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Prior to beginning these readings, I did not hold a very deep respect for popular culture. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I saw it as worthless or looked down upon it, I did not see popular culture for much more than its entertainment value The first and third definitions of popular culture offered in John Storey’s ”What Is Popular Culture?” seemed to effectively summarize my views, that popular culture consists of highly favored works, produced exclusively for consumption To some extent, I viewed pop culture as ”the opiate of the people” — an avenue of escape where cheap entertainment can be gained with little exertion.
After completing the readings, I feel like my views on popular culture have been expanded, but not necessarily refuted. My original views, I learned, covered the aspects of pleasure in popular culture, but did not paint a full picture As is discussed in “The Culture that Sticks to Your Skin,” popular culture is a balance between pleasure-based consumption and political subversion and/or resistance.
An analysis of popular culture is not complete without considering both of these aspects, Considering this, one of the first things that came to my mind was the sitcom “Modern Family,” a mockumentary of the lives of Jay Pritchett and his family The series focuses on three families: Jay, who is divorced and remarried with a stepson from his wife’s first marriage; Jay’s daughter Claire and her husband Phil, a nuclear family that began with an unplanned pregnancy; and Jay’s son Mitchell, his husband Cam, and their daughter Lily, who was adopted from Vietnam, Clips from the series are linked at the end of this post.
The choice to include three families, each non-traditional in its own way, was not simply so that writers could poke fun at the exploits created by their differences On the other hand, the decision was not made exclusively to advocate for the acceptance of LGBT and other nonetraditional family dynamics, either.
Rather, the show’s creators blended a political message with high entertainment value to both attempt to shape American politics and satisfy consumers‘ demands for pleasure, The ideas of political marginalization and resistance are discussed heavily in each of the readings, Some critics, such as Stuart Hall, see this process as an active one, arguing that cultural change is not simply disuse of certain elements but active attempts at marginalization by dominant groups, Others argue that the process is a more passive one, like James Lull in “Hegemony,” who notes that schools, businesses, and religious organizations often echo messages of hegemony in a natural desire for stability, simply because they represent preservation of the status quo.
While I can see how both of these methods can take place within media, I think that typically hegemony is established in a more passive way, especially when the text promotes domination more heavily than resistance, Producers of media, in my opinion, simply produce texts that relate strongly to their own ideologies and experiences. This allows what Douglas Kellner describes as “dominant ideologies” to develop, making the inequality depicted in the text appear natural or justified, That said, there are certainly texts that actively work to subjugate opposing groups, and texts that promote resistance to this subjugation tend to take a more active role in doing so, I believe One question I had during the reading came from the different definitions of popular culture given in “What is Popular Culture?” It seems that the author favors the fifth and sixth definitions, the Gramscian interpretation and the idea of a post-modern culture, above the prior four, which seemed to be supported by the other readings as well.
I am wondering if it is ever appropriate to use exclusively some of these ”other” definitions of popular culture for the purpose of criticism. I would think that the volume of consumption and the differences in level of sophistication of popular culture would be valuable to a complete analysis, but these seem to be forgone in favor of discussion of class struggle in many of the readings so far, My second question relates to the utility of the semiotic approach. It seems it’s focused on establishing the meaning of verbal and nonverbal symbols in language, but it doesn’t seem to connect to the other readings on hegemony and power like the discursive approach does 15 semiotics just used to “read between the lines” and get the full meaning of the text, while the discursive approach provides a fuller cultural criticism? If not, how is the semiotic approach applied in a criticism?
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