If you've just stumbled onto this blog, please forgive the appearance; it's still under construction. If I've used one of your photos (found on Google) in a lecture and you don't approve, please write a comment and I'll remove it.

The purpose of this blog is to explain the basics of art and culture to English language learners in secondary school in Slovakia. This is not for profit. If you look to your right, you'll see a long list of topics that I plan to cover. This is a large project that will most likely take years to complete, covering some topics I know little about (like dance), so I will be borrowing heavily from other experts, with their permission, giving credit wherever possible. Please be patient, and, of course, all advice is greatly appreciated.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Mass Culture

When you think of culture, you think of stories, art, music, clothing, language, religion, and customs, usually of one group of people. Cultures can be geographical and regional, but they can also be generational, social, and religious. Besides giving people an identity, they also help us form ethics and values, because children learn from their parents, and parents typically accept the norms of their society.

Mass culture brings many different groups together, forming one larger, global social conscience. Mass culture is shared by millions of people, from different countries and ethnic groups. It consists of pop music, sport, Hollywood films, TV shows, sitcoms, cartoons, reality TV, videogames, smart phones, internet culture, Twitter & Facebook, viral videos, internet memes, etc.

Mass culture as we know it today is very much a product of the modern world, spread by large industries such as film, TV, radio, and print. These industries are known as mass media. Mass media includes news and entertainment, and communicates to many people. Mass culture is the result of these media outlets, when millions of people around the world know the same actors, singers, athletes, and other celebrities.

Talking about mass culture can be confusing, because many forms of news and entertainment are seen by millions of viewers, for example the TV show Panelak in Slovakia. But, it’s not shown beyond Slovakia. Shows like Friends, CSI Miami, and Alf, on the other hand, are shown all around the world, and have been for decades. Everyone from Greenland to Timbuktu knows about these shows. So, when is something a part of “mass culture”? There’s no clear answer. Typically shows and celebrities that everyone knows about are called “mainstream”, while those that are less famous are called “underground”.

For many younger generations, mass culture has taken the place of smaller, regional cultures. You can see it in Slovakia. While older people still know and enjoy singing traditional Slovak folk songs, the younger generation prefers pop music, dancing to hip hop, and learning foreign languages. The problem is how to save and preserve traditional Slovak customs while embracing the new. This is a common problem throughout the world. There is a competitive aspect to culture, and some even refer to them as culture wars.

There are advantages and disadvantages to mass culture. Hollywood, record companies, and TV channels like HBO, MTV, and others have given us high quality, talented performers and wonderful stories and music, both for viewers of all ages. There are many genres and styles to suit everyone’s taste. And, when everyone around the world sees and listens to it, it creates a greater understanding that can help bring cultures together.

On the other hand, when we leave culture to the best and most talented, we become lazy. Imagine how the world was before cinemas, the radio, record players, and cameras. If you wanted to hear some music, you had to find someone to play it, or play it yourself. If you wanted to see a play, you might have to write it, and organize it yourself. If you wanted to take a picture, you had to draw it. Imagine how much more special it was when everyone sang instead of playing the radio – singing or playing for your children, instead of just playing the radio for them, or popping a DVD into your computer, making a cup from clay instead of just buying it at the shop. There’s a pleasure connected to making that most people don’t feel anymore.

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