Jahsonic.com - [Next >>]

Popular culture

Parent categories: popular - culture - folk culture

Pop culture - the folk culture of the modern market, the culture of the instant, at once subsuming past and future and refusing to acknowledge the reality of either - began about 1948, in the United States and Great Britain. --Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century (Cambride, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), p. 257.

By medium: popular culture theory - popular fiction - popular film - popular music

Related: bestseller - circus - city - commercial - cheap - comics - conventional - common - entertainment - ephemera - escapism - genre fiction - hit (music) - kitsch - "low" culture - mass - media - melodrama - magazine - music hall - proletariat - pulp fiction - romance - sentimentalism - stereotype - television - vaudeville - vulgar

Compare: elite culture


Popular culture is the culture of the common people or in other words: mainstream culture or just culture. It is a result of the influences of "low" culture and "high" culture.

The growth of modern industry in the 19th century led to massive urbanization and the rise of new great cities, first in Europe and then in other regions, as new opportunities brought huge numbers of migrants from rural communities into urban areas. Increased literacy, rapid printing, cheap paper, music halls gave rise to popular culture as we know it today.

The culture of the common people outside of large urban areas and/or in pre-industrial times is referred to as folk culture, rather than popular culture. [Oct 2005]

Ancient popular culture

"Panem et Circensus", literally "bread and circuses", was the formula for the well-being of the population, and thus a political strategy. This formula offered a variety of pleasures such as: the distribution of food, public baths, gladiators, exotic animals, chariot races, sports competition, and theater representation. It was an efficient instrument in the hands of the Emperors to keep the population peaceful, and at the same time giving them the opportunity to voice themselves in these places of performance. --http://www.capitolium.org/eng/imperatori/circenses.htm [Oct 2005]

The relationship between popular culture and society

In recent debates over the relationship between popular culture and society, much trepidation has been expressed about the potentially destabilizing and demoralizing impact of (depending on the particular debate) rap music, violence in movies and on television, and "skin-head" rock music. One is often reminded in these disputations of Adorno's vituperative interpretation of American jazz, where he attributed to that art form the decay of Western Civilization. In his recent study of the nineteenth-century British novel, Patrick Brantlinger reminds us of the similarly marginal and threatening position once occupied by the novel and the ways in which that apprehension was linked, not just to the form and subject matter of the novel genre, but to the very issue of mass literacy and all that literacy promised in regards to social change. Brantlinger's The Reading Lesson is a vast, rich project, one that he has been working and publishing on for several years. Indeed, The Reading Lesson represents the culmination of Brantlinger's prolonged meditation on the complexities and anxieties involved in the emergence of mass literacy in nineteenth-century England, a meditation inaugurated by his earlier work Bread and Circuses: Theories of Mass Culture as Social Decay. Although The Reading Lesson's subtitle indicates attention to mass literacy outside of England (in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales), in fact Brantlinger stays firmly rooted in the political and cultural implications of literacy in England. --Catherine Judd via http://www.usc.edu/dept/LAS/english/19c/books/rev-0-253-33454-3.html [Nov 2005]

18th and 19th century popular culture

The growth of modern industry from the late 18th century onward led to massive urbanization in many Western countries and the rise of new great cities in Europe, America, Australia and other regions, as new opportunities brought huge numbers of migrants from rural communities into urban areas and from poor to rich nations. Increased literacy, improvements in education and public health, new industrial and scientific technology and rapidly increasing urbanisation provided the socio-economic bases of popular culture as we know it today.

Developments in transport also played a vital role in this process, with the advent of the steam locomotive and the steamship enabling both cultural products and their performers, producers and consumers to be distributed further, faster and more widely than ever before. Related advances in building technology saw the construction of the first large-scale public exhibition spaces (e.g. the Crystal Palace) and ground-breaking public events such as the famous Great Exhibition of 1851.

During the late 18th and 19th centuries, entirely new genres of popular culture arose from the many new forms of communication that appeared and proliferated. These include the illustrated newspaper and magazine, the novel, printed sheet music, political pamphlets, the postcard, the greeting card, children's books, commercial catalogues, photography and the phonograph.

Developments in the print industry during the 19th century -- notably the advent of the illustrated newspapers and the periodical magazine -- led to the appearance of many new genres of text-based popular culture, including the detective story, the serialised novel (e.g. Charles Dickens and the pioneering science fiction of authors like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, as well as the mass-market populist book genre nicknamed the "Penny Dreadful", which later evolved into the pulp fiction genre. These innovations also created new categories of work and employment, such as the commercial artist, the journalist and the photographer.

Facilitated by law reform and changes in social attitudes, newspapers and periodicals began to feature new forms of social reportage and commentary, such as the editorial, the gossip column and the first works of investigative journalism. The invention of the telegraph allowed newspapers to gather news and other information more rapidly and widely than ever before, enabling the rise of the daily newspaper and the news agency.

The performing arts likewise underwent radical changes in this period, with the emergence of many new genres including modern grand opera, comic opera and operetta, vaudeville and music hall entertainment. The invention of gaslighting revolutionised the theatre and made regular night-time mass entertainment a practical reality.

Music, at all levels of culture, was also drastically reshaped by new technology and techniques -- the mass-production of musical instruments such as the guitar, the banjo, the ukelele, the harmonica and the pianoforte (soon followed by the player piano and reproducing piano, the invention of the saxophone, the evolution of the symphony orchestra, the standardisation of concert pitch and the advent of cheap printed sheet music.

The two most profoundly influential developments in this entire period were without doubt the invention of the collodion 'wet-plate' process of photography in 1851 and the invention of the phonograph ca. 1878. Printing, photography and recorded sound provided the practical basis for a significant part of popular culture in the 20th century. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Popular_culture#18th_and_19th_century_popular_culture [Oct 2005]

20th century popular culture

The content of popular culture is determined in large part by industries that disseminate cultural material, for example the film, television, and publishing industries, as well as the news media. But popular culture cannot be described as just the aggregate product of those industries; instead, it is the result of a continuing interaction between those industries and the people of the society who consume their products. --http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Popular_culture [May 2004]

Popular culture criticism

While the critique of popular taste and popular opinion has a long history, it is only in our own day that the concept of mass culture has become a focus for controversy and sharp debate. Conventionally distinguished from a “high” culture — those fine arts aimed at an elite of connoisseurs — mass culture consists of artifacts manufactured wholesale for broad distribution through such media as movies, recordings, comic books, and television programs. What are the assumptions that inform contemporary discussions of mass culture? How are current debates inflected by new developments in the mass media? W>e will develop a critical understanding of the discourses that have circulated around the notion of mass culture.

Readings include essays by Theodor Adorno, Siegfried Kracauer, Ortega y Gasset, Dwight MacDonald, Roland Barthes, Peter Wollen, Richard Ohmann, John Fiske, Andreas Huyssen, and Todd Gitlin, among others; Bread and Circuses: Theories of Mass Culture as Social Decay, by Patrick Brantlinger; and No Respect: Intellectuals and Popular Culture by Andrew Ross. -- Sumita Chakravarty

The invention of popular culture

Perhaps there has always been popular culture. Preserved in the amber of high literature and art are the traces of the lower amusements of the past. Look into Shakespeare, Hogarth or Dickens and you can see the remnants of popular diversions: ballads and songs, fairs and pantomimes, sports and ingenious forms of cruelty to animals. Yet the idea that 'the common people' might have a culture (rather than just habits of rowdyism) dates from precisely the time when our idea of high culture was being invented. Popular culture has always been its ill-mannered twin. --John Mullan, http://www.guardian.co.uk/dumb/story/0,7369,387444,00.html [2004]

Mass media

Mass media are those media reaching large numbers [mass] of the public via radio, television, movies, magazines, newspapers and the World Wide Web. The term was coined in the 1920s with the advent of nationwide radio networks, mass-circulation newspapers and magazines. --http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_media [2004]

18th Century [...]

The 18th century first saw the development of a culture that was available to anyone prepared to buy a ticket. Before this, the aristocracy had kept all that was best in culture for itself. Now culture was there to enrich and fill the time of the newly affluent, and genteel consumers could polish themselves by visiting art galleries or museums, attending concerts or performances of Shakespeare. As pleasure became 'culture', it became increasingly important for the polite classes (many of them nouveaux riches) to distinguish between high and low entertainments. Then, as now, those most insecure about their own refinement were likeliest to be most hostile to all that might be thought 'low' or 'vulgar' (until the mid-19th century the words most commonly used for what we might call 'popular'). --John Mullan, http://www.guardian.co.uk/dumb/story/0,7369,387444,00.html [Jun 2004]


When culture can be bought and sold, taste becomes an increasingly useful social marker. It was commerce that gave 'culture' to the middle classes, but commerce could also sully it. So the Georgians set about building a national culture - from the plays of Shakespeare to the music of Handel - that only the qualified could properly enjoy. As this culture widened, paradoxically the separation of high and low ('polite' and 'vulgar') sharpened. -- John Mullan [...]

Popular Culture and High Culture (1974) - Herbert J. Gans

Popular Culture and High Culture: an Analysis and Evaluation of Taste (1974) - Herbert J. Gans [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Is NYPD Blue a less valid form of artistic expression than a Shakespearean drama? Who is to judge and by what standards?

In this new edition of Herbert Gans's brilliantly conceived and clearly argued landmark work, he builds on his critique of the universality of high cultural standards. While conceding that popular and high culture have converged to some extent over the twenty-five years since he wrote the book, Gans holds that the choices of typical Ivy League graduates, not to mention Ph.D.s in literature, are still very different from those of high school graduates, as are the movie houses, television channels, museums, and other cultural institutions they frequent.

"In this revised and updated edition, Herbert Gans extends his classic study of the roles popular culture and high culture play in American society. Gans argues in favor of all peoples' right to the culture they choose. He also looks at "dumbing down" and other examples of the new mass culture critique and lays out changes in America's taste cultures. Gans has added a new introduction and new postscripts to each chapter updating the original analysis to incorporate recent trends. via Amazon.com

The Immediate Experience: Movies, Comics, Theatre, and Other Aspects of Popular Culture - Robert Warshow

  • The Immediate Experience: Movies, Comics, Theatre, and Other Aspects of Popular Culture - Robert Warshow [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    This collection of essays, which originally appeared as a book in 1962, is virtually the complete works of an editor of Commentary magazine who died, at age 37, in 1955. Long before the rise of Cultural Studies as an academic pursuit, in the pages of the best literary magazines of the day, Robert Warshow wrote analyses of the folklore of modern life that were as sensitive and penetrating as the writings of James Agee, George Orwell, and Walter Benjamin. Some of these essays--notably "The Westerner," "The Gangster as Tragic Hero," and the pieces on the New Yorker, Mad Magazine, Arthur Miller's The Crucible, and the Rosenberg letters--are classics, once frequently anthologized but now hard to find. Along with a new preface by Stanley Cavell, The Immediate Experience includes several essays not previously published in the book--on Kafka and Hemingway--as well as Warshow's side of an exchange with Irving Howe. "A legendary little book, partly because its author died at the age of 37, but mostly because it stands as a virtually unique representative from its period of a consistently open-minded, moral, aesthetic, and political engagement with commercial culture." --Louis Menand

    Between Montmartre and the Mudd Club - Bernard Gendron

  • Between Montmartre and the Mudd Club - Bernard Gendron [Amazon.com]
    Gendron (philosophy, Univ. of Wisconsin, Milwaukee; Technology and the Human Condition) here traces the interaction between "high" and "low" culture specifically, between modernist visual art and popular music from the cabarets of Paris's Montmartre district in the 1880s through New York City's "art after midnight" clubs in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In scrupulously documented detail, he examines the development of the elite/mass, art/pop dialectic within its social and historical context in the 20th century, such as the metamorphosis of jazz from Dixieland into bebop, incorporating modernist postures, and the metamorphosis of rock from the Beatles into punk and new wave, aided and abetted by Warhol and Waring. With unprecedented depth, detail, and dedication, Gendron illustrates how jazz and rock, once considered banal entertainment, came to be validated as art forms. The author's language and references to Foucault, Lyotard, and Adorno will make this book useful for all academic libraries, though it will be an especially valuable addition to popular culture collections. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

    "Punk was always the intellectuals' favorite," says Bernard Gendron, a professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. "Academics were interested in punk from the start, in England especially. One of the first really classic texts in cultural studies from the early 1980s was Dick Hebdige's Subculture, which stressed the semiotics of punk -- trying to read the 'live' texts of punk clothing's signifiers, for example. In the United States, it was the art world that was really taken with punk." Mr. Gendron traces the movement's ambivalent relationship with high culture (and vice versa) in his recent book, Between Montmartre and the Mudd Club: Popular Music and the Avant-Garde (University of Chicago Press). -- Scott McLee

    Medieval Popular Culture : Problems of Belief and Perception (1990) - Various authors

    Medieval Popular Culture : Problems of Belief and Perception (1990) - Aron Gurevich, Peter Burke, Ruth Finnegan [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

    By scrutinizing the lives of saints, miracle stories, descriptions of fantastic travels, penitential literature, catechisms and similar genres, from the fifth to the 15th centuries, the author attempts to reconstruct the beliefs and perceptions of ordinary men and women in medieval times. --Via Amazon.co.uk

    Peter Burke (born 1937) is a British historian. He received his doctorate from Oxford University. For sixteen years he was part of the School of European Studies at the University of Sussex, before moving to the University of Cambridge where he still holds the title of Professor Emeritus of Cultural History and Fellow of Emmanuel College. Burke is celebrated as a historian not only of the early modern era, but one who emphasizes the relevance of social and cultural history to present-day issues. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Burke [Oct 2005]

    See also: Middle Ages - popular culture

    The Reading Lesson: The Threat of Mass Literacy in Nineteenth-Century British Fiction (1998) - Patrick Brantlinger

    Patrick Brantlinger's 1998 work, The Reading Lesson, is a valuable study of 19th-century elitist attitudes toward mass literacy. As Brantlinger reminds us, the reading of popular Victorian novels was viewed as "vampiric" and "addictive." Too much reading was an impediment to living; books and the fantasies they inspired ill-prepared their readers for real life.

    By the late 19th century, and into the 20th, many Anglophone intellectuals had come to hate the "masses" who by then were dominating cultural life. The critic John Carey has documented this hostility among a generation of British (and Irish) writers, including Wells, W.B. Yeats, and D.H. Lawrence, all of whom fantasized the destruction of this dangerous class. Yeats hoped the masses would all perish in a great war against the better classes; Lawrence wished for their extermination in a great chamber "as big as the Crystal Palace." Indeed, many such authors didn't want a mass readership at all, because it would have threatened their lofty status; the heart of literary modernism involves a balance of writerly "difficulty" intended to dissuade a mass readership, with a penchant for creating popular notoriety. The point was to appeal to the emerging middlebrow public, which was founding its cultural aspirations on the Book-of-the-Month-Club version of the elitist reading list. --Charles Paul Freund via http://www.reason.com/links/links072204.shtml [Nov 2005] literature - UK - 1800s

    The Reading Lesson: The Threat of Mass Literacy in Nineteenth-Century British Fiction (1998) - Patrick Brantlinger [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

    SIPs: cheap literature movement, obscene father, artful priest, penny fiction, criminal reading (more)

    CAPs: New Grub Street, Oliver Twist, Lady Audley, Poor Jane, Vanity Fair (more)

    From Publishers Weekly
    Dour pundits witness the explosion of popular entertainment for the masses and predict the end of Western civilization. Fine literature and intelligent thought has been debased, these Jeremiahs proclaim, by floods of ill-educated consumers who want only sensation, sex and violence. Sound familiar? Such predictions were inspired not by today's boob tube and high-concept action movies but by the cheap fiction and rapidly increasing literacy among the masses that provided Victorian Britain with its own threat of cultural decline. Brantlinger, longtime editor of Victorian Studies and author of Bread and Circuses: Theories of Mass Culture as Social Decay, argues that anxieties about degraded popular literacy powerfully affected the novels written in the 19th century. Brantlinger trains his critical lens on a broad range of British fiction: he reads Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as an allegory of middle-class fears of mass literacy; Dickens's Oliver Twist as staging a conflict between "criminal reading" and edifying reading; Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as a response to "the commercialization of literature and the emergence of a mass consumer society in the late-Victorian period." Sounding at times like he is giving a lecture survey course, Brantlinger covers so much ground that he can be reductive. But his writing is admirably lucid, his knowledge impressive and his thesis a welcome reminder of the class bias that so often accompanies denunciations of popular fiction. --Copyright 1998 Cahners Business Information, Inc. John Mullan - UK - 1700s

    Popular Culture: The Metropolitan Experience (1986) - Iain Chambers

    Popular Culture: The Metropolitan Experience (1986) - Iain Chambers [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

    Eighteenth-Century Popular Culture: A Selection (2000) - John Mullan (Editor), Christopher Reid (Editor)

    Eighteenth-Century Popular Culture: A Selection (2000) - John Mullan (Editor), Christopher Reid (Editor) [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

    See also: John Mullan - UK - 1700s

    your Amazon recommendations - Jahsonic - early adopter products

    Managed Hosting by NG Communications