an old piano painted with Marilyn Monroe’s face

What Is Pop Culture?

Pop culture is everywhere. You know it when you come to the Internet, listen to music, watch television, app-gaming or go to a movie, concert, or stage show. You know the artists, the actors and actresses, sports personalities and the games they play. Today, anything with a buzz is deemed pop culture. The book definition says pop culture is a collection of thoughts, ideas, attitudes, perspectives, images (you name it) preferred by the mainstream population, which is a sort of common denominator.  

The most common pop culture categories are entertainment (movies, music, TV), sports, news (as in people/places in news), politics, fashion/clothes, and technologySlang has also become popular in our culture as each year seems to have its own slang signature, especially with tweens and teens. Terms such as “going viral” are new pop culture – not only the term but the viral product itself.

Each one of us has our own pop-culture menu. Look at your apps, your bookmarks, your songs playlist, TV shows, movies: what you ‘re saying on your favorite social networks. Smartphones today are the center of your pop culture. If you want to know more about pop culture, read on as we are going to give you its history and different definitions.

History of Pop Culture

It was in the 19th century when the term “popular culture” was coined. Traditionally, it was associated with poor education and with the lower classes, which is the opposite of the “official culture” and higher education of the upper classes. During the Victorian-era, Britain experienced social changes with the rise of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, which caused an increase in literacy rates. And with the growth of capitalism and industrialization, people started spending their money on entertainment, such as sports and the commercial idea of pubs.

Reading also gained traction, and the Penny serials were published. These were cheap popular serial literature in the United Kingdom. Those were like the Victorian equivalent of video games. It was the first taste of mass-produced popular culture for the young in Britain. With the growing consumer culture and increased capacity for travel via the newly built railway that opened in 1825 in north-east England, a market for cheap popular literature was created with an ability to distribute on a large scale. With this, the first Penny serials were published in the 1830s due to the growing demand.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the stress in the distinction from “official culture” became more pronounced. It is a usage that became established by the interbellum period or the period between wars.

The meaning of popular culture began to be connected with those of mass culture, consumer culture, media culture, image culture, and culture for mass consumption from the end of World War II, following major cultural and social changes, which were brought by mass media innovations.

The abbreviated form “pop” for popular, like in pop music, dates back from the late 1950s. Although not used in our lexicon back then, modern pop culture (as we know it) began with the baby boomer generation and “buying power.” As boomers came of age with their disposable incomes – that influence led to the pop culture revolution. It began during the 1950s with rock n’ roll, TV, Dick Clark and the hoola hoop, transistor radios, into the 1960s and beyond.

The term “pop culture” became mainstream during the 1980s. Before this, we used “popular” to describe things such as top song playlists or “pop” as in art or “best” or “top” selling, as in books.

Different Definitions of Pop Culture

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Based on the author of Cultural Theory and Popular Culture named John Storey, popular culture has different definitions. The quantifiable definition of culture has the problem that much “high culture”, such as television dramatizations of Jane Austen, is also “popular.” Aside from that, “pop culture” is also defined as the culture that is “leftover” when we have decided what high culture is.  But many works overlap the boundaries, such as William Shakespeare, Leo Tolstoy, George Orwell, and Charles Dickens.

The third definition of pop culture associates it with “mass culture” and ideas. This is seen as a commercial culture, which is mass-produced for mass consumption by mass media. If you take it from a Western European viewpoint, this can be compared to American culture. Pop culture can also be defined otherwise as an authentic culture of the people. However, this can be challenging because there are a lot of ways to define the “people.”

According to John Storey, popular culture emerged from the urbanization of the Industrial Revolution. For example, studies of Shakespeare locate much of the characteristic vitality of his drama in its participation in Renaissance popular culture. Other examples are contemporary practitioners like Dario Fo and John McGrath, who use popular culture in a sense that links to ancient folk traditions.

Folk culture is at the opposite end of one spectrum from mass culture. As mentioned earlier, mass culture is mass-produced and mass-marketed on a large societal scale. Folk culture, on the other hand, is typically crafted individually, and it is produced and distributed on a local level. This can include folk art, folk music, folk crafts, and folklore. They usually originate from small, regional, or local groups of people, and are considered as representing only those small groups, and are propagating by word of mouth and not via mass media.

Pop culture is something that constantly evolves and occurs uniquely in place and time. It forms currents and swirls and represents a complex of equally inter-reliant perspectives and values that influence society and its institutions in different ways.

Pop culture is fun, fascinating, and is at the center of our lives. Test yourself. The last time you spoke to your good friend, wasn’t pop culture part of that conversation?