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Question: “To what extent were changes in popular culture responsible for dividing rather than united US society in the years 1968-2001?”
Popular culture is the entirety of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, memes, and other phenomena that are within the mainstream of a given culture. Heavily influenced by mass media, this collection of ideas permeates the everyday lives of the society. Popular culture reflected the situation and issues in the society, such as sports which reflected racism, homosexuality and the emerging role of women, the media reflected the change in society as it began to display sexual explicit contents, music reflected the rejection of earlier generation and the emerge of a new and diverse culture and lastly the Internet, while some viewed the internet as a weapon of mass distraction, others viewed it as the opening of new worlds of knowledge and culture. The changes in popular culture were symbolic as factions of the society made use of popular culture to question the norms of the society, which they lived in.
Accordingly, a united American society was one which reflected the “American Way”(equal opportunities, capacity for hard work and frequent success), one of the prominent popular culture which reflected the “American Way” in the late twentieth century were sports. Sports were very influential and was seen to reflect the American way but not only was it reflective of the American way, it also reflected “American Vices”, such as excessive greed, commercialization, violence, drug abuse, racism and cheating.
Los Angeles Times 1980 editorial admitted, “Sports business is rough-and-tumble competition and business. “Self – Interest rules. Money caused problems with loyalties this was shown in several cases such as the move of the Oakland raiders from their traditional home to Los Angeles and the 1992 shoe war, the refusal of Jordan to wear the official Olympic logo because it advertised Rebook. Sports no longer reflected ideal society: Athletes sometimes shaped the society. The influence of advertisements were demonstrated when products like Air Jordan was released and caused a surprising increase in violence amongst poorer society. Violence became cool in the society as athletes such as Mike Tyson, O.J Simpson reflected this to the society.
Also sports reflected the rejection and the gradual acceptance of Homosexuals and female athletes, while it was acceptable for females to be at the sidelines to cheer it was not acceptable for them to be in the game, This was gradually changing as certain female athletes began to come into prominence such as Billie Jean King (tennis player), she threatened a boycotting in favour of equality between sexes this led to the battle of sexes between king and Bobby Riggs which was won by King. This brought several changes and was used to prove that women were quite capable as men also homosexuals were seen as an error or a mistake by the society when Greg Louganis (Olympic diving gold medalist) announced that he was gay , he was seen by society as a struggling talent . While these individual reflected the tolerance of female athletes and gays in sports it did not reflect increasing tolerance of the gay faction in the society.
Also, sports were meant to reflect honesty, fair play and tradition, rather than this, sports reflected the revised edition such as cheating, drug abuse, with so much money at stake, it was no surprise when drugs and cheating were happening in sports, such as Carl Lewis positive drug test at the Olympic trial , the increase in investigative journalism showed led to much exposure of corruption , cheating and violence in sports . In 1980 University of New Mexico coaches were found tampering with athlete’s test scripts.
However, Sports also had a part in uniting the society as the desire to win made schools integrate their sport teams in the late 1960s and early 1970s by the 1980s black athletes dominated team sports. In 1986, 63 per cent of top footballers were black and 33 per cent of baseball players and 75 per cent of basketball players. Sports reflected the good, through integration this brought unity to America but the vices of the nation explained above dominated sports, which brought division in the United States.
An equally significant aspect of popular culture in the early twentieth century was the media, popular culture was displayed through sex, two-thirds of all television shows aired during prime time had sexual contents in them, notable television shows which displayed such were Jerry springer show which were filled with stories related to the abuse of animals, adultery and displayed violence as fights between guests were common. Moreover there were still many quality television programmes such as, the west wing, ER, Jurassic park, Toy story, the Simpsons etc that reflected the society and showed the ideal society and its norms.
Shows were used to reflect different perspectives of various factions of the society. The media no longer showed the norms of the society but made use of shows to reflect the changing society. Furthermore, Music was another important element of popular culture, young people made use of music to reject the older rejection . Rap music by Eminem, 50 cent and other rap artist, glorified criminal gang, violence and abuse. Media showed the rejection of the older generation by the emerging generation. Like other elements of popular culture, was disliked by many Americans.
Another aspect of popular culture which was emerging during the late 1980s were computers , several people rejoiced the creation of computers as they emphasized that the internet opened up new worlds of knowledge and communication but the opponents viewed the internet as “ a weapon of mass destruction” and the older generations were angered by what was exposed to their children on the internets such as pornography which was seen by most as an art and sexually explicit music videos. Internet played a vital role in the dividing the country but it was also significant in uniting the country as people were able to communicate through websites such as Myspace and Emails . Their ability to communicate brought some unity to the country.
In conclusion, Popular culture could be seen as the two political parties in the US (Republican and Democrats) both having different views on how the society should be, some believe in the traditions and values while others believe in adapting and being modernized in their thinking. Popular culture reflected these two perspectives of how the society should be and like the election some might vote for the Republican Party or the Democratic Party but cannot vote for both. Popular culture presented a society with so many beliefs on what was right and wrong. The older generation were quite contented with the norms but the emerging generation rejected the status quo. So the gradual changes in popular culture was reflective of the changes in beliefs, opinions and views of the society and its modernization. This brought about division in America’s society.