Popular culture is the entirety of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, memes, images, and other phenomena that are within the mainstream of a given culture, especially Western culture of the early to mid 20th century and the emerging global mainstream of the late 20th and early 21st century. Heavily influenced by mass media, this collection of ideas permeates the everyday lives of the society.
Popular culture is often viewed as being trivial and "dumbed down" 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, consumerist, sensationalist, and corrupted.
History and definitions
The term "popular culture" was coined in the 19th century or earlier. Traditionally, the term has denoted the education and general "culturedness" of the lower classes, as opposed to the "official culture" and higher or the education emanated by the dominant classes.
The stress in the distinction from "official culture" became more pronounced towards the end of the 19th century,[need quotation to verify] a usage that became established by the interbellum period.[need quotation to verify]
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. Social and cultural changes in the United States were a pioneer in this with respect to other western countries.
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.
According to John Storey, there are six definitions of popular culture. The quantitative definition of culture has the problem that much "high culture" (e.g., television dramatizations of Jane Austen) is also "popular". "Pop culture" is also defined as the culture that is "left over" when we have decided what high culture is. However, many works straddle the boundaries, e.g., Shakespeare and Charles Dickens.
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.[clarification needed] 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".[page needed] 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".
Storey claims that popular culture emerges from the urbanization of the Industrial Revolution. Studies of Shakespeare (by Weimann, Barber or Bristol, for example) 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 (the commedia dell'arte for example).[need quotation to verify]
Popular culture changes constantly 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, (or diverge into) 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.
Adaptations 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 legend. 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, 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, and become modified in the process in the same manner that folklore evolves.
In popular culture
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; 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 and dehumanization.
The long-running animated television series The Simpsons routinely alludes to mainstream media properties, as well as the commercial content of the show itself. In the episode "Bart vs. Thanksgiving", Bart complains about the crass commercialism of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade 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, such as Kristin Thompson, self-referentiality in mainstream American television (especially comedy) reflects and exemplifies the type of progression characterized previously. Thompson argues shows such as The Simpsons 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 wherein distinctions between art and life, commerce and critique, ridicule and homage become intractably blurred.
- Cultural icon
- High culture
- Low culture
- MTV Generation
- Culture industry
- Bread and circuses
- Pop art
- Pop icon
- Popular culture studies
- Trash culture
- "Memes in popular culture". Oracle Thinkquest. Retrieved October 1, 2010.
- Darrell L. Bock and Daniel B. Wallace. "Rebecca's Reads - Darrell L. Bock & Daniel B. Wallace - Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture's Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ". Rebeccasreads.com. Retrieved 2009-06-21.
- "Calvin College: Calvin News". Calvin.edu. 2001-03-15. Retrieved 2009-06-21.
- "7 Things From Pop Culture That Apparently Piss Jesus Off". Cracked.com. Retrieved 2009-06-21.
- "Book Review- Jesus Made in America – Irish Calvinist". Irishcalvinist.com. 2008-10-14. Retrieved 2009-06-21.
- "Japan’s increasingly superficial pop culture? | Bateszi Anime Blog". Bateszi.animeuknews.net. 2007-01-18. Retrieved 2009-06-21.
- Although the Oxford English Dictionary lists the first use as 1854, it appears in an address by Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi in 1818: Pestalozzi, Johann Heinrich (1818). The Address of Pestalozzi to the British Public. "I see that it is impossible to attain this end without founding the means of popular culture and instruction upon a basis which cannot be got at otherwise than in a profound examination of Man himself; without such an investigation and such a basis all is darkness."
- Per Adam Siljeström, The educational institutions of the United States, their character and organization, J. Chapman, 1853, p. 243: "Influence of European emigration on the state of civilization in the United States: Statistics of popular culture in America". John Morley presented an address On Popular Culture at the Birmingham Town Hall in 1876, dealing with the education of the lower classes.
- Rabelais and Bakhtin: Popular Culture in "Gargantua and Pantagruel" p.13
- Rabelais's Radical Farce p.9
- "Learning is dishonored when she stoops to attract," cited in a section "Popular Culture and True Education" in University extension, Issue 4, The American society for the extension of university teaching, 1894.
- e.g. "the making of popular culture plays [in post-revolutionary Russian theater]", Huntly Carter, The new spirit in the Russian theatre, 1917-28: And a sketch of the Russian kinema and radio, 1919-28, showing the new communal relationship between the three, Ayer Publishing, 1929, p. 166.
- "one look at the sheer mass and volume of what we euphemistically call our popular culture suffices", from Winthrop Sargeant, 'In Defense of the High-Brow', an article from LIFE magazine, 11 April 1949, p. 102.
- The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, volume 15, p.85 entry Pop music
- Steinem, Gloria Outs of pop culture, in LIFE magazine, 20 August 1965, p. 73 quotation:
Pop Culture-although big, mercurial, and slippery to define-is really an umbrella term that covers anything currently in fashion, all or most of whose ingredients are familiar to the public-at-large. The new dances are a perfect example... Pop Art itself may mean little to the average man, but its vocabulary...is always familiar.
- Bill Lamb, "What Is Pop Music? A Definition", About.com, retrieved 8 March 2012 quotation:
It is tempting to confuse pop music with popular music. The New Grove Dictionary Of Music and Musicians, the musicologist's ultimate reference resource, identifies popular music as the music since industrialization in the 1800's that is most in line with the tastes and interests of the urban middle class. This would include an extremely wide range of music from vaudeville and minstrel shows to heavy metal. Pop music, on the other hand, has primarily come into usage to describe music that evolved out of the rock 'n roll revolution of the mid-1950's and continues in a definable path to today.
- John Storey Cultural Theory and Popular Culture, pp.4-8
- Sérgio Campos Gonçalves, “Cultura e Sociedade de Consumo: um olhar em retrospecto”, InRevista - Núcleo de Produção Científica em Comunicação – UNAERP (Ribeirão Preto), v. 3, pp. 18-28, 2008, ISSN 1980-6418.
- Robert Weimann, Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition (1967)
- Robert Shaughnessy, The Cambridge companion to Shakespeare and popular culture (2007) p. 24
- On the Ambiguity of the Three Wise Monkeys A. W. Smith Folklore, Vol. 104, No. 1/2 (1993), pp. 144-150
- McRobbie, Angela (1994). Postmodernism and Popular Culture. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-07712-5. Cultural anthropologist and feminist discourse on cultural studies.
- Dumain, Ralph. "Cultural Sophistication and Self-Reference On American Television". Retrieved 2007-04-22. An essay on self-referentiality and American television.
- She is the author of Storytelling in Film and Television. Her other publications include Storytelling in the New Hollywood: Understanding Classical Narrative Technique (Harvard University Press, November 1999); Breaking the Glass Armor: Neoformalist Film Analysis (Princeton University Press, August 1988); and, as a co-author with David Bordwell; Film Art: An Introduction (McGraw-Hill College, January 2003); Film History: An Introduction (McGraw-Hill College, August 2002)
- Jeoff King. "New Hollywood Cinema". kamera.co.uk. Retrieved October 1, 2010.
- Ashby, LeRoy. "The Rising of Popular Culture: A Historiographical Sketch," OAH Magazine of History, 24 (April 2010), 11–14.
- Ashby, LeRoy. With Amusement for All: A History of American Popular Culture since 1830 (2006).
- Moritz Baßler: Der deutsche Pop-Roman. Die neuen Archivisten (The German Pop-Novel. The new archivists), C.H. Beck, München 2002, ISBN 3-406-47614-7.
- Bakhtin, M. M. and Michael Holquist, Vadim Liapunov, Kenneth Brostrom. (1981) The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays (University of Texas Press Slavic Series). Ed. Michael Holquist. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin and London: University of Texas Press.
- Browne, Ray B. and Pat Browne, eds. The Guide to U.S. Popular Culture (2001), 1010 pages; essays by experts on many topics.
- Burke, Peter. "Popular Culture Reconsidered," Storia della Storiografia 1990, Issue 17, pp 40–49.
- Freitag, Sandria B. "Popular Culture in the Rewriting of History: An Essay in Comparative History and Historiography," Peasant Studies, 1989, Vol. 16 Issue 3, pp 169–198.
- Gans, Herbert J. Popular Culture and High Culture: an Analysis and Evaluation of Taste. New York: Basic Books, 1974. xii, 179 p. ISBN 0-465-06021-8
- Gerson, Stéphane. "'A World of Their Own': Searching for Popular Culture in the French Countryside," French Politics, Culture and Society, Summer 2009, Vol. 27 Issue 2, pp 94–110
- Griffin, Emma. "Popular Culture in Industrializing England," Historical Journal, Sept 2002, Vol. 45 Issue 3, pp 619–35.
- Hassabian, Anahid (1999). "Popular", Key Terms in Popular Music and Culture, eds.: Horner, Bruce and Swiss, Thomas. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers. ISBN 0-631-21263-9.
- Knight, Robert H. The Age of Consent: the Rise of Relativism and the Corruption of Popular Culture. Dallas, Tex.: Spence Publishing Co., 1998. xxiv, 253,  p. ISBN 1-890626-05-8
- Ross, Andrew. No Respect: Intellectuals & Popular Culture. New York: Routledge, 1989. ix, 269 p. ISBN 0-415-90037-9 (pbk.)
- Seabrook, John. NoBrow : the culture of marketing the marketing of culture, New York: A.A. Knopf, 2000. ISBN 0-375-40504-6.
- Storey, John (2006). Cultural theory and popular culture. Pearson Education. ISBN 978-0-13-197068-7.
- Swirski, Peter (2010). Ars Americana Ars Politica: Partisan Expression in Contemporary American Literature and Culture. Montreal, London: McGill-Queen's University Press. ISBN 978-0-7735-3766-8.
- Swirski, Peter (2005). From Lowbrow to Nobrow. Montreal, London: McGill-Queen's University Press. ISBN 978-0-7735-3019-5.
- On Religion and Popular Culture
- Duncan, Barry (1988). Mass Media and Popular Culture. Toronto, Ont.: Harcourt, Brace & Co. Canada. ISBN 0-7747-1262-7
- Rosenberg, Bernard, and David Manning White, joint. eds. Mass Culture: the Popular Arts in America. [New York]: Free Press of Glencoe, 1957.
- Cowen, Tyler, “For Some Developing Countries, America’s Popular Culture Is Resistible.” New York Times, 22 February 2007, sec. C, p.3.
- Furio, Joanne, “The Significance of MTV and Rap Music in Popular Culture.” The New York Times, 29 December 1991, sec. VI, p. 2.
- The dictionary definition of popular culture at Wiktionary
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