What is popular culture?

January 25, 2007 at 11:40 am | Posted in celebrity, John Storey, pop culture, social networking | 2 Comments

pop.jpgJohn Storey, in his 1998 critical treatise, An Introduction to Cultural Theory and Popular Culture, presents six definitions of popular culture. Storey’s definitions span the landscape of philosophical concepts from structuralism to hegemony to mass appeal.          

 My “pop culture” definition includes objects, persons ,events and practices  with commercial appeal and broad visibility among “the masses”. It is culture which is light, transient, disposable. In contrast, “high culture” is intellectually challenging and therefore exclusive. Storey suggests that pop culture should be viewed in context, as residual or other culture: what’s left after legitimate culture stakes the high ground. I disagree. With contemporary American culture’s focus on sound bites and “dumbing down” information , it is “high culture” that is becoming the marginalized,other culture.     

The hectic pace of life today blurs distinctions between home and work, community and individual to cope with information overload. This tendency to synthesize and simplify has made “pop culture”  more important to everyday life in my opinion. Pop culture offers a touchstone–a communication shorthand– for connecting with others. Take a quick look at the postings on  social networking sites like Myspace. How often do members define their identity in terms of their pop culture likes and dislikes?

In this era of infotainment, popular culture has expanded to include these areas:

  • Entertainment (movies, music, TV/cable shows, art),
  • Information (TV news, books, magazines, newspapers)
  • Advertising
  • Celebrity  (who’s hot/not)
  • Personal Technology (internet, videogames, cell phones)
  • Appearance (Beauty, fashion and décor)
  • Leisure/ Lifestyle (sports and hobbies)
  • Celebrations and social practices (holidays, traditions)    

   While pop culture, by its frothy nature, is apolitical, it can embrace normative social views. Two examples which spring to mind are the “reduce/reuse/recycle” mantra and the pressure for “politically correct” language and behavior.  What should we conclude about American society today that equates popular culture with trivia and game show savvy?


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