Popular culture is generally recognized by members of a society as a set of the practices, beliefs, and objects that are dominant or prevalent in a society at a given point in time. Popular culture also encompasses the activities and feelings produced as a result of interaction with these dominant objects. Heavily influenced in modern times by mass media, this collection of ideas permeates the everyday lives of people in a given society. Therefore, popular culture has a way of influencing an individual's attitudes towards certain topics. However, there are various ways to define pop culture. Because of this, popular culture is something that can be defined in a variety of conflicting ways by different people across different contexts. It is generally viewed in contrast to other forms of culture such as folk culture, working-class culture, or high culture, and also through different theoretical perspectives such as psychoanalysis, structuralism, postmodernism, and more. The most common pop-culture categories are: entertainment, sports, news, politics, fashion, technology, and slang.
Popular culture in the West has been critiqued for its being a system of commercialism that privileges products selected and mass-marketed by the upper-class capitalist elite; such criticisms are most notable in many Marxist theorists such as Marcuse, Adorno, Horkheimer, Gramsci, Debord, Jameson, Eagleton, as well as certain postmodern philosophers such as Lyotard, who has written about the commercialisation of information under capitalism, and Baudrillard, as well as others.
HistoryThe term "popular culture" was coined in the 19th century or earlier. Traditionally, popular culture was associated with poor education and with the lower classes, as opposed to the "official culture" and higher education of the upper classes.
Victorian-era With the rise of the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Britain experienced social changes that resulted in increased literacy rates, and with the rise of capitalism and industrialization, people began to spend more money on entertainment, like the commercial idea of pubs and sports. Reading also gained traction. Labelling penny dreadfuls the Victorian equivalent of video games, The Guardian in 2016 described penny fiction as "Britain's first taste of mass-produced popular culture for the young". A growing consumer culture and an increased capacity for travel via the newly invented railway created both a market for cheap popular literature, and the ability for its distribution on a large scale. The first penny serials were published in the 1830s to meet the growing demand.
The stress in the distinction from "official culture" became more pronounced towards the end of the 19th century, a usage that became established by the interbellum period.
From the end of World War II, following major cultural and social changes brought by mass media innovations, the meaning of popular culture began to overlap with those of mass culture, media culture, image culture, consumer culture, and culture for mass consumption.
The abbreviated form "pop" for popular, as in pop music, dates from the late 1950s. Although terms "pop" and "popular" are in some cases used interchangeably, and their meaning partially overlap, the term "pop" is narrower. Pop is specific of something containing qualities of mass appeal, while "popular" refers to what has gained popularity, regardless of its style.
DefinitionAccording to author John Storey, there are various definitions of popular culture. The quantitative definition of culture has the problem that much "high culture" is also "popular." "Pop culture" is also defined as the culture that is "leftover" when we have decided what high culture is. However, many works straddle the boundaries, e.g., William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, and George Orwell.
A third definition equates pop culture with "mass culture" and ideas. This is seen as a commercial culture, mass-produced for mass consumption by mass media. 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 as there are many ways of defining the "people." Storey argued 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."
Baudrillard argued that the vague conception “Public Opinion” is a subjective and inaccurate illusion which is more complicit in populism rather than in factuality, for it attributes a sovereignty to consumers that they do not really possess.
Storey claims that popular culture emerged from the urbanization of the Industrial Revolution. Studies of Shakespeare locate much of the characteristic vitality of his drama in its participation in Renaissance popular culture, while contemporary practitioners like Dario Fo and John McGrath use popular culture in its Gramscian sense that includes ancient folk traditions.
Popular culture is constantly evolving and occurs uniquely in place and time. 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, a subculture, representing perspectives with which the mainstream popular culture has only limited familiarity. Items of popular culture most typically appeal to a broad spectrum of the public. Important contemporary contributions for understanding what popular culture means have been given by the German researcher Ronald Daus, who studies the impact of extra-European cultures in North America, Asia, and especially in Latin America.
LevelsWithin the realm of popular culture, there exists an organizational culture. From its beginning, popular culture has revolved around classes in society and the push-back between them. Within popular culture, there are three levels that have emerged, high and low. High culture can be described as art and works considered of superior value, historically, aesthetically and socially. Low culture is regarded by some as that of the lower classes, historically.
FolkloreAdaptations based on traditional folklore 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 jokes or urban legends. With the widespread use of the Internet 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 element, communities amongst the public have their own tastes and they may not always embrace every cultural or subcultural item sold. Moreover, certain beliefs and opinions about the products of commercial culture may spread by word-of-mouth, and become modified in the process and in the same manner that folklore evolves.
The Culture IndustryThe most influential critiques of popular culture came from Marxist theorists of the Frankfurt School during the twentieth century. Adorno and Horkheimer analysed the dangers of the culture industry in their influential work the Dialectic of Enlightenment by drawing upon the works of Kant, Marx, Nietzsche and others. Capitalist popular culture, as Adorno argued, was not an authentic culture of the people but a system of homogenous and standardised artworks produced in the service of capitalist domination by the elite. The consumer demand for Hollywood films, pop tunes and consumable books is encouraged by the hegemony of the corporate elite who control the media and the corporations. Adorno wrote, “The industry bows to the vote it has itself rigged”. It is the elite who commodify products in accordance with their narrow ideological values and criteria, and Adorno argues that the audience becomes accustomed to these formulaic conventions, making intellectual contemplation impossible. Adorno's work has had a considerable influence on culture studies, philosophy and the New Left. Writing in the New Yorker in 2014, music critic Alex Ross, argued that Adorno's work has a renewed importance in the digital age: "The pop hegemony is all but complete, its superstars dominating the media and wielding the economic might of tycoons...Culture appears more monolithic than ever, with a few gigantic corporations—Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon—presiding over unprecedented monopolies.".
Scholar Jack Zipes critiqued the mass commercialisation and corporate hegemony behind the Harry Potter franchise. He argued that the commodities of the culture industry are “popular” because they are homogenous and obey standard conventions; the media then influences the tastes of children. In his analysis of Harry Potter's global brand, Zipes wrote, “It must conform to the standards of exception set by the mass media and promoted by the culture industry in general. To be a phenomenon means that a person or commodity must conform to the hegemonic groups that determine what makes up a phenomenon ”.
Propagandaand Noam Chomsky critiqued the mass media in their 1988 work. They argue that mass media is controlled by a powerful hegemonic elite who are motivated by their own interests that determine and manipulate what information is present in the mainstream. The mass media is therefore a system of propaganda.
ConsumerismAccording to the postmodern sociologist Baudrillard, the individual is trained into the duty of seeking the relentless maximisation of pleasure lest he or she become asocial. Therefore, “enjoyment” and “fun” become indistinguishable from the need to consume. Whereas the Frankfurt School believed consumers were passive, Baudrillard argued that consumers were trained to consume products in a form of active labour in order to achieve upward social mobility. Thus, consumers under capitalism are trained to purchase products such as pop albums and consumable fiction in order to signal their devotion to social trends, fashions and subcultures. Although the consumption may arise from an active choice, the choice is still the consequence of a social conditioning which the individual is unconscious of. Baudrillard says, “One is permanently governed by a code whose rules and meaning-constraints — like those of language — are, for the most part, beyond the grasp of individuals”.
In Baudrillard's understanding, the products of capitalist popular culture can only give the illusion of rebellion, since they are still complicit in a system controlled by the powerful. Baudrillard stated in an interview:
Print cultureWith the invention of the printing press in the sixteenth century, mass-produced, cheap books became widely available to the public. With this, the transmission of common knowledge and ideas was possible.
Radio cultureIn the 1890s, Nikola Tesla and Guglielmo Marconi created the radiotelegraph, allowing for the modern radio to be born. This led to the radio being able to influence a more "listened-to" culture, with individuals being able to feel like they have a more direct impact. This radio culture is vital, because it was imperative to advertising, and it introduced the commercial.
FilmsFilms and cinema are highly influential to popular culture, as films as an art form are what people seem to respond to the most. With moving pictures being first captured by Eadweard Muybridge in 1877, films have evolved into elements that can be cast into different digital formats, spreading to different cultures. Films started massive popular culture.television program is a segment of audiovisual content intended for broadcast.
Television programs may be fictional, or non-fictional. They may be topical, or historical. They can be primarily instructional or educational, or entertaining as is the case in situation comedy and game shows.