It is essential to be aware that popular culture is a critical feature of our current contemporary society. Even if the term might still not be clear, John Storey has developed six definitions to help us better understand this worldwide phenomenon.
John Storey’s Definitions
The second aspect of mass culture is mass consumption. It implies that the finished product will be consumed by many people who are also non-discriminating consumers. Someone who listens to classical music will have set taste and differentiate between Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Piazzola’s Four Seasons. However, people listening to electronic music might be more interested in the regular beat of the music to which they can dance than the subtle artistic interpretations of various artists. A criticism of this definition of popular culture is that there exists no authentic or pure culture in our capitalist society. Artists invest money or seek for investments to produce their art and must turn around a profit to make a living. As a result, all culture is mass culture to varying degrees.
There is another element to popular culture as mass culture. It pertains to culture as a means of collective dreaming. Popular culture can provide people with an opportunity for escapism.
The fourth definition Storey advances are that popular culture is a culture that originates from the people. This definition of popular culture creates a link between popular and folk culture. The latter typically emerges from a localized, homogeneous group of people who are geographically isolated. On the other hand, popular culture is the culture of a large, heterogeneous society. This clearly indicates that the two are not the same. Popular culture and folk culture both converge and diverge on various aspects.
Folk culture refers to all the practices of a group of people, or tribe, from a specific geographical location. This is most evident in larger countries. In the US, you have country music from the rural areas of the south-eastern part of the country and Louisianan Creole cuisine which both fall under the category of folk culture. Despite the clear distinctions between the two, folk culture has greatly contributed to shaping and influencing popular culture.
Football is an example of a cultural product that evolved from folk origins to become a key element of popular culture today. The early forms of English football appeared during the middle ages and were a very unruly sport during which people kicked, punched and bit each other. We know King Edward III banned it in 1365 and King James I legalized it again in 1603. At this stage, football still belonged to the area of folk culture. Since, it has spread throughout the world to become a part of popular culture.
Storey also approaches popular culture as a site of hegemonic struggle. Hegemony refers to the dominance of one social group over others. Popular culture is the platform where firstly, subordinate groups try to resist the leadership and dominance of the ruling group or, secondly, dominant groups can seek to win the consent of subordinate groups in society.
The sixth definition of popular culture draws on theories of postmodernism. Some key features of postmodernism are pastiche, fluid boundaries and the questioning of binaries. This has a significant impact on our understanding of popular culture as most of the previous definitions define popular culture in opposition to something else (high culture, folk culture, authentic culture, superior culture, etc.). The postmodernist approach to popular culture argues that some binaries are obsolete and do not really exist.
According to this definition, there is no distinction between high culture and popular culture in our postmodern society. Instead, they mix with each other, overlap as well as influence and inform each other.
A great example is the success of Susan Boyle, a candidate on the British version of the Got Talent franchise, Britain’s Got Talent. She sang a more classical repertoire on a reality TV talent show. Her songs, in the strictest sense, did not belong to the realm of popular culture while the show Britain’s Got Talent is certainly part of popular culture. Her performances on the show spread quickly through YouTube, another element of popular culture and she was second on the show.
This provides a great example of how the traditional distinctions between high culture and popular culture are becoming more difficult to determine as the boundaries between the two are becoming blurred.