Essay: On Popular Culture

{Graduate Studies; originally written for History 557 Fall 2014}

Popular Culture is a vast, nearly limitless scope but may be categorized initially by high culture or public culture. There is an elite audience of learned intellectuals who critique and address the meaning of the performance, and there is the popular audience of the people en masse who came to be entertained, to laugh, cry, or scream. The historical importance of each branch of Popular Culture is significant, lower classes are often overlooked; historian Peter Burke defined the people: “We decided we would study the history of the excluded, the dominated, the subordinate groups and classes (whom we refuse to call ‘the masses’) and not only their standard of living but their culture as well.1” Both sub-cultures merging together would be transcendental yet chaotic; best to let them breathe separately, the better to research and study. Popular Culture should be as important as any other aspect of culture; however, the field is viewed as distrustful and unstable. The value of Popular Culture is the current views of the everyday people are taken into consideration via the items people purchase, watch, play, and consume. The marketing industry is surely keen as to what people are gobbling up next which effects the product demands of business.

The downfall of popular opinion and preferences is that the mass populace is not always educated; they hold no credit to represent the opinion of such a broad subject. Lawrence Levine notes the creators and receptors of folklore, offering that the scholars are to create artistic works for the populace to enjoy. He quotes Ellison who said: “the void of faceless faces, of soundless voices, lying outside of history.2” Literary critics earned esteemed opinions as they study and interpret pieces of art literally and metaphorically. They look deeper than the text to reveal messages and implications stimulated through sensory thought. The opinions of the learned community would greatly vary from that of the mass populace.

Asa Briggs brings to attention the importance and possible danger of such a fascination for leisure activities that encompass Popular Culture; Briggs said: “the input from current popular culture itself, sometimes exciting, often disturbing. {…} the history of leisure3” (Briggs 40). Leisure can be a problem when one has too much of a good thing. American consumers want more and new products/entertainment. American economics and financial struggle appear staggering, yet compared to a football player’s salary they seem as peanuts.

Works Cited

Briggs, Asa. “What is the History of Popular Culture?” History Today 35, no. 12

(December 1985): 39-45. Accessed September 4, 2014. APUS Online Library.

Burke, Peter. “What is the History of Popular Culture?” History Today 35, no. 12

(December 1985): 39-45. Accessed September 4, 2014. APUS Online Library.

Levine, Lawrence. “The Folklore of industrial society: Popular Culture and its

Audiences.” American Historical Review 97, no. 5 (December 1992): 1369-

  1. Accessed September 4, 2014. APUS Online Library.

1 Burke, Peter. “What is the History of Popular Culture?” History Today 35, no. 12

(December 1985): 40. Accessed September 4, 2014. APUS Online Library.

2 Levine, Lawrence. “The Folklore of industrial society: Popular Culture and its

Audiences.” American Historical Review 97, no. 5 (December 1992): 1365. Accessed September 4, 2014. APUS Online Library.

3 Briggs, Asa. “What is the History of Popular Culture?” History Today 35, no. 12

(December 1985): 40. Accessed September 4, 2014. APUS Online Library.

Picture c/o:  http://doobious.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/pop-culture.jpg

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