The impact on traditional popular media is more evident today than its ever been. Since 1995 the number of nationally aired television commercials and popular sitcoms that use props, references, or slang from Inner cities continues to grow. Big screen movies are also other examples of how urban pop culture is impacting traditional pop culture. The hit movie Tropic Thunder is filled with references, images, and jokes that are common amongst the youth in Brooklyn, New York and Los Angeles California.
The term “popular culture” was coined in the 19th century or earlier. Traditionally, popular culture was associated with poor education and the lower classes, as opposed to the “official culture” and higher education of the upper classes.
The stress in the distinction from “official culture” became more pronounced towards the end of the 19th century,[need quotation to verify] a usage that became established by the interbellum period.[need quotation to verify]
From the end of World War II, following major cultural and social changes brought by mass media innovations, the meaning of popular culture began to overlap with those of mass culture, media culture, image culture, consumer culture, and culture for mass consumption. Social and cultural changes in the United States were a pioneer in this with respect to other western countries.
The abbreviated form “pop” for popular. as in pop music, dates from the late 1950s. Although terms “pop” and “popular” are in some cases used interchangeably, and their meaning partially overlap, the term “pop” is narrower. Pop is specific of something containing qualities of mass appeal, while “popular” refers to what has gained popularity, regardless of its style.
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According to John Storey, there are six definitions of popular culture. The quantitative definition of culture has the problem that much “high culture” (e.g., television dramatizations of Jane Austen) is also “popular”. “Pop culture” is also defined as the culture that is “left over” when we have decided what high culture is. However, many works straddle the boundaries, e.g., Shakespeare and Charles Dickens.
A third definition equates pop culture with “mass culture” and ideas. This is seen as a commercial culture, mass-produced for mass consumption by mass media. From a Western European perspective, this may be compared to American culture.[clarification needed] Alternatively, “pop culture” can be defined as an “authentic” culture of the people, but this can be problematic because there are many ways of defining the “people”.[page needed] Storey argued that there is a political dimension to popular culture; neo-Gramscian hegemony theory “… sees popular culture as a site of struggle between the ‘resistance’ of subordinate groups in society and the forces of ‘incorporation’ operating in the interests of dominant groups in society.” A postmodernist approach to popular culture would “no longer recognize the distinction between high and popular culture”.
Storey claims that popular culture emerges from the urbanization of the Industrial Revolution. Studies of Shakespeare (by Weimann, Barber or Bristol, for example) locate much of the characteristic vitality of his drama in its participation in Renaissance popular culture, while contemporary practitioners like Dario Fo and John McGrath use popular culture in its Gramscian sense that includes ancient folk traditions (the commedia dell’arte for example).[need quotation to verify]
Popular culture changes constantly and occurs uniquely in place and time. It forms currents and eddies, and represents a complex of mutually interdependent perspectives and values that influence society and its institutions in various ways. For example, certain currents of pop culture may originate from, (or diverge into) a subculture, representing perspectives with which the mainstream popular culture has only limited familiarity. Items of popular culture most typically appeal to a broad spectrum of the public. Important contemporary contributions for understanding what popular culture means have been given by the German researcher Ronald Daus, who studies the impact of extra-European cultures in North America, Asia and especially in Latin America.
The long-running animated television series The Simpsons routinely alludes to mainstream media properties, as well as the commercial content of the show itself. In the episode “Bart vs. Thanksgiving”, Bart complains about the crass commercialism of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade while watching television. When he turns his head away from the television, the screen shows an oversized inflatable balloon of Bart Simpson floating past. The popular webcomic xkcd also references this self-referentiality in the title text of the comic ‘In Popular Culture’.
According to television studies scholars specializing in quality television, such as Kristin Thompson, self-referentiality in mainstream American television (especially comedy) reflects and exemplifies the type of progression characterized previously. Thompson argues shows such as The Simpsons use a “…flurry of cultural references, intentionally inconsistent characterization, and considerable self-reflexivity about television conventions and the status of the programme as a television show.” Extreme examples approach a kind of thematic infinite regress wherein distinctions between art and life, commerce and critique, ridicule and homage become intractably blurred.