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Chapter 1

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Ryerson University
SOC 202
Nicole Neverson

Week 2 (Jan 21&24) General Themes of Popular Culture TEXTBOOKNOTES Preface • Popular culture is popular. We think we know what we are doing and why we are doing it when it comes to: watching films, listening to pop music, shopping, or drinking coffee. • Popular culture is something we know how to “speak” without needing lessons, audiotapes, courses or guidebooks. Knowing how to speak a language because we are immersed in it does not mean that • we are necessarily able to read or write it, or that we understand it’s structure. • Because we are immersed in it, popular culture is both uniquely accessible and frustratingly opaque it is hard to get critical purchase on something we inhabit so completely and, most of the time, more or less unconsciously. Chapter 1 • Going out for coffee is a major part of popular culture, not only in the sense that it is such a common practice, but also because it means so much more than the literal act of actually drinking the coffee. • Going “for coffee” might not even mean drinking coffee at all. What about drinking coffee makes it popular culture? compared to other common things like yawning or mowing the lawn.. or are they part of popular culture too? • No one reads past the first few pages of a book of instructions that come with a cellphone. You turn the phone on and off and figure it out as you go. Popular culture is different. We need a guide because we are already so familiar with the ways we use it. It’s difficult to find out what else we can do with it. We don’t really understand it’s possibilities and limits. DefiningPopularCulture • Popular culture is familiar and obvious at first glance, but very complicated as soon as you start to think about it in any detail. • Popular culture consists of those things- products, texts, practices, and so on- that are enjoyed by lots and lots of people. Popular culture is commercial culture (as opposed to “high” culture... listening to the symphony, going to a opera) • Popular culture consists of the traditional practices and beliefs or a way of life of a specific group. • Popular culture is simply the practices of everyday life. (most wide ranging definition) • *Popular culture can’t really have one correct definition just like other important social concepts that produce the shape of the societies we live in, like democracy and justice. POPULAR culture is informed by ALL these perspectives, not in the sense that each is partially true, but in the sense that the tension between them is fundamental to understanding the meaning of popular culture today. WhatisCulture? Week 2 (Jan 21&24) General Themes of Popular Culture TEXTBOOKNOTES • Capital-C Culture: high end creative production: artistic pursuits that are enjoyed by an elite minority as opposed to more accessible leisure activities such as sports. EXAMPLES: opera houses, ballet, Shakespeare. These are associated with the past. These kind of cultural productions are those that have over time assumed an especially privileged place in the collection of ideas and artifacts that comprises a cultural tradition. A second definition encompasses everyday rituals such as meals, work, religious • observances, sports, sex, family, and friendship. “Culture” in this context refers to the practices that define us, collectively and in distinct groups, as human. EXAMPLE: when we go on vacation to experience different cultures; to get a glimpse into a different way of life organized according to it’s own principles and around it’s own practices. • The Mass Media: the thing that threatens to destroy “culture.” The experience of living in a postmodern society- the experience that most of the people who teach and study those objects have- a life that is dominated by the mass media. This Mass Media falls outside the definitions of culture centered around elite artistic production or the practices of ordinary everyday life. EXAMPLES: [#1] the dumbing down of Shakespeare plays to satisfy the tastes of the mass audience in Hollywood productions such as: Romeo & Juliet, O (based on Othello), and 10 things I hate about you (based on Taming of the Shrew). [#2] the corruption of “authentic” grassroots cultures by the global entertainment industry which makes it difficult for us to find cultures in our travels that are much different than our own. These two definitions are very different but they both have a sense of nostalgia, that something has been lost. *A once pure culture has been contaminated by commerce. • Cultural Studies: the desire to understand this world-contaminated-by-commerce. • Cultural studies define culture as: “the social production and reproduction of sense, meaning and consciousness. The sphere of meaning, which unifies the spheres of production (economics) and social relations (politics).” • This is a useful definition because so far because it manages to encompass a wide variety of “meaning-producing” practices and technologies, including both traditional definitions of culture- fine art and everyday practices- and mass media. It is difficult to ignore that the different conceptions of culture that are named in this • definition are historically not only different but CONTRADICTORY. • Culture Studies isn’t interested in smoothing over these contradictions, but rather interested in actively teasing them out and laying them bare. How is culture produced (made by society) and reproduced (passed on by society into • the future)? Who makes culture? For whom is it made? What/WhoDefinesthePopular? • Popular: something that is liked by a lot of people. EXAMPLE: CSI Miami is the most popular show on television, based on ratings in 20 nations. We can assume from this that a lot of us like slick crime dramas shot in glamorous settings. Week 2 (Jan 21&24) General Themes of Popular Culture TEXTBOOKNOTES • The word “popular” has more to do with than just numbers. The words “popular” and “the people” don’t refer to absolutely everyone, but to a certain group to whom a certain quality is or value is attached. EXAMPLE: major art museums have come under fire for abandoning their mandate to promote serious art in favor of “popular” blockbuster shows guaranteed to fill up the galleries (and the museum shop). • Art and Museum critics are not happy about the trend of blurring high and popular culture. • Museums are torn between two opposite philoso
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