Pop Culture

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As pop culture (of Latin populus , people ') or popular culture are cultural products and everyday practices that especially since the 20th century in the course of social modernization as mass culture find distribution, respectively. The establishment of mass consumption since the late 19th century plays a role here.

The term popular culture has also established itself as a more general and neutral replacement for the older term “ folk culture ”. The term popular culture is more of a technical jargon , whereas pop culture is more of a scene jargon . In the modern sense, for example in sociology and cultural studies , popular culture describes phenomena of society as a whole , which encompass almost all cultural branches. Popular culture differs from the so-called high culture by its “popular”, i.e. popular or proletarian character . Examples of popular culture are sports , mass media , trivial literature, and pop music . Popular culture can arise from subculture that is different from the dominant or elitist . Often subculture later becomes fashion and thus mainstream .


For neo-Marxist critics in the tradition of critical theory , the nature of pop culture is conformist and affirmative to the existing social conditions . In a capitalist society it always arises as a form of goods and therefore follows its “laws” - the logic of the market. Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer coined the catchphrase “culture industry” in this context. This diagnosis includes the disparaging characterization of pop culture as part of a ruling ideology in the sense of a "false consciousness".

In more recent discussions within the political left , especially in the tradition of cultural studies , pop culture is treated in a more differentiated manner and less clearly assigned to the field of ideology. Rather, it now appears - following Antonio Gramsci's theory of hegemony and post-structuralist discourse analysis  - as a field in which social conflicts and changes manifest themselves culturally. In pop culture - and especially its modes of reception , as Stuart Hall and John Fiske in particular emphasize - political resistance or subversion can therefore also be expressed.


Since the 18th century, a specific sphere of “ culture ” has emerged within bourgeois society. Popular shapes have always been part of this development. Modern culture arises from the dialectic of high and popular culture or elite and mass culture.

Towards the end of the 19th century, bourgeois society discovered culture for itself, which coincided with the increasing wealth and education made possible by industrialization . At the beginning of the 20th century, the middle and lower classes began to use “simple” artists, e.g. B. street performers, as a cultural phenomenon. As a result, the boundaries between the conventional spheres of high culture and everyday culture are increasingly being dissolved. As pop culture's power of definition grows, the dichotomy “everyday culture | High culture ”also called into question by virtue of public opinion.

University history has also opened up to pop culture in recent years and is discussing pop history as a research perspective, for example within cultural history and contemporary history .

Pop as a discursive phenomenon

As Roger Behrens writes, pop is essentially a discursive phenomenon. Pop has “to do with the way in which pop is written and reflected upon, with the extent to which pop itself is a product of discourse alongside a crude cultural and economic reality. Talking about pop is sometimes more pop than what it's aimed at. ”The term pop culture has grown into numerous myths , but these hardly do justice to its essence.

Pop versus Sub Pop

Pop is to be understood in its literal sense as a popular culture that is not limited to music. Painting, literature, photography, etc. are also included. Pop culture cannot be delimited by sub-genres, as hardcore punk , hip-hop , techno or simply underground or independent can also be included under the term. In the general perception, however, there are conceptual distortions, since the term is often used for purposes other than intended due to its fluency. Martin Büsser , for example, applies his criticism based on the division into genres, which he characterizes as independent and mainstream. He equates pop culture with mainstream as mass culture. He contrasts this mass culture, which is perceived as badly subjectively, with the supposedly “good” independent.

Political values ​​such as subversion and resistance are often ascribed to independent pop culture in particular, but also to mainstream pop . By its nature, pop culture is linked to ideas such as internationality, openness and tolerance, limitlessness, sexual liberation, self-determination of women, fun and the defense of democratic values ​​in general. The takeover of American pop culture in Europe after the Second World War enabled a liberation from bourgeois traditional structures, which is particularly important for Germany. “Elvis Presley wasn't a German for nothing”, as the “Magazin für Popkultur” Spex once put it.

Nevertheless, there are also theorists like Marvin Alster or Roger Behrens who criticize pop culture themselves or who even deny some pop cultural phenomena the status of “pop”. After the genre “German pop” established itself intellectually in Germany and the Goethe-Institut tried to export specifically German culture abroad, the authors of the I Can't Relax In Germany initiative raised the question of whether music was consciously influenced by nationalism is still about pop culture in the true sense of the word. This traditionally arrested variety broke with liberal values ​​such as tolerance , openness and freedom - basic principles for which pop culture has always stood.

Pop culture origin

Pop culture is subject to a dynamic development process with mutual influences from socioculture, state and national culture as well as economic culture. This process has grown historically. The pop culture theorist Diedrich Diederichsen attempted to divide pop culture into phases. He called the phase of pop in the 1980s, as opposed to the 1960s, as Pop II and the phase since 1990 as Pop III. The title of the WDR series 50 years Pop is questionable, since the origin of pop culture began in Germany in the early twenties and also during the National Socialism of Swing established as a covert youth culture. In general, it can be said that there is no specifically German pop culture, as it has Western-American influence.

Mechanisms of Pop Culture

Pop culture follows different mechanisms:

  • The principle of being up-to-date and striving for something new: being up to date is essential. Most of the time, the ideas seem revolutionary and simple. The old is often repeated, but always reproduced in an overwrought manner. So pop culture follows the fashion principle .
  • Use of the mass media : They are the central means of presentation and support for the dissemination of the products of popular culture. They influence and / or interactively involve consumers , e.g. B. on Wikipedia, Ebay or podcasts . Because of the increasing withdrawal into private domestic life in today's society, the power of media and brands is growing continuously, for example through branded entertainment .
  • Constantly crossing boundaries, rapid change and an associated subcultural and revolutionary image that, based on the earlier pop movement, is used today by major brands.
  • Satisfying the need for fun and intense experiences.

Pop culture theories

There are essentially two approaches to the theory of pop culture. On the one hand there is critical theory , which can be traced back primarily to Adorno and the Frankfurt School , and on the other hand there is cultural studies , which is based on the Birmingham Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS). On the critical theory side, the chapter on culture industry in Adorno's and Horkheimer's Dialectic of Enlightenment should be mentioned, while on the cultural studies side, authors such as John Fiske, Stuart Hall, Dick Hebdige and Lawrence Grossberg have distinguished themselves.

Cultural Studies examine culture in the true sense of the word without resorting to a common ideological core, as is the case with critical theory. This scientific discipline has developed on an interdisciplinary basis and unites the most varied of readings. In cultural studies, particular and local phenomena are examined for their connection with social structural characteristics, such as B. ethnicity, class, class, gender and sexual orientation examined.

Cultural Studies explore the importance of culture as everyday practice. These meanings are understood as socially constructed. In its most extreme form, everything is understood as culture that arises in connection with human language and thus has a socio-cultural and civilizational origin. The criticism of cultural studies questions the gain in knowledge through the results mentioned.

The thesis of the totality theory of the culture industry by Adorno and Horkheimer analyzes the social conditions of the 1940s. Your thesis is not a culture-critical but a socially critical theory. The form of the economic analysis of their theory is no longer topical today. They represent capitalism as a hopeless block that is condensing in monopoly capitalist formation. Actuality, on the other hand, is attributed to the diagnosis of late capitalism. Adorno and Horkheimer assume that capitalism has developed into a ubiquitous system. The idea of ​​the niche continually dissolved. Adorno summarized this finding in a simple formula:

"There is no right life in the wrong one"

- Theodor W. Adorno : Minima Moralia. Reflections from the damaged life . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1953 ff, ISBN 3-518-01236-3 , p. 59.


Web links

Wiktionary: Pop culture  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Pop history - Docupedia. In: docupedia.de. Retrieved April 22, 2016 .
  2. L. Seegers (Ed.): Hot Stuff. In: hsozkult.de. Retrieved April 22, 2016 .
  3. Pop: The Raving Society is eating its children. In: BEATPUNK WEBZINE. Retrieved April 22, 2016 .
  4. Spex, No. 08, 1993.