Pop culture and consumption, is it all right as it is?

In the twenty-first century, we are living in the environment that is completely surrounded by the media and under the strong influence of the mass media. The day of the most people in modern times starts with turning on TV and ends with turning off it. In this way, contemporary men live encountering the media that is represented by TV in any place for most of the day. It is inconceivable for us to be away from the media. That is a worldwide stream and phenomenon. In the rapidly changing digital media society, we need to think some controversial issues about culture.

TV, movie and newspaper is called ‘pop culture’. But what is ‘pop culture’ on earth? Is pop culture an opposite of ‘elite culture’? How is pop culture different from elite culture? Is Elite culture the best artifact that human beings created and is pop culture primitive raw stuff? Isn’t the meaning that the line between pop culture and elite culture already became blurred because of popularization of elite culture which is represented by literature and opera and is easily distributed within the specific class when we saw the figure of appreciating a lot of art forms that had belonged to the territory of elite culture meanwhile through TV or movies?

A few months ago, I met a friend who originally majored in classic and changed her major to popular music. We had a very vigorous argument about pop culture and cultural industry. The major point was as in the following. Movie was the completed media at last when the audience saw it on the screen. And even though it is an excellent as a musical viewpoint, if the public don’t hear the music, it is useless. Even if it is a beautiful piece, the reality is so miserable so far as to launch forth in front of the public. Because cultural industry in modern times was dominated by huge media companies.


Cultural industry in contemporary society is controlled by a few companies from production and distribution to sale of the cultural goods. It results blunting one’s critical thinking about society making them standardize the cultural diversity and also decreasing the choices of the consumers. Even though the same style of the music was released and it was the repetition of the simple scale, the public glowed with enthusiasm. We need to agonize about whether we loved the music or the image. Consumption and creative acts cannot absolutely be free from the process of the production. The cultural taste of the public who has to lead busy and tired lives is easily liable to be a superficial one that they pursue only suggestive, sensible and funny thing rather than following the predominant value that elite groups set up. For example, ‘Marilyn Monroe’ was a popular image and she was consumer goods in 1950~60s. She was like an icon, highlighting the sexual attraction. I think her image represents the process of producing and distributing popular stars because her articles and photos came out in the papers or magazines everyday at that time. Though that kind of pop culture looks vulgar, nevertheless, the public might be comforted more from the pop culture. Cultural use pattern of the public proceeds from the social conditions. They enjoy finding the greatest hedonic contents because their real life is subordinate. Besides, all the producers of creating pop culture and consumers of consuming pop culture cannot help being subordinate to principles of economy of capitalism. Eventually, all of these become entangled and pop culture commercializes the public thoroughly under the name of cultural industry.


The art exists in the society and we have to think all the activities actively in order to research the relationship appropriately when we see the form of modern human beings. In 1950~1960s, the US was a consumer society in which consumption was thought to be a virtue. And we got accustomed to bulk production and our thoughts and lifestyles were mass-produced like the image of ‘Campbell’s soup’ that symbolizes mass production by imitating and displaying cans. While the cultural industry of former society is one-sided one from top to bottom, the one of digital society is a quite interactive. The public became to have a critical view a little more by choosing their culture through a variety of channels by oneself. The world is changing day by day. I think it would be right that pop culture which is an ordinary culture by leading by most of people in constant variations and new trials is the ‘cultural processes’, not the ‘cultural products’.

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One Response to Pop culture and consumption, is it all right as it is?

  1. kekoh2013 says:

    Andy Warhol drew two artistic works – ‘Marilyn Monroe’ and ‘Campbell’s soup’. Andy Warhol is called a pioneer of pop art and pulled down the boundary between pop art and pure art. He has also led unconventional changes across the board of visual art such as movies, commercials and designs. I think that Warhol’s best accomplishment was blurring the lines between the popularity, artistic value and commercial potential. He refuted the traditional artistic standard by reproducing borrowed images such as Coca-Cola, Campbell’s Soup and movie stars to silkscreen printing. He made unobserved ordinary objects reborn as art once again.

    First of all, ‘Marilyn Monroe’ was created in 1964. Looking at this artwork, I think her image seems to visualize the process of producing and distributing popular stars by simplifying her face, emphasizing her lips, hair and eyes and manipulating and exaggerating the used color. Marilyn Monroe has remained as a cultural icon, transcending time and space. Which cultural envionment would have made her an icon? Monroe appealed her dramatic life and sex symbol image to the general public and appeared a Muse that gave artistic inspiration to artists. However, her real power consisted in her own symbolism and message. Problematic undertones were inherent in the times that she was in action and the process of her life. The 1950’s was the glory days of pop art that people admired Pax America. Also, People achieved an economic boom and consumption was a virtue at that time after the 1930’s great depression and 1940’s war. The mass media such as TV and journals spread because of the structure of capitalism that was mass-produced and mass-consumed and there were many commercials in the 1950’s. In this climate, Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley became rising stars. Especially, Warhol often made Monroe a drawing material as the motif. He ridiculed the desire and hypocrisy of a consumer society through Monroe who was manipulated by media, hid behind the popularity and fame and was stained with anxiety and loneliness. Also, he criticized dual view points of the public and illusion of media that instigated twofold criteria by showing her life that was directed by the image the public wanted.

    Secondly, ‘Campbell’s soup’ was made in 1962. ‘Campbell’s soup’ was one hundred cans listed continually and repeatedly in tens by silkscreen technique. He perceived time changes by being one step ahead and grasped a soup that Americans enjoyed eating as the 1960’s icon. Soups could be bought easily from stores around the country and eating soups that were produced in identical assembly lines means sharing the same experiences in the contemporary period. The public in modern times is often captivated by the attraction of repeated advertisements that boosts heavy consumption while seeing and hearing various commercials. Because of that, people descend into mechanical circumstances that they enjoy eating specific goods under the impulse of the advertising commercials instead of choosing by themselves. In addition to Campbell’s soup, he showed a compelling power of the image that is injected with mass consumption society and a great power of the media that controls the consciousness of the public through mass-produced and mass-consumed goods such as Coca-Cola and Del Monte juice.

    According to reading ‘Andy Warhol images’, there is a line that ‘an examination of the context of the image would suggest that Warhol was engaged and that there is a message in the work.’(P17) Also, I was impressed by the sentences that ‘Only Warhol produced a narrative image’ and ‘Only Warhol’s image is engaged in a contemporary issue.’(P17) because the key point of his two artworks is closely connected to the main characteristics of modern society. Accordingly, I want to show a phase of popular culture and consumer society in the 1960’s of America through Andy Warhol’s images. That’s why I choose these images ‘Marilyn Monroe’ and ‘Campbell’s soup’. Pop culture is like commercial culture that is mass produced for mass consumption, manipulates the public and is consumed passively with a paralyzed and insensible state. Popular culture is fundamentally a product of American culture. American culture has made movies, pop songs and pro sports. America grew into a powerful nation while Europe suffered from the Second World War. American society in those days enjoyed material affluence and it was possible to mass produce. So, the increasing desire for leisure has made a high level of a consumer society come in America. After the 1960’s pop art, the influence of pop culture and mass media has increased gradually as spreading out the internet and digital culture. Accordingly, we steadily got accustomed to bulk production and our thoughts and lifestyles were mass-produced and standardized without respecting respective individuality.

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