THE HISTORY OF POPULAR CULTURE (TEXTBOOOK NOTES)
Introduction: Taking it from the Streets
· Someone being sued for playing hockey on the streets. “It’s not about the
hockey, it’s about property rights… trampling my family’s garden”)
· This case is related to popular culture because: 1) It’s about one aspect of
popular culture: information recreation (tends to get ignored in favor of an
emphasis on the commercial products of mass media)
2) It features sport whose relationship to “culture” of any kind is often
3) It concerns the critical issue of public space.
- Who gets to use it and how?
- How are rights concerning the recreational use of public space balanced
against laws protecting private property?
* These questions and issues lie at the heart of contemporary popular culture.
They are what make it distinct from earlier cultural forms.
Popular Recreation Before 1830
· In a primarily farming economy, recreation was closely tied to work in the form
of holidays and festivals associated with particular times in the agriculture
calendar, and everyday social interactions that occurred as a form of labour.
· Together with work, recreation tied the community together through activities
whose form and meaning had been established through tradition.
· * The most notable difference from popular culture today is that traditional
recreation was MOSTLY HOMEADE, CONSISTING OF SPORTS, GAMES AND
DANCING that required little in the way of organization and equipment
· There’s a tendency to view this early form of popular culture through the rosy
haze of nostalgia, to represent it as somehow PURER (since less commercialized)
and more WHOLESOME and community-minded than, say television or video
· Harder to romanticize from a contemporary perspective are the brutally violent
elements of “blood” sports involving animals, such as bullbaiting and
cockfighting, and the high level of social conformity recreation demanded.
The Bonds of Community
· What was in one sense a bigger gulf between socioeconomic categories than
exists today was partly bridged by a tradition of patronage, in which the ruling
class recognized a duty of care toward those on whose labour they depended.
· For example: wealthy land owners tolerated and in some cases actively
facilitated the recreational activities of their workers (by granting time off, for
example, or allowing the use of their land for sports and festivals)
· In sum, romantic images of entertainment in preindustrial society are in some
sense accurate; fun was mostly free, even when closely bound up with economic
activities of the community; it reflected a STRONG ATTACHMENT TO THE
NATURAL WORLD, and recreation fostered connections between people. Chapter 2
THE HISTORY OF POPULAR CULTURE (TEXTBOOOK NOTES)
· On negative side: Conservative and traditional nature of recreational activities
allowed only occasional ritual challenges to social authority and tended to
emphasize social solidarity over individual pleasure or inclination. FOR EXAMPLE:
among the entertainments surrounding courtship, there were no alternatives for
men and women who weren’t interested in heterosexual coupling.
· Finally, traditional recreation, with its strong emphasis on blood sports, reflected
the hardship and brutality of farm labourers’ lives- brutality enacted most
violently on animals.
Capitalism and the Industrial Revolution
· The industrial revolution brought with it a new culture, new pleasures and
identities, AND new kinds of brutality
· *One of the Key preconditions for the development of popular culture in its
contemporary form is: THE ECONOMIC SYSTEM OF CAPITALISM.
· Capitalism was altered and intensified by a series of events that came to be
described as the industrial revolution
Redefining Cultural Spaces
· Enclosing formerly open spaces with fences, affected popular culture in very
direct ways by placing physical constraints on certain kinds of activity.
· It also influenced popular culture generally, changing the relationship between
work and play and reconfiguring people’s sense of community.
· Enclosure placed an OVIOUS restriction on the kinds of recreation that could take
· Beyond the significance of the loss of these specific activities was the severing
of a vital link between agricultural work and recreation.
· As landowners fenced off property with the aim of increasing its economic
productivity, a vital connection was lost between the creative realms of work and
· More generally, the reorganization of space that resulted from enclosure
changed the way people related to one another. Not only did it accentuate
divisions between the landholding and laboring classes, but it also made it
harder in general for people to connect with one another, resulting in the
fragmentation of traditional forms of community.
· Urbanization: Contributed significantly to the reduction of open spaces
available for recreation as land was expropriated for the building of industrial
infrastructure. As fields disappeared with no new playgrounds to replace them, it
became harder to find places to hold outdoor sports, festivals and other forms of
· Urbanization also affected the productio