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CHAPTER – 10

POPULAR CULTURE AND INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION
INTRODUCTION
The popularity of Big Brother and reality television more generally opens up the
private space of the home and interpersonal relationships to the public arena.
The kinds of intercultural interaction and intercultural conflicts that take place in
reality television are broadcast widely to a very large audience.
These shows bring some of these cultural tensions into public discussion on
various discussion boards, Web pages, newspapers, and other outlets.
This chapter explores one type of culture that is often overlooked by intercultural
communication scholars but that plays an important role in the construction,
maintenance, and experience of culture, particularly in intercultural interactions.
This type of culture is popular culture.
LEARNING ABOUT CULTURES WITHOUT PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
As discussed previously, people can experience and learn about other cultures by
traveling to, and
relocating and living in other regions.
But there will always be many places around the world that we have not visited and
where we have not lived.
How do we know about places we have never been?
Much of what we know probably comes from popular culture—the media experience of
films, television, music, videos, books, and magazines that most of us know and share.
How does this experience affect intercultural communication?
THE POWER OF POPULAR CULTURE
The kind and quality of information we all have about other places are influenced by
popular culture.
But the views that the media portray supplement the information we get from other
sources such as movies.
In this sense, popular culture is pervasive.
The complexity of popular culture is often overlooked.
People express concern about the social effects of popular culture
— for example, the influence of television violence on children,
-- the role of certain kinds of music in causing violent behavior by some youths,
and

S.-. many Western societies distinguish “high culture” from “low culture”.S. Americans are in a unique position in relationship to popular culture. So. Exceptions to this largely one-way movement of popular culture include pop music stars who sing in English. Yet most people look down on the study of popular culture. from other cultures. This inherent contradiction can make it difficult to investigate and discuss popular culture. we believe that it is a significant influence in intercultural interaction. in different time periods. popular culture are well known and circulate widely on the international market. music stars such as Britney Spears and Madonna. . on the other.S. Although intercultural communication scholars traditionally have overlooked popular culture. who expressed concern about protecting civilization. Shakira (Colombian). movies such as Transformers and Spider Man. Americans are rarely exposed to popular culture from outside the United States. In contrast.S. In this context. The popularity of U. television shows from Modern Family to CSI and Desperate Housewives creates an uneven flow of texts between the United States and other nations. of U. U. we don’t look on popular culture as a serious area of academic research. Products of U. High culture refers to those cultural activities that are often the domain of the elite or the well-to-do: ballet. and fine art. These activities sometimes are framed as international because supposedly they can be appreciated by audiences in other places. as if this form of culture conveys nothing of lasting significance. What Is Popular Culture? The 19th-century essayist and poet Matthew Arnold. and Céline Dion (French Canadian). great literature. The study of popular culture has become increasingly important in the communication field. such as Wyclef Jean (Haitian). and of U. opera. on the one hand. U. defined culture as “the best that has been thought and said in the world”— a definition that emphasizes quality. symphony. we are concerned about the power of popular culture.S.S.the relationship between heterosexual pornography and violence against women.

The elitism reflected in the distinction between high and low culture points to the tensions in Western social systems. Disney. the symphony and the ballet do not qualify as popular culture because most people cannot identify much about them unless they have studied them. including television. universities devote courses. however. Because of this elitist view of culture. videos. Rapid social changes propelled universities to alter their policies and also have affected how we study intercultural communication. These areas of study did not rely on the earlier distinctions between high and low culture. In opposition to high culture is low culture. game shows. and theaters. The cultural values embedded in these activities were considered neither transcendent nor timeless. including African American studies and women’s and gay and lesbian issues. Rather. For example. advertising. symphony halls. YouTube. they contributed to a new conceptual framework by arguing for the legitimacy of other cultural forms that traditionally would have been categorized as low culture but were now framed as popular culture. the turbulent 1960s in USA brought to the university a powerful new interest in ethnic studies. According to this definition. and popular magazines are systems of popular culture. Popular Culture: A new name for low culture. this distinction has begun to break down. which refers to the activities of the nonelite: music videos. To protect these cultural treasures. television. and so on. stock car racing. and even entire departments to the study of aspects of high culture. In contrast. professional wrestling. TV talk shows. music. programs. In fact. low-culture activities have been seen as unworthy of serious study—and so of little interest to museums or universities. . the distinction between “high culture” and “low culture” has led to low culture being reconceptualized as popular culture.Their cultural value is seen as transcendent and timeless. In recent decades. soap operas. Traditionally. and popular magazines. referring to those cultural products that most people share and know about. music videos. social groups build museums. graffiti art.

Culture industries: Industries that produce and sell popular culture as commodities. but especially middle-class groups Folk music Popular Culture Ever-present cultural products designed for profitable consumption Almost everyone in a social group Mainstream music. movies. Cultural Texts: Popular culture messages whether television shows. Folk Culture. and (4) it fills a social function. or other widely disseminated messages. symphony performances Folk Culture Traditional and nonmainstream cultural activities that are not financially driven Most cultural groups. television. There are four significant characteristics of popular culture: (1) It is produced by culture industries. people negotiate their ways through popular culture in quite different ways. This Chart highlights some of the distinctions between High Culture. advertisements.Intercultural contact and intercultural communication play a central role in the creation and maintenance of popular culture. romance novels CONSUMING AND RESISTING POPULAR CULTURE Consuming Popular Culture Faced with this onslaught of cultural texts. Popular culture texts do not have to win over the majority of people to be “popular. Folk culture: Traditional and nonmainstream cultural activities that are not financially driven. movies.” . and Popular Culture: Type Definition Who Knows It? What Does It Look Like? High Culture Elite aristocratic expressions of culture Rich members of the political establishment Opera. (3) it is everywhere. classic sculpture. (2) it differs from folk culture.

of their readership. Likewise. REPRESENTING CULTURAL GROUPS . and so on. some profiles emerge. Popular culture plays a powerful role in how we think about and understand other groups. These reader profiles portray what the magazine believes its readership “looks” like. they generally detail the average age. In this case. For example. some people feel the need to avoid television and even decide not to own televisions. After all. However. Resisting Popular Culture People often resist particular forms of popular culture by refusing to engage in them. Reader Profile: Portrayals of readership demographics prepared by magazines. individual and household incomes. Some people refuse to go to movies that contain violence or sexuality because they do not find pleasure in such films. Resistance to popular culture can also be related to social roles. some people have expressed concern about the supposedly homophobic or racist ideologies embedded in Disney films such as Aladdin. not all men enjoy watching football. Resistance stems mainly from concerns about the representation of various social groups.People often seek out or avoid specific forms of popular culture. The Disney film Pocahontas was criticized for its rewriting of the European encounters with Native Americans. The reader profile for Vogue will not look like the reader profi le for Esquire. Although reader profiles do not follow a set format. gender. Each magazine targets a particular readership and then sells this readership to advertisers. these kinds of conscious decisions are often based on concerns about the ways that cultural products should be understood as political. There is some unpredictability in how people navigate popular culture. Advertising offices of popular magazines even make their reader profiles available to potential advertisers. For example. and not all women like to read romance novels.

in ways that they never could simply as tourists. you may not think that the TV shows Desperate Housewives and Two and a Half Men represent quintessential U. Yet we must also think about how these cultural groups are portrayed through that lens of popular culture. is largely influenced by popular culture. in ways that tourists may not experience. U. American values and lifestyles. many teachers encourage their students to use popular culture in this manner. For example. the audience experiences the private lives of people they do not know. the impact of popular culture may be even greater. movies may portray romance. even places we have been. Migrants’ Perception of Mainstream Culture Ethnographers and other interpretive scholars have crossed international and cultural boundaries to examine the influence of popular culture. . We can see that popular culture images are often more influential in constructing particular ways of understanding other cultural groups than our own.People often are introduced to other cultures through the lens of popular culture. Popular Culture and Stereotyping In what ways does reliance on popular culture create and reinforce stereotypes of different cultures? Our knowledge about other places. These stereotypes are powerful because they function to tell us how “we” value and judge these other groups. After all.S. familial conflict.S. Americans (or perhaps European Americans) live. But some viewers may see it as their entree into how U. Not everyone sees the portrayal in the same way. Stereotypes are connected to social values and social judgments about other groups of people. The use of popular culture to learn about other cultures should not be surprising. Many familiar stereotypes of ethnic groups are represented in the media. or a death in the family.S. not only to improve their language skills but also to learn many of the nuances of another culture. POPULAR CULTURE & POWER One of the dynamics of intercultural communication that we have highlighted throughout this text is power. These introductions can be quite intimate. For people who do not travel and who interact in relatively homogeneous social circles. For example.

movies on foreign screens would boost the sales of U. Many other U.S. nationalism. film industry earns far more money outside the United States than from domestic box office receipts This situation ensures that Hollywood will continue to seek overseas markets and that it will have the financial resources to do so.In considering popular culture.S. published jointly by the New York Times and the Washington Post. .S. electronic colonialism.S. products because the productions would be furnished with U. U. Cultural Imperialism It is difficult to measure the impact of the U.S. popular culture. Some media scholars have noted that the U. For example. Media Imperialism: Dominating or control through media Electronic Colonialism: Dominating or exploitation utilizing technological forms. we need to think about not only how people interpret and consume popular culture but also how these popular culture texts represent particular groups in specific ways. media are widely available outside the United States. government in the 1920s believed that having U. Discussions about media imperialism.-made films.S. much of the internationally circulated popular culture is U. continue today. and Western media and popular culture on the rest of the world. If people largely view other cultural groups through the lens of popular culture. then we need to think about the power relations that are embedded in these popular culture dynamics. goods. Global Circulation of Images and Commodities As noted previously. which began in the 1920s. are widely distributed by an industry that is backed by considerable financial resources. and cultural imperialism. And the International Herald Tribune. including television and newspapers. for example.S.S.S. MTV and CNN are broadcast internationally. The interrelationships among economics. is widely available in some parts of the world. but we do know that we cannot ignore this dynamic. The U. and culture make it difficult to determine with much certainty how significant cultural imperialism might be.

the sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church. It is through popular culture that we try to understand the dynamics of other cultures and nations. the conflict in the West Bank between Israelis and Palestinians. . and global warming. the world exists through popular culture. Popular culture plays an enormous role in explaining relations around the globe. we also “rely on(?)” popular culture to understand many kinds of issues: the conflict in Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Although these representations are problematic.Cultural Imperialism: Dominating through the spread of cultural products. For many of us.