Link to jeanne's birdie calendar. John Storey: Cultural Theory and Popular Culture

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Created: January 24, 2001
Latest Update: January 24, 2001
E-Mail Curran or Takata.

An Introduction to
Cultural Theory and Popular Culture

Review and Teaching Essay by Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata
Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata, January 2001. "Fair Use" encouraged.

This essay is based on An Introduction to Cultural Theory and Popular Culture
John Storey, University of Sunderland, England. University of Georgia Press. 1998. ISBN:0-8203-1960-0. Jeanne picked this up at the Getty for $15.95.

In the last chapter of this text, Storey speaks of "The Politics of the Popular." It brought to mind for me the important role that art has played in our development of academic discourse. Last year, when I first put up some of Jacob Lawrence's art, there were many requests, first for more of his work, and then for more work by black artists. When first I put up graffiti and street murals, there were requests for more on that. We responded with art on many levels, from many cultures.

This happened quite apart from my ongoing listing of museums and galleries. I didn't question this phenomenon. I just responded to it, mildly horrified that so many of our students seemed to have direct and personal exposure to art, and delighted at your eagerness to learn. Many of you wrote condolences to me that year when Jacob Lawrence died. I was touched, and I thank you. But I was also somewhat amazed at how our sharing of these artists' works had taken on a personal quality.

I hadn't thought much more about that until I read Storey's review of Fiske's cultural theory. Fiske sees popular culture as resistant to the dominant culture produced by the economic system (That is, the system of production of records, movies, TV, etc.). Storey describes Fiske's position as one in which there is a struggle between the dominant and the subordinate popular cultures:

"In Fiske's semiotic war scenario, the two economies (forces of incorporation and . . . of resistance) are on opposing sides of the struggle: the financial economy is on the side of the forces of incorporation and homogenization, the cultural economy is on the side of the forces of resistance and difference."
Storey, ibid., at p. 206.

As Storey summarizes Fiske's position: producers seek dominance and homogenization to make it easier to predict what consumers will willingly buy. But that is not an infallible process. TV series are cancelled. Movies bomb. Records fail to sell. So there is an attempt to homogenize products, to make them as much like what sold last to take advantage of that popularity in the interest of profit. Fiske believes that aesthetic value lies less in the product itself offered by the financial interests than in the use to which the consumer puts the product. He calls this "grounded aesthetics," aesthetics in which the consumer has agency through the acceptance or rejection of the intended meaning and categorization of the product. In other words, popular culture adapts the offerings of the market through its interactive, interdependent interpretation, adaptation, and use of the product.

Now once art is accepted into museums and galeries it becomes part of "high art," which Fiske sees as incorporated into the dominant discourse and supportive of the homogenization sought by the dominant authority group. That is the art that would be taught in anart history class along with its whole historical past. The popular consumption of culture, through its acceptance or resistance to the dominant discourse, and through its use of popular cultural offerings, affords a voice to the masses, a voice in which their "meaning" and acceptance are heard and are interactive and interdependent with "high art." I should like to suggest that the way in which we began to use and give meaning to "art" on our site is strongly reflective of Fiske's position, as Storey describes it.

. . . More to come. jeanne, january 24, 2001.