CMNS 221 Lecture Notes - Lecture 3: Westview Press, Edward Bernays, Raymond Williams
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CMNS 221 Week 3: Mass/Popular Culture
Mass culture simplifies and glosses over real world problems; lacks intellectual challenge/stimulation and instead
provide escapism and fantasy. Immediate false pleasures are celebrated over serious, intellectual, time-
honoured, authentic values as it voids both real world realities (such as death, failure, etc.) and simple
spontaneous pleasures. Pacifying type of culture. Begins to define social reality for mass public.
Has mass production influenced/created a uniform mass culture? Equalizer; almost everyone participates in mass
culture when trying to meet basic needs. Topics: 20th century as the century of the self, mass culture and mass
society according to Dominic Strinati, The Roaring Twenties, Mass production/printing press/the copy.
Smoking in 1920-30s became feminist through consumer advertising. Edward Bernays: the founder of “public
relations” (modern advertising), created war propaganda, invited Hollywood actors to the white house, inspired
millions of women to smoke—Bernays realized there was a Mass Mind that could be tapped into using
The Roaring Twenties (documentary): a new optimism in economy, industry, etc. People were able to leave their
past do what they wanted in reorganized new countries—the Twenties allowed for many new freedoms. Martin
Garvey embraced the uncertain freedom of minorities in the USA. Women enjoyed new levels of independence
and challenged traditional roles by taking jobs, etc. The huge middle class became far more important and
influential than the few wealthy groups (with some exclusions e.g. Rockefellers, Carnegies, etc.).
Mass production: guaranteed freedom after work hours (the weekend) and the standard of living rose with more
leisure time and technology available through mass production.
Dominic Strinati (reading): The social significance of popular culture in the modern era can be charted by the way
it has been identified with mass culture. The coming of the mass media and the increasing commercialization of
culture and leisure gave rise to debates that continue today. Where does popular culture come from—does it
emerge from the people themselves as an autonomous expression of their interests and modes of experience, or
is it imposed from above by those in positions of power as a type of social control? (True freedom vs. feeling
Mass culture: Raymond Williams diagnosed a shift in perspective. Folk culture—the culture practiced by the
people for centuries such as town hall events, music, dances, story-telling, etc. High culture—the culture
created by and for elites such as operas, symphonies, literature, plays, expensive events.
Mass Society: Consists of people who can only relate to each other like atoms in a physical or chemical compound.
Mass Society consists of atomised people, who lack any meaningful or morally coherent relationships with
each other. Totalization—the same tastes because of same ads, atomization—disconnection, pursue own desires
and life project, and feel competitive.
Critiques of mass culture: F.R. Leavis—literary theorist who claimed that culture should not replace high culture,
that people should all read Woolfs, Yeats, Shakespeare, and learn about Bach, Mozart. Walter Benjamin—
cultural theorist who fled Nazis, leaving his own book collection behind argues that the very fact that culture
came to be almost infinitely reproducible due to the development of techniques of industrial production posed
considerable problems for traditional ideas about the role of culture and art in society. Wrote about mass
reproduction, “work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction” 1936—essay examines the development of
mechanical visual reproduction of a master’s work. The thesis: The copy is tied to mass reproduction and
capitalism’s rise in modernity. Copies become commodities. Copies lack a connection to the original artist or
writer—losing the “aura”; when you can put something everywhere in the world, the meaning/aura of the
original is lost. Original art work harbors an aura of authenticity or uniqueness that is lost through the act of
reproduction when context is changed.
Andy Warhol: Marilyn Monroe was iconic for her commercialisation. She was a commodity. Replaceable,
reproducible (although Monroe herself was not). Does his painting defend or criticise?
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