Graffiti and Popular Culture Essay
Graffiti and Popular Culture
The treatment of popular culture is usually dichotomized by the contrast of its being popular because it is patronized by the greatest number of a society’s population and by its being popular because of its proliferation for the benefit of the upper class of the society which greatly utilizes it as a powerful mechanism of subjugation. Sociologists are divided between opposite views. Nevertheless, popular culture does not always reside on the opposites. It can be also perceived as something that is between the asserted ownership of the masses and the powerful mechanism of few powerful persons.
Accordingly, popular culture is a dialectical process brought about by the enforcement of it from above of the societal structure to the acquisition of it from underneath the societal structure. This claim is highly supported by Hall in pointing out that popular culture is actually a twofold advancement of restraint and opposition. While forces from above of the society are using popular culture as an instrument of suppression, it is also an instrument of struggle for the lower forces of the society.
In the task of discovering popular culture as a dialectical process, it is a convenient endeavor to first define the popular and cultural aspect of popular culture. The usual definition must be first discussed. After will be the elaboration of Hall’s perception regarding the popular culture. Finally, an example on the practical application of Hall’s view regarding popular culture must be supplied. As Raymond Williams stated, the word popular is actually derived from the word “popularis”, a Latin word which means “belonging to the people”.
In the early introduction of the word popular, it is often used to attribute to the connotation of things regarding the “most known” and “the most common”. Also it refers to the “most favored”. At some point of the introductory use of the word, it has rested on referring to neutrality. However, the most common definition of the word popular up to the present time is still referring to the “most familiar”. This definition has leaded the way to the attribution of the word popular to greatest number of people in most societies, which basically composes the lower stratum of societies.
It is because people in the lowest stratum of the society are generally the greatest constituent of societies. Thus, the term popular is attributed to the largest part of the population of a society, which is mainly the masses. In characterizing the meaning of the word “culture”, it is an inevitable task to delve into the schemes and symbols of societal structures which include traditions, customs, common convictions, and remnants that represents the history of constituents of a society.
The transfer of these schemes and symbols of societal structure from generation to generation is also an important feature of the meaning of the word “culture” Anthropologists are similar with the abovementioned definition of culture. This definition is actually considered as the most usual definition of culture: So, what do we mean by culture? A fairly typical view, both in common language and in the way anthropologists have approached their work, sees culture as a shared body of custom, reproduced through time that makes societies distinctive.
It seems that there is a certainty in the definition of culture. However, the definition of culture is not always perceived as something that is unchanging and immobile. Its definition is also viewed as something that is changing depending on the context and reference. Deducing from the generally acknowledged definition of popular culture, the popular aspect and cultural aspect of the definition of popular culture can be generated. Popular culture is then quoted because it denotes the popularity of a culture which represents symbols, customs, traditions and beliefs in a society.
Consequently, popular culture also embodies the characteristics, qualities, and features of a particular or a general popular belief, custom, tradition, object, or idea. Popular culture is popular because it is owned by the populace. It is the most accessible and pervasive type of culture. This is so because it transcends barriers. At some times even the economic aspect of life is crossed by popularity of popular culture. The popularity of popular culture goes beyond race, ethnicity, and generation, location of residence, country, sexuality and gender.
Popular culture caters to the largest number of people that it can cater. As much as possible the availability of a form of popular culture is extended to myriad arrays of cultural categories. To achieve the extension of popular culture, products of it is manufactured and created in such a way that it is culturally neutral. This only means that products of popular culture are not inclined in any side of the spectrum of cultural categories. Anyone who consumes or support any form of popular culture is expected to closely relate the product of popular culture in his or her personality.
This relation greatly concerns the cultural inclination of the person. Therefore, products of popular culture are expected to be owned by everyone irrespective of gender, sexuality, age, nationality, and ethnicity. Even though, popularity transcends the barrier of cultural preference and partiality, popularity also paves the way for the correspondence of a popular culture to a specific cultural leaning. Every cultural category such as gender, sexuality, age, ethnicity, or nationality create and device a unique and peculiar fashion of giving meaning to the experience of popular culture.
Each cultural category glace at different angles in considering and experiencing popular culture. In example, gender creates a distinguishing manner of the experience of popular culture. It concerns the interplay of the masculinity, femininity and bisexuality of the experience of a certain product of popular culture. In the occurrence of encountering popular culture, the masculinity, femininity or bisexuality of a person can be demonstrated. This is evident in the myriad choices of products that are sold. The product catering to masculine male is different from a product catering to a feminine male or masculine female or a bisexual.
The notion of popular culture in the view of Hall is generally concerned on the interpretation of the whole experience of a product or a medium of popular culture. The meaning of the experience does not reside solely on the intention of the producer of a certain product or of the encoder of the meaning. It also does not depend on the creation of meaning of the consumer of the product or of the encoder of the meaning. The origin of Hall’s views can be traced back to his belief that the employment of language concerns context of power and institutions. In the utility of language, persons become active agents as well as beneficiary of meaning.
Therefore persons are perceived as generators and at the same time consumers of culture simultaneously. For Hall, it is erroneous to assume that persons as consumer and generator only absorb the experience of popular culture without criticizing it. Usual persons performing the twofold role of being a generator and consumer possess the power of generating meaning and experiencing meaning. Persons are active and at same time passive. They are active, because they generate meaning of the popular culture experience from their constitution of meaning. They are passive because they are the receiver of the experience.
Institutions and companies producing popular culture have no total control of the reactions and responses of persons that receive the experience. It is sure that they can impose and really impose there expected reaction of persons to a certain experience of popular culture. However, they cannot totally rely on their expectation. This is evident on the modifications that are made by these institutions on the improvement of their products and services. They need to create modifications so that their products and services somehow cater to the general public.
And these modifications are based on the reactions and feedbacks of the consumers. In some essence, institutions and companies of popular culture production are also receiver of the meaning imposed by consumers on experiencing the product and service of companies and institutions. The theory of reception and textual analysis of Hall explicated the role of the consumer as an audience of a text encoded by institutions and firms of popular culture production. The idea of textual analysis explains that the audience or the consumer is always on the agreement and disagreement with the intentions of the producers of popular culture.
In example, the meaning of a text of an experience varies from the point of view of the consumer and the producer. While the producer imposes the meaning by the limitation of the modes of expression of a text through packaging, the consumer does not always concur to the imposed meaning of the producer. The consumer creates a distinguished meaning about his or her experience. In creating this meaning, the element of cultural categories enters the picture. The meaning is created dependent on which cultural category does the consumer belongs.
Sexuality, age, race, and economic power are the factors in the creation of meaning. Consequently, this creation of meaning results into either the dismissal or acceptance of the consumer regarding the imposed meaning of the producer of specific popular culture product or experience. Therefore the meaning of the experience rests at some point between the producer and the consumer. It is the interpretation that really matters and neither the interpreter which is in this case the consumer nor the interpreted which is the product or the service as a form of popular culture.
Thus popular culture is constructed in dual movement of concurrence and opposition. And this dual movement of concurrence and opposition is the dialectical process of the experience and creation of meaning. In applying the notions and ideas of Hall regarding popular culture, the material must obviously display the elements of opposition and concurrence. Also it is note worthy if the chosen material is an interesting one. In the enterprise of applying the analysis of Hall, it is an appealing move to consider the production of graffiti as a cultural practice.
The word graffiti came from the Italian word graffito which denotes an antique writing on a surface of a rock. In the recent time graffiti refers to sketches or illustrations usually of words and phrases on walls of public areas. The manner of sketching can be done through painting and spraying or scratching. Graffiti art has acquired its peak in the United States during the years 1970’s-1980’s. Based from the general definition of graffiti, it is inevitable to perceive this form of art as a deviant kind of activity.
This is because graffiti is seen as a negative reaction to the forms and conventions of the usual accepted cannons of arts: As The graffiti subculture is a culture of opposition because it is perceived as deviant, and because the dominant culture limits and denies access to the kinds of specialized space suitable to the expression of graffiti subculture. The manner of making graffiti involves the painting of wall of a usually abandoned building or public area. Because of this, graffiti art is perceived as something that resists the prevailing standards of the society.
It is viewed as a transgressing subculture. However for the graffiti artists, the activity is a different experience. Artists view their piece as something that is really note worthy and deserves public attention. Myriad of writers narrate their experience in coherence with each other. Graffiti writers said that they feel a poignant compensation every time that they are alone in the middle of the night and finding a specific public area to write or sketch their art . Many graffiti writers speak of their experiences of writing graffiti in similar terms.
References to cities that have quieted in the night, and walls that the artist ‘owns’ for a short period of time are comparable to the soulful atonement that Walt Whitman often described when referring to being alone in nature. The same with their reputation, their art are viewed as something that is deviant and null and void of artistic values. They are ostracized in the whole realm of art. Worst is even their isolation is oblivious to the eyes of the society conforming to the standard of an artistic cultural activity. With this obliviousness, graffiti is still recognized.
However, this recognition is accompanied by disgust and awfulness. It is perplexing that they are usually charged with cases of vandalism and destruction of private and public property because of utilizing walls of establishments they don’t own. This is because those walls they use are usually of buildings empty and have long been vacated and abandoned by the owners. Therefore, graffiti writers are often viewed as lawbreakers. Usually, graffiti artists do not really give emphasis on showing their art to the general public because their concern is limited in just the expression of themselves.
Nevertheless, they also somehow want the appreciation of their masterpiece. This is the reason why graffiti art are often found on walls of buildings frequented by the public. Physical characteristics of graffiti yards include a degree of visibility that enables a piece to be seen from a passing car on a nearby street or freeway. Although pieces are not aimed directly at the general public, the artists do like their work to be seen and recognized. Even though graffiti art are disgusting to the general public, manufacturers of apparels and accessories have used the concept of graffiti to make their products sell like hot cakes.
In this situation, the recognition of graffiti as a cultural activity took its place. As what Hall asserted, popular culture is dialectical process of resistance and agreement. In the case of the graffiti art, it is worth noting that the producers of the culture are denoted as deviant elements of the society. However it is ironic that the consumers of the graffiti art are the big institutions and companies that sell mass produced commodities. The graffiti art as a cultural activity is a clear example of a popular culture being received yet decided to be rejected or accepted.
In the multinational companies’ attempt to use graffiti as a potential source of great profit, the disgusting art has been transformed into an acceptable enterprise. However the consumption of the products promoting graffiti art still depends on the cultural background and the power of person to dissent or agree on the attractiveness of it. References: 1. William, R. 1976, ‘Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society,’ Fontana, London. 2. Dressler, W. 2002, ‘A Working Definition of Culture’, Europhamil, [Online] Available at: http://www. europhamili. org/protect/media/96. pdf. 3. Esposito, R.
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