Sunday, November 27, 2005

Resources for the week of 11/21/05:
I bought the wrong book from the bookstore, so instead of The Weight of the World, I am analyzing Inventing Popular Culture by John Storey. There was not much information in regards to our topic on War, Militarism, and Pacifism, but it is a fascinating look into the history of popular culture. What follows is a synthesis of what I learned.

Chapter one is dedicated to Folk Culture as Popular Culture. Storey sees popular culture originating in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, specifically in Europe. I was concerned as to how he came up with that as the inception of popular culture. It seems as though a common tradition within any given culture has existed since the beginning of human history. I think maybe there is a confusion of terms here. I wish he would have defined popular culture in a clearer manner before diving into the history of it. However, the chapter was interesting in that it showed how folk culture started with the peasants and then when the middle and upper classes found an interest in it, they distrusted the peasants with it and took control of maintaining the tradition. It is interesting that Storey defines folk culture as popular culture, because it seems to be the antithesis of popular culture- a rebellion from it.

Chapter two focuses more on Mass Culture as Popular Culture. However, this label is misleading. Storey is not talking about the general practices held in common by a culture, but rather the culture invented by and for the middle and upper class. All that was left for everyone else to do was to “recognize our cultural difference and acknowledge cultural deference” (pg. 18). Many were extremely skeptical of the general populace, believing that if they gained control, there would be no culture left, just a massive combination of factors that makes everything “a single shade of gray”, which they called “hyperdemocracy” (pg. 25).

Chapter three moves to describe Popular Culture as the “Other” of High Culture. This chapter focuses on America, where an elite class had to be created, because it was not handed down, as in Europe. The chapter uses the example of the city of Boston where a High Class was created primarily through an appreciation of the arts- the orchestra, museums, Shakespearean plays, and opera to name a few. Instead of belonging to the public as a whole, these art forms were moved to what Storey calls “temples of art” (pg. 40).

Chapter four takes on Hegemony as Popular Culture. In this chapter, popular culture is defined as a consensus within a society that is regulated by the upper class, those with the power. Whether discussing Marxism or colonies of larger states, hegemony was the means by which popular culture was created and maintained. There was an idea of what culture should look like and that was forced upon all members of society. In a more subtle example, this can also be the case of capitalist cultures. Even though the consumer determines much of culture, consumers are still left at the mercy of what the producers are supplying. In turn, they decide much of what the consumer and therefore popular culture values and practices.

Chapter five switches to look at Postmodern Culture as Popular Culture. A major change occurred somewhere in the 60’s when there was a “generational refusal of the categorical certainties of high modernism” (pg. 64). Class systems were no longer the determining factor of culture. This chapter points to such phenomenon as the Beatles that transcended social stratification and class barriers. There was a new appreciation, one that was available to all. However, this has led some to believe that there is no creative power within this Postmodern Culture. It is but a compilation of past traditions, or what the book terms “a culture of quotations” (pg. 66). Is this was chapter 2 was fearing with its culture as becoming the “single shade of gray” (pg. 25)?

Chapter six deals with Popular Culture in terms of being the “Roots and “Routes” of Cultural Identity. This chapter is concerned with how our identities are formed in this postmodern culture. We are consumerists- that defines us. Therefore, in determining who we are, what part of culture we belong to, it has less to do with our creative thought, what we are thinking and creating, and more with what we read, what music we listen to, what television we watch. That creates a category for us, a group with which we belong. Not only that, but we also have a strong sense of the past. We want a history to connect with. Our stories and narratives are what count in this culture. They tell us where we came from and where we are going.

Chapter seven describes Popular Culture as Popular or Mass Art. This chapter is closely related to chapter four on hegemony. It deals with the persuasion and propaganda techniques employed by those with power over the media and production to determine our sense of aesthetics. It is not a trivial matter what we determine to be beautiful or desirable. According to this chapter, those things are fed to us by a larger Mass Art that implants ideas of popular culture into us through the means of creating our aesthetic experiences.

Finally chapter eight speaks on Global Culture as Popular Culture. In a world that is becoming increasingly consumed by Globalization, there is a sense in which there is a global culture. By means of technology: the internet, television, and other media sources, the world is becoming more and more single-minded in its focus and values. Again, much of this has to do with capitalism. Who you are as a collective nation has to do with what you are able to provide the global economy. Therefore, those with the economic power are also the ones who determine what a global culture is; hence the Westernization of other nations.

In conclusion, this book didn’t have much to do with our topic, but it was intriguing. It is an interesting look at where popular culture has come from and where it is headed. I find it important to be aware of the structures that have an enormous impact on defining our identities and values. It raises important questions for Christ-followers as we learn how to live distinctively within popular culture.


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