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popular culture & social class

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on 24 February 2015

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Transcript of popular culture & social class

Popular culture & Social class
design by Dóri Sirály for Prezi
Group 3

Gabriela Bruscantini
Michael Mackay
Amnehe Mahmoud
Martin Meylach
Irene Perez

• Popular culture and social class are so strongly intertwined that some social scientists regard the very existence of popular culture as an indicator of the divide between lower, middle, and upper classes.
• Some cultural critics go so far as to credit the concept of popular culture and mass culture to global Americanization, and the advent of the middle class.
• A common definition of popular culture suggests that mass media is something that is imposed by the upper, ‘dominant’ classes upon the middle and working classes; thus establishing the correlation of popular culture to the culture of the ‘Common Man’.

Popular Culture & Social Class: A Presentation
Social class viewed via a neo-Marxist Perspective in the TV show: "Gossip Girl"
• The study of modern popular culture can be traced to the work of social critic Matthew Arnold, and his influence upon F.R. Leavis’ study of Leavisism – which seeks to understand the ‘culture and civilization’ tradition.
• In 1944, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer of the so-called 'Frankfurt School' coined the term 'culture industry' to designate the products and processes of mass culture.
• Elements of Marxism and Neo-Marxism can also be found in the critique of cultural studies, drawing heavily on Communist criticism of mass consumer culture; as marked out by critics like Frederic Jameson (1984) and David Harvey (1989).

Introduction Continued: Critiques of Popular Culture In Relation To Social Class
Students and critics of popular culture agree that while the influence of popular culture and middle and working classes is undeniable, the declining level of ‘moral seriousness’ is the downfall of mass media culture.
Examination of popular culture can double as a socio-economic commentary.
By taking a look popular TV, film, and music; one can gain insight into how social classes are shaped and sustained.
Introduction Continued: What Influences Social Class?
Popular Culture & Social Class: A Brief Introduction
Female characters in the high class of society
Blair Waldrof
Serena van der Woodsen
Portrayed as the "it-girl"
Get's what she wants because of her good looks
Not academically smart
From Upper East Side of Manhattan, NY and lives in a ritzy 14 room penthouse (family owned) across Central Park
Occupation: socialite, student (high school: Constance Billard; university: Columbia)
Known as Queen Bee of Constance Billard School's (small elite all girl school) social scene; always has a group of girls that look up to her and follow her orders
Overachiever, snobbish but also has a sensitive side
Occupation: socialite, student (high school: Constance Billard; university: Yale)
Serena's bestfriend (although they do have conflicts about boys, etc)
About the show:
American teen drama series based on a book series (age of viewers: 18-49)
Plot: About the daily lives of wealthy & privileged young adults living in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, as well as about the lives of middle class young adults that struggle to fit in with the high class crowd in school. Moreover, the lives of these young adults is blogged by a mysterious blogger known as Gossip Girl.
Series ran for six seasons (2007-2012)
Won 18 Teen Choice Awards
Series has been adapted in Mexico
Finale episode watched by 1.55 million viewers
Short clip of the pilot (so you can get an feeling about the show)
Female characters in the middle class of society
Neo-Marxist Analysis

(privileging of a dominant's group's ideology over that of other groups pg 117 of
RP of PC
uses interpellation
models (Blair & Serene)
anti-models (Jenny & Vanessa)
Show is a
preferred reading
because it reinforces the status quo ideology about empowerment via economic metaphors:
Viewers are led to believe that having money is better
because the wealthy characters in the show are more fashionable (own clothes from top designers that the average middle class person can't own) and sophisticated, have a upper hand at getting into prestigious schools (Serena gets into Yale without good grade and extracurricular activities), don't struggle to fit into the exclusive culture of the Upper East Side of Manhattan (example: a significant portion of the show focused on the struggles of the "
" characters due to their socioeconomic status)
There was a lot of
product placement which may lead viewers desiring to become the models of the show to purchase such items
(Verizon Wireless phones, Vitamin Water, HP TouchPad), they may not be able to afford
The show has had major impact 1) became a fashion marketing vehicle 2) popularized social media and mobile communication 3) recognized by NYC mayor as a major contributor to the high gains related to tourism in NYC (information obtained from Wikipedia)
Jenny Humprey
Lives in Brooklyn
Father is an editor for beat poets that has never published
Mother left her home to be with another man
Always struggling to keep up with her clothes and looks to fit in with Blair's group and become the next Queen Bee of Constance Billard School
Has low self-confidence because of her socioeconomic status
Sold her sewing machine (which she absolutely loved) and stole an expensive dress from her friend in order to earn money to buy fashionable clothes (good girl gone bad)
Lied about losing her virginity to a wealthy young man in exchange for keeping his gay identity a secret while Jenny received the privileges of being able to attend socialite events
Vanessa Abrams
Quotes by Blair that reinforce that being wealthier is better & she has power over others
Attends Constance Billards School under a scholarship
Lives in Brooklyn
Aspiring filmmaker
Not a fashionista
Initially resistant to become a part of the social scene in the Upper East Side of Manhattan
Does not change for other people
Receives from Blair a full year of her rental fees covered for her willingness to give her a video recording that would have ruined Blair's reputation
Gets her SAT fees covered from a privileged young man in the series
Clip that shows how hard Jenny tries to fit in
20th Century Cultural Theory
“The popular culture of the majority has always been a concern of powerful minorities. Those with political power have always thought it necessary to police the culture of political unrest; reshaping it continually through patronage and direct intervention.” (Storey 17)

The above statement by Storey in the text Cultural Theory and Popular Culture seem to hold true no matter what part of history you assess. In the present year, we see the powerful minority still ‘policing the culture of political unrest.’ In a time when those we long thought were there to serve and protect us, are more and more being revealed as agents for our control and subjugation, people must be aware of what Storey dubs “The ‘culture and civilization tradition” in chapter 2 of his text, and of the imperative to break away from this hegemonic vestige of feudalism (Storey 18-31).

Matthew Arnold
In the past, cultural theorists had condemned or even overlooked the popular culture of the majority: Matthew Arnold, for example defined culture as the “ability to know what is best; what is best; the mental and spiritual application of what is best; and the pursuit of what is best. He also did not define popular culture in his work, which was published in 1960, yet he described it under the misnomer of ‘anarchy.’ Granted, 1960 is a little too modern to read the practically Elizabethan definition of culture – this unattainable perfection to which people must aspire. Arnold asserted that culture (being ‘what is best’) actually leans toward Government as a solution for the control of the popular culture of the majority or ‘anarchy’ as he’d dubbed it. Storey goes on to clarify that the ‘culture’ that Arnold referred to as being ‘what is best, etc.’ as well as being an agent for the policing of the masses’ disruptive presence, is a representation of what cultural theorists view as “high culture” (Storey 18-22).
So Arnold saw high culture as needing to control and subjugate the popular culture of the masses. He claimed that cultural education of the masses would work in tandem with Government by the cultured to quench the threat of ‘anarchy’ to the social order. Arnold feared the upward mobility in society of formerly working-class people into a tangible middle-class. Eventually, this did happen, and many would say that there was good from the formation of a middle class in first world countries (Storey 18-22).
The Arnoldian Perspective
However, Storey points out that high culture has always rested in the hands of a powerful minority which has always feared the resistance of popular culture, and yet he also points out that in a way high culture and those in power depend on the distinction between high and popular culture to maintain authority and power in society. This claim, he attributed to the faction of cultural theory known as Leavisism, the founder of which is F.R. Leavis (Storey 22-28).
Leavis drew from Arnold’s work: they both focused on the death of a rural populist ideal and the old class system; they saw the rise of urbanization and industrialization as a disease to humanity. Leavis focused on what Arnold had said about education being a means for the subjugation of uncultured peoples, and went a step further. He would educate people to be cultured and engender a discriminatory mindset, or ‘snobbery,’ as Storey puts it, into this cultural education that would help to perpetuate the distinction of high over popular culture in a period when popular culture was seen as rebelling and expanding in the face of the old ways (Storey 22-28).
Ernest van den Haag
Differing from these so-called “cultural-nostalgics,” in his condemnation of popular culture is the more liberal ideology of Ernest van den Haag. Van den Haag views mass culture as a sign of impoverishment, as a mark of the de-individualization of life, and as an inevitable subsequence of mass society and mass production. This is to say that 20th Century American mass culture was a symptom of urbanization and industrialization. But he does not necessarily idealize or glorify the rural, populist image of what life was like in the pre-industrial periods. He does not assert whether the masses were better or worse off before or after industrialization (Storey 30-31).
Ernest Van den Haag
As Van den Haag is referring to it, ‘mass culture’ differs from popular culture in that, as defined by Dwight Macdonald in 1998: “Mass culture is imposed from above. It is fabricated by technicians hired by businessmen; its audience is passive consumers, their participation is limited to the choice between buying and not buying… Mass Culture breaks down the wall, integrating the masses into a debased form of High Culture and thus becoming an instrument of political domination.” We can see that there was an obvious shift in the 20th Century from the organic existence of high and popular culture, to a synthesizing of either or both for capital gains ended up muddling them both into a larger, more easily marketable, mass American culture (Storey 30-31).
The Frankfurt School – A group of German intellectuals associated with the Institute for Social Research at the University of Frankfurt. They were highly critical of Marxism and psychoanalysis-- and later the institute was given the name ‘Critical Theory’.

The term ‘culture industry’ was coined by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. They proposed that popular culture was similar to a factory producing standardized goods.

Thus we’ve seen some of the key developments of cultural theory in regards to the view of popular culture, and eventually mass culture as well. We see that for the most part critics condemn popular culture and mass culture as second- and third-rate bodies; many elevate the idyllic image of the past populism and condemn the urbanization and industrialization of the 20th Century. We also see an interesting circular movement away from the ideas expressed by Arnold and Leavis that cultural education could be used as a tool for the pacification and subjugation of an increasingly rebelling majority by the minority. While Leavis and Arnold would have had that cultural education be of high culture to perpetuate the distinction between high- and popular culture, the advent of mass culture, synthesized by the minority to profit off of the majority – we see a ‘cultural education’ of a different manner. We see the education of the majority by mass culture toward a blurring of the lines between high and popular cultures; we see the two respective areas even merging at times (Storey 18-31).

In my opinion, this trend of mass culture engenders an oblivion of the majority not only to the distinctions between high and popular cultures, but to the actual minority in power themselves. We are trained to see the companies, sponsors, actors, directors, producers, and networks that “BRING YOU” your television, cinema, or online viewing experience. But we are also conditioned to turn a blind eye to the massive power that our mass subscription to this mass culture gives to the minority in control of synthesizing this ‘drug of the masses’ and profiting off its endless consumption. We see “This program is brought to you by ____,” what we don’t see is “the simultaneous viewership of this program by x-hundred-million people makes our network and our sponsors filthy stinking rich and helps us to subjugate you and the rest of the world to our agenda, which you can never know because you’re not rich and powerful like us.”

Mass Culture in Society
According to the Frankfurt School, the purpose of the culture industry is to ensure the continued obedience of the masses to market interests. The band “Bomb the Music Industry!” tries to break from the chains of the culture industry by keeping the price of shows under $10 and making all their albums free to download. In their last show, they were forced to raise the ticket price to $15 but “To offset this, we are offering a free live recording of the show to everyone who buys a ticket” (bombthemusicindustry.com).
Even when a band like “Bomb the Music Industry!” tries to detach itself from the culture industry they are unable to completely break away from it. In their song “Side Projects are Never Successful”, the band sees the irony in trying to detach themselves from the music industry and corporate America.
“And when I finally got to work today, I ate my Subway sandwich, and I drank my Coca-Cola Classic, and then I ate my Sun chips and I thought about the weekend when I'd fill up my Ford van with Mobil brand gas and drive to the Clear Channel venue and I'd drink myself a Budweiser and play my Fender guitar through my Fender amplifier and tell the kids with a straight face through a Shure microphone and JBL speakers that corporate rock is for suckers.”

What Have We Learned So Far?
Conclusion: Popular Culture & Social Class
• Thus far what we have been able to conclude is that the Hegemony of the wealthy is used and imposed on those individuals who are part of the middle and working class.
• What this does is create a societal standard for all people to aspire to. A standard where the objective is to obtain a significant amount of money to separate yourself from those who have less and therefore are “less” than you. Money, cloths, friends, success, power, and control over others stems from this upper class.
• The “Gossip Girl” example used earlier in the presentation is a prime example of how the perception of this socioeconomic setting is a fountain for all the things that the average person could ever want and how being part of this upper class makes it seem that they are superior to everyone else. The girls in the show that do not necessarily belong to this group but hail from the middle class are trying to attain this elevated status and will do unpleasant things to do so.

Conclusion Continued...

Even the Vanessa Abrams character who appears to want little to do with the upper class in some way is dependent on the benefits that come with it. Her ability to attend the school would be difficult for those of less money but she can attend because she blackmailed the Blair character and had her SAT fees taken care of by an upper crust young gentleman, therefore she is dependent on them for her continued situation.
• What we have also found is that the critiquing of the relationship between popular culture and social class have heavy ties and allusions to Marxism. This can also be seen by the crediting of global Americanization to the creation of popular and mass culture.
• The example used earlier in the presentation also lends credibility to this statement because the show takes place in the upper class of New York’s Manhattan. A place that would appe
ar to be the belly of the capitalist beast from the perspective of a Marxist.

Works Cited
• Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.
• Sellnow, Deanna D. The Rhetorical Power of Popular Culture. considering Mediated Texts. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2014. Print.
• Storey, John. Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction. Harlow, England: Pearson Longman, 2012. Print.

Images: “Gossi Girl title card”. Image. Wikipedia. Warner Brothers Television, 23 September 2007. Web. 21 February 2015.

Image 2: The cast

Ockenfels, Frank. “The Gossi Girl Cast”. Image. People. People, 30 April 2008. Web. 21 February 2015.

Image 3: the gossip girl website

Hudson, Lauren. “The Gossip Girl webpage”. Image. NY Writers Coalition. n.p,19 December 2012. Web. 21 February 2015.

Image 4:

fashiondiy101. “Image 9”. Image. fashiondiy101. n.p., 22 October 2011. Web. 21 February 2015.

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