There has always been a definitive struggle to define culture as it is so complex and means something different to each individual. Culture affects all of us in different ways resulting in multiple definitions of culture. Culture had previously been seen as a way of improvement and growth, helping us to understand our place in society and guiding us towards a better understanding of ourselves. Over the previous number of decades our society and culture has changed significantly without us even realising that this can have a number of effects on the way we live our daily lives. The major changes in our society such as industrialisation, modernisation and a move to a postmodernist era means that there has been a emergence of a new mass culture. A widespread debate concerning the emergence of ‘mass culture’ into society has emerged as it has caused much controversy and has caused many theorists to discuss how this has effected our society and culture as a whole. As quoted by the book ‘After the great divide: Modernism, Mass culture, Postmodernism’ “The culture of modernity has been characterized by a volatile relationship between high art and mass culture”.
It is quite clear to see that our societal and class structure has changed slightly and this has brought about huge changes In other aspects of our lives. Such as the emergence of new ‘digital’ cities, this means new possibilities but also new anxieties brought about by these changes. Many people believe that we have entered a new era in our culture, that we have made a move into a postmodern society mainly concerned with mass production and new forms of media. Our culture began to change with the emergence of a new popular culture, with new ways to mass produce and bring media and information to the masses. Some cultural theorists believe that mass or popular culture come’s from the class structure. The question is whether it comes from the upper class (the bourgeoise) and filters down to the masses or lower class. Or does it come from the proletariat? Early examples of how the upper class has brought about the emergence of mass culture is in early cinema. Film’s were only screened in movie palaces to the upper class due to its exclusivity.
As cinema became increasingly popular entertainment began to be provided, then gradually small movie theatres began to open. Some of the early cinemas were named ‘Nickelodeon’ cinemas. This shows the full circle of mass culture, from the upper class to the working class. This new development of things such as radio, television and film worried many people as it began a move towards a more commercial culture, more concerned with profit rather than the use of culture for improvement. Many feared that the new way of communicating with the masses would be misused for propagandistic methods. The ideology that was put across by this new form of mass communication showed a more favoured opinion toward the fascist state. This new form of mass culture or communication allowed them to speak to the masses in a way they could never before. This was a huge change for our society and culture as we know it. This apparent americanisation of our culture as we know it showed the seeping or trickling through of american ideologies and ideas, which could now be brought to the masses due to the huge developments in mass culture.
There are even the developments of new classes such as the creative class which have begun to have a huge influence on culture as we know it. Due to this major change in our culture, culture critics have begun to criticise the change as a negative impact. They believe that this new ‘mass culture’ has standardised and lowered the potential that culture has to improve society. As quoted in the book ‘An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture’ “Mass society consists of atomised people, people who lack any meaningful or morally coherent relationships with each other.” This meant that many theorists saw these changes as harmful or degrading to culture as we know it. One theorist who was concerned with this was Matthew Arnold. He believed that culture was ‘the best that has been thought and said’. He began to become increasingly concerned with this new mass culture that had developed from the working class. He saw this new ‘mass culture’ as anarchy, destroying the integrity of the culture we knew before the modern era. Q.D. Leavis is another theorist who was important in analyzing the emergence of mass culture and its effects.
He saw mass culture as ‘standardizing and leveling down’ and that ”real’ culture needs to be defended preserve of an educated minority’. In todays society, modern media has demonized these new working class sub cultures, which have been brought about by the emergence of mass culture. The ‘chav’ phenomenon has meant that the working class are now seen in an extremely negative light, a stark contrast from their glory days during the war when they were the heart of our society. Media has had a profound affect on how the working class are now seen. The modern media has a profound impact upon culture. Media has brought about the change that our culture has been waiting decades or even centuries for. It has allowed information and other aspects of our culture to be viewed throughout the world, media has a massive ability to spread information. Mass culture has allowed us to experience things we had never known possible and has meant that we can mass produce and have production lines all over the world. It has even benefitted our education such as our ability to read, write and access materials.
It has opened up a whole new world to us that we never knew was possible before the emergence of this new ‘mass culture’ Many believe theorists are only criticizing this emergence of mass culture as a negative because it challenges and fights against the upper class ideals and ideologies, which causes concerns with the upper and middle class as it may affect their power and reign over our culture. George Orwell had an appreciation for popular culture. He looked at Donald McGill postcards to show that popular culture had many benefits. He believed that it showed the comical and more popular cultural benefits rather than seeing negatives with them. Orwell looks at popular culture unlike Matthew Arnold and Q.D. Leavis. Richard Hoggart was another important theorist in showing that mass culture is not negative, “We are moving towards the creation… often crude culture it is replacing”, He saw the rise of popular culture as directly threatening the working class, making them ultimately lose their culture.
As Maltby points out, ‘If it is the crime of popular culture that it has taken our dreams and packaged them and sold them back to us, it is also the achievement of popular culture that it has brought us more and more varied dreams than we could otherwise ever have known’. This quote directly shows that there are some positives to this new digital age. All of these theorists show that the emergence has mass culture has not just has a negative effect and does not just cause anxieties for the future of our culture as we know it. A theorist who disagreed with this rose tinted view of mass culture was MacDonald. He believed that mass culture is a threat because it is a ‘homogeneous culture which levels down or debases all culture.’ It is quite obvious to see that this emergence of ‘mass culture’ has caused a widespread phenomenon of panic and anxiety right across the globe.
The changes caused by mass culture will always be debated by theorists, but I believe that this emergence of ‘mass culture’ has affected things such as the importance and value of education in our society. It may have brought important positive aspects to our culture and society but I think the negatives outweigh the positives. I came to this conclusion based on all the evidence and research that I gathered. It really helped me see that this emergence of mass culture has had a harmful effect on how we live our lives and has stopped the old better ways of our old culture whose man ideology was based on the improvement of people . This new modern culture that has emerged is harmful as it’s only concern is to mass produce, gain profit and ignore the needs of society for it’s own gain.
Strinati, Dominic (2004) An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture (London: Routledge) Chapter 1 ‘Mass culture and popular culture’
Storey, John (2008) Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction (New York: Pearson Longman) Chapter 1 ‘What is popular culture?’ Chapter 2 ‘The “culture and civilisation” tradition’
Huyssen, Andreas (1986) After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism (USA: Indiana University Press) Chapter 1 ‘The Hidden Dialectic: Avantgarde- Technology – Mass Culture’