Popular Culture - complete course notes

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30 Mar 2012
- It is hard to pin down as it is always changing shape, location, tasks/functions
- Consists of products, texts and traditional, common practises, beliefs and ways of life
- Informed by both commercial and high culture perspectives; the tensions between the two are
fundamental to pop culture
Influence of social and political change
Ubiquity (omnipresence) of pop culture it is everywhere
Identity to understand what affects/shapes who we are
Power & pleasure
- Big-C Culture’: a way of life based on the traditional past that is defined by the powerful and privileged
elitists through high-end creative productions (eg. opera), as opposed to the publicly-accessible
activities that are mainstream culture (eg. sports, movie theatres)
- Culture’: broad understanding of society that is viewed as a way of life and everyday rituals/practises
that define us both collectively and in distinct groups, and the meanings that people attach to these
- Mass media’: falls outside elite culture and everyday practises, and is dangerous to culture as a
corrupting force due to the motivation of profit the corruption of the authentic roots of culture by the
entertainment industry (eg. the dumbing down of media for the dumb public masses)
- Popular’: defined through quantity of the everyday people (ratings, size of audiences)
- Convergence’: when media products and services intersect, blurring the lines between mass and elite
culture due to accessibility
Technical convergence digitization that changed the available transmission format, becoming the
principle way of storing and delivering to customers
Functional convergence emphasis on services and products rather than transmissions multi-
media and hybrid services are most important (voice, data image and text functions in cell phones)
Corporate convergence media organizations operate across different industries (eg. Rogers
sport, media, print)
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- 3 main components of pop culture:
Consumption and production what audiences consume
Folk culture identifiable, traditional practises passed down from generations (eg. family recipes,
Mass culture: unidentifiable, aimed at the largest possible audience
Power associated with the accessibility, privilege, etc. that is important in he production,
purchase, access and definition of culture
- General themes of pop culture:
Political economy and cultural studies: “The study of the social relations, particularly the power
relations, that mutually constitute the production, distribution, and consumption of resources.
(Mosco, 1006)
Ownership and control; examines how media and culture influence the power that comes..
a. Within the mass media the patterns of ownership and control that influence production,
content and consumption
b. Beyond the mass media cultural institutions (art galleries, theatres, museums) and
community organizations
Marxist roots: social, economic and class relations create cultural relations wealth, privilege and
elite status = cultural power and money
- 4 characteristics of cultural studies:
Dominant culture examines the influential force in constructing and reinforcing ideologies and
discourses through mass media
Ideologies: ‘common sense’ ways we think about reality, setting boundaries for what is
Discourses: how ideologies are carried out/expressed through language and actions
Interdisciplinary focus uses theories and methods from many social sciences
Emphasis on connections the context and reasoning is important for understanding culture
Emphasis on the subjective observations made by individuals are biased, making us the narrators;
our experiences and perceptions are subjective
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- Culture wars’: ongoing struggles in society over how to define and explain things, and the function of
culture (eg. elites vs. the masses, profit vs. artistry/creativity, giving audiences what they want vs.
exposing them to new experiences)
Commodification’: products are consumers’ needs and desires
Commodity fetishism’: symbolic and emotional meaning attached to consumption
- Culture as:
Folk culture created by the people
Mass culture mediated to large audiences
Mass consumption what we buy, eat and listen to
The everyday what we do
- Culture = class + capital (Bourdieu, 1984): addressed cultural tastes in modern times where culture is no
longer just for leisure
Class as a determining factor: the one thing that can predict/dictate one’s culture and behavior,
based on social and economic status our daily culture/material lives display wealth, and this
becomes a thing of status and lifestyle
Class determines the choices we make in cultural texts choices in fashion, music, literature, films,
Types of capital (currency and power), all determined by social class:
Economic financial ability, what we can buy
Social networks and connections
Cultural the knowledge of what society views as valuable
- Hegemony’ (Gramsci, 1981): theory of political prisoner of Fascist Italy that states the masses are not
brainwashed by pop. culture messages and are not passive, but are a subordinate group that consents
to being dominated by the wealthy elite
Criticized the government’s control, stated we don’t rebel because we are constantly bombarded
by the same ideas and messages
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