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The Politics of Popular Culture: Part 2

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Popular Culture
Scott Henderson

PCUL1F92 Section 1: Thursday, October-06-11 Professor Henderson began the class by reminding us of our upcoming Précis, and later, our Ethnography Report. Idea of Précis – basically writing in your own words what you perceive the article to be saying. Not doing a paragraph by paragraph summary. Summarize key points of the article: 1) Explanation of overall big argument. 2) How does he go about arguing this? 3) What examples does he use to argue this? 4) Conclusion – therefore this shows what he was writing. Meant to be writing practice. Must be in our own words. We don’t want a point form overview of the article. Typed, approximately 250 words. Include title page (with a title in the centre), including name, student number, date, name of T.A., seminar number, course code (bottom right corner). Due at the very beginning of lecture on October 13, 2011. Mark of zero if not handed in. Any missed course components result in a zero in the course. Remember to attach copy of academic misconduct form (as found in Syllabus). Ethnography Report – should be thinking about what site you want to look at. * * Continued from previous lecture’s slideshow presentation. Atomized Individual • Essentially the idea that changing social conditions (emerging in 19 century in urban areas with industrialization) began to leave people more isolated. Led to the development of the ‘individual consumer’. • Less reliant on social and cultural institutions (religion, community organizations, etc.). These institutions provided a sense of belonging, community and civic engagement. • This allowed people to create their own culture from the array of options sold to them. People can now be individual consumers. • Therefore, without those stronger institutions people could be more easily exploited by mass culture. • On both sides of the political spectrum it may be argued that mass culture takes away desire for high culture, yet at the same time can exploit them from having their own culture. Outdated? • We might perceive of these ideas as out-dated. • However, Arnold through Leavis and followers represents over a century of influence on attitudes towards popular culture. Arguably, these exact same attitudes still exist. Popular Attitudes • Ideas of elitism still define much reaction to popular culture. – e.g. Jersey Shore  A show which is criticized for being very shallow, not complex like more sophisticated forms of culture. Moral Panics • Fears regarding the influence of popular culture on the masses still exist. – e.g. Grand Theft Auto  Criticized for teaching and encouraging kids to go out “jacking cars and shooting everybody” (Henderson). PCUL1F92 Section 1: Thursday, October-06-11 U.S. survey ranked the intelligence of people compared to their musical interests. Does the music determine a person’s intelligence? Or are people of certain intelligences already drawn to certain music genres? PCUL1F92 Section 1: Thursday, October-06-11 Not to suggest that we need to throw these theories out, however, when we turn attention to analysis we see how these forms of media may reinforce cultural/gender roles. When we examine texts, we can see how these structures emerge as part of the process of production. Pop culture forms made to make money, how is this capital spirit embedded into the product? * * * New slideshow presentation. Mass Culture and the Frankfurt School Mass Culture Theory • Mass culture theory makes huge assumptions about audience that they’re all going to take things and react in the same way. • Largely derived from the approach of Leavis and the attitudes he/his followers had towards mass culture. • This is seen in work such as Dwight Macdonald’s .  Their focus was on ‘mass culture’. • Mass culture: popular culture produced by industrial techniques. • For our purposes, we can certainly extend this into the commercialization and regulation of pastime and play.  e.g. sponsorship, user fees, commercialization. Public spaces always have sponsorship. No such thing as free space anymore. Mass culture theory is clearly tied to theories of urbanization and industrialization. *Looking North along Mulberry St. c 1900 photo * Culture produced in similar manner to other mass culture products, making the comparison to Model-T Fords on an assembly line. Critics: ‘Yes, we understand, but we disagree in that we don’t use these in the same way we do a car.’ * Model-T Fords on assembly line – photo * Effects of Mass Culture • Dwight Macdonald suggests it replaces real pleasures and “deep realities” (sex, death, failure, tragedy) with false pleasures or “trivial and comfortable cultural products”.  On the other hand, Shakespearean plays dealt with all of these “deep realities” in a very significant way. • All of this was very much tied to consumption. • The atomized individual is open to manipulation. Given the conditions they exist under, they can be easily manipulated. • In order to fragment this audience – make this audience not have to think a lot – everything is aimed at a general audience. PCUL1F92 Section 1: Thursday, October-06-11 Audience • Products aimed at very general audience. Mass culture doesn’t want an agitated, thinking audience. Aim that the audience can ‘veg out’ or ‘turn off their brain’ and just enjoy. • Mass culture theories rely on the notion of audience as an undifferentiated mass. Mass Audience • Mass culture theory’s attitude towards audience is critiqued: • 1) Audiences can use texts in different ways than intended. e.g. Blackberry Messaging used to rally rioters in London. • 2) Popular culture offers us an array of choices – we all don’t like the same things. th * image of early 20 century audience with 3D glasses * On the other side of the coin, diversity is also deceptive. Lots of pop culture do influence our sense of social order, even if we don’t like them. Are audiences really passive? Or do mass culture texts treat us this way be reinforcing notions of ‘social order’? We use Popular Culture in Various Ways Reggie Watts video is used politically to raise questions about mass culture production and consumption. Sometimes the form of mass culture is used to critique mass culture. * F— S—t Stack picture
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