This essay will examine the extent to which society may be influenced by and organised around popular culture. An introductory section will define key terms, before going on to analyse the opening question through a sustained focus on one key area of popular culture, that of television and its audiences. The essay will restrict itself to UK programming and scheduling.
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Following sections will assess the possible effects on social relations and on ritual, and will incorporate relevant sociological theories, approaches and concepts, and in particular a focus on the concept of ideology. The main thrust of the essay will be from a Marxist perspective, and will use ideas derived from Karl Marx and his successors in left-wing sociological thought. Storey (2001, pp. 1 â€“ 16) defines popular culture as being conceptualised in several different, though overlapping, ways. Often, for Storey (2001, p. 1), popular culture is an “empty conceptual category” always defined “in contrast to other conceptual categories: folk culture, mass culture, dominant culture, working-class culture” and so on. Storey (2001, pp. 1 â€“ 15) offers six working start-points: first, that popular culture is simply that which is well liked with many people. In television terms, we might examine programmes or channels with high viewerships, or who cater to a general audience rather than to a niche. Second, that popular culture is what’s left over when high culture or art is discounted, that it’s the preserve of ITV or ITV2 rather than, say, Sky Arts or BBC4, channels that feature content we might understand as high culture, such as Proms concerts and biographies of arts movements. Storey’s third definition is of popular culture as being a mass culture. This is seen as a pejorative, in that (Storey, 2001, p. 9) such output is over-commercialised and bland, offering easy unthinking (and often American) entertainment. Notable work was done by the Frankfurt School of post-Marxist theorists such as Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, in this regard. Fourth of Storey’s definitional possibilities refers to popular culture as being authentic folk culture of the people, as opposed to that which is provided to them by cultural and economic elites. Storey (2001, p. 10) critiques this as being overly-romanticised, with a definitional issue in understanding quite who “the people” might be, and an avoidance of the capitalist context in which much popular culture is produced and disseminated. Could there really be, with the possible exception of community television services (Ponsford, 2014) such as those offered in some UK localities – examples include London Live and the Humber region’s Estuary TV –
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