Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Symbol of the Cross in Popular Culture: An Analysis of the Use and Transformation of the Symbol in Machina Magazine

Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Symbol of the Cross in Popular Culture: An Analysis of the Use and Transformation of the Symbol in Machina Magazine

Article excerpt


The article focuses on the use and transformation of religious symbols in popular culture. The Polish pop culture magazine, Machina, was chosen as a case study. Popular culture, based strongly on visual communication, has fluid canons and is of an (auto)ironic nature. Symbols from different domains are transformed within this culture so that they fit its rules of communication. Religious symbols have been used extensively in Machina in a conventional, humorous and deriding manner. According to the results of the analysis, the use of religious symbols in popular culture is inevitably connected to the overlapping of religious communication and pop cultural communication, which creates a particular ambivalence of the meaning of the symbol. One should ask if resulting adaptations of religious symbols by popular culture might be considered to be a process of desacralisation. On the basis of the above-mentioned case study, one cannot give an unequivocal answer. Although pop cultural communication may lead to simplification and the deconstruction of symbols, one cannot claim it is de-symbolised as such. Desymbolisation and desacralisation are ongoing processes, but they are parallel to the process of creation and transformation of symbols as well. The research may be an inspiration for further analysis of the way religious symbols function within the realm of popular culture.

Keywords: desacralisation; desymbolisation; popular culture; religion; symbols

In February 2006, the Machina magazine in Poland started its re-launch campaign after four years of suspension. The return of the magazine, which used to be one of the best and most popular in its category, was accompanied by considerable media publicity. The "0 Issue," marking the re-launch, was available only through limited distribution-one could register via the Machina website and acquire the re-launch issue. In order to raise interest in the project, the magazine was advertised on posters in most big cities around the country. The cover depicted the faces of artist Madonna with her daughter Lourdes pasted into the cutout figures of Madonna and Jesus from the famous Black Madonna Icon in Jasna Góra. Immediately after the first billboards and adverts were shown to the public, the Pauline Fathers from the Jasna Góra Convent, followed by groups of Catholics from all over Poland, protested against the use of this religious symbol on the magazine cover. The artistic collage was called "blasphemous," "offensive" and "disrespectful" by some religious leaders, priests, as well as by politicians and several public figures.1 The editors reacted to the protest in a public exchange of statements, which eventually lead to charges being pressed against the editors and publishers for the alleged affront to religious sentiments. Both sides of the conflict interpreted the use of the religious symbol differently: the editors regarded it as a form of artistic expression, while their opponents saw it as sacrilegious abuse.

Inspired by the conflict about the meaning of the religious symbol in a pop cultural setting, this text focuses on various uses of religious symbols in the magazine. Due to practical limitations, the symbolic conflict itself will not be analysed, however, it must be seen as an important part of the negotiation of the symbol's meaning. Firstly, the term "popular culture" (or "pop culture"), will be analysed with regards to its relation to mass culture. Then, the various uses of religious symbols in "Machina" magazine will be depicted and scrutinised: from the neutral use, whose aim is illustrational, to that of a deriding and mocking one. On the basis of this analysis, it will be discussed if the desacralisation of religious symbols is inherent in popular culture.

Popular Culture and Its Contexts

The term "popular culture" is often regarded as a synonym for "mass culture," although there have been numerous studies pointing out the erroneous assumption behind it. …

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