Popular culture is the collection of cultural products such as art, music, fashion, dance, literature, film, radio, cyber-culture and television that are consumed by the majority of a communitys population. It has mass appeal and accessibility. American popular culture is simply the popular culture of the American citizens. It comprises of the behaviors, preferences, tastes, and customs embraced by a large portion of the American citizens at any given period. It is often associated with sports and entertainment, but the popular culture is broad and is made up of a lot of aspects. American popular culture plays an important role in binding together people from diverse backgrounds into one cultural identity. It derives from multiple sources specifically the American mass media. Nowadays some of the popular cultural items include television commercials and programs, Internet memes, film, video games, sports, brand symbols and names, slang words, food, and clothing fads. It is essential to know that the growth of internet connectivity has played a major role in expanding the popular culture since cultural items can now be easily shared from one person to another through social media and mobile devices.
The history of the American popular culture is connected to entertainment and leisure. The rise of this culture can be dated back to a late 18th century during the industrial revolution when individuals migrated to American towns and cities in large numbers (Lipsitz, 2014). The interaction between people from diverse backgrounds created a conducive environment for the popular culture to thrive. However, it suffered a blow during the early 19th century since leisure activities were regularly segregated by class, gender, and ethnic group. By the end of the 19th century, it was back on the thriving lane since this was the period when the American entertainment industry was just emerging. Moreover, a lot of activities were shared amongst people, and most individuals could now afford commercialized entertainment. The American popular culture grew spontaneously in the 20th and 21st century due to the rise of technological advancements that drove the development of the entertainment industry, including the music industry, film industry, digital media, television industry, and social media.
One of the main characteristics of the American popular culture is that it is accessible to the general public. Other cultures such as the high culture which comprises of the opera and fine art are meant only for the elite audience. American popular culture is ever-changing, and the consumer does not need higher levels of education to consume it. Moreover, it is easily accessed that is why it greatly influences the American culture. Nowadays, nearly everyone is exposed to media and more people are getting obsessed with celebrity lifestyles and whatever is being marketed in these platforms. In fact, it is not surprising to learn that celebrities trends and behaviors influence the manner in which our community acts. A lot of individuals are now looking up to celebrities for inspiration, and they adore them very much. Popular culture has influenced us a lot, and its impacts are felt not only in the United States but also in other countries of the world. For instance, I recall seeing high waist swimsuits for the first time, and I thought to myself Who in her right mind would ever want to wear those? It looked horrid. A few months later I saw Taylor Swift wearing the same kind of swimsuit in a Fashion magazine and just like that my perception of the high waist swimsuits changed. That is when I realized that popular culture could influence and change our perspectives and thoughts on something entirely.
American popular culture has a positive side and a negative side. How can it affect us negatively? Well, the answer to this question is pretty obvious. If by any chance you are music or a movie fanatic, you must have realized by now that a lot of movies and songs are often about alcohol, drugs, and sex. We often see our favorite celebrities engaging in inappropriate acts whether, in movies, music videos or their daily routines and we tend to think that these activities are just fine since they are doing them. Many individuals have turned to popular culture to access new trends so that they can fit into society and be seen as the cool people (Carville, 2007). On the other hand, popular culture can have a positive impact on the community. This is because it acts as social glue for the community and creates a unifying foundation that brings people from different cultures together. Sports, for instance, is a popular culture that fulfills the responsibility of a unifying factor in the American community. It serves the purpose of entertainment and most significantly brings people and communities together. From major league sports events, we notice that sports has the capability of bringing the nation together and it is appealing to the American spirit. That is why people sometimes associate sports with patriotism. Sports has been at the forefront of the integration of minorities, and from its heroes, we can learn about the mainstream attitudes and values of the American culture.
We are living in a country characterized by addictive, incessant, and awesome entertainment in the sphere of the popular culture. Popular culture is significantly influenced by the media and penetrates all the components of a community. There are multiple examples of popular culture in different classifications. For instance, in music, they include: American Idol or America Got Talent, and in video games, we had Pokemon (the 1990s) and Gone Home (2010). It will be unfair not to mention the popular culture in food which is inspired by the food network and comprises of Rice-A-Roni and Hamburger Helper which enables friends and family to dine together. However, I will argue that popular culture in digital media and films have greatly influenced people compared to the popular culture from other classifications. This is because digital media has made a popular culture to be more diverse and most importantly it has allowed people to voice out their concerns about issues affecting them. Television viewing, for example, has contributed to the conformity of the popular culture and entertainment. And the introduction of the satellite TV has allowed increased diversity in programming. This makes American TV be a unifying factor at some level. Digital media can also influence politics. President Donald Trump, for instance, used Twitter and other social media platforms during his campaigns and even now in his presidency to interact with his followers. In fact, I tend to believe that his online presence played a major role in his success. On the other hand, the former president Barack Obama used digital fundraising to gather funds for his campaigns. From these two scenarios, we realize that in indeed digital media influences the nations politics.
Hollywood is known to give life to cultural values, not least the American dream (Mustad, 2017). In fact, there is a huge concern that popular movies have the potential of changing attitudes on political matters. Take for instance The Rainmaker and the As Good As it gets movies. These movies support the Affordable Care Act and convince its audiences to be more liberal on health-care-related laws. I believe watching these two movies will make people like Obamacare more. The movie Malcom X (1997) starring Denzel Washington and directed by Spike Lee on African Americans in Houston inspires us to be more concern about race relations and racial discrimination. This movie allowed us to understand the significance or race relations. Moreover, by evaluating the values and the heroes of American films, it is easy to notice that popular culture greatly reflects the American culture. There is a reason why characters such as Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man have continued to matter so much to most of the American people. Although they are fictional characters, these superheroes embody what we believe is best for ourselves. Superman was first published in 1938, and it was a reaction to World War 2 and Hitler. X-men was first released in the early 1960s and was a reaction to hatred and bigotry. Nowadays a lot of blockbuster films released are kind of metaphors for our 9/11 world. In the film Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice Bruce Wayne watches helplessly as two super-powered titans destroy much of the city. This particular film reflects about our fears, concerns, and heroism. Through superheroes, US gets to be safe, invulnerable and wins its battles. This kind of movies allows us to deal with the fears that we all encountered with September 11 incident. The Zombie genre describes a community that has been destroyed from within as seen in the series The Walking Dead which is an expression of extreme individualism. I believe reality shows such as Keeping Up with the Kardashians and the Real Housewives of Orange County display women as characters who are often preoccupied with how they look and are more emotional than men.
Nowadays political satire has taken several forms both on social media and on television. Saturday Night live is a good illustration of how political attire slowly became visible on American television. The show started in 1975 and is still running. More shows such as The Colbert Report and The Daily show are growing gradually, and they are even increasing the political focus of these shows. The same influence is also witnessed in social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram where a lot of millennials obtain their political views.
It is essential to know that popular culture plays a significant role in creating and maintaining national identity (Asimow, 2005). This is because books and TV films and movies for instance usually focus on certain occurrences that become part of a countrys general interpretation of the past. It is true that the American popular culture has become the voice of the people and the force that shapes the country since the popular culture is based on the expressions of shared encounters that are much more essential to our community including beliefs and values that have shaped it, e.g., sacrifice, justice, respect, and hard work.
Asimow, M. (2005). Popular Culture and the American Adversarial Ideology. Law and Popular Culture, 606-637. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199272235.003.0034
Carville, J. (2007). Introduction. Early Popular Visual Culture, 5(3), 229-230. doi:10.1080/17460650701633561
Lipsitz, G. (2016). The Historical Study of Popular Culture. A Companion to Popular Culture, 11-30. doi:10.1002/9781118883341.ch2
Mustad, J. E., & Taylorl, S. (2017). Modern America. Cheltenham: Stanley Thornes () Ltd.
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