Sunday, 25 November 2012




Critically define ‘popular culture’
• Contrast ideas of ‘culture’ with ‘popular culture’ and ‘mass culture’
• Introduce Cultural Studies & Critical Theory
• Discuss culture as ideology
• Interrogate the social function of popular culture

Analysing the idea of culture, the notion of culture as opposed to popular culture, what is the difference between low culture and popular culture/mass culture.

Famous writer in cultural studies:

  • ‘One of the two or three most complicated words in the English language’
  • general process of intellectual, spiritual & aesthetic development of a particular society, at a particular time
  • a particular way of life
  • works of intellectual and especially artistic significance’ 
Marx's Concept of Base / Superstructure    
Forces of production - materials, tools, workers, skills etc.
Relations of production - employer/employee, class, master/slave etc.
Social institues - legal, political, cultural
Forms of consciousness - ideology*
Culture reinforces capitalism 
These relations produce systems like politics, law and the army, which maintain the system.
(a) system of ideas or beliefs (eg beliefs of a political party)
2 masking, distortion, or selection of ideas, to reinforce power relations, through creation of 'false consciousness'
[ The ruling class has ] to represent its interest as the common interest of all the members of society, ... to give its ideas the form of universality, and represent them as the only rational, universally valid ones.
Karl Marx, (1846) The German Ideology, 

Four definitions of ‘popular’
– Well liked by many people
– Inferior kinds of work
– Work deliberately setting out to win favour with the people
– Culture actually made by the people themselves 

Inferior or Residual Culture
• Popular Press vs Quality Press
• Popular Cinema vs Art Cinema
• Popular Entertainment vs Art Culture 


Jeremy Deller & Alan Kane - Folk Archive:
creative practice that wouldn't normally be shown in galleries, eggs with faces on etc. throw away culture

graffiti in south bronx 
Banksy piece exhibited in Covent Garden 

Popular culture, a lot of people start to make value judgments, popular culture is inferior to real culture, you could think of popular culture as popularism - where something is aimed to be popular and commercial.  You can think of popular culture made by the masses for the masses - almost direct opposite of traditional culture.

Distinct class divide between popular culture and culture, you can trace this back very specifically to a particular moment in industrial capitalism.

Clear class divides that started to appear, very clear who were the workers and who were the bosses, clear lines of class separations, because of this separation, prior to this moment idea was there was a shared common culture, for all the country, in reality the only people that made this culture were the rich, they didn't have to work, they had enough time to write and listen to poetry.  Culture was and always has been developed by the rich. 
E.P. Thompson (1963) ‘The Making of The English Working Class’    

Inferior or Residual Culture
• Popular Press vs Quality Press
• Popular Cinema vs Art Cinema

• Popular Entertainment vs Art Culture    

Matthew Arnold (1867) ‘Culture & Anarchy’

• Culture is
  • –  ‘the best that has been thought & said in the world’
  • –  Study of perfection
  • –  Attained through disinterested reading, writing thinking
–  The pursuit of culture 

Culture polices ‘the raw and uncultivated masses’ 
‘The working class… raw and half developed… long lain half hidden amidst it’s poverty and squalor… now issuing from it’s hiding place to assert an Englishmans heaven born privelige to do as he likes, and beginning to perplex us by marching where it likes, meeting where it likes, breaking what it likes (1960, p.105)
Laverism - F. R. Levis
Still forms a kind of repressed, common sense attitude to popular culture in this country. 
For Leavis- C20th sees a cultural decline 

Standardisation & levelling down 

‘Culture has always been in minority keeping’ 

‘the minority, who had hitherto set the standard of taste without any serious challenge have experienced a ‘collapse of authority’ 

Still forms a kind of repressed, common sense attitude to popular culture in this country. 
For Leavis- C20th sees a cultural decline 

Standardisation & levelling down 

Describe popular culture, people who engage with 'silly' radio songs, a way of refusing to face the real world, its not about living. 

  • Collapse of traditional authority comes at the same time as mass democracy (anarchy)
  • Nostalgia for an era when the masses exhibited an unquestioning deference to (cultural)authority
  • Popular culture offers addictive forms of ditraction and compensation
  • ‘This form of compensation... is the very reverse of recreation, in that it tends, not to strengthen and refresh the addict for living, but to increase his unfitness by habitutaing him to weak evasions, to the refusal to face reality at all’ (Leavis & Thompson, 1977:100) 

    Frankfurt School – Critical Theory
Institute of Social Research, University of Frankfurt, 1923-33
University of Columbia New York 1933- 47
University of Frankfurt, 1949-
Theodore Adorno Max Horkheimer
Herbert Marcuse Leo Lowenthal
Walter Benjamin    
Reinterpreted Marx, for the 20th century – era of “late capitalism”

Defined “The Culture Industry” :
2 main products – homogeneity & predictability

“All mass culture is identical” :
‘As soon as the film begins, it is quite clear how it will end, and who will be rewarded, punished or forgotten’.
‘Movies and radio need no longer to pretend to be art. The truth, that they are just business, is made into an ideology in order to justify the rubbish they deliberately produce. ... The whole world is made to pass through the filter of the culture industry. ... The culture industry can pride itself on having energetically executed the previously clumsy transposition of art into the sphere of consumption, on making this a principle. ... film, radio and magazines make up a system which is uniform as a whole and in every part ... all mass culture is identical.’
‘Authentic Culture vs Mass Culture’    

Qualities of authentic culture

•Active Consumption 
•Individual creation 

Products of the contemporary ‘Culture Industry’ 
Adorno ‘On Popular Music’
Walter Benjamin
‘The Work Of Art In The Age Of Mechanical Reproduction’
‘One might generalise by saying: the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence. And in permitting the reproduction to meet the beholder or listener in his own situation, it reactivates the objects produced. These two processes lead to a tremendous shattering of tradition... Their most powerful agent is film. Its social significance, particularly in its most positive form, is inconceivable without its destructive, cathartic aspect, that is, the liquidation of the traditional value of the cultural heritage’ 

  • The culture & civilization tradition emerges from, and represents, anxieties about social and cultural extension. They attack mass culture because it threatens cultural standards and social authority.
  • The Frankfurt School emerges from a Marxist tradition. They attack mass culture because it threatens cultural standards and depoliticises the working class, thus maintaining social authority.
  • Pronouncements on popular culture usually rely on normative or elitist value judgements
  • Ideology masks cultural or class differences and naturalises the interests of the few as the interests of all.
  • Popular culture as ideology
  • The analysis of popular culture and popular media is deeply political, and deeply contested, and all those who practice or engage with it need to be aware of this. 

No comments:

Post a Comment