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.
John Fiske is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.
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.
With enviable precision and wit Hebdige has addressed himself to a complex topic - the meanings behind the fashionable exteriors of working-class youth subcultures - approaching them with a sophisticated theoretical apparatus that combines semiotics, the sociology of devience and Marxism and come up with a very stimulating short book - Time Out
This book is an attempt to subject the various youth-protest movements of Britain in the last 15 years to the sort of Marxist, structuralist, semiotic analytical techniques propagated by, above all, Roland Barthes. The book is recommended whole-heartedly to anyone who would like fresh ideas about some of the most stimulating music of the rock era - The New York Times