Chapter 1: What is popular culture?
- defines culture, ideology, and the popular
- thesis: all definitions are contextual; i.e., meaning is made in the context
Culture: three concepts (Raymond Williams)
- high (“ideal”): intellectual, spiritual, & aesthetic enlightenment
- practical (“way of life”): everyday culture of a group of people
- signifying (“documentary”): anything that signifies
- products & practices of intellectual & artistic activity
- reductive: a system of beliefs belonging to a given group of people
- Marxist: the beliefs of the dominant group, i.e., “false consciousness”
- i.e., as opposed to the reality of materialism (see Ch 4)
- hegemonic: culture is struggle b/w beliefs of dominant and dominated
- dominant group has more power, tries to normalize its own domination
- structuralist: naturalizes beliefs of dominant group through signification
- performative: rituals and customs that perpetuate certain beliefs
- numerically popular: favoured by large numbers of people
- problem: majority or plurality? how do we measure?
- low culture: whatever isn’t “high”; a marker of class
- mass culture: mass-produced, profit-driven, corporate
- undeserving of intellectual engagement, only sociological study
- meaning is produced by interaction of text and…
- other texts (intertextuality): literature, theory, etc.
- the reader (subjectivity): knowledge, experience, subject position
- material situation: reading practices, nature of the medium, etc.
- therefore: these definitions are in use all the time, depending on context
Chapter 2: The Culture and Civilization Debate
- industrialization and urbanization push classes into the same space: cities
- working class is created, starts to make its own culture
(instead of sharing culture with the dominant class)
Matthew Arnold (mid-1800s)
- culture is “the best that has been thought and said in the world”
- popular culture is anarchy1 (i.e., rule by the people not the aristocrats)
- solution: new middle class will run the democratic state
- the state should instill obedience to that middle class
- obedience can be fostered through aspiration to the middle class
- fully agree with Arnold, except that culture has further declined
- tried to put his theories into practice:
- i.e., recruit intellectuals to promote “culture”
- in the process, they created terminology & theories of popular culture
- i.e., the only way to talk about pop culture was to use Leavisite language
American “consensus” (post-WWII)
- defend against cultural degradation from the inside; i.e., popular culture
- i.e., just like they were defending against communism from the outside
- solution: cultural consensus around individualism (democracy/capitalism)
- i.e., class distinctions are meaningless if everyone has money & can vote
- consensus almost exclusively white, straight, Christian, and male
- excluded women, POC, Indigenous, other religions, queer, disabled, etc.
NB: these notes are compiled from John Storey’s Cultural Theory and Popular Culture, 7th Edition. They are for studying purposes only.