What Is Popular Culture?

·        “Popular culture is the shared knowledge and practices of a specific group at a specific time.  Because of its commonality, popular culture both reflects and influences the people’s way of life; because it is linked to a specific time and place, popular culture is transitory, subject to change, and often and initiator of change.”

·        Ex:  “Evolution of G.I. Joe” (handout)


Why Study Popular Culture?

·        “We see reflected in popular culture certain standards and commonly held beliefs about beauty, success, love, or justice.  We also see reflected there important social contradictions and conflicts—the tensions between races, genders, or generations, for example.  To find out about ourselves, then, we turn to our own popular products and pastimes.

·        Another argument for studying popular culture focuses on the important influences it exerts on us.  The media and other pop culture components are part of the fund of ideas and images that inform our daily activities, sometimes exerting a more compelling influence than family or friends, school or work. . . . More importantly, we discover role models; we learn lessons about villainy and heroism, love and relationships, acceptable and unacceptable behavior . . .”

·        Ex:  WWII posters vs. Recent anti-war posters


Analyzing Popular Culture

·        The first stage in analyzing pop culture is actively reading the texts around you.  These texts may be in the form of a TV program or an essay about TV, for example.

·        Passive vs. Active reading

·        When you read actively, you use very similar strategies to question, respond to, and speculate about what you’re reading:

o       Preparatory stage:  You develop a general sense what the essay will be about

o        Reading stage:  You begin the actual dialogue with the author by paying close attention to what he or she has written, identifying key points, responding to certain ideas, and asking questions.

o       Re-reading stage:  You go back through the text to get a clear and firm understanding of what you’ve read.

o       Reviewing: You take time to draw conclusions, evaluate the author’s position or argument, and develop your own responses; often you’ll want to go back through the essay and read certain sections even more carefully or turn to other sources for to help formulate your response.

o       All four stages circle back on one another as well as spiral outward, prompting you to do further reading and exploration.


An Active Reading Casebook:  Three Selections about Barbie (pgs. 4-11)