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Understanding Popular Culture

por John Fiske

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This revised edition of a now classic text includes a new introduction by Henry Jenkins, explaining 'Why Fiske Still Matters' for today's students, followed by a discussion between former Fiske students Kevin Glynn, Jonathan Gray, and Pamela Wilson on the theme of 'Reading Fiske and Understanding the Popular'. Both underline the continuing relevance of this foundational text in the study of popular culture.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 an… (más)
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Fiske woke me from my dogmatic slumber. My opinions of pop culture have been informed by Frankfurt School writings in the Forties on “the culture industry.” They curmudgeonly argue that movie studios and other capitalist media enterprises brainwash the masses into becoming passive consumers. But, Fiske retorts, this view doesn’t give audiences enough credit. We don’t passively consume media, we produce our own meanings with them, meanings that help us cope and even empower us in our subordinate positions within capitalism.

To him, pop culture is the art of making-do with what’s around us. We are born into this society not of our choosing and lack an authentic folk culture or the ability to control much of our lives. However, we can control which media we consume and what we do with it. Sure, these products are commodities bearing the values of hegemonic capitalism. But to be successful, they must also appeal to us or we would ignore it, as we did with the Eddie Murphy movie Pluto Nash. Due to their relatively shallow nature, pop culture texts have a lot of potential to be read into and for people to make their own meanings from them.

Fiske shows that Aboriginal people in Australia, for example, liked the Rambo movies because they related to Rambo fighting the cops in their own anti-colonial sentiments. Teenage girls felt empowered by Madonna because dressing up like her was a way of taking charge of their own sexuality. Both of these are capitalist commodities with harmful, dominant ideologies present. But, since people aren’t stupid, they can somewhat evade those meanings and take what they can from them. Even when only fulfilling interior fantasies, Fiske believes pop culture produces self-confidence that is the basis for social action.

Fiske’s explanation for why these commodities have hegemonic values is that producers want their products to have mass appeal. The dominant ideology is what we all share in capitalism, so it’s what the products almost always display. I have much more to say about this book and will probably write something longer about it soon. Highly recommended for fellow culture snobs and pessimists.
( )
  100sheets | Jun 7, 2021 |
John Fiske’s Understanding Popular Culture serves primarily as a companion to his reader, Reading the Popular. Fiske examines the different facets of popular culture using commodities such as denim jeans, Madonna, the television show Dallas, and more. Fiske argues, “Popular culture is deeply contradictory in societies where power is unequally distributed along axes of class, gender, race, and the other categories that we use to make sense of our social differences. Popular culture is the culture of the subordinated and disempowered and thus always bears within it signs of power relations, traces of the forces of domination and subordination that are central to our social system and therefore to our social experience. Equally, it shows signs of resisting or evading these forces: popular culture contradicts itself” (pg. 4-5).
Fiske continues, “Popular culture always is part of power relations; it always bears traces of the constant struggle between domination and subordination, between power and various forms of resistance to it or evasions of it, between military strategy and guerrilla tactics” (pg. 19). His approach “sees popular culture as potentially, and often actually, progressive (though not radical), and it is essentially optimistic, for it finds in the vigor and vitality of the people evidence both of the possibility of social change and of the motivation to drive it” (pg. 21). Fiske writes, “All popular culture is a process of struggle, of struggle over the meanings of social experience, of one’s personhood and its relations to the social order and of the texts and commodities of that order” (pg. 28). He further argues, “The politics of popular culture is that of everyday life” (pg. 56).
Examining popular texts, Fiske argues, “The social experience that determines the relevances that connect the textual to the social and that drive this popular productivity is beyond textual control, in a way that is different from the more specifically textual competence and experience of the writerly reader of the avant-garde text” (pg. 104). He believes that critically-derided texts offer useful insight. Of tabloid fodder, Fiske writes, “The popularity of such sensational publications is evidence of the extent of dissatisfaction in a society, particularly among those who feel powerless to change their situation, and the fact that there are more of them, and that they are more visible, in the United States than in, for example, Australia or the United Kingdom may say something about the exclusiveness of American ideology and the harshness with which it treats those it excludes” (pg. 117). More generally, he writes, “In popular culture, texts as objects are merely commodities, and as such they are often minimally crafted (to keep production costs down), incomplete, and insufficient unless and until they are incorporated into the everyday lives of the people” (pg. 123). To this end, “A popular text, to be popular, must have points of relevance to a variety of readers in a variety of social contexts, and so must be polysemic in itself, and any one reading of it must be conditional, for it must be determined by the social conditions of its reading” (pg. 141).
Fiske concludes, “Popular culture not only maintains social differences, it maintains their oppositionality, and people’s awareness of it. It can thus empower them to the extent that, under the appropriate social conditions, they are able to act, particularly at the micropolitical level, and by such action to increase their sociocultural space, to effect a (micro)redistribution of power in their favor” (pg. 161). Finally, “Popular culture always entails a set of negotiations between the center and the circumference, between the relatively unified allegiances of the power-bloc and the diversified formations of the people, between singular texts and multiple readings” (pg. 171). ( )
  DarthDeverell | Aug 31, 2017 |
Cultural Studies 101
  adultist | Aug 21, 2007 |
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This revised edition of a now classic text includes a new introduction by Henry Jenkins, explaining 'Why Fiske Still Matters' for today's students, followed by a discussion between former Fiske students Kevin Glynn, Jonathan Gray, and Pamela Wilson on the theme of 'Reading Fiske and Understanding the Popular'. Both underline the continuing relevance of this foundational text in the study of popular culture.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 an

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