Pop culture is the shortened form of the phrase popular culture. It is a phrase used to describe the prevailing lifestyle in the West arising from prevailing mental conceptions of the masses which permeates all aspect of living and traceable to the early part of the 20th century to the 21st century. It is the totality of lifestyles of the mainstream of people in Western societies as expressed in fashions and fads technology, language, sports and entertainment. Pop culture is highly shaped by the mass media and it is viewed with disdain by opposed or non-mainstream groups of people in the society. Pop culture is seen as the result of mindless attempts to gain popularity by promoting ideas and living styles that find popular acceptance by the masses. In this sense, pop culture is placed in counter-distinction from high culture which is regarded as the lifestyle of the truly educated and enlightened, particularly the higher classes in the society.
History of Pop Culture
Historically, popular culture has been regarded as being equivalent to mass culture. Mass culture being held as the culture that is common with the masses of the society who are seen as exhibiting mind sets and lifestyles that are essentially crude, base and even immoral to a certain degree as compared to the high culture associated with the elite of the society. Pop culture is seen as having emerged from mass culture as a consequence of the industrial revolution and the attendant commercialization of almost all aspects of society, gradually eroding the distinctions between high culture and mass culture. Accordingly, there are a few traditional views of pop culture that attempt to shed light on its nature and development within the last century. One of these is the theory of mass society.
The rise of capitalism in the 19th century with its attendant trappings such as division of labour, growth of mass urban centres, increased political centralization and growth of mass movements in politics succeeded in entrenching mass culture as the dominant culture in the society which undermines the purer forms of culture such as the high culture of the higher classes. This view of pop culture was sponsored by the aristocrats of society in response to what they perceived as a threat to a higher way of life by the degrading effects of popular commercialism.
Criticism of Pop Culture
Pop culture is regarded with a dim view by religious groups and other counter-cultural groups within the society. Pop culture is regarded by such groups as being unimportant as relating to the higher ideals and purposes of life on earth. It is seen as the result of a systematic sponsoring of uncritical acceptance of popular ideas and lifestyles by the power brokers of commercialized society. Critics of pop culture often consider that its aim is to create hypes and stereotypes that will enable perpetual marketing of products and services for profit.
Popular culture, also known as pop culture, may refer to a myriad of cultural communication channels ranging from print based media, television, advertising, radio, movies, novels, pop music, jazz music, and even comics. At the turn of the twentieth century, “high art” was the reserve of the affluent and educated in society which ultimately led to the emergence of a “low art” (also known as popular art) for the benefit of the lower classes. The stratification kind of fizzled out in the 1950s when pop culture became more popular across the different societal divides. By the 1960s, artists began combining pop culture with forms like imagery, advertisements, comics and even movies that were adapted from high art.
Over the years, many theories on pop culture have emerged. For instance, the aristocratic theory seeks to equate pop culture to moral degeneracy. Subscribers to this school of thought believe that pop culture is a threat to the modern day civilization. Some argue that pop culture blatantly undermines the important values that are taught by religion, civilization and art in general. Ironically, high art also has its fair share of the very same backlashing.
The other interesting theory of pop culture is the dialogic theory. This theory portrays pop culture as an amalgamation of a number of culture industry creations. That would imply that various communities engage in production of both culture and counter-culture elements, which ultimately make up the pop culture. The theory also looks at the consumers of pop culture as textual poachers since they are quick to adapt the text to fit very different scenarios as occasion demands. This, as Jenkins observes, is the reason why the consumers easily craft their social identities via borrowing and modifying mass culture and thereby championing causes that would otherwise be ignored by mainstream media.
The subversive culture is arguably the most interesting of pop culture theories. It stipulates that pop culture has intrinsic ability to challenge the norms in society. A great example is the Dixie Chicks political protest which led to coining of a new verb “to be Dixie Chicked.” Another good illustration is Avatar, a movie that is anti-mining, anti-corporate and anti-military and yet has raked in over 2 billion dollars. The movie challenges the norm and instead promotes nature spirituality and environmentalism.
Pop culture is just that- popular. If history is anything to go by, then we can safely state that pop culture is a force that cannot be stopped - especially since it is very amorphous. Over the decades, pop culture has mutated taking different forms and influencing thinking in society. Not only has it shaped our thinking but it has shaped our belief system too. However, whether pop culture will continue to grow stronger over the years is subject to debate and only time will tell.