Defining Popular Culture Cultural Studies Essay


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(John Storey, 2006, p.1) "popular culture is always defined, implicitly or explicitly, in contrast to other conceptual categories: folk culture, mass culture, dominant culture".

Before we look into more depth about the term 'popular culture' we must first determine what it actually means. Firstly to break the term down, Raymond Williams says culture is "one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language" (cited storey 2006). To understand what William means we will take a look at his definitions. William refers to culture in three ways, firstly he states culture could be seen as "a general process of intellectual, spiritual and aesthetic development". The examples storey gives are "great philosophers, great artists and great poets" which noticeably the word great is used giving a sense of high culture. Secondly "a particular way of life, whether a people, a period or a group" (ibid).


Popular Culture

Now we have determined what the terms popular and culture mean we can now look at the word as a whole. Storey states that Popular culture "is the culture that is left over after we have decided what is high culture" (Storey 2009, p. 6). Popular culture is therefore seen as "inferior culture" or 'low culture' (ibid). When you think about popular culture in this way there comes a problem, who determines which category it falls into. Storey states "to be real culture, it has to be difficult" therefore creating a division to who can and who can not. Pierre Bourdieu argues that "cultural distinctions of this kind are often used to support class distinctions. Taste is a deeply ideological category: it functions as a marker of class" (Bourdieu 1984).

Popular culture is often taken from culture, diluted and then distributed to the masses for personal gain.

Sub cultures are created to help a group of people who feel left out from society, find there place. When looking at sub cultures, they are often associated with the youth of society. It could be argued that sub cultures are made possible because the youth within society have much more leisure time. (Lifestyle) The reason for this is said to be because of the generation gap.

Some sub cultures create a moral panic because it challenges the norm and goes against how the people should think and what they should be doing. In doing so they create there ideology according to how they feel about society which is often opposed to the elite. If this is the case then it suggests a political dimension to what popular culture is so therefore it is not just about leisure or entertainment.

Popular culture and the mass media go hand in hand because the media creates a distorted image of how the world is and the masses are said to passively consume it. Popular culture is also argued to divert people away from what is important which is said to be beneficiary for the elite, an example of this is capitalism. (Storey 2006) Ideology conceals the reality of domination from those in power: the dominant class don't see themselves as exploiter or oppressors". More importantly though it works in favour of the elite as Storey states "Ideology conceals the reality of subordination from those who are powerless: the subordinate class don't see themselves as exploited or oppressed".

One of the most significant ideological practices in recent years has been the categorical dividing of what is popular and what is classical. Storey states "the division between high and popular culture…is absolutely clear…and transhistorical-fixed for all time." Up until recent years the divions of the two were quite prominent but with groups like Escala (who were on Britain's got talent) the divide becomes blurry. Groups like Escala play classical music in a different way to the norm but which is still classical and since they were on a popular show they made classical music popular. But that does not mean it will stay that way because if you look at some of the Cds they are bringing out for classical music now with such titles as "Pure Classical" which may seem innocent but could be argued that the elite are trying to police the boundaries.

The real question what has been discussed is, value.

As we have look in the first part of this essay, culture is not a fixed thing, it changes over time. A prime example of this would be opera. It started off for working class people but over time soon change and now is for the elite in society. If you were to look at the price it started off at it was only a few pennies but now the price of a ticket is quite high which therefore excludes people from taking part. Another example of this would be of you were to take a look at Pavarotti who had top selling albums and chart toppers, who then went to put on a performance in Hyde park for free and a woman attending give a comment to say "I cant afford to go to the posh opera houses and folk out £100 for a ticket". Yet again you could see some of the elite trying to police the boundaries by giving bad reviews saying "the park is no place for opera". When you take that review and think about what they are really mean, they are saying it should stay in the opera house and keep its exclusiveness.

Ideologies gain persuasive powers to either directly or indirectly influence the way people live, how they behave and how they relate to each other. Ideology can be understood by a set of values and ideas that a certain group shares.

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