What is popular culture? How does it differ from mass culture? And what do popular "texts" reveal about class, race, and gender dynamics in a society? John Fiske answers these and a host of other questions in Understanding Popular Culture.
When it was first written, Understanding Popular Culture took a groundbreaking approach to studying such cultural artifacts as jeans, shopping malls, tabloid newspapers, and TV game shows, which remains relevant today. Fiske differentiates between mass culture – the cultural "products" put out by an industrialized, capitalist society – and popular culture – the ways in which people use, abuse, and subvert these products to create their own meanings and messages. Rather than focusing on mass culture’s attempts to dominate and homogenize, he prefers to look at (and revel in) popular culture’s evasions and manipulations of these attempts.
Designed as a companion to Reading the Popular, Understanding Popular Culture presents a radically different theory of what it means for culture to be popular: that it is, literally, of the people. It is not imposed on them, it is created by them, and its pleasures and meanings reflect popular tastes and concerns – and a rejection of those fostered by mass culture. With wit, clarity, and insight, Professor Fiske debunks the myth of the mindless mass audience, and demonstrates that, in myriad ways, popular culture thrives because that audience is more aware than anyone guesses.
Beneath the surface of the cultural artifacts that surround us – shopping malls, popular music, the various forms of television – lies a multitude of meanings and ways of using them, not all of them those intended by their designers. In Reading the Popular, John Fiske analyzes these popular "texts" to reveal both their explicit and implicit (and often opposite) meanings and uses, and the social and political dynamics they reflect.
Fiske’s "readings" of these cultural phenomena highlight the conflicting responses they evoke: Madonna may be promoted as a "boy toy", but young girls feel empowered by her ability to toy with boys; Chicago’s Sears Tower may be a massive expression of capitalist domination, but it can also allow one to tower over the city. In each case it is the latter option that interests him, for this is where Fiske locates popular culture: it is the point at which people take the goods offered them by industrial capitalism (however oppressive they may seem) and turn them to their own creative, and even subversive, uses.
Designed as a companion to Understanding Popular Culture, Reading the Popular gives the lie to theories that portray a mass audience that mindlessly consumes every product it is offered. Fiske’s acute perception and lively wit combine to provide a truly democratic vision of popular culture, one that respects the awareness and the agency of the people who make it.
Drawing on a diverse set of cultural sites - from alternative talk radio forums, museums, celebrity fandom, to social problems such as homelessness - Fiske traverses the topography of the American cultural landscape to highlight the ways that ordinary people creatively construct their social identities and relationships through the use of the resources available to them, while constrained by social conditions not of their own choosing. This important analysis provides a set of critical methodological and analytical tools to grapple with the complexities and struggles of contemporary social life.
A new introductory essay by former Fiske student Black Hawk Hancock entitled ‘Learning How to Fiske: Theorizing Power, Knowledge, and Bodies in the 21st Century’ elucidates Fiske’s methods for today’s students, providing them with the ultimate guide to thinking and analyzing like John Fiske; the art of ‘Learning How to Fiske’.
How can we study communication? What are the main theories and methods of approach?
This classic text provides a lucid, accessible introduction to the main authorities in the field of communication studies, aimed at students coming to the subject for the first time. It outlines a range of methods of analysing examples of communication, and describes the theories underpinning them. Thus armed, the reader will be able to tease out the latent cultural meanings in such apparently simple communications as news photos or popular TV programmes, and to see them with new eyes.