Popular culture differs from what was once referred to as "high" culture ("Popular Culture" 2000). High culture distinguished and continues to distinguish itself from popular culture by subordinating the latter. However, a tremendous shift in academia has led to the critique of both "high" and "low" culture and a subsequent merging of the two ("Popular Culture" 2000).
Also known as "mass" culture, popular culture can be considered crude even as it shapes politics and policy ("Popular Culture" 2000). According to Chito Childs & Laudone (2004), popular culture is uniquely responsible for the shaping of values, beliefs and norms surrounding interracial friendships, interracial relationships, and race relations in general. Films that depict interracial couples "tend to reinforce the existing racial hierarchy, rendering interracial relationships problematic," (Chito Childs & Laudone 2004, p. 1). Popular culture is part mirror for social realities and part shaper of those realities.
One exception to the generally negative impact of popular culture on race relations is the breaking down of racial barriers depicted in hip-hop music videos as well as in the popular sports arena (Chito Childs 2009). Interracial friendships and relationships are depicted as being more normative among younger generations in particular (Chito Childs 2009). In an investigation of interracial interactions in South African schools, Dolby (2001) also points out that African-American popular culture icons like Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan, and Tupac Shakur have impacted racial identities and relationships. Popular culture affects personal identity formation, and identity construction in turn impacts the development and maintenance of friendships and romantic relationships.
Therefore, popular culture can be used as a constructive tool in reshaping social norms. Ideal relationships depicted on television and movie screens need no longer be are race-dependent. Instead of showing interracial relationships as being characterized by the existence of stereotypes, those stereotypes can be replaced by the real communication problems that may arise in an interracial friendhsip. As film and television depict more interracial friendships such as those that develop in school or the workplace, those relationships are likely to become more common in the real world. Subsequently, popular media will begin reflecting back the harmonious interracial relationships that exist in the modern social arena.
Popular culture does not always do a good job of constructively reshaping social norms, though. As Chito Childs (2009) points out, the mere depiction of an interracial friendship or romance does not mean that those relationships are depicted in constructive ways. Many depictions of interracial interactions uphold stereotypes or the prevalence of a dominant white culture. Others are simply comedic, depicting interracial relationships as being shallow and superficial. The rare instances in which interracial relationships are depicted as complex and realistic are rare but commendable.
Chito Childs, E. (2009). Fade to Black and White: Interracial Images in Popular Culture. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Chito Childs, E. & Laudone, S. 2004-08-14 "Interracial Images: Popular Cuture Depictions of Black-White Couples" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, Hilton San Francisco & Renaissance Parc 55 Hotel, San Francisco, CA, Online <.PDF>. 2009-05-26 from http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p108369_index.html
Dolby, N. (2001). Constructing Race: Youth, Identity, and Popular Culture in South Africa. Albany: SUNY Press.
"Popular Culture." (2000). University of Calgary: Red Deer College. Retrieved 13 Feb 2010 from http://www.ucalgary.ca/applied_history/tutor/popculture/
Laudone, S.M., 2006-08-10 "Interracial Romantic Relationships Among Adolescents: A Review, Critique, and Proposal" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, Montreal Convention Center, Montreal, Quebec, Canada Online . 2009-05-24 from http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p105019_index.html
Marty, Debian (2002). The state of the field in interracial communication. The Review of Communication 2(April 2002): 207-212.
"MIT study: Workplace, community engagement key to interracial friendship." (2007). MIT News. 28 Dec 2007 from http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2007/friendship-1228.html