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 the conventional definition of culture to popular culture cutting across the history of human civilisation.
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 the modern era. Culture was a possession of the privileged class as opposed to the masses. The rest of the centuries faced a major challenge in the 20th century by popular culture.
In the 18th century, the perception of European intellectuals on culture was that common masses should not visit the museum and Opera – theatres. They would not be able to understand the meaning of museum, and their time that was shared in manual labour 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 dominates the spectators. Any university said FR Levis, which attempts to function on democratic principles could not create a cultured public. ( p. 9) Similarly, Leo- Strauss advocated cultured few.
The writer has critically examined the history of an 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 Americanization of culture influenced culture. It was to deny the other culture, and there was a rapid paradigm shift. Opera was replaced by the film; stage performers got international attention after joining in the movie. Cultured figured became screen actors and gained popularity then confined to the limited theatre audience. Thus there was a change from iconic/ traditional image to popular culture image / digital copy.
The 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. The 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 synthesised as images and texts echo one another at a safe distance. (p. 17)
However, the written image was replaced by the visual images, and the visual images also changed into digital images through compositing.
Thus there was a shift from human to the non-human transformation of images, discarding the role of a 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 is constructing one pixel at a time.
Definition of culture in the 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.
The tradition of popular culture was defined by an intellectual coterie most popularly known as Frankfurt School. Their study on culture was expanded from the economic domain to the cultural domain. The critical theory that was propagated by this school was based on the cultural industry, which gave rise to the rise of popular culture. Art in the age of mechanical reproduction gained popularity and democratic flavour although lost its aura.
Film, TV and Radio and photographs have changed the human culture. The audience is absent in the film, whereas “every commercial is the big lie in which advertising becomes art and nothing else”.( P. 29). Film and photography is aimed against death. The film also reduced the “distance in both time and space between the image and the viewer.”The film became a 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 characterised by its hybridity. They also co-opted in a cultural setting of iteration. Sports in the modern context is not cruel like the ancient one, but it is an embodiment of a culture’s highest values, which resulted in fan culture.
Chapter four represents new areas of study that is the cultural studies of technoscience. 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 technoscience in relation to religion is N Catherine Hayles who discussed on the cosmic web. She explained that both the scientists and Literature 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 the 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 the place of print literature by adopting ebook. Next is the posthuman condition where the human brain was supported with a machine which is termed as cyborg, cybernetics and neuro-net computers. This also led to technoculture and hypermediacy and ultimately, the emergence of bioscience.
Chapter five represents a cultural study of/in education.This chapter includes the study of childhood and counselling 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 the popular culture of western society and thus is very useful for the scholars of the pre-modern and modern world of developing countries to understand and assess the values of popular culture in their context.