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Issues in Popular Culture

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Alia Stearns

on 14 January 2014

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Transcript of Issues in Popular Culture

Issues in Popular Culture
Be Aware
These are not the only ways to explore popular culture, but they are the most common entrances into these discussions because they are the areas of the value system that are most quickly exposed upon examination. Begin using these areas as a series of lenses that you place between yourself and your topic and see what is highlighted and what that exposes about the culture that made your topic popular.
Censorship works a little differently than the other areas because you should be looking for what is not included rather than what is. Whereas scanning a film for depictions of sexuality will help you determine what a culture advocates as sexually desirable, paying attention to what is not included or censored will alert you to the concepts of sexuality that a culture finds threatening or unimportant. The same process works in the areas of race, class, gender, cultural imperialism.
Do not simplify this concept into "sex sells." Instead, pay attention to what aspects of sex sell: body types, sexual preferences, physical ability, age, behavior, apparel, race, degree of power the person being sexualized has, relationship status, consent, how much of a body is shown (does the man or woman become isolated down to a single body part?), and pay close attention to what concepts are being argued to be sexy.
Cultural Imperialism
This is exactly what it sounds like: promoting a more powerful culture over a less known or desired one. Typically issues of cultural imperialism are tied to globalization and looking at the ways in which American culture and its biases are transferred into foreign countries. Look for foreign versions of American products and pay attention to the displays of American values. Also, be aware that this is not simply a good or bad thing.
It can often be a bit easier to look at popular culture from the past to identify differences in depictions of race because more recent ones are woven into a cultural mindset that you may share. However, there are still startling differences in the portrayals of people of color. Look at the way their bodies are used, the stereotypes with which they are associated, the role they serve in the culture in which they appear. Above all, be aware of who is creating the culture in which they appear.
One of the ways of looking at culture that most people have been trained to do is to look at the ways in which men and women are portrayed. Be aware of how bodies are displayed, what intellectual and emotional characteristics are imparted, what is targeted for specific genders and how it is marketed, and how visual repesentations of genders are created.
It can be a little more difficult to analyze class because US culture often does not give voice to the working class. For instance, between 1946 and 1990, only 11% of prime time network family series featured a head of household who was working class. Be aware of how people with a lower income are portrayed, the region they come from, their physical characteristics, their intelligence, and the function they serve. Do the same for people who represent the upper class.
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