Category Archives: Design & Style

Pop Art: Pop Culture Defined

I dated a musician, once upon a time; a jazz musician. He was often put off by my love of certain music, deriding it as ‘pop music.’ I had to remind him that the ‘pop’ stood for popular, and that meant that a large body of folks had to like it to make it ‘popular’. I even reminded him that jazz was once ‘pop music.’

Of course, that didn’t always sit well. For either of us.

lost_supermarket_flyer_-boutwell-draper-gallery_ben-frost-exhibitI can’t speak directly for him, but his disdain for ‘pop’ certainly smelled snobby to me, and I felt as if I had to prove that I still had ‘good taste’ (at least most of the time) despite occasional descent into liking what other people did…

Pop culture has become synonymous with kitsch, defined as ‘bad taste,’ and while the two may overlap, there are distinctions.

Pop Culture Defined: Dictionaries define Popular Culture, or pop culture, as “the vernacular (people’s) culture that prevails in a modern society,” and as “the currency or iconography of a contemporary culture.”

In any case, popular culture is both dynamic, as cultures are constantly changing, and it is static in the sense that it is specific to both place(s) and time(s) or period(s). What is pop culture in the USA, now, is not the same as China, nor is it the same as the USA in 1950.

Pop culture is built largely by industries & groups that disseminate cultural material & the relationships these groups have with the population or consumers. In the US, examples of these groups are the film, television, news media, & publishing industries, as well as political groups, religions, and social organizations. It isn’t just what they ‘push’ at us, it is how we, as consumers, interact with it. Do we buy it? Not just commercially, but do we buy into it

As my jazz musician felt, popular culture is not always ‘high brow.’ It does however merit study. Why do people believe, act, buy…?

pup-art-pop-art-quilt-by-nancy-brownAnd don’t think it is merely of interest to corporations or marketing teams either. Heck, it’s part of the science of anthropology! Those scientists know that these same motivators and triggers allow us to believe in marriage, religion, food, clothing, education, language, rituals & traditions. They know that pop culture buy-ins affect those things!

So if you ever feel your love of Mickey Mouse, Pig Latin, G.I. Joe, Marilyn Monroe, Dr. Suess, anime, Andy Warhol, The Simpsons, Gone With the Wind, Michael Jordan, Mystery Science Theatre 3000, & yes, even jazz, isn’t worthy, think again! They are to Americans as patriotic as baseball, apple pie, and mom.

Yes, your mom is a pop culture phenomenon!

Image credits: Pop art poster for Ben Frost‘s exhibit at the Boutwell Draper Gallery; Pup Art quilt by Nancy Brown, via Susan Brubaker Knapp’s Blue Moon River blog.