Popular Culture (or "Pop Culture")

The term "popular culture" - coined in the mid-19th century - refers to the traditional and material culture of a particular society.

In the modern West, pop culture refers to cultural products consumed by most of the society's population such as music, art, literature, fashion, dance, film, cyberculture, television, and radio.

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How Did Pop Culture Originate?


The origins of the rise of popular culture can be traced to the creation of the middle class in the Industrial Revolution. The working class moved away from farming life and into urban environments and began creating their own culture shared with their co-workers, as part of separating from their parents and bosses.

After WWII, innovations in mass media led to significant cultural and social changes in the west. Newly invented goods were marketed to different classes.

John Storey (Cultural Studies Professor) offers six different definitions of popular culture. It is

  1. It is a culture that is widely favoured or liked.
  2. It is whatever is left after you substracted "high culture."
  3. It can be defined as commercial objects that are produced for mass consumption by non-discriminating consumers.
  4. It is folk culture and is created by the people (authentic) as opposed to commercial enterprises.
  5. It is partly imposed on by the dominant classes, but the subordinate classes decide what to keep or discard.
  6. The distinction between "authentic" and "commercial" is blurred.

The definitions of pop culture proposed by professor John Storey seem to change depending on the context. Since the 21st century, mass media has changed so much that it is difficult to establish how they function.

  • In 2000, "mass media" meant only print (newspapers), broadcast (television and radio) and cinema.
  • Today it accepts a variety of social media forms.
  • Popular culture today is mostly something established by niche users.
  • Social media means consumers are in direct contact with producers and are producers themselves.

In a way, popular culture is again expressing the simplest meaning: it is what many people like.

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