What is “culture”? Culture is one of the most complex words in the social theory. For our purposes, we will emphasize culture as a narrative process. Definition: a culture consists of the collection of stories people tell each other about the meanings of their lives.
Keywords in Popular Culture Analysis NOTE: Strangely enough, definitions are seldom definitive. Rather, almost any important word has multiple, often conflicting definitions. These keywords will, along with the “Glossaries” in our course texts represent “working definitions” to give us a common vocabulary for discussion.
text Any unit of meaning isolated for the purposes of cultural analysis. The “text” in a given analysis could be a small as a single image in one commercial, or as large as a whole day of television programs. Texts can include words, images, sounds, even touch, in various combinations.
ideology 2. Unconscious or hidden tendencies to offer a viewpoint of that supports the self-interest of a particular group of people Thus, the “ideology” of a “text” is its unconscious or hidden political bias in favor of one group over another. 1. Consciously held and systematic political ideas.
All texts, whether intentionally or overtly political or not, have built into them certain views of how the world is or should be. Those views are thus inherently “ideological,” not simply neutral depictions or representations. ideological bias
hegemony The process through which elite or dominant groups gain consent to their rule from subordinate social groups without force or physical violence. Usually this is done by convincing the subordinate group that the dominant group “knows best” or is acting in the best interests of the subordinate group. Hegemony is largely an unconscious, social process, not a conscious conspiracy.
hegemonic processes Hegemony is often achieved through saturation. It is not that alternatives to the “mainstream” do not exist, but rather that they tend to drown in that main stream amidst so many messages favorable to those with power (75 women’s Fashion magazines on the rack, versus one or two feminist ones). Hegemony is never fully achieved, never complete, always there is some resistance, some counter-hege- monic process. Sometimes the dominant forces use this to their advantage by pointing to the freedom to dissent, while continuing to control most institutions.
Myth Repeated stories that take on a central pattern of significance in a culture by linking many smaller stories together Myths are the narrative form of ideology, the way ideology is turned into stories that are taken for granted as truths about the culture Myths are usually neither wholly“true” nor wholly “false” but rather partial truths made to seem like absolute ones
subculture A “subculture” is a coherent, smaller collective within a A larger culture, be an ethnic subculture, a religious One, an occupational one, or one based on media consumption (fan subculture). Some subcultures can be characterized as “oppositional” or “alternatived” when they explicitly or implicitly (often through style) challenge mainstream cultural values, forms, ideas, or styles
encoding/codes/decoding Encodings are the meanings made by the producers of texts Codes are the material “signs” present in a a text. Decodings are the meanings made by audiences
subject position Production side: the “ideal receiver” of a text “encoded” into that text Audience side: the “actual social position” through which a text is “decoded” The socially structured positioning of an individual vis-à-vis the wider culture according to the key variables.
Key social variables in popular culture analysis Social class Race/ethnicity Nationality/Region Gender Sexual orientation Age Political ideology
formation A “formation” is a historically changing, but relatively stable structure of practices and ideas by which social categories of identity (racial, gender, class, sexuality) come into being and become dominant for a time. The term formation, as we will be using it, was first used in association with race as in “racial formation” (Omi and Winant). We will generalize this idea to talk about, gender formations, class formations, as well as racial formations, among others.
gender; sexism The system of meanings and representations attached in a given culture to sexed bodies as fixed or “natural” identities In U.S. cultural norms, gender is fixed as masculine and feminine qualities attached to male and female bodies Sexism is the practice by which one gender is given systematically greater social, economic and political power.
race; racism Race is a socially constructed category by which certain physical characteristics common to most members of a group are ascribed to all members and given positive (racial supremacy) or negative (racial degradation) social value. Race is a biologically insignificant fact given great social significance. Racism is a power relationship by which racial prejudice is systematically structured to the advantage of one group and the disadvantage of another.
Racism vs. prejudice Where “prejudice” has to do with “attitudes,” Racism exists when attitudes have been Systematically structured into institutions (political, economic, social, and cultural) It is possible to have “racism” without “prejudice” When a no longer attitudinally racist culture continues To be shaped by racist structures and institutions.