Popular culture is a commonterm that is being vastly used in today’s media and text. It is mostlyassociated with the pinnacle or people’s culture that predominates in a societyat a point in time. To put the term in a simpler fashion, “pop cultureinvolves the aspects of social life most actively involved in by thepublic. It is determined by theinteractions between people in their everyday activities: styles of dress, theuse of slang, greeting rituals and the foods that people eat are all examplesof popular culture”, as explains in Rhetorical Dimensions of PopularCulture by Barry Brummett. Due to Brummett over-simplistic explanation of theterm, it does not cover the entire definition of the term ‘popular culture’.As Tony Bennett wrote in anearly and influential article, “Popular Culture: A Teaching Object,” “Theconcept of popular culture is virtually useless, a melting pot of confused andcontradictory meanings capable of misdirecting inquiry up any number oftheoretical blind alleys.
” To define such a broad term such as ‘popularculture’ is difficult even to experts as the term itself holds differentmeanings depending on who’s defining it and the context it’s been used on.According to John Storey in Cultural Theory and Popular Culture, there areseveral ideologies to define ‘pop culture’. Storey lists six definitions, eachwith its own strengths and difficulties, each bringing with it a slightlydifferent interpretation of ‘pop culture’. The first definitionmentioned is that popular culture is a culture that is liked by many people. Thesecond definition is that popular culture is the culture that’s left over aftersociety has decided what “high culture is”, also term as ‘lowculture’. The third definition is that popular culture is culture aimed at amass audience, also term as ‘mass culture’. The fourth definition is thatpopular culture is a culture that originates from “the people” ratherthan imposed upon them by cultural elites and “the above”, also term as’folks culture’. The fifth definition is that popular culture is a culture thatis the domain of an ongoing aesthetic debate between dominant and lower classes,also term as ‘hegemony culture’.
The sixth definition is that popular cultureis post-modernism, the blurring between high culture and low culture.In this essay, I will beattempting to define popular culture by utilizing three definitions by John Storey’sCultural Theory and Popular Culture, which is popular culture is the culturethat’s left over after society has decided what “high culture is”,also term as ‘low culture’ alongside popular culture is culture aimed at a massaudience, which is term as mass culture and popular culture is culture thatoriginates from “the people” rather than imposed upon them bycultural elites and “the above”, which is term as folks culture.Firstly, popular culture isthe culture that’s left over after society has decided what “high cultureis”, also term as ‘low culture’. Over the course of history, theunderstanding of culture has been under constant shift and experts came aboutthe concepts of different levels of culture. And that’s how the high and lowculture concept emerged within the culture spectrum. The differentiationbetween levels of culture is generally seen as the elite’s perception ofculture.
High culture is the tastesand preferences of a societies elite. It is not mass produced, nor meant formass consumption. On the cultural level “the emphasis is on the work’s culticvalue” (Benjamin, 2008; p. 12).
High culture products are mostly viewed asbelonging to the long-established forms of art, such as painting and sculpting.The fine arts, opera, and theatre are some of the examples associated with highculture. Products of high culture often require extensive experience, training,or reflection to be appreciated.On the other hand, commonlyreferred to as Low culture or in this definition of John Storey’s, theequivalent to “popular culture”.
Low culture is considered to associate itself with the lowest form ofculture that is not relevant to high culture, often completely lacking increativity. It doesn’t make the material less important though, it just isn’theld at as high of a standard. It is the tastes and preferences of the mass ofsociety. Low culture is reserved for the lower and working classes as its oftendeals with many elements of grunge and dirty-ness and is considered common inthe masses everyday lives. The most obvious examples of low culture as popularculture include pop music and reality television shows. Besides that, popular culturecan also be defining as a culture that is aimed at a mass audience, which isterm as mass culture and to define mass culture as popular culture has been aconstant debate as it is considered to be one of the most disputable andpolemic areas in cultural studies.
By a simple definition, mass culture orpopular culture is viewed as the culture that arises spontaneously for themasses through a common exposure of the same media. Theodor Adorno calls it,the “Culture Industry” (Adorno, 2001; p. 98) “as it is created not by the masses but for the masses”. Itfuses the products of culture into a new quality. Through all its branches,products are tailored for consumption of the masses.
With the rise of publishingand broadcasting in the 19th and 20th centuries alongside the expansion of theInternet since the 1990s, the concept of mass culture has coherently come aboutwith the globalization of media. The introduction of ‘globalization’ hasbrought about tremendous changes in confirming the concept of mass culture aspopular culture in the culture spectrum. With globalization, thedifferences between the elite and mass cultures have been minimized to aconsiderable number. With this change, a new form of cultural differentiationhas taken place. The social hierarchy no longer determines the cultural style. Thecultural concept of hierarchy from cultures of the elite and culture ofcommoners have undergone new differentiation.
The new culture forms that have emerged aredescribed as ‘popular culture’ or ‘mass culture’. Mass culture as popularculture is vastly due to mass media and communication technologicaladvancements. Through a system of mass communication, mass culture covers thevast majority of the society. It claims for the whole coverage andsubordination of culture around the world, its cultural “colonization.” Furthermore, popular culturecan also be defined as a culture that originates from “the people”rather than imposed upon them by cultural elites and “the above”,which is term as folk culture. A good way to explain this is that “Folkculture refers to the product of human work and thought (culture) that have developedwithin a limited community and that are communicated directly from generationto generation, between ‘folk’ who are familiar to each other” (Nachbar andLause,1992, p.
15)By the 20th century, withinthe studies of social science, experts revised and expanded the concept of folkgroup or folk culture. In the 1960s the concept of social groups, i.e. folkgroups, were already in existence; with each individual involved in a multitudeof different identities and their associated social groups. The first groupthat each individual is born into is the family. With each family having itsown unique folklore, this ensures a child grow into an individual with aparticular identity that includes age, occupation, interest and etc. With eachof these identity ventures having its own folklore.
In a modern understanding,folklore is basically a function of shared identity within any socialgroup. “Folk culture is typicallytransmitted orally; the origin of the artifact or event is generally unknown,and it is generally “simple both thematically and technologically”(Nachbar and Lause,1992, p.15). It can include jokes, sayings and expectedbehavior in multiple variants, which are transmitted in an informal manner.
Andmost of the time folks culture are taught and learned through observation,imitation, repetition or correction by other group members. The informalknowledge is later used to confirm and reinforce the identity of the group. Itcan be used internally within the group to express their common identity or itcan be used externally to differentiate the group from outsiders.Finally, it is worth notingthat there is no exact way to define popular culture. However, a lot can beexplained and understood through the various approaches and perspectives todefine the term. Over the years, pop culture has evolved taking different shapeand form while influencing the thinking of society. Not only has it shapedsociety’s thinking, it has also shaped society’s mannerism and belief system aswell. Even if low culture, mass culture, and folk culture do not providepopular culture its definitive meaning, they certainly make up a substantialpart of the definition of popular culture.
With that said, it can safely bestated that pop culture is a term that will always be the subject of constantdebate and as for its definitive term, only time will tell.