Popular Culture Key Theory Points 1

First half of lectures - week 5 missing because there was no lecture that week


Week 1 - Is Popular Culture Popular?


  • FR Leavis d. 1978 - Popular Culture Is: "an addictive drug" "masturbatory" "de-educating" "the refusal to face reality at all" "manipulative" "destroys community"
  • Matthew Arnold d.1888 - author of Culture and Anarchy - views culture as best that has been thought and said in the world but popular culture is anarchy, Barbarians (aristocracy), Philistines (middle class), Populace (working class); FEARED DEGENERATION; SOLUTION EDUCATION


  • Popular Culture has always been viewed as a problem; inferior; culturally dangerous, politically dangerous
  • Arnold; populace like animals, barbarians are closer to culture. Arnold's problem? When working class men got the vote, worried that uneducated men were gaining power, saw solution as education; cultivate a respect for culture, eradicate popular culture, avoid anarchy of social change
  • POST WW2 debates on pop culture; 1. That is it poor taste, 2. merely the innocent pleasures associated with consumer capitalism, 3. method of social control
  • BUT IS POPULAR CULTURE: capitalist control? harmless fun? politically dangerous potential anarchy? destructive of tradition?
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Week 2 - Is Popular Culture Stupid?

All about popular music; the difference between "meanings" and "affects"

  • Theodore Adorno Frankfurt School - On Popular Music; hated standardisation, anything formulaic was a problem; "standardised forms produce standardised responses" "the composition hears for the listener" "divests the listener of his spontaneity and promotes conditioned responses" Music needs to not challenge you, but needs to have something you like - musical fetishism
  • Theodore Adorno - pseudo-individualisation; we live our lives through fantasies in media. Laugh tracks in sitcoms telling us when to laugh for example. "The so called releasing moment of music is simply an opportunity for us to feel something" makes us susceptible to emotional manipulation
  • MUSIC AFFECTS AND EFFECTS - Gilbert and Pearson. "Western tradition" which demands music be offered up as meaningful". This devalues pleasures of the body, dance seen as hedonistic and sinful
  • Gilbert believes we experience everything as discourse; Britain's puritanical history means we see pop music as hedonistic; music "depoliticised and stupid" just because it's for dancing
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Week 3 - Is Popular Culture Meaningful?

  • SEMOTICS; subjectivity, identity, signification
  • de Sassure; denotation; signifier and signified
  • Barthes expanded on this theory; connotation and MYTH
  • MYTH - powerful hegemonic cultural ideas in the image of the dominant class often hidden or obscured from us, appears as common sense ideas to us 
  • Stuart Hall - encoding/decoding model. Polysemic - many signs, signifying many things - denotative level is fixed, connotative level is more open to interpretation, and polysemic
  • C.S. Peirce; "representations provide us with our only access to reality" "man does not only know the world through language, he himself is the product of language"
  • Emile Beneviste; subjectivity and identity: we would have no subjectivity without language, the individual constructs cultural identity around discourse - language and subjectivity are interdependent
  • "I learn who I am because others tell me"
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Week 4 - Is Popular Culture Chosen or Imposed?


  • Adorkheimer; (Adorno and Horkheimer) the culture industry "enlightenment as mass deception"
  • Hebdige; subculture, style, bricolage, conjuncture and specificity
  • Williams; dominant, residual, emergent 

What is conjuncture and specificity?

  • Conjuncture - how does a subculture fit into a surrounding culture?
  • Specificity - in order to understand subcultures you have to understand them in the context of their time and meanings, its specific relation to history
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Week 6 - Is Popular Culture Political?


1968 - most political/countercultural year 

Countercultural thinking - there is truth and there is lies; people living their lives in terms of a narrative/discourse/fantasy about authenticity/reality
Romantic individualism - both counterculture and capitalism romanticise the "free", "unique" individual 

  • Heath and Potter 'Being Normal' countercultural rebellion; "it wasn't liberation, it was hell"
  • Paul Bowman - Mediatised politics: November 2010 riots - dominant approach; protesters were violent, opposite approach claimed police provoked, forced, conducted, or even orchestrated violence - in a world reliant on representation we can never be entirely sure. Media policing; maintaining the status quo, trying to demonise protestors - as such representation should deter protests and challenges to government happening in the future
  • Paul Bowman "Media discourses feed on spectacles and bespeak hegemonic values" unemployed youth easily criminalised, criminality is all too easily racialised - police logic still institutionally racist. Therefore social convulsions are "represented as inexplicable spectacles perpetrated by the scary irrational criminal underclass"
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