During the fifties, America experienced tremendous growth in many aspects of society. As a result, technological advancements led to sophisticated aspects of American life. Media and advertising became mass media and the invention of the television paved the way to a new generation of communication. This was also an era of exploration among generations. Traditional forms of art began to experience growth and "culture" expanded into many sub-cultures.
Some of the trends that surfaced were New York City turning into an "international center for painting and architecture" (Davidson 1147), mass circulation of paperback books, network television suddenly becoming the world's most powerful form of mass communication, and rock and roll becoming the language of youth (Davidson 1147).
The explosion of such artistic expression was greeted with optimism, but mostly with pessimism, "warning against moral decadence and spiritual decline" (1147). On one had, the "highbrow intellectuals" argued that mass culture was destroying "great traditions of Western arts" (1147). On another hand, the middle class was afraid that television, comics, movies, and rock music were creating a generation of "juvenile delinquents" (1147).
A result of this growth, which continues to have an impact on society, was the rise of the "popular" or mass culture. Popular culture also arrived partly as a reaction to Abstract Expressionism and has evolved to become a "function on the commercialization of modernity." (Myers).
Popular culture can better be defined as a movement that "utilizes the imagery and techniques of consumerism and popular culture" while fine, or high art is any of the more classical art forms such as sculpture and painting (Biddingtons).
From this explosion came a mass culture, perhaps better described as several sub-cultures relating to the different aspects of society. Popular culture spanned across the areas of movies, music, art and architecture but became popular for its use of materials such as Coke bottles, clocks, and cans. Its language was like that used on billboard signs or television commercials. The basic popular culture concept was to be one that belonged to the urban community but that would eventually come to be shared by all (Davidson 1148).
Another aspect of popular culture that was appealing to society was that often romanticized as a working-class culture formed with as many different aspects as that of the human personality. It has been said that popular culture is folk culture. It was familiar and straightforward and that's why many people were drawn to it.
Many theories exist on the positive or negative impact of popular culture. This paper will examine the negative aspects of popular culture on high culture (and therefore, on society), pointing out more than anything, it devalues all the finer aspects of society.
During the twenties and thirties, many of the intellectuals welcomed the idea of mass society. "Modern communications, they believed, would break down the barriers of race, class, religion, and nationality. A more homogenous and harmonious order would emerge" (1147). But it wasn't long before those same people argued that "mass media threatened to consume and destroy all valuable culture" (1147). Many parents believed that the influx of this mass culture was corrupting America's youth.
That kind of fear and general loathing is still held by many today. For example, Edouard Metrailler, believes popular culture is the opposite of high culture.
Where high culture ennobles ones soul, popular culture vitiates it. Popular culture pollutes the political sphere and replaces the subtlety and sophistication required of good government with empty sound bites and finely coifed hairstyles. Popular culture substitutes superficiality and instant gratification for the profundity and patience required of a robust political regime. (Metrailler)
Metrailler maintains that at the base of a thriving nation, there must be "strong families, flourishing civic associations, and a profound respect for religion" (Metrailler). He also believes that pop culture attacks all three of these necessities with Hollywood producers and talk show hosts, who are more interested in "exploiting human weaknesses than fortifying out political behavior" (Metrailler). He goes on to explain his point by pointing out that pop culture reaches into the very privacy of people's homes, with computer games, MTV, and "moronic television programs" (Metrailler).
David Segal of the Washington Post shares the same sentiment, stating that the impact of popular culture on music is specifically negative. Some of the celebrities he claims that add to the mass degeneration of society are Korn and rapper Cam'ron. Perhaps the most popular negative influence at the moment, is Eminem, who raps about stalking women, deriding gays and snorting cocaine in front of children (Segal).
Steve Gottlieb, president of TVT Records, adds that with the heightened sensitivity of war, the situation worsens because the implications could be felt outside the entertainment realm. "Thinking people never thought there was a correlation between rock lyrics and violence, anymore than gospel music and good behavior" (Segal).
Metrailler reiterates that "popular culture and politics combine to corrode civic values. There is no real harm in watching an occasional madness film; popular culture becomes dangerous only when it comes to dominate the national scene" (Metrailler).
What seems to makes matters worse, according to Ken Myers is how the expansion of technology contributes to a more "selective" audience. With technological advancements, "the modern producer of popular culture is able to target a market niche much narrower" than previous producers. This producer, Myers claims, is free from "all of the purposes and meaning of any particular local culture" (Myers).
The influence popular culture has on the youth of America is one that always seems to generate a lot of theories and opinions, most of which suggest the influence is heavy and therefore the situation should be guarded, or at the very least monitored. "It takes no Einstein to see the connection between films and behavior, says Barry Paris, a reporter for the Post-Gazette. The connection is no more different when it comes to music or video games. "Popular entertainment inspires lots of crazy, potential violent people to do lots of crazy, potential violent things in America" (Paris).
These ideas support the theory that there is no difference between high culture and popular culture and that all culture is commercial culture. In this sense, popular culture can contrasted with something else as to blue lines between cultures. Examples of this kind of blurring can be seen in Bugs Bunny cartoons, where highly praised classical songs are matched with two dimensional caricatures. Another example of classical music being attached to something most people would consider most repulsive is its use in the Stanley Kubrik cult film, A Clockwork Orange.
Pop artists who have received criticism for their work include Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe, and James Rosenquist, all who pushed the envelope when it came to what constituted art. They experimented with unpopular imagery such as American flags, assorted beer cans, and the infamous crucifix placed in a jar of urine.
Warhol, probably the most successful and outspoken pop artist designed stage sets, made movies, wrote books and magazine articles, drew, and even had his own cable television show. However, his most-recognized work remains the abstract images of Campbell's Soup Cans and Marilyn Monroe.
Architecture has also been influenced by what is considered to be modern or pop movements. Buildings constructed in geometric forms "sheathed in glass and steel" startled people in the fifties. However, the most striking buildings earned "a well-deserved reputation for innovation and beauty, such as the United Nations complex in New York City. Jackson Polluck, a painter who initially rejected the idea of abstract pop art, became famous for dripping and spattering paint on buildings as opposed to brushing them on. Examples of the outlandish types of buildings created in the name of popular art in the early fifties is a restaurant built in the shape of a hamburger and…