From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"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, Greil Marcus, p. 257.
Popular culture (commonly abbreviated as pop culture) is the totality of distinct memes, ideas, perspectives and attitudes that are deemed preferred per an informal consensus within the mainstream of a given culture. Heavily influenced by mass media (at least from the early 20th century onward) and perpetuated by that culture's vernacular language, 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 of this perception, it comes under heavy criticism from various scientific and non-mainstream sources (most notably religious groups and countercultural groups) which deem it superficial, consumerist, sensationalist and corrupted.
It is manifest in preferences and acceptance or rejection of features in such various subjects as cooking, clothing, consumption, and the many facets of entertainment such as sports, music, film and literature. Popular culture often contrasts with a more exclusive, even elitist "high culture", The earliest use of "popular" in English was during the fifteenth century in law and politics, meaning "low", "base", "vulgar", and "of the common people"; from the late eighteenth century it began to mean "widespread" and gain in positive connotation. (Williams 1985). "Culture" has been used since the 1950s to refer to various subgroups of society, with emphasis on cultural differences.
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.
Defining 'popular' and 'culture', which are essentially contested concepts, is complicated with multiple competing definitions of popular culture. John Storey, in Cultural Theory and Popular Culture, discusses six definitions. The quantitative definition, of culture has the problem that much "high" culture (e.g. television dramatisations of Jane Austen) is widely favoured. "Pop culture" is also defined as the culture that is "left over" when we have decided what "high culture" is. However, many works straddle or cross the boundaries e.g. Shakespeare, Dickens, Puccini-Verdi-Pavarotti- Nessun Dorma. Storey draws attention to the forces and relations which sustain this difference such as the educational system.
A third definition equates pop culture with mass culture. This is seen as a commercial culture, mass produced for mass consumption. 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 because there are many ways of defining the "people." Storey argues 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 postmodernism approach to popular culture would "no longer recognise the distinction between high and popular culture'
Storey emphasises that popular culture emerges from the urbanisation of the industrial revolution, which identifies the term with the usual definitions of 'mass culture'. 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).
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.
Folklore provides a second and very different source of popular culture. In pre-industrial times, mass culture equaled folk culture. This earlier layer of culture still persists today, sometimes in the form of jokes or slang, which spread through the population by word of mouth and via the Internet. By providing a new channel for transmission, cyberspace has renewed the strength of this element of popular culture.
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 (for example: "My favorite character is SpongeBob SquarePants") spread by word-of-mouth, and become modified in the process in the same manner that folklore evolves.
- History of popular culture
- Cultural icon
- General audience
- Greek mythology in popular culture
- Low culture
- High culture
- MTV Generation
- Pop icon
- Pop art
- Pop-culture tourism
- History of popular culture
- Popular culture studies