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POPULAR CULTURE. Popular culture is “a system of shared meanings, attitudes, and values and the symbolic forms in which they are expressed or embodied held by non-elite social groups” It is the culture of the poor and uneducated as opposed to that of the wealthy and educated
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POPULAR CULTURE • Popular culture is “a system of shared meanings, attitudes, and values and the symbolic forms in which they are expressed or embodied held by non-elite social groups” • It is the culture of the poor and uneducated as opposed to that of the wealthy and educated • In an illiterate world, it is the main vehicle for the transmission of ideas, feelings, and criticism by the lower classes • It is how they express their view of the world and their opinion of it.
ROBIN HOOD Robin Hood never existed but he nonetheless became the greatest hero of English popular legend He was basically a terrorist he robbed and killed landowners and carried out a virtual civil war against established authority. But the English common people loved his legend Why?
FIRST REFERENCE First reference to Robin Hood appeared in a book, Piers the Plowman, by William Langland, in 1370s In the book, a man meets various allegorical characters representing the problems of the age one character is “Slouth” ( a lazy priest who doesn’t do his job) Described as “He is ignorant of Latin and of the things of religion but he is a skilled hunter of hares. His does not know how to say mass but he knows the rhymes of Robin Hood.” Best guess is that the Robin Hood ballads began to circulate in the late 1200s no one is sure what gave rise to them or what event gave birth to them.
ORIGINAL STORIES • There were four original ballads of Robin Hood • Gest of Robyn Hode • Robin Hood and the Monk • Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne • Robin Hood and the Potter
TOUGH GUYS Common image of Robin Hood and his gang as a bunch of “merry men” is inaccurate “merry,” “cheerful,” and “carefree” stuff is of relatively recent invention Robin and his men are mean and violent—you did not mess with them partly because of the general character of the period it was a violent time
PERIOD OF DISLOCATION • Was a period of severe dislocation and unrest in England • Caused by breakdown of the feudal system • English kings had broke down the local power of nobles and replaced in with a national system of law and administration • By using an increasingly sophisticated network of appointed officials and court system • Made nobility cling even more stubbornly to those local rights and privileges that they still retained • Especially their economic and social rights over peasants Henry VI
POWER STRUGGLE • English peasants were no longer serfs but many vestiges of serfdom remained • Various fees, labor services, and rents • Peasants were caught in the middle of a massive power struggle between the monarchy and nobility • King was trying to exert direct control over them with new officials, laws, and taxes • Nobility continued to impose old exactions on them as much, if not more, than ever
SYMBOLIC STRUGGLE • Sheriff of Nottingham represented the growing power of the central government • Peasants severely resented the new taxes and new laws such officials were trying to enforce • The king himself was never blamed for this oppressive interference • Peasants believed that he was good but surrounded by evil officials who were acting without his knowledge or authority • When he learned what these officials were up to, he would put a stop to it and punish them
VICARIOUS REVENGE • Robin Hood was a powerful symbol of what peasants would like to do to resist the encroachments of central authority • He also concentrated his efforts on the agents of this encroachment and not the real source of the problem • The King himself
ENGLISH PEASANTS’ WAR • English peasantry rose up in a massive rebellion against the ever-expanding network of royal officials (with their taxes, laws, and punishments) in 1381 • Uprising was only defeated when rebel leaders (led by Wat Tyler) met with the king and agreed to accept his concessions • But as the meeting broke up, the king had all rebel leaders killed and, deprived of leadership, the revolt died out
THE NOBILITY AND ROBIN HOOD • Growing power of the central state also threatened the well-being and independence of local nobles • Therefore nobles do not generally appear in the ballads as villains • Robin Hood ballads therefore enjoyed a great deal of popularity among local nobles • By the time the ballads were written down, any original negative reference to the nobility had been taken out • Robin Hood was attractive to both peasants and the local nobility because he symbolized resistance to their common enemy • Even though they were never allies in real life
PROXY VILLAIN • Any specific reference to increased exploitation by local nobles had disappeared from the ballads before they were first written down • So a proxy villain was invented • the churchman—specifically the abbot of St. Mary’s monastary
HATED BY EVERYONE • St. Mary’s was a huge Benedictine abbey in Yorkshire that controlled tens of thousands of acres of farmland • Which it rented out in small parcels to local peasants • Abbot was hated because he was a perfect example of “unrelenting landlordism” • Abbey also held mortgages on noble estates • Churchmen symbolized the greedy demands of local landlords to peasants and the callousness of high finance to petty local nobles • Both peasants and nobles saw churchmen as villains in real life and they also appear as such in the ballads
SUMMARY • Robin Hood did have a certain reality in the social and political conditions of 13th and 14th century England • Means of symbolic resistance to the intrusion of the modern state into local, rural life • Also represented a model of active opposition to the encroachments of the state • As illustrated by the English Peasants’ War of 1381
CARNIVAL • Biggest holiday in medieval Europe • Very old • No one knows exactly when it started • Strongest in southern Europe • Spain, Italy, southern France, southern Germany, Portugal, and Greece • Before the Reformation it was also celebrated in England, Holland, Belgium, northern Germany, and Eastern Europe • Later transported by Spanish and Portuguese to Latin America and by the French to New Orleans
CARNIVAL SEASON • Carnival celebrations differed from locality to locality and also from year to year in the same locality (depending on the weather, the local political situation and the price of meat) • Carnival season began in January and increased in activity and excitement as Lent approached. • The night before Ash Wednesday was the culmination of the festival • Called “Mardi Gras” in French • “Shrove Tuesday” in English
RITUALS AND EVENTS • Ritual is an action used to express meaning, as opposed to accomplishing something concrete • Two forms of activity during Carnival • Official events • Formal events that erupted periodically during the week leading up to Mardi Gras • Unofficial, more spontaneous, events • Erupted intermittently during the entire Carnival season
UNOFFICIAL ACTIVITIES • Massive Eating • Especially of meat and pancakes • Massive Drinking • Beer, wine, and ale • Singing and dancing • People wore masks • Men dressed up as women; women dressed up as men • Others dresses as devils, fools, wild men, and animals • Verbal aggression • People insulted each other; insulted their social superiors, and sang satirical songs about kings, priests, and nobles
OFFICIAL EVENTS • Official events generally organized by clubs of young people • They had no scripts nor did they rehearse but they were “organized” in the sense that they always included the following elements • A procession or parade that included crude floats • Some sort of competition • Foot race, horse race or mock jousts • Carnival play • Mock army attacking a castle; Mock civil trials; Fake priests giving funny sermons; Mock weddings • All contained symbolic conflict between Carnival and Lent • Carnival always lost and was burnt
FOOD • Three most common themes were food, sex, and violence • Food was most common theme • “Carnival” is based on the word “carne” (which means “meat” in Italian, Spanish, and Latin) • Carnival characterized by heavy consumption of pork, beef, and other types of meat • Meat also appears symbolically
SEX • Carnival was a period of intense sexual activity • Weddings often took place during season • Animals that symbolized Carnival were also medieval symbols for lust and sex • Rooster, pig, and the bear • Great deal of sexual symbolism
AGGRESSION • Aggression, destruction, and desecration • Mostly expressed symbolically in rituals • Verbal aggression • Celebrants allowed to even insult their social superiors without fear of punishment • Sometimes government officials and even the king himself were insulted • Aggression also ritualized in mock battles and the various types of competitions. President Sarkozy of France
OPPOSITION BETWEEN LENT AND CARNIVAL • Personified by fat, jolly man (Carnival) and thin, mean woman (Lent) • Lent was a time of fasting and abstinence • Natural to portray it as an emaciated old kill-joy • Carnival represented everything that was missing in Lent • Young, cheerful, fat, horny and a huge eater and drinker • Carnival represented the opposition between the coming “lean” times of Lent and natural human urges and desires • One last blowout before the imposed hardships of Lent start
SECOND OPPOSITION • Opposed to the everyday • An enactment of the “world turned upside down” • One of the most popular themes of medieval popular culture • Repeated constantly in drawings and illustrations of the period • Land of Cockaigne
TEMPORARY COCKAIGNE • Carnival was a temporary Cockaigne • Many Carnival rituals involved role reversals • All restraints, role positions, and taboos that made up the rigidly stratified structure of medieval society seemed to temporarily collapse, replaced by their total opposites • Opportunity of temporarily “turn the world upside down” was one of the main attractions of Carnival
PURPOSE OF CARNIVAL • At one level, Carnival was simple entertainment • But at another level, it was a symbolic protest against the social order of the Middle Ages • By reversing sexual roles, criticizing public authorities, the common people were subliminally expressing their discontent with the way society was organized and their subordinate place in it
BIG QUESTION • Despite the fact that Carnival was a vicarious criticism of the established order, the nobility and public officials always played an active role in organizing and encouraging Carnival celebrations • WHY?
LICENSE OF RITUAL • Max Gluckman noticed many incidents of role reversal among the Zulu tribe • Unmarried Zulu women put on men’s clothes, carried shields and spears, and sang dirty songs • Ordinary men were encouraged to criticize and insult their king • This temporary turning the world upside down was “intended to preserve and even strengthen the social order • Zulu role reversals led to “an enhanced sense of community, followed by a sober return to normal social structure.” • By making the low high and the high low, these reversals reaffirmed the hierarchical principle.
AGENDA OF THE UPPER CLASSES • European upper classes were aware that the society they lived in, with its gross inequality in wealth and status, could not survive without a “safety valve” • Without a means for those at the bottom to get rid of their resentments and frustrations
SAFETY VALVE • Common people were encouraged to “blow off steam” during the Carnival • But they were also encouraged to do so in channeled directions • Authorities still watched Carnival carefully • If things went too far, if violence or verbal criticism went beyond certain limits, the authorities would still step in • Reason why there was so much symbolic ritual • Actual violence was not allowed so it had to be subliminated into rituals
FUN IS OVER • Trial, execution, and burial of Carnival image was important in this regard • It was the culmination of the festival • Intended to demonstrate to the common people that the time for “license” was officially over and that they had to return to the sober reality of everyday life • That the “world turned upside down” was over and that it was time to put the world back right side up again
SUMMARY (1) • At its most elementary level, Carnival was fun • Last chance to celebrate those aspects of human nature that had to be curtailed during Lent • Also a way to blow off steam caused by the normal restraints and inequalities of medieval society and thereby avoid a future explosion • Also a controlled emission of steam, in which there were unspoken limits and definite time limit, so that things would not get out of hand
SUMMARY (2) • Carnival simultaneously provided entertainment, a religious function (by reminding people what they would have to give up during Lent), and an important socio-political function (by allowing people a controlled way to vent their frustrations against society) that preserved society itself