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Popular culture is a common
term that is being vastly used in today’s media and text. It is mostly
associated with the pinnacle or people’s culture that predominates in a society
at a point in time. To put the term in a simpler fashion, “pop culture
involves the aspects of social life most actively involved in by the
public.  It is determined by the
interactions between people in their everyday activities: styles of dress, the
use of slang, greeting rituals and the foods that people eat are all examples
of popular culture”, as explains in Rhetorical Dimensions of Popular
Culture by Barry Brummett. Due to Brummett over-simplistic explanation of the
term, it does not cover the entire definition of the term ‘popular culture’.

As Tony Bennett wrote in an
early and influential article, “Popular Culture: A Teaching Object,” “The
concept of popular culture is virtually useless, a melting pot of confused and
contradictory meanings capable of misdirecting inquiry up any number of
theoretical blind alleys.” To define such a broad term such as ‘popular
culture’ is difficult even to experts as the term itself holds different
meanings depending on who’s defining it and the context it’s been used on.
According to John Storey in Cultural Theory and Popular Culture, there are
several ideologies to define ‘pop culture’. Storey lists six definitions, each
with its own strengths and difficulties, each bringing with it a slightly
different interpretation of ‘pop culture’. The first definition mentioned is
that popular culture is a culture that is liked by many people.

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The second definition is that
popular culture is the culture that’s left over after society has decided what
“high culture is”, also term as ‘low culture’.

The third definition is that
popular culture is culture aimed at a mass audience, also term as ‘mass
culture’.

The fourth definition is that
popular culture is a culture that originates from “the people” rather
than imposed upon them by cultural elites and “the above”, also term as
‘folks culture’.

The fifth definition is that
popular culture is a culture that is the domain of an ongoing aesthetic debate
between dominant and lower classes, also term as ‘hegemony culture’.

The sixth definition is that
popular culture is post-modernism, the blurring between high culture and low
culture.

In this essay, I will be
attempting to define popular culture by utilizing three definitions by John Storey’s
Cultural Theory and Popular Culture, which is popular culture is the culture
that’s left over after society has decided what “high culture is”,
also term as ‘low culture’ alongside popular culture is culture aimed at a mass
audience, which is term as mass culture and popular culture is culture that
originates from “the people” rather than imposed upon them by
cultural elites and “the above”, which is term as folks culture.

Firstly, popular culture is
the culture that’s left over after society has decided what “high culture
is”, also term as ‘low culture’.

Over the course of history,
the understanding of culture has been under constant shift and experts came
about the concepts of different levels of culture. And that’s how the high and
low culture concept emerged within the culture spectrum. The differentiation
between levels of culture is generally seen as the elite’s perception of
culture.

High culture is the
consumption patterns, mannerisms, beliefs, amusement, leisure activities, and
tastes and preferences of a societies elite. It is not mass produced, nor meant
for mass consumption. On the cultural level “the emphasis is on the work’s
cultic value” (Benjamin, 2008; p. 12). High culture products are mostly viewed
as belonging to the long-established forms of art, such as painting and
sculpting. The fine arts, opera, and theatre are some of the examples
associated with high culture. Products of high culture often require extensive
experience, training, or reflection to be appreciated.

On the other hand, commonly
referred to as Low culture or in this definition of John Storey’s, the
equivalent to “popular culture”. 
Low culture is considered to associate itself with the lowest form of
culture that is not relevant to high culture, often completely lacking in
creativity. It doesn’t make the material less important though, it just isn’t
held at as high of a standard. It is the consumption patterns, mannerisms,
beliefs, amusements, leisure activities, and tastes and preferences of the mass
of society. Low culture is reserved for the lower and working classes as its
often deals with many elements of grunge and dirty-ness and is considered
common in the masses everyday lives. The most obvious examples of low culture
as popular culture include pop music and reality television shows.

Besides that, popular culture
can also be defining as a culture that is aimed at a mass audience, which is
term as mass culture and to define mass culture as popular culture has been a
constant debate as it is considered to be one of the most disputable and
polemic areas in cultural studies. By a simple definition, mass culture or
popular culture is viewed as the culture that arises spontaneously for the
masses through a common exposure of the same media. Theodor Adorno calls it,
the “Culture Industry” (Adorno, 2001; p. 98) “as it is created not by the masses but for the masses”. It
fuses the products of culture into a new quality. Through all its branches,
products are tailored for consumption of the masses.

With the rise of publishing
and broadcasting in the 19th and 20th centuries alongside the expansion of the
Internet since the 1990s, the concept of mass culture has coherently come about
with the globalization of media. The introduction of ‘globalization’ has
brought about tremendous changes in confirming the concept of mass culture as
popular culture in the culture spectrum. With globalization, the differences
between the elite and mass cultures have been minimized to a considerable
number. With this change, a new form of cultural differentiation has taken
place. The social structure no longer determines the cultural style. The
cultural concept of hierarchy from cultures of the elite and culture of
commoners have undergone new differentiation.

The new culture forms that
have emerged are described as ‘popular culture’ or ‘mass culture’. Mass culture
as popular culture is the result of technological advancements in mass media
and communication. Through a system of mass communication, mass culture covers
the vast majority of the society. It claims for the whole coverage and
subordination of culture around the world, its cultural “colonization.” Mass
culture as popular culture is produced and governed by free-floating market
forces. Furthermore, popular culture can also be defined as a culture that
originates from “the people” rather than imposed upon them by
cultural elites and “the above”, which is term as folk culture. A
good way to explain this is that “Folk culture refers to the product of
human work and thought (culture) that have developed within a limited community
and that are communicated directly from generation to generation, between
‘folk’ who are familiar to each other” (Nachbar and Lause,1992, p.15)

By the 20th century, within
the studies of social science, experts revised and expanded the concept of folk
group or folk culture. In the 1960s the concept of social groups, i.e. folk
groups, were already in existence; with each individual involved in a multitude
of different identities and their associated social groups. The first group
that each individual is born into is the family. With each family having its
own unique folklore, this ensures a child grow into an individual with a
particular identity that includes age, occupation, interest and etc. With each
of these identity ventures having its own folklore. In a modern understanding,
folklore is basically a function of shared identity within any social
group.  “Folk culture is typically
transmitted orally; the origin of the artifact or event is generally unknown,
and it is generally “simple both thematically and technologically”
(Nachbar and Lause,1992, p.15). It can include jokes, sayings and expected
behavior in multiple variants, which are transmitted in an informal manner. And
most of the time folks culture are taught and learned through observation,
imitation, repetition or correction by other group members. The informal
knowledge is later used to confirm and reinforce the identity of the group. It
can be used internally within the group to express their common identity or it
can be used externally to differentiate the group from outsiders.

Finally, it is worth noting
that there is no exact way to define popular culture. However, a lot can be
explained and understood through the various approaches and perspectives to
define the term. Over the years, pop culture has evolved taking different shape
and form while influencing the thinking of society. Not only has it shaped
society’s thinking, it has also shaped society’s mannerism and belief system as
well. Even if low culture, mass culture, and folk culture do not provide
popular culture its definitive meaning, they certainly make up a substantial
part of the definition of popular culture. With that said, it can safely be
stated that pop culture is a term that will always be the subject of constant
debate and as for its definitive term, only time will tell.

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