Lesson 15 - Defending Pop Culture Robert Wonser
Feministic Implications • Popular culture was instrumental in opening new avenues for women
The Show Must Go On ... And Feminism • Subtext of the movie Chicago, the vaudevillian stage has empowered females to metaphorically kill their controlling men. Similar themes in Thelma and Louise • Do you agree? • Pop culture's show must go on, or else we risk resorting to an era of prohibition and fanatical right-wing authoritarianism. • Does the power of female’s sexuality work even better when society tries to prohibit it? • Are the images of women in erotic movies and pin-ups empowering of femininity? • Were the early feminists that decreed ads, erotic spectacles and the like were the sexual objectification of women (a bad thing) really an attempt by puritan-minded, middle-class, White, American female intellectuals to control all women, not free them?
The Internet and Democracy • Despite the digital divide, the internet is about the only challenge to the hegemonic culture industry available. • North America and Europe concentrate the two largest groups of Internet assets with a total share of 22.5% for Europe and doubling this number 55.9% for North America. • Therefore it can be said that both regions represent a total 77.4% of the global Internet structure having Asia being the next one in the list with a share of 14%. • In the meantime who controls the internet? Exactly. • Though, this is still not settled… (net neutrality)
The Movie Theater • Throughout the first 80 years of its existence, the movie form was experienced as a communal event, inside a movie theater, complete with intermissions, food fare, etc. • Every urban corner was bound to have a movie theater; often central attraction of that part of town • Changed in the late 1980s VCR technology threatened to make the movie watching experience a more individualistic one and eventually lead to the elimination of the movie theater. • This, and cable TV threatened the monopoly held by the movie industry, the same panic ensued that occurred when television came to compete with film in the 1950s. • As a result film companies favored large spectacles with fantastic special effects to lure the public away from home videos and back into the theater. • Despite all this, the traditional movie theater has remained as popular as ever. • DVDs actually stimulated more interest in movies (how many times have you bought the new special edition super fantastic extra bonus features 2-disc collector’s edition of a movie you already own?) • DVDs too are further entrenching movie-watching in social life, not replacing it. • Threat is now from cyberspace and new electronic devices. • Advance sale of ancillaries (DVD rights and other media rights) are sold off before the movie is released in order to finance smaller budget films • Movie theaters are resilient—becoming more and more a part of the overall pop culture experience • To emphasize their entertainment function, megaplexes even offer other functions; fast food, arcades, etc. • The movie theater has become a variety show
Video Culture • Video presented a revolutionary way of relating to movies. • Being at a movie theater is a social act. • Have you ever noticed movies are funnier in the theater with an audience and scarier with an audience? • Sony introduced Beta in 1970s and RCA introduced VHS with clever marketing. • Studios once again panicked over the new technology, but they forgot the social component—being in a movie theater with a real audience is part of the communal effect that cinema intended to create. • Ex: Think about midnight showings of old movies.
Video Games and the Sleeper Curve • Immersion in a simulated world that resembles the real world • Ex: the Wii • The division between the imaginary and the real is becoming blurred. • As Steven Johnson claims, video games provide a locus for the same kind of rigorous mental workout required for mathematical theorems and puzzles. • Improve abstract problem-solving skills • Video games are actually making us sharper and smarter than any other point in the history of civilization. • “The Sleeper Curve” in general applies to pop culture: the most apparently debasing forms of mass diversion turn out to be nutritional after all. • We are a “problem-solving species” –hence the addictive power of video games. • Ex: that point of frustration playing a video game where you’ve been stuck in the same spot for an hour and refuse to Google the solution • Whether or not pop culture does improve cognition it is still fun. • It also promotes the carnivalesque (and fun) aspects of our existence.
The Sleeper Curve • Johnson derives the term Sleeper Curve from the Woody Allen film Sleeper in order to draw a comparison between the "scientists from 2173 [who] are astounded that twentieth-century society failed to grasp the nutritional merits of cream pies and hot fudge" and the current perception that popular culture is "locked in a spiral drive of deteriorating standards". • The Sleeper Curve serves to "undermine the belief that . . . pop culture is on a race to the bottom, where the cheapest thrill wins out every time", and is instead "getting more mentally challenging as the medium evolves".
Sleeper Curve • storyline complexity has increased dramatically and even the best shows from 20 years ago would be regarded as quite primitive were they to air today (compare Dragnet to The Sopranos) • “multiple threading” • Decline in “flashing arrows” (a metaphorical audiovisual cue used in movies to bring some object or situation that will be referred later, or otherwise used in the advancement of plot, to the attention of the viewers.)
Effects • TV has changed the shape of the general world culture • Surveys even show that people spend more time in font of the TV than they do working. • TV is bringing out a decline in reading leading to the decline in the nation-state (because ideas cross national boundaries through TV). • Does TV also induce an insatiable appetite for entertainment as some critics suggest? this basic view is that people imitate television TV violence breeds real life violence; vulgarity on TV brings increased vulgarity in society. • If not, then what are the real causes and what does scapegoating TV do for the real causes?
Effects… • Marshall McLuhan TV has an impact far greater than that of the material communicated. • TV is a representational system that blends the imaginary and real. Does this also mean that we can’t tell them apart? • But TV is no more responsible for society’s problems than are any other contemporary social texts, including religious ones. • TV’s effects are the same effects of pop culture generally: TV influences how we see people and how we respond to events—just as newspapers and radio did in the past and before them village gossip. • TV is a target because it is so prevalent and an easy scapegoat. It is much easier to see Beavis and Butthead or South Park than it is to see poverty, a culture of violence, poorly funded schools and poor policy decisions’ far-reaching effects as negatively impacting society. • Moreover TV has the ability to reflect back at us our changing times (our zeitgeist) this often scares us and we can easily mistake the mirror as the cause of the changes rather then as a reflection of the changes themselves.
Flawed Logic of Media Phobia • The explanation that media create a culture of violence is tantalizing but it diverts us from delving into deeper questions, about how young people in overgrown, albeit well-funded, learning institutions may feel alienated and turn to violence, it fails to help us understand the connection between media culture and politics and power. • Why do we use violence as a method for solving problems on a national and individual level • Why boys are taught to save face at any cost, to be tough and never vulnerable
The Real Big Bad Wolves • The most pressing crisis facing American children today is not media culture but poverty. • Nearly 12 million children (approx. 16% of children under the age of 18) live in poverty; a rate two to three times higher than that in other industrialized countries. • 14% of children have no health coverage • In 1999, over 1,000 children were killed by their parents compared with 35 killed in school during the school year. • The media have come to symbolize society and present a clear picture of both social changes and social problems. • Changes in media technologies are easier to see than the complex host of economic, political, and social changes Americans have experienced in the past few decades. • Graphic video games are more visible and easier to target than changes in public policies we hear little about. • What lies behind our fear of pop culture is anxiety about an uncertain future • This fear has been deflected onto children, symbolic of the future, and onto media, symbolic of contemporary society.
Ok, sometimes it is the Media • The news are guilty of peddling fascination rather than information • Stereotypical images persist of women as sexual objects, narrow portrayals of racial, ethnic and religious minority group members. • Limited or absent representations of the elderly, the plus-sized, Asian Americans, Latinos.
Changing Times • 9/11 • Increased necessity for two incomes in order to maintains a middle-class lifestyle reshaped family life • Increased opportunities for women • Deindustrialization and the rise of the information-based economy have left the poorest and least-skilled workers behind and eroded job security for middle-class. • These changes have made supervision of children more of a challenge for adults who are now working longer hours • The separation of people by age since the Industrial Revolution (jobs, not farms, schools, etc.) • Uncertainty about the future leads to fears and scapegoating.
Popular Culture • Has and consistently pushes thresholds • Propels society forward. • Remember Durkheim’s point? We need to know where the line is, we need deviance, we need norm breaking in our culture. • It releases repressed desires in healthy ways