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Article

At the core of what we know as popular culture studies today is the work of scholars associated with or influenced by the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. Popular culture itself and intellectual interest in its risks and possibilities, however, long predate this moment. Earlier in the 20th century, members of the Frankfurt School took an active interest in what was then referred to as “mass culture” or the culture industry. Semiotics, emerging in the latter half of the 20th century as an exciting new methodology of cultural analysis, turned to popular culture for many of its objects as it redefined textuality, reading, and meaning. The works of Roland Barthes and Umberto Eco are exemplary in this regard. The work of the Birmingham school, also known as British cultural studies, drew from both of these intellectual traditions but went on to forge its own unique methods drawing on Marxist and poststructuralist theoretical legacies. Quickly spreading across the Anglophone world, Cultural Studies is now widely recognized, if not as a discipline proper, as a distinctive branch of the humanities. Other methodologies contemporaneous with this trend are also now clubbed together as part of this generalized practice of cultural studies. Important among these are feminist approaches to popular culture exemplified by work on Hollywood cinema and women’s melodrama in particular, the study of images and representations through a mass communications approach, and ethnographic studies of readers of popular romances and television audiences. A minor, theoretically weak tradition of popular culture studies initiated by Ray Browne parallelly in the Unites States may also be mentioned. More recently, Slavoj Zizek has introduced startlingly new ways of drawing popular cultural texts into philosophical debates. If all of these can be taken together as constituting what is generally referred to as popular culture studies today, it is still limited to the 20th century. Apart from the Frankfurt School and semiotics, British cultural studies also counts among the precursors it had to settle scores with, the tradition of cultural criticism in Britain that Matthew Arnold and in his wake F. R. Leavis undertook as they sought to insulate “the best of what was thought and said” from the debasing influence of the commercial press and mass culture in general. But the history of popular culture as an object of investigation and social concern goes further back still to the 18th and 19th centuries, the period of the rise and spread of mass literature, boosted by the rise of a working-class readership.

Article

Communication and cultural studies share turbulent and contradictory histories, epistemologies, methods, and geographies, both on their own and as partners and rivals. This is in keeping with their status as interdisciplinary areas that emerged in the early to mid-20th century and crossed the humanities and the social sciences. Communication and cultural studies are linked and distinguished both by the topics they analyze and by their politics, countries, disciplines, theories, languages, and methods. Whereas the dominant forms of communication studies are dedicated to scholarly objectivity and disciplinary coherence, cultural studies is more akin to a tendency connected to concerns and identities on the margins of academia, and committed to methodological diversity. And whereas the critical strand of communication studies, notably political economy, examines such social forces of domination as the state and capital, cultural studies investigates the struggles undertaken by ordinary people to interpret dominant cultural forms in terms of their conditions of existence. The supposedly pessimistic orientation of political economy is frequently eschewed in favor of a faith in the resistive qualities of the oppressed and silenced. A similar perspective characterizes cultural studies’ rejection of effects studies for neglecting the politicized way that active audiences interpret media texts. In place of such concerns, the dominant strands of cultural studies tend to favor aesthetic and anthropological ways of analyzing societies to examine subjectivity and power and work with the understanding that popular culture represents and creates rituals and vice versa, through institutions and discourses that construct identities, which in turn form them.

Article

Tabloid journalism has long been a highly contested news form. With a sensationalist approach and an easily digested mix of entertainment and news, it has often attracted mass audiences at the same time as it has stirred controversy and raised concern about its impact on public discourse. Originating in the tabloid newspaper, associated both with a small newspaper format and a particular news style, the term “tabloid” is today considered to characterize a range of other media content, extending to popular TV programs and certain kinds of online news. The rise and development of tabloid journalism, in combination with wider processes shaping the media, has moreover led to a debate about “tabloidization,” involving ideas about shifting priorities in journalism and the media landscape as a whole. Although tabloidization has no standard definition, an overview of empirical research using the concept as a starting point highlights analyses of various media, historical periods, and media markets, adding to understandings of tabloidization as multi-faceted and context-bound. Such a process, furthermore, has been viewed both as a possible threat to the public sphere and as potentially entailing democratizing elements, relating to long-standing depictions of tabloid journalism as either “dumbing down” or “reaching out.” Yet contemporary analysis in this field has tended to paint a more complex picture of both phenomena as well as pointing to emerging questions around the category of tabloid journalism in digital settings.

Article

Christina Ceisel

Understanding the procurement, preparation, and consumption of food as a form of communication, critical/cultural scholars approach food and food related activities as texts, asking questions about power, identity, political economy, and culture. The emergent field of critical food studies represents a growing interdisciplinary interest in taking food seriously. Approaching cultural practices as the site of resistance to and incorporation into hegemonic social structures, cultural studies orients us towards questions regarding the politics of food practices with an eye towards social justice. Framed by an awareness of the performativity of cultural practices, both food studies and critical cultural studies engage questions of subjectivity, symbolic meaning, institutional power, identity, and consumption. Broadly speaking, critical cultural studies scholars examine foodways—the cultural, social, and economic aspects of the production and consumption of food—as (a) symbolic repertoires for the production of social identity; (b) a site of cultural performance; and (c) a metaphor for race, class, gender, and sexuality within popular culture. These areas overlap, reinforce, and problematize each other, and are not intended to provide an exhaustive account of the approaches critical cultural scholars take when integrating food studies into their research. As symbolic repertoires, food, foodways, and cuisine are often understood as integral to articulating identity around nationhood, race and ethnicity, class, and gender. Food, foodways, and cuisine provide potent examples of how symbols construct knowledge and meaning. As a site of cultural performance, foodways are understood as part of a cultural system embedded within a matrix of rituals, values, and practices that comprise the rhythm of daily life. Paying attention to food as performance reveals the intricacies of our understandings of and negotiations between self and community; nostalgia and the present moment; home and away; family and individual. Finally, cultural studies deconstructs the metonymic functions of food as presented in media texts. Methodologically, this research provides a textual analysis of how particular foodstuffs function rhetorically within media texts. Theoretically, it provides an important addition to our understanding of the workings of hegemony within the context of food as a metaphor for race, ethnicity, and gender, particularly on cable networks, reality TV, and in film.

Article

Jesús Martín Barbero is a philosopher specializing in communication and culture, particularly focusing on Latin America as his major geographical research environment and emphasizing the social meanings and practices of cultural consumption. Although he was born in Spain and his formal academic training was developed in Belgium and France, his entire career has been conducted in Latin America and, specifically, in Colombia, where he has lived since the 1960s, with a brief interruption due to his graduate studies in the 1970s. Along with others, Martín Barbero is considered to be one of the main theorists of the Latin American school of communication. He represents the cultural studies trend within it, and he is one of the few Latin American authors in communication and cultural studies who has been translated or published in English. Some of Martín Barbero’s main contributions have been to resituate communication studies within the broader field of culture, emphasizing a nonmedia-centered approach, proposing a radically historical perspective, arguing that the concepts of popular and mass culture are not actually opposite, but tightly embedded within each other, and recognizing that popular and mass culture practices are indeed worthy of study. This perspective has often been dismissed or neglected by previous research in communication and cultural studies in Latin America, and the recent focus on telenovelas research is one such example. De los medios a las mediaciones: Comunicación, Cultura y Hegemonía (1987), Martín Barbero’s most cited book, has several editions in Spanish and has been translated to Portuguese (Dos meios ‘as mediacoes, 1992) and French (Des médias aux mediations, 2002). The translation to English in 1993 includes a little twist on its title: Communication, Culture, and Hegemony: From Media to Mediations. Although Martín Barbero’s work has been included in edited volumes or special issues in English, it has been overwhelmingly published in Spanish. Drawing on his corpus of work—his books, articles, conferences, and interviews—this article offers an overview of Jesús Martín Barbero’s main concepts, his intellectual trajectory, his major intellectual influences, and how and why he became an influential thinker in the Latin American field of communication and cultural studies. It also highlights some limitations in Martín Barbero’s work.

Article

Slavoj Žižek stands as one of the most influential contemporary philosophical minds, stretching across a wide variety of fields: not just communication and critical/cultural studies, but critical theory, theology, film, popular culture, political theory, aesthetics, and continental theory. He has been the subject (and object) of several documentaries, become the source of a “human megaphone” during Occupy Wall Street, and become, while still living, the subject of his own academic journal (the International Journal of Žižek Studies). Žižek’s theoretical claim to fame, aside from his actual claim to fame as a minor “celebrity philosopher,” is that he weaves together innovative interpretations of G. W. F. Hegel, Karl Marx, and Jacques Lacan to comment on a variety of subjects, from quantum physics to Alfred Hitchcock films to CIA torture sites. While there are as many “Žižeks” as there are philosophical problem-spaces, Žižek proposes an essential unity within his project; in his work, the triad Hegel-Marx-Lacan holds together like a Brunnian link—each link in the chain is essential for his project to function. Further, his intentionally provocative work acts as a counterweight to what he views as the dominant trends of philosophy and political theory since the 1980s—postmodernism, anti-foundationalism, deconstruction, vitalism, ethics, and, more recently, speculative realism and object-oriented ontology.

Article

Zazil Reyes García

Political cartoons are rhetorical artifacts where journalism and popular culture intersect. Through the use of images and words, facts and fiction, political cartoons provide their readers with a point of view: a single frame loaded with vivid images and condensed meaning. Political cartoons perform several political and social functions; the main one is to provide political commentary on current events and social issues. Additionally, cartoonists often see their work as a weapon against the abuses of power. Thus, they seek to expose and ridicule the powerful. The result is not always funny, but it is often surprising. Political cartoons are valuable objects of study for many disciplines, such as art history, journalism, and sociology. Studying political cartoons can give us information about past and present political processes and social imagery; it can also serve to understand how visual elements are used to communicate; but most importantly, it provides insight into the cultural values, beliefs, and attitudes of the societies that produce them. Political cartoons are a form of communication with extraordinary rhetorical power. In order to construct meaning, and in hopes of persuading their audience, cartoonists use different rhetorical strategies, such as the use of metaphors and widely known cultural references. Like other rhetorical artifacts, political cartoons are not a straightforward form of communication. To understand one cartoon, people require multiple literacies, and often different people have different readings. Although the influence of political cartoons has diminished in some parts of the Western world, they continue to do political work around the world.

Article

Since the earliest years of the film industry, journalists and journalism have played a leading role in popular culture. Scholars debate whether journalism films—and by extension television programs, plays, cartoons, comics, commercials, and online and interactive stories and games—are a distinct genre, or whether journalists are featured in a variety of genres from dramas to comedies and satires to film noir. They also debate whether a film needs to feature a journalist doing journalism as a primary character or whether having a journalist as a secondary character still counts as a “journalism” film. Regardless, research into depictions of journalists in popular culture is important because the depictions influence public opinion about real-world journalists, as well as the credibility and public trust of the journalism field. Indeed, the influence might be greater even than the actual work performed by real-world journalists. Popular culture cultivates legend and myth, and this cultivation is especially true for a field such as journalism because the majority of the public will never see the inside of an actual newsroom. Popular culture myths about journalism focus on its normative role. Journalistic heroes are the foreign correspondents and investigative reporters who stand for community and progress. Journalistic villains are the lovable rogues, remorseful sinners, and unrepentant scoundrels who break journalistic norms and roles. A wide range of heroes and villains have been depicted on the big and small screen. For every Woodward and Bernstein working tirelessly to expose a corrupt presidential administration in All the President’s Men, there is a Chuck Tatum hiding an injured man in order to keep an exclusive in Ace in the Hole. For every Murphy Brown, a prominent and award-winning investigative journalist and anchor, there is a Zoe Barnes in House of Cards who has sex with sources and knowingly publishes false information. Many of the most interesting depictions, however, feature a character who has aspects of heroism and villainy. For example, Megan Carter in Absence in Malice attempts to be a watchdog reporter but destroys lives with her mistakes. Viewers ultimately are left with the idea that Carter will become a better journalist because of the lessons she has learned during the course of the film. Due to the potential impact of these depictions, entertainers must hold themselves to a higher standard to fulfill their discursive role within the broader republic. Entertainment programming needs a positive ethical code because it helps inform citizens by raising questions, offering incisive observations, and voicing marginalized perspectives. The code is in its nascent stages, but it is past time for media ethicists to develop a social responsibility theory for entertainment and amusement, the dominant role of almost all media.

Article

Toussaint Nothias

The concept of representation is a cornerstone of the field of cultural studies. Representations are symbols, signs, and images used to communicate and construct meaning. They are at stake in a variety of fundamental cognitive processes such as perception and imagination. Language, for instance, is based on a system of representation where words stand for something else, such as an object or an idea. Representations are thus central to the process by which individuals and societies make sense of the world, assign meaning, and delineate norms, rules, and identities. Journalism is a key site of production of representations. Unlike most other fields of cultural production, journalism is grounded in a regime of truth: it claims to represent the world as it is. Scholars interested in representation and journalism have largely opposed those claims. Journalism always involves covering certain events over others. News stories necessarily prioritize certain frames, voices, and contextual information, which creates peculiar kinds of representations. Those representations are constrained by the working conditions of journalists, but they are also shaped by broader political, economic, cultural, and historical contexts. In that sense, journalism creates representations but also reproduces representations that exist elsewhere in society. Because the concept of representation points toward broader social forces involved in meaning construction, it has largely been used to explore the operations of power. Instead of asking “is any given representation true?” cultural studies scholars have been more interested in asking “how do relationships of power, domination, and inequality shape representations?” As a result of its development in the field of cultural studies, the study of representation has largely been oriented towards questions of inequalities and identity, most notably gender, race, ethnicity, and class. With regard to the study of representation and journalism, three broad areas of inquiries are delineated. The first concerns how journalism represents different social groups, places, events, and issues through its coverage. This literature is wide and covers a range of issues in both domestic and international coverage. Most of those studies focus on the linguistic, rhetorical, and visual properties of media texts to deconstruct the ideological operations behind what often appears natural and common sense in the news. Another strand of research looks at similar issues of representation but in the context of journalistic production. In particular, these studies centralize the importance of who makes the news to understand the peculiar representations that journalism ultimately produces. Often relying on surveys, statistical data, or ethnography, these have contributed to an understanding of issues such as gender inequalities and lack of diversity in newsrooms. A final—and more discreet—literature investigates how journalism itself is represented in popular culture. Novels, films, television, commercials, cartoons, art, and video games routinely construct representations of journalism and journalists. These representations play a role in shaping popular mythologies around journalism and its role in society.

Article

For the past two decades, the Korean Wave has been recognized in many parts of the world, and has articulated dynamic junctures of globalization, regionalization, and localization in the realms of media and popular culture. Due to online media platforms such as streaming services, television content has been diversifying and increasing its transnational circulation. More recently, the outbound scope of K-drama and K-pop has further reached dispersed global audiences, most of whom are not Korean media consumers or fans, thanks to active use of social media, such as YouTube, in transnational media consumption. The Korean Wave can be a meaningful contra-flow in transnational pop culture. Moreover, the Korean Wave is an evolutionary cultural flow, as traced in the history of its growth. The Wave has been experiencing continuities and discontinuities in its stream for years, along with its popularity cycle, and interestingly disjuncture has shaped it differently. A set of studies of the Korean Wave should map out the presence of the Wave in the big picture of cultural globalization, beyond the pre-existing geocultural divisions. The very recent Korean Wave drives not only the flow of various kinds of content and formats but also reciprocal interchanges of diverse levels of human, financial, technological, and cultural elements; this reconstructs implied meanings of the Korean Wave and its globalizing phenomena.

Article

Mohan Jyoti Dutta, Satveer Kaur-Gill, and Naomi Tan

Cultivation theory examines the effects of the media, mainly television on viewer perception over an extended period of time. Television is seen by people throughout the globe, with many spending considerable amounts of time watching the medium. The act of watching television has been described as the first leisure activity to cut across social and ethnic divisions in society. This made it a unique mass media tool because mass message dissemination to diverse groups in a population was made possible. Cultivation scholars have studied the effects of the medium, trying to understand how television content can alter one’s social reality. Heavy viewers are considered to be most susceptible to the effects of cultivation. The reality of these effects poses important questions for health communication scholars considering the role television plays in disseminating health messages. Health communication scholars became interested in studying cultivation to understand the health-related effects the medium could have on viewers. Understanding the health effects of television is pivotal, considering that television and the structures that constitute television content set the agendas for many health topics, often disseminating negative and positive messages that can impact society, especially the young and impressionable. With television content addressing health issues such as nutrition, diet, body image, tobacco, cancer, drugs, obesity, and women’s health, cultivation theory can offer health communication scholars a framework to understand how health behaviors are shaped by the mass media and the roles these media play in reinforcing unhealthy behaviors. By establishing a basis for studying how such portrayals have direct health-related effects on viewers, cultivation theory creates openings for questioning the structures of the media that put out unhealthy content and for interrogating the roles and responsibilities of media agenda in inculcating positive health messages. Directions for future research include looking at contextually contrasting populations that share different cultural and community values, and different ways of consuming television. Research questions exploring the roles of community structures with different sets of subjective norms, or with different roles of community norms, in the realm of cultivation effects offer new areas for exploration.