Popular culture

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If you have your favorite TV series or the contestants you support in Turkey, if you always browse the bestseller shelf while buying a book, if you, as a strict social media user, share photos of your body, luxury car or anything that society does not have with hundreds of people you do not know several times a day, you are on the agenda. If you follow what's going on in the country on Twitter, where it's determined by a few thousand people, you might be the favorite answer to a TV show that the culture industry has made system-addicted to and that asked a hundred people and sought six popular answers.

Cultural Industry and the Frankfurt School

According to Marxism, when people got rid of their economic concerns, they would have the freedom to turn to humanist fields such as culture and philosophy. When we look at industrial countries, it is seen that economic prosperity is provided and political reforms and areas of freedom are expanded. However, there was a problem; society did not produce new Aristotle or Goethes, instead it got stuck in the swamp of vulgarity called television and wasted its time with comedy programs. 

Marxist thinkers wereted no time in joining the chorus of popular culture critics formed by the aristocrats. Among these left-wing critics was a group of philosophers and social scientists affiliated with the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research (the Frankfurt School for short). Highlights included Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno. 

Frankfurt School, also called critical theory, is a school that identifies with the dialectical understanding of social science that it tries to bring to social sciences. According to this theory, popular culture is an industry that produces market-appropriate goods. The transformation of culture into an industry has killed individual creativity.

So where does this industry get its strength from? According to Adorno, it is the need it creates in the consumer. According to him, entertainment is an extension of work under late capitalism and is something that people who want to escape from the mechanized labor process in order to cope with it again.

The culture industry and all its branches promise escape from everyday life.

Fabricated Culture

The most common term in sociological research on the concept of popular culture is the concept of "culture production". This production is done by organizations that have become part of the industry. Thus, culture is defined as a social product.

In order to cover the subject in depth, sociologists' main concern is not the interpretation of popular culture, but the characteristics of the industry that produces it. 

A few examples of news and discussion programs that can be given to the aforementioned industry, prime time television broadcasts, magazine shows, fashion, art museums and symphony orchestras.

Popular culture

According to sociologist Paul DiMaggio, the culture production industry is a reaction to the politicized debate of popular culture as mass culture. According to left-wing thinkers, there is a monopoly situation and the corporate elites try to determine the mass culture. According to the right wing, free market competition satisfies consumer demands. Scientists, on the other hand, argue that it is the characteristics of the industries in question that shape mass culture, not capitalism.

DiMaggio puts it this way: “The extent of diversity and the innovations made available to the public – that is, the massification of culture – have more to do with market structure than with mass demands.”

Talk programs broadcast on the daytime generation (talk show) presents the reservations about cultural production in a more interpretable framework. The biggest promises of these programs are to be the voices of the 'people' and ordinary people, but that overlooked voice is preferred only by certain audiences and indirectly reinforces class divisions.

With the plain and striking expression of the famous sociologist Diana Crane, popular culture is a stage where meaning is produced and not merely determined and assumed. According to Crane, the popularity of a speech depends on its parallelism with the sentences that readers use when describing their own experiences. Popular texts provide reassurance that their readers' worldviews are meaningful.

According to the sociologist Steven Tepper, while those with education, skills, money and time to explore the new cultural world with rich possibilities can curate their own culture, those with lower education levels and limited resources are condemned to homogeneous cultural forms and consolidated media monopolies that monopolize them.

Mass Society and Mass Culture

For many theorists, the summary of the matter is as follows: 

Mass society creates a mass culture. The cultural and political values ​​within this culture are both uniform and fluent. Although middle and lower class people have the same thoughts and feelings, these concepts are vulnerable to fashion and trends because they are not tied to any place. The upper-class, mass-oriented and poorly organized elites become political and administrative manipulators seeking answers to short-term repression. Because they fail to maintain standards, they cannot prevent the spread of mass tastes in culture and populism in politics. In short, this situation can be called the domination of the unqualified.

The expression mass culture refers only to cultural products produced for the mass market. The reason why this culture is sluggish comes from the fact that it was produced to meet the average tastes of the non-defining audience.

While ordinary tastes shape mass culture, the critical standards maintained by independent producing groups constitute high culture. There is data supporting a relationship between mass behavior in the fields of politics, consumption and media. 

An Experimental Look at High Culture

According to the survey conducted by TURKSTAT to determine the average time allocated to cultural and entertainment activities in a month, covering people over the age of 15 and according to basic areas, an average of 72 hours per month are allocated for cultural activities in Turkey. 66 hours of this is television and 5 hours are reading books.

According to Wilensky, the educational parameter is more about how people feel about television than what they do with it.

According to the survey conducted by the sociologist Harold L. Wilensky and covering 1.354 people, the situation is not different in America. The conclusions drawn by Wilensky from the survey, which examined lawyers, professors, engineers and blue collar workers, are as follows:

  • In addition to more education, higher education and increasing quality also positively affect one's tastes.
  • Although the increase in the number of people receiving education has a positive effect on the development of tastes, the biggest change has been seen in the dissemination of undergraduate and higher education. 
  • According to Turkey's education statistics for the year 2020 published by TURKSTAT, only 75 million of the 12 million population have undergraduate or higher education.
  • According to the data, it has been understood that the increase in the number of individuals trained provides protection against poor quality media content, but it is not enough for the masses to break the barrier of mediocrity.

The summary of the data proves that the predictive variables for lifestyle tastes – especially cultural tastes and ideology – are more ineffective than gender, age, and socio-economic class, relative to religion, education level, and career.

intellectuals

Edward Shils, in his article titled “Mass Society and Culture” (1960), argues that it is not correct to conduct criticisms of intellectuals through the media and mass culture. According to him, high culture is always unstable. However, the concept that is new for the current time is the permeability between the levels of culture. High quality, medium and ordinary ones are combined into a porridge.

Wilensky argues that the cultural atmosphere in which both society and intellectuals live passes through the mass media filter. However, it is not possible to disagree with the following statement:

Increasingly, intellectuals succumb to the temptation to play to the masses and expose themselves to mass culture, with the result that the versatility of their tastes and opinions, and the subtlety of expression and emotion, are diminished.

Social Inequality and Art

When we examine history, we see that artists needed wealthy and powerful patrons. The nobles and the church formed the aesthetic standards of the period in line with their possibilities. After the industrial revolution, the traditional bosses disappeared and the capitalist market economy developed. However, this basic concept did not change, and operas and museums continued to survive thanks to wealthy art lovers and sponsors.

The nobility that dates back centuries and the elite that brought it back were eliminated by the new capitalist system. The newly rich derive their elite titles not only from their economic power but also from their artistic investments. As such, they have become the modern function of patronage of the arts, which is ancient and possible only for the elite.

Considering that the ticket price to be paid for a Broadway Musical is not cheaper than an opera, we can say that economic resources are not decisive in the consumption of popular and classical art.

Economic inequality affects cultural life through consumer demands. Fischer (1961), Lomax (1968) and Wolfe (1969) argued that multi-class societies have more comprehensive and complex artistic structures than societies with lesser classes.

The industrial revolution increased production in the field as well as in the factory. The people whose income increased in the field now had the power to continue their lives in big cities and migrated. Improved production has reduced working hours and increased time for entertainment and education. With the increase in education, more complex technologies have been developed, and service demands have emerged for the implementation of this development. Cities have grown and the educated middle class has become an art consumer with a population of millions.

Class Differences and the Artist

The greater the economic inequality, the greater the proportion of full-time artists. Many arts, whether popular or classical, are a luxury, not an urgent necessity. People access these branches in proportion to their income.

Class differences should not be perceived only as living standards or economic status. This concept includes lifestyle, preferences, attitudes and behavior patterns. As an indirect result, subcultural classes with different tastes are formed.

The deeper the gap between economic classes and subcultural groups, the more diverse the market demands for cultural goods and arts services. This diversity of demand requires more people to work for supply. This is the reason for the abundance of artists in metropolises where economic inequalities are more prominent.

Inequality in education, on the other hand, has the opposite effect. In order for artistic and cultural initiatives to sprout, an element of education is sought in the consumer. However, this is not ordinary but can be achieved with quality and higher education. 

Source: TURKSTAT

According to Paul DiMaggio, people with higher education and successful careers display a wider range of tastes. His interests are broad. The broad business environment requires a broad repertoire of tastes. 

The less inequality in education, the greater the demand for cultural services. This situation is in the type of art that is in demand (gender) causes an increase in the number of artists producing.

Adorno says;

Instead of facing this failure, in which the style peculiar to the great work of art negates itself, the ordinary work of art has always tried to resemble other works of art and tended to the backup of the identity. Finally, the culture industry substitutes the imitation for the absolute.

After being discovered by talent scouts, inflated by the big campaigns of the studios, people form the ideal types of the new addicted middle class. Thus, the internal structure of the religion of success, to which people adhere strictly, changes. 

The path from hardship to the stars, which requires privation and effort, is increasingly being replaced by reward. Which song hits The element of blindness in the routinized decision-making about which extras will work as heroines and who will work as a heroine is glorified by ideology.

References

Grindstaff, Laura. “Culture and Popular Culture: A Case for Sociology.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 619, [Sage Publications, Inc., American Academy of Political and Social Science], 2008, pp. 206–22.

Wilensky, Harold L. “Mass Society and Mass Culture: Interdependence or Independence?” American Sociological Review 29, no. 2 (1964): 173–97.

Blau, Judith R., et al. “Social Inequality and the Arts.” American Journal of Sociology, vol. 91, no. 2, University of Chicago Press, 1985, pp. 309–31.

DiMaggio, Paul. “Classification in Art.” American Sociological Review 52, no. 4 (1987): 440–55.

Adorno, Theodor W., Culture Industry Cultural Management, Trans. N. Ülner, M. Tüzel, E. Gen, İletişim Publications, Istanbul 2007.

Schuetz, Arnold. “THE FRANKFURT SCHOOL AND POPULAR CULTURE.” Studies in Popular Culture 12, no. 1 (1989): 1–14.

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