American Popular Culture And Its Manifestation Cultural Studies Essay

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America as a trendsetter in our world

America is the third biggest continent of our world and has with 298.444.215 inhabitants a very high population rate. During the 20th century the United States had an enormous economic impetus and in this time the expression of the American dream, an ethos in which democratic ideals are perceived as a promise of prosperity for the American people, got stamped. Also in the 18th century they set a signal for the world which was still suppressed by absolutistic monarchs, because of the declaration of independence and the fundamental rights. Consequently you can say that America acted like a trendsetter already since then, because of being an example for positive changes in society. When you talk to people now they still see America as a trendsetter, but in another way. When you think about trends today, the main things that come to your mind are music, the film and TV industry, sports and of course fashion. With Hollywood, the home of high society and top stars, America has the stronghold of trendsetters. Legendary musicians like Elvis and Michael Jackson or the Backstreetboys were all American citizens. Especially boy groups, singing and dancing male teenagers, were a trend which influenced the whole world and so in Europe young girls as well really got moved after this trend. Listening to the European song charts, the majority of the hits played there are produced by American musicians like Timbaland or Rihanna, to name only two of many others. Furthermore TV is an example in which the USA is the unmatched trend setter that rules also the European TV-program with series, soaps and reality-shows. Dallas which was produced from 1978 till 1991 was one of the first US-American series which became extremely popular in Germany, Denver Clan followed during the years 1981 till 1989 beside many others.

Last but not least there is the fashion to be named as a trend setting example for America. Some of the most famous and popular designers whom the world knows are born in the United States, like Ralph Lauren, Levi Strauss and Tommy Hilfiger to mention only a few of them. What would the world be without Strauss's invention of the Blue Jeans.

Summing up it is to be said that America is the front runner of trend setting. The reasons for this phenomen will be explained detailed in the further chapters about popular culture.

Definition of "popular culture"

Popular culture is a difficult and extensive theme, about which many theories and definitions were written by different authors.

At the beginning the two words "popular" and "culture" must be clarified. "Culture is one of two or three most complex words in the English language" [1] , says Raymond William, a very high-powered British scientist, critic and author. In his work "culture and society" which is a big contribution for cultural theory, he writes about three general categories into which culture can be divided, namely: culture as an ideal, culture as a document and the social definition of culture. [2] 

In William's first definition, lived culture, he leads on the human life-styles and models of behaviour, directing after ideals. Thus we people strive after a life in perfection, while we are directed after given values, as for example the foundation of a family or success in the job. Furthermore also the social life, like the support of weaker or an affectionate cooperation, count as timeless and universal ideals which are to be aimed. This process of culture happens mostly unconsciously, because we get these values already pre lived, automatically integrate ourselves and live after them.

Secondly culture is described in various documents. Besides, one means the traditional texts and works from the preceding epochs which return the life-style at that time. Especially in literature and art one can speak of "documented culture" because only while we read or look at what has put out human life and thinking at that time, we get a picture of former values an can adopt or continue them.. In certain ways one can therefore say that the lived and the traditional culture are in coherence, because ideals and values are only shown through the texts and practices to us after which we can live and the culture is thereby continued. However, on this occasion, there is, as well as Williams discussed, a problem. To know the precise details of the preceding cultures, one would have to have read all traditional works. Because this is virtually impossible, nobody can claim itself to have read all works and therefore a big part of the details gets mostly lost. [3] 

The however most important definition of culture is the social one, because it opens three new interpretation possibilities. From anthropological view culture describes a certain life-style. Another suggestion is the expression of certain values by culture. The last possibility sees cultural analysis as a way to show a life-style.

To the general interpretation of culture it is unacceptable, according to Williams, to look only at one of many definition possibilities. Each of the three ways to define culture, has certain clues in itself which contribute to the general definition. Therefore it is our task to see culture as a whole and to produce links between the single interpretation possibilities, even if this is not an easy process. Furthermore Williams writes in his work, that it is especially important to understand what culture expresses and to bring the unconsciously perceived to ideology. This special structure Williams names the so-called "structure of feelings" [4] which plays a big role in cultural analysis, because by recorded culture it is possible to read recorded "structure of feelings " and to live through them. [5] 

„For Williams it is crucial to understand the selectivity of cultural traditions" , because only an once lived culture can become an recorded one. [6] 

As next of course the term "popular" must be clearified. According to the official word definition it signifies „the quality to be liked and known" and has his origin in the Latin word popularitas, what means affability. [7] Also Raymond William has done moreover four suggestions. His first suggestion "well liked by many people" [8] is very close to the original definition.. Furthermore he states the definitions "inferior kinds of work", "work deliberately setting out to win favour with the people" and "culture actually made by the people for themselves". [9] Nevertheless, all his explanations drive out on the meaning of his first suggestion, the popularity. To us nowadays the most familiar word explanation is the official one who describes "popular" with known and liked.

The theories about popular culture give many possibilities for interpretation. A beginning point is to define it with the general meaning of the word popular, so this is a culture which is liked by many people. As popularity indicators, for example, the sales rates of books, CDs or DVDs can be taken. They reveal what is liked by the people and what makes popular culture. [10] 

Furthermore there is the possibility to define popular culture, through initially defining what belongs to "high culture". As a conclusion therefore everything what is not difficult and complicated enough to belong to the high culture, belongs to the remaining category popular culture. This is "a definition of popular culture as inferior culture". [11] On this occasion, the third definition possibility, the mass culture, also comes into mind. To carry out a division, one assigns all public, mass produced to popular culture and everything that "is the result of an individual act of creation" [12] to high culture. Mass culture means that all things which count to culture are produced by the mass for the mass and are made popular by advertisement. Nevertheless, this kind of culture is afflicted partly negatively, because it is often called primitive and manipulative, because of her mass spreading. With the second definition possibility it can happen that former popular culture becomes high culture. An example for this are the works of Shakespeare which counted in the 19th century to the popular mass culture, because they appealed a wide audience. Nowadays they are classified as masterpieces in the category of high culture. [13] 

We can therefore conclude, that with the attempt to define popular culture we recognize, that there are many ways to do variations.

As a possible most reasonable summary it is to be said that pop culture mostly originates from modernisations, spreads in the masses fast and finds popularity. [14] 

American popular culture

The statement that popular culture has its origin in America can not be proven unequivocal. On the other hand it is fact that the popular culture got significantly stamped through the USA. This comes through the special creativity there, which produced several idols of the pop culture originated from a "uniquely democratic way of life driven by a multicultural society" [15] . In all possible areas which concern culture originated ideas and things which spred up the pop culture and stamped it.

3.1 Sport

Also in sporty areas America has produced some new inventions and idols which count to pop culture. The sport bowling plays a big role in the everyday life of the Americans. The young soldiers returning from the second world war took her dates with to the bowling alley, thereby this sport quickly got big popularity and it virtually became the tradition to hold family meeting or similar things there. Also the meetings and the communication at the bowling alley were highly appreciated, so this sport became "America's favourite game" very fast. [16] 

"The holy trio of American sports" [17] , basketball, football and baseball likewise belong to the American pop culture. Especially basketball protrudes from these three sports. In 1946 the "National basketball association" which put a sign with her first three Afro American players Earl Lloyd, Sweetwater Clifton and Chuck Cooper was founded. However, as the big idol for many sports friends counts Michael Jordan, "the greatest player in the history of basketball". [18] 

Another thing which changed the culture is the invention of the snowboard. In 1980 Jake Burton built the first official model. From this time on the snowboarding agreed more and more, above all, young followers and in 1998 it became even part of the Winter Olympics. Even if the snowboard was not accepted by the ski culture in the beginning, it has become an important part of the winter sports. [19] 

3.2 Music

America is also one of the major contributor to the development of the music scene.

Elvis Presley, born in 1935 in Mississippi, counts as the "most important representative of the rock and pop culture of the 20-th century " [20] .He was one of the first musicians who has taken up Afro-American elements into his songs and was active in all sections of music, rock, pop, country, gospel and blues. Even after his death in 1977 the "king" lived on in his music as a legend and has even today many fans. [21] 

Another superstar from America is the "queen of pop" [22] Madonna who is known worldwide for her pop music. Her first single "like a virgin" was published in 1984 and still until today she writes successful hits like the recently released songs "hung up" or "4 minutes". Madonna is one of the "most successful female recording artist ever" [23] She is not only active as a musician , but also wrote books for children, and as she was from the beginning trend setting in fashion. She transferred this talent meanwhile into several successful design collections. In 2008 she even was raised into the Rock Hall of Fame. [24] 

Another very formative influence to the American music was given by Tupac Shakur. He counts as one of the most successful rappers of the world and was mandatory impact giving to the area of HIP HOP which is originated in the course of the pop culture in America. The dark skinned musician grew up in the ghettos of New York and Baltimore and made his first experiences with drug dealing and procuring already in his early youth. His lyrics were strongly stamped by these experiences and his life full of violence. Also the discrimination of the Afro American inhabitants in the States whom he also had to experience on his own body are reflected in his songs [25] .Finally in 1996 Tupac Shakur found his dramatic end in getting killed in a gang gunfight. After his death his friends and former partner recorded his unpublished songs which sell 'till today millions of times [26] . Today Tupac Shakur, also known under his artist's name 2pac counts as a legend and is seen as "the greatest rapper ever" [27] .

Elvis Presley, Madonna and Tupac are only three of many artists who set the tone of Americas music pop culture.

3.3 Movie

America as the stronghold of film industry and stars is a key promoter of the pop culture and has created hundreds of icons . Starting in the area of the comics world-famous figures, like Mickey Mouse, Popeye, Bugs Bunny or Superman were sketched.. Today Mickey Mouse which is seen with pleasure especially by children counts as "the most beloved cartoon character of all times" [28] . The 18th November, 1928 is the birthday of Mickey Mouse which was created by Walt Disney and belongs today like Donald Duck to the most famous Disney's figures [29] . Walter Elias Disney, the inventor of many comic figures, was not only active as a film editor but also as a voice imitator and entertainer. He is one of the founders of Walt Disney Productions, beside his brother Roy O. Disney and is especially famous for his influence in the area of entertainment in the 20th century.

"May the force be with you" [30] , this sentence is probably known to the majority of the people, is another stage of Americas film history . In the seventies George Lucas has created the figures Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and Princess Leia by his masterpiece Star Wars. This film has ensured worldwide a big enthusiasm by his actions „in a galaxy far, far away" [31] . Meanwhile there are already five Stars Wars cinema movies and even TV series on the market.

Beside the film production, also the culture of experiencing and enjoying movies is continuously redefined by the Americans.

With the introduction of cars at the beginning of the 20th century Richard Hollingshead Jr., the owner of a company for means of car care, had the idea to start the world's first drive-in cinema. This way of enjoying a movie had for years a special value in the USA, because with the though of it, the picture of a romantic date in the private shere of a car comes immediately to mind. Later such cinemas spread out all over the world. [32] 

Another American invention is the 3-D cinema. In 1952 there came for the first time the trend to enjoy films in a quite special way, besides, the remarkable sign are the 3-D glasses. Nevertheless, after a big success in the beginning, a lull also came fast, because "wide-screen formats knocked 3-D into second dimension" [33] . However, short time ago, in the 1980th, a renewed impetus occurred through the origin of the IMAX. Furthermore attempts run for the development of a system to pursue such films also without 3-D glasses. A new, very popular entertainment possibility for the people was created by the origin of 3-D cinema. [34] 

Sport, music and film industry are some of the main examples from many different areas in which life style trends and icons have originated from the American pop culture.

Consequences of the American pop culture on Europe

In Europe the popular culture of America rapidly found a wide base of followers. In the 1950s this was noted especially in Great Britain, because, above all, young people found big fallen in the American culture. They used this in certain way to escape from the "grey certainties of British everyday life" [35] . One can interpret this movement virtually as a kind of the liberalisation which is also called Americanization.

The concept Americanization describes a one-sided cultural transfer of the USA in other states. This signifies the cultural values leaving America and slop over on other countries. It has become quite everyday in our life to realise American elements also in our culture. This slopping over occurs especially through audio-visual media and this since a long time. America has a special supremacy in the world since the First World War and counts as the shining example what modernisation concerns. Already in the 20s the first Americanization took place in the area of film. The Americanization concerns, above all, the popular culture and mass culture and is accepted fast, especially, by young people. [36] 

An example for this is the change of the eating culture in Europe, and especially in Germany. The so-called fast food chains like McDonalds or Burger King belong to the "American way of life" [37] . In 1950th the idea of the fast food came up the first time. Five years later the first McDonalds restaurant was opened. This way of quick and easy feeding became accepted very fast. Meanwhile such restaurants are spread all over the world, not only by McDonalds, and generate millions of dollar revenue. Especially for young people fast food is a major part of their eating culture. [38] 

Besides fast food the already cited cultural areas of sport, music and film industry which were strongly stamped by the American pop culture slopped over to Europe. Meanwhile, for example in sports, the snowboard is not to be imagined as not existing in our winter scene any more and is, above all, among teenagers very popular. With the origin in skate boarding and surfing it is not only a popular sport but also represents a specific lifestyle of freedom, especially for younger people.

Musical icons like Madonna, Elvis and Tupac had and still have consequences on the world's popular culture. Elvis "the King" counts as a legend not only in America. Also in whole Europe Elvis has changed the history of music at his lifetimes and even after his death he lives on in many European hearts. This can be seen for example in numerous Elvis imitators which still entertain big audiences.

The rapper Tupac Shakur who has influenced the Rap music in America thoroughly is also in Europe and especially in Germany a idol for many youngsters especially for those coming from lower social groups. Since his lyrics in many cases are speaking right from the soul, expressing many of the bad experiences, fears and dreams of young underprivileged, this music style is often playing a central role in their life. Thus German rappers like Buschido or Sido also had a stimulus to process social problems in music. This music area found big popularity thereby also in Europe and is an important part of the today's pop culture.

The Americanization had impact to music and their different styles, but even much earlier its first consequences are started in the film industry in 1920. America has created a stronghold of film production and stars with Hollywood. Hollywood is a part of the city Los Angeles lying in California and is also called centre of the US-American film industry. However, this area which was once called Cahuenga was completely unknown before. The film shooting of director D. W. Griffith in 1910 was the beginning step in the history of today's Hollywood . Only one year later the first film studio was established there. Today, everybody knows that the biggest film studios in the world like Universal Studios and Warner Bros. settle at this place. [39] 

Many films produced in Hollywood , for example Harry Potter, also had big impacts to Europe. The magic apprentice with the round glasses who experiences numerous fantastic adventures with his friends is a creation of the English author Joanne K. Rowling. After the release of the Harry Potter books especially the filmings of his adventures has released an unbelievable hype all over the world and has tied up thousand of youngsters and even their parents before the canvases. [40] Another example for such phenomena is the actual movie serial Twilight. Furthermore worldwide famous and classical film productions are Gone with the wind, Breakfast at Tiffany and Rebel without a cause. There could be hundred's of further examples mentioned.

To sum up, is to be said that sport inventions like the snowboard, musicians like Elvis, Madonna and Tupac, as well as the named film productions from Hollywood are only a few examples for the significant influence to the European pop culture.

Americcan popular culture's manifestation on Tommy Hilfiger's fashion

Thomas Jacob Hilfiger, better known as Tommy Hilfiger was born on the 24th March, 1951 in Elmira, New York. He grew up in a big family and visited high school in his hometown. At the age of 18 years he decided against the will of his parents who saw him as an engineer in his professional future, on a career in the world of fashion. He has started with small things such as changing bought Jeans after his taste and resold them in Elmira. As the first step into a big future he opened a small boutique with two friends in his hometown. Nevertheless, after short success the three young men had to close their store, because of the origin of big shopping centres which pushed them out of the market. As a result Hilfiger moved with his wife to New York and there he concentrated predominantly on the sketching of clothing. In 1984 he founded, again with the help of friends, the Tommy Hilfiger Corporation. Now from this time his designs things are sold under the label "Tommy Hilfiger". His special and high quality clothes quickly had many fans and lead to a million success. Tommy Hilfiger is active till today as a chief designer and received several awards for his work. In 1995 he became mans wear designer of the year and in 2008 he received even the Bambi in the area of fashion. [41] 

Tommy Hilfiger is one of the most famous and most popular American designers who can enjoy a worldwide success. His special brand label includes the American colours blue-white-red and stands for the typical American collegestyl. "America is my heritage and Americans are my inspiration " [42] is a statement which Hilfiger has expressed. This shows his especially distinctive home love. The American flag colours blue-white-red and the stars and stripes, he has printed not only as motives on his shirts, but has even made them to his brand colours, visible on all his clothes. Another sign of his fashion is the American college style which Tommy Hilfiger takes as a model. This style includes not only of elements of the uniform, like blouses, blazers or pleated skirts, but also of careless sweatshirts, shirts and Jeans. Hilfiger combines two fashion directions, the sportily careless style and the distinguished one in his collections. Especially by his carelessly lively draughts he has appealed, above all, to the youth. Nevertheless, he attracts with his fashion all generations and those who has grown up in the 70s and 80s with his fashion, are so inspired that they will continue to wear this style.. At a concert of the musician Snoop Dog on which he wore a Hilfiger shirt, his fashion was discovered by the Hip-Hop scene. From this event his fashion was also converted into street wear and became a youngster trend label

"Dressing should be a fun, creative way to express yourself, with clothes celebrating your individuality" [43] is Tommy Hilfigers motto after which he designes his clothes. By the associations of sporty and classically American design, he created the so-called "casual wear" [44] . Today even Tommy Hilfiger himself who feels inspired especially by American way of life counts as a fashion icon. His label belongs to the worldwide most known lifestyle brands and takes pleasure about big popularity. [45] 

Tommy Hilfiger is a real American, from top to toe. His patriotism is so strong that he is inspired especially by its popular culture and is also giving inspiration into it. In 2007 he sealed his patriotism by the publication of the book "Iconic America - a roller-coaster ride through the eye-popping panorama of American pop culture" together with George Lois.

"I have endeavored to remind the world, as well as my fellow citizens, of the variety and magnificence of American pop culture" [46] .

How already the title of the work states, the story talks about icons of the American pop culture. It is like a listing of the things which have her origin in the USA. Started with Coca Cola up to the Playboy, Tommy Hilfiger and George Lois want to show the spell width of the American way of life and remind again what America stands for.

Another elementary step for the spreading of the American icons listed by Hilfiger is the origin of a film. One year after the publication of the book the unique trip through the world of American pop culture with the principal characters Bar Rafaeli and Rives was shown in the US television. The two actors go on a crazy journey through whole America and experience from food to design all parts of American culture. This show sends it's audience on an exciting trip through the national culture and shows America unilaterally which still stayed undiscovered up to now. [47] 

Designer Tommy Hilfiger was influenced and inspired by his homeland America in all his creating. He has contributed a big part to the history of the popular culture, on the one hand by his fashion, on the other hand, also by his work "iconic America". Today the world-famous fashion designer is seen as an icon and is one of the important stylists of the popular culture.

Tommy Hilfiger as an example for trend setting

Finally is to be said that pop culture is an important, unimagineable as not existing element of our daily life. This culture got stamped impact-giving through America and has been spread by the americanization in the whole world. As in the preceding already shown music, film and fashion belong to the most important areas which were changed by the pop culture.

The designer Tommy Hilfiger was inspired by this culture, but he also changed it in some way. His distinctive patriotism is a reason for his influence on the areas of music, film and fashion. Trough his activity as a designer and the foundation of the style "casual wear" he has put trends in the world of fashion. As one of the most famous and most popular designers he has spread his clothing worldwide and particularly in Europe. The lable "Tommy Hilfiger" has provides trends to the whole world and spreads fast. The so-called "streetwear" of the designer likewise found many fans in the music area HIP HOP. The style of this music scene thereby got changed and this is another proof for Hilfiger's trendsetting impact to the pop culture.

The area of film was also influenced by his work "Iconic America" and its filming. "Iconic America" is a great summary of all the unique and partially crazy "products", defining America's pop culture. Therefore it meanwhile counts even itself as a part of the pop culture.

Tommy Hilfiger has accomplished therefore big consequences on the pop culture and can be mentioned as a classic example of America's trend setting in all areas. His great success in Europe is also a proof for americanization. So poular culture is a special type of culture that concerns all areas of life in the whole world.

7. Table of contents


Primary literature:

Titel: Cultural theory and popular culture

Author: John Storey

Publishing company: Pearson, Longman

Edition: 2009. England, Harlow

Secondary literature:

Titel: Iconic America - A roller-coaster ride through the eye-popping panorama of

American pop culture

Author: Tommy Hilfiger, George Lois

Publishing company: Universe

Edition: 2007. America, New York

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Tommy Hilfiger

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