Thursday, 22 November 2012

Lecture 6: Critical positions on pop culture

Culturing studies:
Analysing the idea of culture


- Critically define ‘popular culture’
- Contrast ideas of ‘culture’ with ‘popular culture’ and ‘mass culture’
- Introduce Cultural Studies & Critical Theory
- Discuss culture as ideology
- Interrogate the social function of popular culture
Who decided what is important and what is not?
How it affects us the way we think and its social function?

What is Culture?

- ‘One of the two or three most complicated words in the English language’
- general process of intellectual, spiritual & aesthetic development of a particular society, at a particular time
- a particular way of life
- works of intellectual and especially artistic significance’
Any discussion of culture is always complex, any time you try to define culture it can refer to a set of ideas, a body of artistic work, a process of intellectual production at a particular time.
Difficult to define.
Look at culture in a particular way, introduce the way of thinking about the world in a... 

Marx's Concept of base / Super structure

Forces of production - Materials, tools, workers, skills, etc
Relations of production - Employer. employee, class, master/ slave etc
Economic reality of society, what is the material that makes up society.
Everything else about society forms a consciousness about the way we think about the world.

Social institutions - legal, political, cultural
Forms of consciousness - ideology
We live in a capitalist society, all forms of art and design are a direct refection of ideology.

‘The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles’ (Marx, Communist Manifesto)
Produces law, politics, culture.
Looking at culture and the way it can be seen to be a direct reflection of our society.

‘In the social production of their life men enter into definite, necessary relations, that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but on the contrary it is their social being that determines their consciousness.
At a certain stage in their development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production ...
...From forms of development of the productive forces, these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution.
With the change in economic foundation the whole immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed. In considering such transformations it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic, in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out.’
Marx, (1857) ‘Contribution to the critique of Political Economy’

The State

‘...but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie’ (Marx & Engels (1848) ‘Communisit Manifesto)
Instruments of the State Ideological & Physical Coercion

The Bourgeoisie

The Proletariat

The pyramid of capitalist system.
Base of society, reality of the world, the super structure. 


(a) system of ideas or beliefs (eg beliefs of a political party)
2 masking, distortion, or selection of ideas, to reinforce power relations, through creation of 'false consciousness'
[ The ruling class has ] to represent its interest as the common interest of all the members of society, ... to give its ideas the form of universality, and represent them as the only rational, universally valid ones.
Karl Marx, (1846) The German Ideology,

4 definitions of ‘popular’
Raymond Williams (1983) ‘Keywords’
– Well liked by many people
– Inferior kinds of work
– Work deliberately setting out to win favour with the people
– Culture actually made by the people themselves
If we have culture, which is a product of the base.
What is popular culture, it is a base version of culture, also populism something commercial. 
Perhaps as culture made by the most popular, made by the masses for the masses. 

Inferior or Residual Culture
- Popular Press vs Quality Press
- Popular Cinema vs Art Cinema
- Popular Entertainment vs Art Culture

Caspar David Friedrich (1809)‘Monk by the Sea’

Types of art that wouldnt normally be shown in art galleries, all expressions of creativity, but why are they classed as culture. 

Jeremy Deller & Alan Kane (2005) ‘Folk Archive’

Is it graffiti or is it art?

Working Class, Bourgeois

E.P. Thompson (1963) ‘The Making of The English Working Class’
Can be traced back to a particular moment in the evolution of the base.
Process of heavy industry, growth of the city. 
There was very clear division in the people, class of work. Who the rich were and who the poor were. 
Difference in common culture. 
An idea that it was a shared culture, the only people it applied to was the Bourgeois. 
Political literature, speaking of your own lifestyle. 

Matthew Arnold (1867) ‘Culture & Anarchy’

Culture is
–  ‘the best that has been
thought & said in the world’ 
–  Study of perfection 
–  Attained through disinterested reading, writing thinking 
–  The pursuit of culture 

A backlash against that would be the people who were were from the ruling culture, an attempt to define culture, was about perfection, achievements claims Arnold. Anything with a gender wasnt culture. Culture was beautiful as much as ballet and opera. 

Leavisism- F.R Leavis & Q.D. Leavis
Leavis seen gradually the world of the 20th century going on a downward spiral. 

- Still forms a kind of repressed, common sense attitude to popular culture in this country.
For Leavis-
- C20th sees a cultural
- Standardisation & levelling down
- ‘Culture has always been in minority keeping’

- Collapse of traditional authority comes at the same time as mass democracy (anarchy) 
- Nostalgia for an era when the masses exhibited an unquestioning deference to (cultural)authority 
- Popular culture offers addictive forms of ditraction and compensation 
- ‘This form of compensation... is the very reverse of recreation, in that it tends, not to strengthen and refresh the addict for living, but to increase his unfitness by habitutaing him to weak evasions, to the refusal to face reality at all’ (Leavis & Thompson, 1977:100) 

Frankfurt School – Critical Theory

Institute of Social Research, University of Frankfurt, 1923-33
University of Columbia New York 1933- 47

Frankfurt School :
Theodore Adorno & Max Horkheimer

- Reinterpreted Marx, for the 20th century – era of “late capitalism”
- Defined “The Culture Industry” :
2 main products – homogeneity & predictability
- “All mass culture is identical” :
- ‘As soon as the film begins, it is quite clear how it will end, and who will be rewarded, punished or forgotten’.
- ‘Movies and radio need no longer to pretend to be art. The truth, that they are just business, is made into an ideology in order to justify the rubbish they deliberately produce. ... The whole world is made to pass through the filter of the culture industry. ... The culture industry can pride itself on having energetically executed the previously clumsy transposition of art into the sphere of consumption, on making this a principle. ... film, radio and magazines make up a system which is uniform as a whole and in every part ... all mass culture is identical.’

Frankfurt School :
Herbert Marcuse 
Popular Culture v Affirmative Culture

The irresistible output of the entertainment and information industry carry with them prescribed attitudes and habits, certain intellectual and emotional reactions which bind the consumers more or less pleasantly to the producers and, through the latter, to the whole. The products indoctrinate and manipulate; they promote a false consciousness which is immune against its falsehood. ... it becomes a way of life. It is a good way of life - much better than before - and as a good way of life, it militates against qualitative change. Thus emerges a pattern of one dimensional thought and behaviour in which ideas, aspirations, and objectives that, by their content, transcend the established universe of discourse and action are either repelled or reduced to terms of this universe.
Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man, 1968
(of affirmative culture): a realm of apparent unity and apparent freedom was constructed within culture in which the antagonistic relations of existence were supposed to be stabilized and pacified. Culture affirms and conceals the new conditions of social life.
Herbert Marcuse, Negations, 1968

Giving people no options, its reduces peoples capacity for independent thought. Pacified people, people always sit back and let things happen. Provokes a false consciousness.
‘Authentic Culture vs Mass Culture’

Qualities of authentic culture
- Real
- European 
- Multi-Dimensional 
- Active Consumption 
- Individual creation 
- Imagination 
- Negation 

Products of the contemporary ‘Culture Industry’

One product that actively creating a system of exploitation on many levels, it teaches the lesson that the way out of the abject mystery is to go on a talent show and be judged by the middle classes, its not teaching us the ways of solving the problem for people, its an illusory route. 

Adorno ‘On Popular Music’

Walter Benjamin

‘One might generalise by saying: the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence. And in permitting the reproduction to meet the beholder or listener in his own situation, it reactivates the objects produced. These two processes lead to a tremendous shattering of tradition... Their most powerful agent is film. Its social significance, particularly in its most positive form, is inconceivable without its destructive, cathartic aspect, that is, the liquidation of the traditional value of the cultural heritage’

‘The Work Of Art In The Age Of Mechanical Reproduction’


Louise Lawler, ‘Pollock and Tureen, Arranged by Mr. and Mrs. Burton Tremaine, Connecticut,’ (1984)

The Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies- CCCA (1963 - 2002)

Hebdige, D (1979) ‘Subculture: The Meaning of Style’ 

- The culture & civilization tradition emerges from, and represents, anxieties about social and cultural extension. They attack mass culture because it threatens cultural standards and social authority. 
- The Frankfurt School emerges from a Marxist tradition. They attack mass culture because it threatens cultural standards and depoliticises the working class, thus maintaining social authority. 
- Pronouncements on popular culture usually rely on normative or elitist value judgements 
- Ideology masks cultural or class differences and naturalises the interests of the few as the interests of all. 
- Popular culture as ideology 
- The analysis of popular culture and popular media is deeply political, and deeply contested, and all those who practice or engage with it need to be aware of this. 

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