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Developments and Influences of Popular Culture

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 1779 words Published: 7th Aug 2018

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The activities of modernization have brought about popular culture. Popular culture results from civilization and therefore gives answers to questions about the influence of the modernizing process. The extent of popular culture is dependent on the level of civilization. As more information becomes available in society, the lifestyles of the members of that society change. This information affects the decisions made, the perceptions they have-and these affect how they view the society and themselves. One way that people express their notion is through popular culture like films, music and literary works. Thus, popular culture tells us a story about the human society involved.

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Culture in general, cannot be popular if it does not portray the lives or identity of the said group. By defect, popular culture demonstrates the current way of life of a society through various means including films and literary pieces. According to Browne and Browne (2001), popular culture is the culture of our everyday lives which reflects our ideas and reveals a great deal about who we are as a society and how we have changed over time. Technology, for instance, has played a major role in our civilization process. It has changed our way of thinking thus, affecting the kinds of movies we act and watch, the music we sing and listen to and the books we write and read.

Though philosophers and other notable sociologists have come up with the argument that science fiction in movies and books does not tell anything about our society, the writers and authors of these movies and books are believed to have been influenced by information reaching the world through science and technology about the existence of other planets. This is an example of civilization which is the sole cause of popular culture. For example, movies and books involving aliens and other weird creatures do not depict the way of life of the society but the fact that these film directors and authors are in the society affects their imagination and therefore we realize that these aliens end up behaving like humans.

Music in general can be associated with a group of people, depending on the genre. The kind of music we listen to sets us apart from other groups. This is because a group of people can get their identity from a kind of music and even form a subculture. Hipsters, for example, are associated with ‘Rock n Roll’, a genre of music. Country and rock music are mostly adored by the Canadians and the East Americans. (wikipedia, 2012) These genres of music are connected to these groups because they portray their culture and identity and therefore have become popular among such groups thereby making them a popular culture.

‘One Life’, a song by British pop star James Morrison is my favorite text. It falls under pop rock genre of music. This song is mostly enjoyed by his boyhood town, Rugby Warwickshire in England. Young folks of this town are noted for making the wrong choices as a result of trying to please others. This has become a common way of life of the people; the writer features this lifestyle of his boyhood town in his song and tries to advise them. “I just try to write simple lyrics that people will understand from all walks of life .You can’t be too clever sometimes because people won’t get it. And I always try to write lyrics where you understand every single line because the music is theirs and speaks about ourselves”, the writer said as he was interviewed on a television show ‘I like music’ (biography of james morrison, 2012). As already established earlier that popular culture reflects the ideas and shows the everyday life of a group of people, James Morrison is able to fuse the current culture of his town in his music thereby conveying the current culture of the society in question.

Evidently, popular culture is related to Marxism: the division of individuals according to social status and class. This concept which was pioneered by German philosophers, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, explains how majority of the social phenomena have arisen from basis of economics or at the least been highly influenced by it. Examples of such social phenomena are social relations, political and legal systems, religion and morality. The Marxist theory also clearly defines that capitalist system of governance (dominance by private business owners) has brought about class division in the society. The brains behind the theory explain that class conflicts occur as a result of the lower class performing the menial jobs and the upper class enjoying the profit yielded from their (lower class) ventures. Fabian (1978) stated that, “popular culture is the contemporary cultural expression of the masses that challenges the notion of the superiority of ‘pure’ or high culture. High culture is a kind of culture associated with the rich. It is not common to the entire society but just a part of the society believed to be in the upper class. Generally, high culture is mostly accessed by the elite since venues of such events are expensive. Popular culture on the other hand, is mostly accessed by the lower-class. It involves the whole society because both the rich and poor can afford it. Since everyone in the society can access a particular culture, it gains popularity among the group of people thus making it a popular culture. ‘One life’ would be used as a reference point once again. The inhabitants of Rugby, James’ boyhood town, generally belong to the lower class. James stressed on the issue of people pretending to be in the higher class in almost every part of the song. He also mentioned ‘rocking chair’ in the song which signifies wealth in the town. It has become a common culture in the town that anyone who is deemed rich should get a rocking chair. James in his song relishes his dreams of getting a rocking chair which is a common culture in his town thus showing the popular culture of the town in relation to class.

Remarkably, some forms of popular culture began as high culture. Computer development is an example. When the computer was first introduced, only the rich in the society could afford it. Today, almost every household can boast of some form of computer. Also, concerts, cinema, operas and many others which used to be forms of high culture are fading out thanks to technology. With the introduction of YouTube, almost every individual irrespective of the class can access most of these concerts thus making it popular or common. Conversely, some forms of popular culture have also become high culture. William Shakespeare’s plays are examples. These plays were accessible to the general populace. “It contained florid rhetoric, vivid characters, tempestuous gestures and moral designs.” (Warner, 1990). However, the general public lost interest in Shakespearean plays when production became reserved. Classical texts, for instance, are now associated with a peculiar group of people. “You can share a discussion of a favorite football teams with a new coworker, or comment on ‘American Idol’ when making small talk in line at the grocery store. But if you tried to launch into a deep discussion on the classical Greek play ‘Antigone’, few members of entire society today would be familiar with it.” (Sociology cap, 2012).

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Films and television programs produced are based on the reigning culture within that period. Since popular culture is accessible by all, movie directors include these forms of popular culture in the movies so that it would be patronized by all. An example is the popular American TV show, Will and Grace (Mutchnick & David, 1998-2005). This program featured the lives of many gay men and their friends. This show manifested the changing attitudes with respect to homosexuality in North America during the period when lesbian and gay movement was gaining momentum (fedorak, 2009).

The famous sentence, “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman” written by French philosopher and novelist Simone de Beauvoir in her book, The Second Sex, brings us to the concept of feminism. (tolan, 2006). The history of the modern western feminist movements is divided into three “waves”. Each wave describes different aspects of the same feminist issues. The first wave between the 19th through early 20th centuries, dealt mainly with suffrage, working conditions and educational rights for women and girls. The second wave (1960s-1980s) dealt with the inequality of laws, as well as cultural inequalities and the role of women in society. The third wave of feminism (late 1980s-early 2000s), is seen as both a continuation of the second wave and a response to the perceived failures of the movement. Feminism later became a popular culture in the American and European countries after the third wave. (wikipedia, 2012). Each of the waves of Feminism had certain literary texts that discussed the concerns of the women in that period. The Second Sex, ‘Women’s music’ and reviving Ophelia respectively are examples of literary pieces that emerged during the waves.

Between 1990 and 2000, girls made a hit out of the literary pieces which spoke about the rights of women. This is because, girl culture and power gained popularity within these years. This happened in the third wave of feminism across the world. Writers took advantage of feminism, which had become a popular culture among women especially at that time, to sell their books. Therefore, writers generally write based on the current culture of the society and tells what is going on within the society. In 1994, Mary Pipher’s ‘reviving Ophelia’ helped put the issue of females on national agenda. This happened at the time when feminism had gained momentum across the world. This book gained popularity because it featured the popular culture at that time in the society. Due to this, the author was able to sell 1.6 million copies of her book (Rowe, 2003).

Succinctly, as more information becomes available to the society as a result of civilization, it reflects in the ideas and thinking of the society. Authors of these literary pieces, capitalize on the reigning culture in the society to sell their products by basing their pieces on the current culture. Thus, popular culture as manifested in movies, books and music shows a clear picture about the current way of life of the society. It therefore tells us something worthwhile about the society.


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