Visions of America Since 1945 class - Written Assignment - Studying Popular Culture
Pop Culture Introduction
Popular culture is a term that was coined in the 19th century, and today by definition, its components have a very broad scope. When presented with the task of defining "pop culture", it can be confusing, as it entails so many aspects of the cultural experience. Music, fashion, film, television, and the Internet are considered to be cultural industries, where cultural artifacts are produced and distributed to the general public. Yet, popular culture is so much more than forms of entertainment or commercial products. Popular culture also relates to activities and events that occur within mass culture as a whole, and in social groups. In this course, we will attempt to academically study these various elements of popular culture and its industries, in order to grasp a solid understanding of its reflection of contemporary events in American history.
Popular Culture from 1945-2010
In this course, we will study popular culture in a chronological order, beginning with the post WWII era, and ending up at the present day at the conclusion of the course. We will look at different decades of recent American history, and what major social and political events took place during that period of time.
In this first week of the course, we will be studying the postwar era, from 1945 to 1955.
We will be analyzing and discussing:
Major social issues of the era
Major political issues and events of the era
The dominant culture of the era
The cultural industries that dominated the era
The Second Great World War ended in Europe on May 8, 1945 and it ended a few months later in Asia. Although WWII was not fought directly on American soil, its impact on American culture was deeply felt. Even though social equality had not yet been won for African Americans in the 1940's, America was given a taste of the horrors of genocide and racism through the actions of Nazi Germany against Jewish people. The Nazi ideology of fascism and hatred nearly overtook the civilized world, and American culture rejected this worldview.
The dominant culture of a society has ideologies attached to it. It is made up of the common, shared beliefs and values of the majority in a society. Karl Marx, the father of Marxist theory asserted that the dominant ideology is the ideology of the dominant class. This means that the beliefs and morals that characterize a given society are controlled by the ruling upper classes. The postwar values and beliefs in American culture were shifting due to the introduction of the atomic bomb at the end of World War II. This new fear that whoever controlled the atomic bomb could destroy the world was one of the major cultural contributing factors of the time.
In terms of the cultural industries that were in charge of producing popular culture during the postwar era, Hollywood was experiencing its "Golden Age" at that time. The Hollywood "studio system" was in power at that time. They were a handful of major studios that controlled every aspect of the filmmaking production and distribution process. This exemplifies how a cultural industry such as Hollywood produced cultural artifacts for American society.
Television was also becoming a more powerful presence in the homes of American families during the early 1950's. Hollywood no longer had exclusive control over American entertainment, and this signaled cultural changes. The typical American family began to gravitate towards the television set for news and entertainment. They also began eating their meals in front of the TV, and not at the dinner table. This powerful cultural shift brought on by television is very significant.
Discuss the problematic nature of attempting to define popular culture. Why is it such a difficult subject to find a working definition? Give examples of some of the issues encountered when attempting to define and study this complex subject. This paper should be 1-2 pages, in APA style, utilizing the college's library resources. One scholarly article as a minimum should be included in your essay.
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