Popular Culture

Popular culture, sometimes also called mass culture, is the domain of cultural products that are created in mass quantities for a mass audience. The main business of this kind of culture is entertainment and, in Europe and the United States, it is dominated by television, sports, films and recorded popular music. In modern industrialized societies, popular culture appeals to the broad middle class, generally reinforcing its views of the world.

Most scholars believe that popular culture emerged in the 19th century when communication technologies, such as printing processes and photographic reproduction and large-scale media organizations - including newspaper, magazine and book publishers - were able to create and market messages for a big audience of consumers. These new forms of popular culture required the development of commodity capitalism, when the problem of production had been solved and only the problem of consumption of the goods and services produced by the society was left. One of the main drives behind the desire to consume the commodity goods and services produced in a capital society is advertising, which is a form of popular culture.

In addition to being called mass culture, because of the role of print and electronic media in the dissemination of popular culture, it has also been called "commodity culture" due to the role of markets and consumers since the second part of the 20th century. Mass production and mass consumption are the key elements in identifying and analyzing popular culture. According to scholars who study popular culture, patterns of production, dissemination and consumption in this realm reveal much about the values and beliefs of the audience. The nature of commodity capitalism is that the consumption of popular culture products and experiences brings fleeting satisfaction and always brings the customers back for more.

Among the genres of popular culture are familiar sorts of "texts," such as popular fiction, advertising, magazines, radio programs, film, comic books, cartoons, recorded music, television programs and even fast food. Other genres represent more complex social events or experiences, including popular music concerts, entertainment events, sporting events, visits to amusement parks, tourist experiences or other leisure pastimes. The critical element in all of these cases and more is that a mass audience pays money to consume the commodity or experience.

Geopolitical boundaries are easily crossed by the products of popular culture. For example, national film industries quickly became international, as with other forms of popular art, including music, television, literature and comics. By the 1930s, the world markets were already dominated by American films, although the foreign appetite for American culture was accelerated by World War II (1939-1945). In particular, there was strong interest in American music, film, clothing (especially blue jeans) and comic books.

American popular culture has remained dominant in the world markets but the flow of popular culture across borders has been more complicated since the turn of the 21st century. Japanese animated television series and films (anime) as well as Japanese graphic novels (manga) gained popularity among American and other youth, while Korean popular culture became of great interest in Japan. "World music" cultures and the movement of music across cultural boundaries have been mapped by scholars. These trends have raised speculation that a transnational youth culture that is linked by communication technologies and creates a shared culture through music, dress, television and video games is emerging.

Ever since the 19th century, popular culture has depended on advances in technology. The globalization of popular cultural products has accelerated amid the tendency to move easily between different technologies for consuming film, music and television. Scholars have also been interested in the cognitive effects of the new technologies for disseminating and consuming popular culture. Traditionalists from the middle of the 19th century onwards have lamented the poor quality of popular culture. Liberal and radical critics, on the other hand, have been more inclined to support popular culture which they argue, authentically expresses public taste and they dismiss the "remote products" of high culture as elitist. Sociologists have become involved in the analysis of popular culture because of the window into public consciousness it provides, while also being an important element of solidarity within social classes as well as of division of between them. Studies of popular culture overlap with those of youth cultures, subcultures, ideology, leisure and the mass media.

Popular Culture: Selected full-text books and articles

An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture
Dominic Strinati.
Routledge, 2004 (2nd edition)
A History of Popular Culture: More of Everything, Faster, and Brighter
Raymond F. Betts.
Routledge, 2004
Popular Culture: An Introductory Text
Jack Nachbar; Kevin Lause.
Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1992
Handbook of American Popular Culture
M. Thomas Inge.
Greenwood Press, vol.1, 1989 (2nd Rev. edition)
Librarian’s tip: Questia has all three volumes in this set
The Wow Climax: Tracing the Emotional Impact of Popular Culture
Henry Jenkins.
New York University Press, 2007
National Identity, Popular Culture and Everyday Life
Tim Edensor.
Berg, 2002
World Politics on Screen: Understanding International Relations through Popular Culture
Mark Sachleben.
University Press of Kentucky, 2014
Homer Simpson Ponders Politics: Popular Culture as Political Theory
Joseph J. Foy; Timothy M. Dale.
University Press of Kentucky, 2013
Popular Culture and High Culture: An Analysis and Evaluation of Taste
Herbert J. Gans.
Basic Books, 1999
The Rhetorics of Popular Culture: Advertising, Advocacy, and Entertainment
Robert L. Root Jr.
Greenwood Press, 1987
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