What is Popular Culture: Overview

In simple words, popular culture can be understood as a set of cultural products, practices, beliefs, and objects dominating society. It affects and influences the people it comes across towards these sets of objects or beliefs. From music to dance, movies, literature, fashion, it encompasses everything that is believed and consumed by the majority of people in any society.

Coined in the 19th century, the term popular culture is complex and hard to define. It depends on the context it has been used or on the people who are using it. Viewed literally, it means the culture of the people. Being the culture of the people, it generated through the day to day interactions people engage in, the language they use, the beliefs they hold, the rituals they follow, etc. Historically, it used to be equated with the culture of the poor, and lower classes which were uneducated thus projecting it as an inferior culture against the upper official classes having higher education. This distinction became more prominent during the late 19th century.

According to John Storey, “popular culture is the culture that is left over, after we have decided what is high culture” (Storey 2009, p. 6). After the world war, growing social changes and evolving media and technology associated it with that of media culture, image culture, consumer culture, music culture and so on. The use of the term pop in place of popular also shows the influence music culture had on popular culture. However, the term pop is narrower than that of popular. The author John Storey argued that the coming of the industrial revolution and urbanization led to its development. It is constantly evolving and reaching wide areas due to the improvement of mass media in modern times.

The importance of popular culture is seen in the way it impacts society. In influences peoples’ choices, the clothes they wear, the food they eat, the music they listen to. There exist two views about its meaning. It brings a large number of heterogeneous people coming for differing social backgrounds to see themselves as a collective unit, a social group. It unites the people playing an inclusionary role and gives them a sense of identity. It not only provides self-satisfaction but also helps in building a communal bonding.

One view sees popular culture as a tool by which the elites try to influence and control the lower class of uneducated masses by gaining control over the mass media and other ventures of popular culture. It is said that through this culture, the elites divert the people away from the important issues to gain benefits in their favor. The other which is completely in contrast to this is the view that it is the weapon through which the subordinate and lower classes or groups engage in rebellion against the dominant groups.

The idea of popular culture can be spread through or generate from various sources including films, television programs, pop music, sports, books, radio, games and sports, the internet, etc.

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