transmitting and receiving moving images that can be monochrome or colored, with accompanying sound...

 dramatizations of Jane Austen
Jane Austen
Jane Austen was an English novelist whose works of romantic fiction, set among the landed gentry, earned her a place as one of the most widely read writers in English literature, her realism and biting social commentary cementing her historical importance among scholars and critics.Austen lived...

) is widely favoured. "Pop culture" is also defined as the culture that is "left over" when we have decided what high culture is. However, many works straddle or cross the boundaries, e.g. Shakespeare and Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens
Charles John Huffam Dickens was an English novelist, generally considered the greatest of the Victorian period. Dickens enjoyed a wider popularity and fame than had any previous author during his lifetime, and he remains popular, having been responsible for some of English literature's most iconic...

.

A third definition equates pop culture with Mass
Common People
"Common People" is a song by English alternative rock band Pulp. It was released as a single in 1995, reaching number two on the UK singles chart. It also appears on the band's 1995 album Different Class. The song is about those who were perceived by the songwriter as wanting to be "like common...

 Culture. This is seen as a commercial culture, mass produced for mass consumption. From a Western European perspective, this may be compared to American culture. Alternatively, "pop culture" can be defined as an "authentic" culture of the people, but this can be problematic because there are many ways of defining the "people". Storey argues that there is a political dimension to popular culture; neo-Gramscian hegemony theory "... sees popular culture as a site of struggle between the 'resistance' of subordinate groups in society and the forces of 'incorporation' operating in the interests of dominant groups in society." A postmodernist approach to popular culture would "no longer recognize the distinction between high and popular culture".

Storey emphasizes that popular culture emerges from the urbanization of the industrial revolution, which identifies the term with the usual definitions of 'mass culture'. Studies of Shakespeare (by Weimann, Barber or Bristol, for example) locate much of the characteristic vitality of his drama in its participation in Renaissance
Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

 popular culture, while contemporary practitioners like Dario Fo
Dario Fo
Dario Fo is an Italian satirist, playwright, theater director, actor and composer. His dramatic work employs comedic methods of the ancient Italian commedia dell'arte, a theatrical style popular with the working classes. He currently owns and operates a theatre company with his wife, actress...

 and John McGrath use popular culture in its Gramscian sense that includes ancient folk traditions (the commedia dell'arte
Commedia dell'arte
Commedia dell'arte is a form of theatre characterized by masked "types" which began in Italy in the 16th century, and was responsible for the advent of the actress and improvised performances based on sketches or scenarios. The closest translation of the name is "comedy of craft"; it is shortened...

 for example).

Popular culture changes constantly and occurs uniquely in place and time
Time
Time is a part of the measuring system used to sequence events, to compare the durations of events and the intervals between them, and to quantify rates of change such as the motions of objects....

. It forms currents and eddies, and represents a complex of mutually interdependent perspectives and values that influence society and its institutions in various ways. For example, certain currents of pop culture may originate from, (or diverge into) a subculture
Subculture
In sociology, anthropology and cultural studies, a subculture is a group of people with a culture which differentiates them from the larger culture to which they belong.- Definition :...

, representing perspectives with which the mainstream
Mainstream
Mainstream is, generally, the common current thought of the majority. However, the mainstream is far from cohesive; rather the concept is often considered a cultural construct....

 popular culture has only limited familiarity. Items of popular culture most typically appeal to a broad spectrum of the public
Public
In public relations and communication science, publics are groups of individuals, and the public is the totality of such groupings. This is a different concept to the sociological concept of the Öffentlichkeit or public sphere. The concept of a public has also been defined in political science,...

.

Institutional propagation


The news media
News media
The news media are those elements of the mass media that focus on delivering news to the general public or a target public.These include print media , broadcast news , and more recently the Internet .-Etymology:A medium is a carrier of something...

 mines the work of scientist
Scientist
A scientist in a broad sense is one engaging in a systematic activity to acquire knowledge. In a more restricted sense, a scientist is an individual who uses the scientific method. The person may be an expert in one or more areas of science. This article focuses on the more restricted use of the word...

s and scholars and conveys it to the general public
General Public
General Public were a band formed by The Beat vocalists, Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger, and which included former members of Dexy's Midnight Runners, The Specials and The Clash...

, often emphasizing elements that have inherent appeal or the power to amaze. For instance, giant panda
Giant Panda
The giant panda, or panda is a bear native to central-western and south western China. It is easily recognized by its large, distinctive black patches around the eyes, over the ears, and across its round body. Though it belongs to the order Carnivora, the panda's diet is 99% bamboo...

s (a species in remote Chinese woodlands) have become well-known items of popular culture; parasitic worms
Intestinal parasite
Intestinal parasites are parasites that populate the gastro-intestinal tract in humans and other animals. They can live throughout the body, but most prefer the intestinal wall. Means of exposure include: ingestion of undercooked meat, drinking infected water, and skin absorption...

, though of greater practical importance, have not. Both scholarly facts and news stories get modified through popular transmission, often to the point of outright falsehoods.

Hannah Arendt
Hannah Arendt
Hannah Arendt was a German American political theorist. She has often been described as a philosopher, although she refused that label on the grounds that philosophy is concerned with "man in the singular." She described herself instead as a political theorist because her work centers on the fact...

's 1961 essay "The Crisis in Culture" suggested that a "market-driven media would lead to the displacement of culture by the dictates of entertainment." Susan Sontag
Susan Sontag
Susan Sontag was an American author, literary theorist, feminist and political activist whose works include On Photography and Against Interpretation.-Life:...

 argues that in our culture, the most "...intelligible, persuasive values are [increasingly] drawn from the entertainment industries", which is "undermining of standards of seriousness." As a result, "tepid, the glib, and the senselessly cruel" topics are becoming the norm.
Some critics argue that popular culture is “dumbing down”: "newspapers that once ran foreign news now feature celebrity gossip, pictures of scantily dressed young ladies... television has replaced high-quality drama with gardening, cookery, and other “lifestyle” programmes [and] reality TV and asinine soaps," to the point that people are constantly immersed in trivia about celebrity culture
Celebrity culture
A celebrity culture is the structure that influences those deemed to be celebrities.-Brief history of celebrity culture:Any medium can be viewed as a vehicle for creating a celebrity culture. The famous religious books of the world's faiths are replete with examples of individuals who are well...

.

In Rosenberg and White's book Mass Culture, MacDonald argues that "Popular culture is a debased, trivial culture that voids both the deep realities (sex
Sex
In biology, sex is a process of combining and mixing genetic traits, often resulting in the specialization of organisms into a male or female variety . Sexual reproduction involves combining specialized cells to form offspring that inherit traits from both parents...

, death
Death
Death is the permanent termination of the biological functions that sustain a living organism. Phenomena which commonly bring about death include old age, predation, malnutrition, disease, and accidents or trauma resulting in terminal injury....

, failure
Failure
Failure refers to the state or condition of not meeting a desirable or intended objective, and may be viewed as the opposite of success. Product failure ranges from failure to sell the product to fracture of the product, in the worst cases leading to personal injury, the province of forensic...

, tragedy
Tragedy
Tragedy is a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure. While most cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, tragedy refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role historically in the self-definition of...

) and also the simple spontaneous pleasures... The masses, debauched by several generations of this sort of thing, in turn come to demand trivial and comfortable cultural products." Van den Haag argues that "all mass media in the end alienate people from personal experience and though appearing to offset it, intensify their moral isolation from each other, from the reality and from themselves."

Critics have lamented the "replacement of high art and authentic folk culture by tasteless industrialised artefacts produced on a mass scale in order to satisfy the lowest common denominator." This "mass culture emerged after the Second World War and have led to the concentration of mass-culture power in ever larger global media conglomerates." The popular press decreased the amount of news or information and replaced it with entertainment or titillation that reinforces "fears, prejudice, scapegoating processes, paranoia, and aggression."

Critics of television and film have argued that the quality of TV output has been diluted as stations pursue ratings by focusing on the "glitzy, the superficial, and the popular". In film, "Hollywood culture and values" are increasingly dominating film production in other countries. Hollywood films have changed from creating formulaic films which emphasize "shock-value and superficial thrill[s]" and the use of special effects, with themes that focus on the "basic instincts of aggression, revenge, violence, [and] greed." The plots "often seem simplistic, a standardized template taken from the shelf, and dialogue is minimal." The "characters are shallow and unconvincing, the dialogue is also simple, unreal, and badly constructed."

Folklore


Adaptations based on traditional folklore
Folklore
Folklore consists of legends, music, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, fairy tales and customs that are the traditions of a culture, subculture, or group. It is also the set of practices through which those expressive genres are shared. The study of folklore is sometimes called...

 provide a source of popular culture. This early layer of cultural mainstream still persists today, in a form separate from mass-produced popular culture, propagating by word of mouth rather than via mass media, e.g. in the form of joke
Joke
A joke is a phrase or a paragraph with a humorous twist. It can be in many different forms, such as a question or short story. To achieve this end, jokes may employ irony, sarcasm, word play and other devices...

s or urban legend
Urban legend
An urban legend, urban myth, urban tale, or contemporary legend, is a form of modern folklore consisting of stories that may or may not have been believed by their tellers to be true...

. With the widespread use of the Internet
Internet
The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet protocol suite to serve billions of users worldwide...

 from the 1990s, the distinction between mass media and word-of-mouth has become blurred.

Although the folkloric element of popular culture engages heavily with the commercial
Commerce
While business refers to the value-creating activities of an organization for profit, commerce means the whole system of an economy that constitutes an environment for business. The system includes legal, economic, political, social, cultural, and technological systems that are in operation in any...

 element, the public has its own tastes and it may not embrace every cultural item sold. Moreover, beliefs and opinions about the products of commercial culture spread by word-of-mouth
Word of mouth
Word of mouth, or viva voce, is the passing of information from person to person by oral communication. Storytelling is the oldest form of word-of-mouth communication where one person tells others of something, whether a real event or something made up. Oral tradition is cultural material and...

, and become modified in the process in the same manner that folklore evolves.

Self-reference


Owing to the pervasive and increasingly interconnected nature of popular culture, especially its intermingling of complementary distribution sources, some cultural anthropologists, literary, and cultural critics have identified a large amount of intertextuality in popular culture's portrayals of itself. One commentator has suggested this self-referentiality reflects the advancing encroachment of popular culture into every realm of collective experience. "Instead of referring to the real world, much media output devotes itself to referring to other images, other narratives; self-referentiality is all-embracing, although it is rarely taken account of."
Furthermore, the commentary on the intertextuality and its self referential nature has itself become the subject of self referential and recursive commentary.

Many cultural critics have dismissed this as merely a symptom or side-effect of mass consumerism
Consumerism
Consumerism is a social and economic order that is based on the systematic creation and fostering of a desire to purchase goods and services in ever greater amounts. The term is often associated with criticisms of consumption starting with Thorstein Veblen...

; however, alternate explanations and critique have also been offered. One critic asserts that it reflects a fundamental paradox: the increase in technological and cultural sophistication, combined with an increase in superficiality
Superficiality
'The principle of superficiality versus depth' has pervaded Western culture since at least the time of Plato: 'the dialectic of truth and appearance,' as the surface image of the latter 'competes with what Plato designates for us beyond appearance as being the Idea'.21stC urban parlance speaks of...

 and dehumanization.

Long-running television series The Simpsons
The Simpsons
The Simpsons is an American animated sitcom created by Matt Groening for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The series is a satirical parody of a middle class American lifestyle epitomized by its family of the same name, which consists of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie...

routinely alludes to mainstream media properties, as well as the commercial content of the show itself. In the episode "Bart vs. Thanksgiving
Bart vs. Thanksgiving
"Bart vs. Thanksgiving" is the seventh episode of The Simpsons second season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on November 22, 1990. In the episode, Lisa makes a table centerpiece for the Thanksgiving dinner, which Bart destroys. After he is sent to his room by his...

", Bart complains about the crass commercialism of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, often shortened to Macy's Day Parade, is an annual parade presented by Macy's. The tradition started in 1924, tying it for the second-oldest Thanksgiving parade in the United States along with America's Thanksgiving Parade in Detroit, and four years younger than...

 while watching television. When he turns his head away from the television, the screen shows an oversized inflatable balloon of Bart Simpson floating past.
According to television studies scholars specializing in quality television
Quality television
Quality television is a term used by television scholars, television critics, and broadcasting advocacy groups to describe a genre or style of television programming that they argue is of higher quality, due to its subject matter, style, or content...

, such as Kristin Thompson
Kristin Thompson
Kristin Thompson is an American film theorist and author whose research interests include the close formal analysis of films, the history of film styles, and "quality television", a genre akin to art film. She wrote two scholarly books in the 1980s which used an analytical technique called...

, self-referentiality in mainstream American television (especially comedy) reflects and exemplifies the type of progression characterized previously.
Thompson argues shows such as The Simpsons
The Simpsons
The Simpsons is an American animated sitcom created by Matt Groening for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The series is a satirical parody of a middle class American lifestyle epitomized by its family of the same name, which consists of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie...

use a "...flurry of cultural references, intentionally inconsistent characterization, and considerable self-reflexivity about television conventions and the status of the programme as a television show." Extreme examples approach a kind of thematic infinite regress
Infinite regress
An infinite regress in a series of propositions arises if the truth of proposition P1 requires the support of proposition P2, the truth of proposition P2 requires the support of proposition P3, .....

 wherein distinctions between art and life, commerce and critique, ridicule and homage become intractably blurred.

See also

  • Cultural icon
    Cultural icon
    A cultural icon can be a symbol, logo, picture, name, face, person, building or other image that is readily recognized and generally represents an object or concept with great cultural significance to a wide cultural group...

  • Fads
  • High culture
    High culture
    High culture is a term, now used in a number of different ways in academic discourse, whose most common meaning is the set of cultural products, mainly in the arts, held in the highest esteem by a culture...

  • Low culture
    Low culture
    Low culture is a term for some forms of popular culture. Its opposite is high culture. It has been said by culture theorists that both high culture and low culture are subcultures....

  • MTV Generation
    MTV Generation
    The MTV Generation is a term sometimes used to refer to youth of the late 20th century. The term can mean different things to different people, and is sometimes used synonymously with the terms Generation X or Generation Y.- History :...

  • Culture industry
    Culture industry
    Culture industry is a term coined by critical theorists Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer , who argued in the chapter of their book Dialectic of Enlightenment, 'The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception' ; that popular culture is akin to a factory producing standardized cultural goods...

  • Bread and circuses
    Bread and circuses
    "Bread and Circuses" is a metaphor for a superficial means of appeasement...

  • One-Dimensional Man
    One-Dimensional Man
    One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society is a book written by philosopher Herbert Marcuse, first published in 1964....

  • Pop art
    Pop art
    Pop art is an art movement that emerged in the mid 1950s in Britain and in the late 1950s in the United States. Pop art challenged tradition by asserting that an artist's use of the mass-produced visual commodities of popular culture is contiguous with the perspective of fine art...

  • Pop icon
    Pop icon
    A pop icon is a celebrity, character, or object whose exposure in pop culture constitutes a defining characteristic of a given society or era. The categorization is usually associated with elements such as longevity, ubiquity, and distinction. Moreover, "pop icon" status is distinguishable from...

  • Popular culture studies
    Popular culture studies
    Popular culture studies is the academic discipline studying popular culture from a critical theory perspective. It is generally considered as a combination of communication studies and cultural studies....

  • Trash culture
    Trash culture
    Trash culture is a term for some aspects of modern culture in the UK and USA that peaked in the 1990s and 2000s. The term is used for labeling the cultural by-products of modernism with barbarism and injustice.-Overview:...