- What are the links between popular culture and market forces?
What are the links between popular culture and market forces?
This essay will explore the assumption of popular
culture as a commodity subject to the dictates of
market forces, where it is 'produced to
be consumed' (Strinati 1995:242; Harrington and Bielby
2001:2). I shall use specific examples from 'pop culture' to
illustrate the interplay between the production and consumption,
exploring these threads against a contemporary backdrop of
'mediated globalisation' (Rantanen 2005) and the 'postmodern' era
of mass media.
According to Harrington and Bielby (2001:2), attempting to
define 'popular culture' is a necessary first step in any academic
writing on the subject. They use the work of Raymond Williams
(1983), to alight upon contrasting meanings of the word 'popular.'
It can be 'objects or practices' that are either
'well-liked by a lot of people' or those 'deemed inferior
and unworthy.' (Harrington and Bielby 2001:2). Within this simple
binary the music of Goldie Looking Chain is placed in opposition to
the likes of Mendelssohn. As a generality, the latter is
characterised as a form of 'high' art, whilst the former is
derogatorily viewed as the listening of homogenous 'masses.'
Not only are the 'artists' of high culture juxtaposed with
the capitalist producers of the culture industry, but these
distinctions are seen as a matter of consumer taste, with Kantian
philosophy establishing a binary between the ways art and mass
culture are consumed. Art or 'high' culture is said to require
learned thought: the 'taste of reflection', whilst popular culture
is more immediate and bodily: 'the taste of sense.'(McKee
2007:206). In comparison Pierre Bourdieu (1984) effectively
deconstructs how dominant groups establish and use taste
hierarchies as cultural capital to renew their social and economic
All this moves us away from Marxist ideology and structuralist
representation towards a more 'postmodern' analysis of the
'surface' value of popular culture. The notion of any underlying
cultural 'truth' collapses, with texts instead becoming open to a
plethora of polysemic interpretations. As well as opening an
extensive debate on the merits of relativism (See McKee
2007:204-223), this underlines the importance of theorising
production and consumption within a more fluid, Foucauldian notion
of power, that enables us to question the very existence of the
'popular' as an episteme.
In conclusion, we see that in an era of increasingly global
media flows, our original assumption that popular culture 'is
produced to be consumed', needs to be accounted for in a rather
more dynamic sense than the Marxist model of ideology and
base/superstructure. Yet, as the boundary between producers and
consumers becomes fuzzied, and popular culture becomes increasingly
fragmented into more and more 'subcultures', the only thing that
remains fetishized in the interplay between culture and economy is
the value of the commodity; an ideology in itself.