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In general, popular culture (or “pop culture”) refers to a society’s traditions and material culture. Pop culture in the modern West refers to cultural products consumed by the majority of a society’s population, such as music, art, literature, fashion, dance, film, cyberculture, television, and radio. Popular culture refers to forms of media that have widespread accessibility and appeal.
The term “popular culture” was coined in the mid-nineteenth century to refer to people’s cultural traditions as opposed to the “official culture” of the state or ruling classes. Today, it is defined in qualitative terms—pop culture is frequently regarded as a more superficial or lesser type of artistic expression.
Popular Culture’s Ascension
Scholars attribute the rise of popular culture to the Industrial Revolution’s creation of the middle class. People who were organized into working classes and relocated to urban areas far from their traditional farming life began to develop their own culture to share with their coworkers as a means of separating from their parents and bosses. Also, you must try to play this Pop Culture quiz.
Pop Culture Quiz
Following the end of WWII, advances in mass media resulted in significant cultural and social changes in the West. Simultaneously, capitalism, specifically the need to generate profits, assumed the role of marketing: newly invented goods were marketed to various classes. Popular culture’s meaning began to converge with that of mass culture, consumer culture, image culture, media culture, and culture created by manufacturers for mass consumption.
Different Views on Popular Culture
- British media specialist John Storey offers six different definitions of popular culture in his wildly successful textbook “Cultural Theory and Popular Culture” (now in its eighth edition).
- Popular culture is simply a culture that is widely favored or liked by a large number of people; it has no negative connotations.
- Pop culture is defined as “what remains after identifying what “high culture” is: in this definition, pop culture is considered inferior and serves as a marker of status and class.
- Pop culture is defined as commercial objects created for mass consumption by non-discriminating consumers. According to this definition, a popular culture is a tool used by the elites to suppress or exploit the masses.
- Pop culture is folk culture, meaning it is created by the people rather than imposed on them: pop culture is authentic (created by the people) as opposed to commercial culture (thrust upon them by commercial enterprises).
- Pop culture is negotiated: it is imposed by the dominant classes, but it is also resisted or altered by the subordinate classes. Dominants can create culture, but subordinates decide what to keep and what to discard.
- Storey’s final definition of pop culture is that in the postmodern world, in today’s world, the distinction between “authentic” and “commercial” is blurred. In today’s pop culture, users can accept some manufactured content, modify it for their own purposes, or reject it entirely and create their own.
You Create the Meaning in Popular Culture
Storey’s six definitions are still in use, but they appear to vary depending on the context. Since the turn of the century, mass media—the way pop culture is delivered—has changed so dramatically that scholars are struggling to understand how it works. Until the year 2000, “mass media” only referred to print (newspapers and books), broadcast (television and radio), and cinema (movies and documentaries). It now encompasses a vast array of social media and forms.
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To a large extent, popular culture is now established by niche users. What does “mass communication” mean in the future? In comparison to pop icons such as Britney Spears and Michael Jackson, commercial products such as music are considered popular even when the audience is small. Because of the prevalence of social media, consumers can speak directly to producers—and even become producers themselves, flipping the concept of pop culture on its head.
So, in a sense, popular culture has returned to its most basic definition: it is what a lot of people enjoy.