Sociology of Popular Culture Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Sociology of Popular Culture

Popular Culture

A popular culture is a complex term defined by a number of already existing definitions which explore the different spectrums associated with the term. The initial understanding of this culture was based on the lifestyle adopted by the masses; the subordinate, lower class, which made them separate from the elite class. However, today, it is considered to be a lifestyle which includes different cultural practices, artifacts and other cultural commodities, that is widely accepted by the population. Therefore, in order to study a popular culture, it is important to focus on the varying aspects such as identity, representation, regulation, production and consumption where the latter two have an interdependent relationship. For this reason, this paper would look into the underlying fact of the contemporary popular culture where the producers are also the consumers.

The theorists of the cultural studies started studying popular culture when they were able to distinguish the practices of lower class from the high culture; the way of living practiced by the elite. This made them focus on the equal importance of teaching and learning the art, music and other cultural aspects of the high culture as well as the low culture. For instance, studying Shakespeare is important, like looking into Madonna's music. Therefore, such cultural aspects of the high as well as the low culture are both equally essential to explore. Despite the importance attached to these aspects, several theorists had a different opinion about the actual understanding and meaning of a popular culture.

In this regard, according to some of the theorists, popular culture was a culture of the disempowered people. In other words, these theorists believed that a popular culture is not only made by the subordinates but also made for them. Consequently, according to this understanding, a popular culture comprises of British punk and street raps during the 1970s, mainly because of the fact that it was a characteristic feature of the working class and the people belonging to the minority groups. On the other hand, many theorists were of the opinion that popular culture means any practice or cultural aspect that is widely adopted by the masses. However, this definition does not portray the actual picture as to either the pop culture is imposed on the public or is derived from them; through their experience or way of expression. This however, leads to the analysis of the meanings of cultural representation which automatically paves its way to the analysis of the claim that in popular culture, producers are also the consumers. This idea can be understood by a basic and a simple thing; a Barbie doll. The foremost purpose of producing a Barbie is to sell it in order to generate profits. The target market is the youth. However, a meaning maybe attached to this cultural commodity. It may be used to represent the role of women in the society. It can also be used to put forward the idea of female objectification or the aspect of beauty attached with women.

In other words, such a meaning can easily be created and imposed by the producers on the consumers; the girls. However, another possibility could be the fact that the consumer (girls in this case) can also attach meanings to the commodity they buy. A Barbie can be interpreted in terms of female sexuality, beautification, gender role or any other such representation. Therefore, this meaning was not initially imposed by the producer but is created by the consumer. As a result, when the consumers give their own meanings and interpretations to a cultural commodity, they automatically become the producer. In this sense, the consumer is also a producer and vice versa.

As mentioned previously, there is an interdependent link between production and consumption. A commodity can only be consumed if it is produced. Similarly, a commodity would only be produced if there is a high demand to consume it. However, in several areas of popular culture, it is evident that the producers are also the consumers. For example, the experience of listening to music has made individuals produce the music of their own. This practice is widely seen in the folk culture where the music stock is passed on from one generation to the other. However, many a times, the transformation from consumption to production is often associated with revenge and dissatisfaction. This could be better understood by looking into the British punk music during the 1970s (Tomlinson, 1990).

Another example of the music industry of the pop culture where consumers are the producers and vice versa is seen through the ease of recording. Today, the listeners can easily edit the already available music and select the part that interests them the most. They can also produce their own music by not only singing or playing it, but also by making their own recording collection of music. Therefore, while analyzing the popular culture, it is essential to examine the area of production as well as consumption of cultural commodities. Consequently, this process of producing and consuming goods results in the creation and re-creation of a culture.

The commodities which include music, film, books, artifacts and other such cultural representation, are the goods which are sold by the producers to the consumers and at the same time, these are those goods which are given a meaning by the consumers. In this regard, all commodities have an identity and a meaning which is merely given by the consumer. For example, a shampoo is advertised on the basis of its effect; better hair and thereby better appearance. Therefore, the advertisement acts as a medium thereby creating meaning for the object in the cultural context. However, the same shampoo would be differently interpreted by a bald man or an elderly. Hence, studying popular culture encompasses different practices adopted by the population and also the meanings imposed and interpreted by the producer and the consumer respectively, for a certain product. As a matter of fact, advertising plays a key role in the relationship between the producer and the consumer since it is easiest method whereby which the meanings attached to the commodity being sold is imposed on to the viewers / consumers.

American youth is seen to be one of the biggest consumers of the popular culture. The top commodities consumed by these people include movies, video games, music and television. The producers of these commodities are also seen to be the consumers and vice versa. The claim that in popular culture, the producers are also the consumers is true to the extent that the producer of one aspect for example the media, is the consumer of the other cultural aspect, maybe music. Similarly, a producer can also be the consumer of the same profession.

Further elaborating on the context of media, it can be seen that the mass media is referred to as the formal organization of technology that is used for communication. The modern mass media is able to have a one-to-many communication whereby which an individual can actually put his ideas and opinions across to many people who are seeing him. The best example is the presidential speech or a VJ hosting a show. It is also a one way communication process. However, the transformation from the mass media to the new media is marked with communication in digital form. This new media is a many to many communication process which has the feature of the two-way communication where the people can also participate (e.g. feedback). The new media also practices the claim that was earlier introduced; the producers are also the consumers.

People consume the commodities being sold and also the ideology that is associated with it. These goods have a meaning attached for the consumer who buys it. For this purpose, it has a manipulative message especially for the youth who is in such a period of life, that they are ready to accept ideologies that bring pleasure and satisfaction.

For this reason, the consumption of the popular culture is a matter of worry for the parents. A major reason for their worry about the kids is globalization which interconnects the different aspects of the popular culture; media, internet, fashion. In other words, globalization has created global meanings for culturally significant and valuable goods.

On contrary, the youth is not only a consumer of the popular culture but also an important producer. This part is basically attributed to that subculture or marginalized group which resists the ideology or the meanings given by the dominant, upper group. As a result, these groups give a new cultural meaning to the commodities which they are using. The best example of this idea is noticeable through the practices adopted by the punk group who transformed the basic use of safety pins, plastics and other goods, and gave it a new shape. As a matter of fact, the people belonging to minority or sub-culture consume the products of the dominant culture and transform it. This is done by giving the products…

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