Popular Culture by John Weaver Publisher Peter Lang 2009
Reviewed by Dr Mahendra Kumar Mishra
The Peter Lang publication entitled Popular Culture PRIMER written by John A. Weaver is a commendable work in the field of understanding the paradigm shift from conventional definition of culture to popular culture cutting across the history of human civilization.
The book is presented in defining the culture and its development through ages. It clearly explains the definition of ‘culture’ in ancient time which had different values than the culture in modern age. Culture was a possession of privileged class as opposed to the masses. The rest of the centuries have faced a major challenge in 20th century by popular culture.
In 18th century the perception of European intellectuals on culture was that common masses should not visit museum and Opera – theatres. They would not be able to understand the meaning of museum and their time that was shared in manual labor would be wasted in theatres.
Kant said , ‘freedom and rational thought were beyond average people which cultured persons knew how to exercise their freedom.’(p. 49). Mathew Arnold and Oscar Wilde also believed in excellence, by telling that art dominate the spectators. Any university , said FR Levis, which attempts to function on democratic principles simply could not create a cultured public.( p. 9) Similarly Leo- Strauss advocated cultured few.
The writer has critically examined the history of elite culture that were advocated over centuries and the major breakthrough was the first decade of 19th century when the popular culture emerged after the introduction of film , radio and television in the society where common people equally shared the culture irrespective of elite or mass.
Next the author has examined how the culture was influenced by the Americanization of culture. It was to deny the other culture and there was a rapid paradigm shift. Opera was replaced by film, stge performers got international attention after joining in the film. Cultured figured became screen actors and gained popularity, than confined to the limited theatre audience. Thus there was a change from iconic/ traditional image to popular culture image / digital image.
Invention of TV, film and Radio, brought a drastic change from mental image to physical image, from written truth to oral truth. Visual image challenged the written image in terms representing meaning. Likeness to religious iconography was developed and logical positivism was adopted where it was believed that image is a pure representation of nature/ reality .Thus literature verses art and image was synthesized as images and texts echo one another at safe distance.(p. 17)
However, the written image was replaced by the visual images, and the visual images also changed in to digital images through compositing.
Thus there was a shift from human to non human transformation of images, discarding the role of human being. But it was necessary to act and interpret human being to create meaning for the images.
Popular culture was to meet the challenges and altered world that digital image are constructing one pixel at a time.
Definition of culture in modern world is different from the ancient one. Defining the concept of culture in the context of popular culture, Weaver state that, culture is a blend of traditional and popular culture with historical context. Further he stated that power as a major component of cultural studies and finally geographical dimension of culture is another area of concern.
Tradition of popular culture was defined by an intellectual coterie most popularly known as Frankfurt School. Their study on culture was expanded from economic domain to cultural domain. The critical theory that was propagated by this school was based on cultural industry which gave rise to the rise of popular culture. Art in the age of mechanical reproduction gained popularity and democratic flavor although lost its aura.
Film, TV and Radio and photographs have changed the human culture. Audience is absent in the film, where as “every commercial is the big lie in which advertising becomes art and nothing else”.( P. 29)Film and photography is aimed against death. Film also reduced the “distance in both time and space between the image and the viewer.”Film became reality is a simulation and simulation is a reality. Television is a way to ensure access to adequacy. A Meaning of television became polysemic. Similarly music was also threatened by technology due to its separation of voice from the body. Next came the hip hop culture in music which is characterized by its hybridity They also co-opted in a cultural setting of iteration. Sports in modern context is not cruel like the ancient one , but it is an embodiment of a culture’s highest values which resulted with fan culture.
Chapter four represents new areas of study that is the cultural studies of techno science. Thomas Kuhn was the pioneer on spelling out the fact that scientific theories represent different values, culture, beliefs which is incommensurable with one another . Next noted writer on techno science in relation to culture is N Catherine Hayles who discussed on cosmic web. She explained that both the scientists and Literatures think alike and do the same thing in two different names, unknown to each other, are connected to a cosmic web. The concept and practice of electronic literature and interconnection of materiality of culture with interdisciplinary science took place in the field of human resource and thus there was an attempt to end the dichotomy of two cultures ,i.e. Humanity and science. Electronic literature took place of print literature by adopting e book. Next is the post human condition where human brain was supported with machine which is termed as cybrog, cybernetics and neuro-net computers. This also led to techno culture and hypermediecy and ultimately emergence of bioscience.
Chapter five represents cultural study of/in education .This chapter includes the study of childhood and counseling children critical pedagogy and critical media literacy and curriculum theory that captures the basics of contemporary popular culture and provide space for the mass .
The book contains the instances of popular culture of western society and thus is very useful for the scholars of pre modern and modern world of developing countries to understand and assess the values of popular culture in their own context.