How is culture a way of life?
"Everything is pop!" Answering the question of what pop actually means turns out to be extremely difficult when starting from this provocative thesis by Diedrich Diederichsen. The aim of this article is to try to look behind this opaque term "pop" and to work out features - always making sure that only a few aspects can be highlighted. So this time I will not describe pop music, analyze fan culture, study zines, pop art, pop literature, films or consumer behavior - all phenomena that are part of pop culture - but limit myself to working out some properties inherent in pop.
Pop is a way of life
The term pop culture implies that pop is a culture that - as described above - can manifest itself in a wide variety of areas. Pop as a concept of culture has been subject to massive reinterpretations over time. Different readings alone shape the classification and description of "Pop Decades". One way of looking at things is based on the fact that in the sixties pop was primarily seen as a place of resistance (cultural studies). Pop stood for the rebuilding of the world, the rejection of the prevailing economic order, hierarchies and authorities and sexual liberation. Pop was a youth culture, but above all a counterculture, while the seventies were characterized by the fact that pop stood for the purchasability and undermining of these countercultural goals. This excavation continued to progress through the eighties and was finally completed in the nineties. All phenomena from culture, politics and the media have now been subsumed under the term pop.
Since then, pop has often become an everyday culture - not high culture! - classified. But this means that pop today has actually lost the claim to be able to be regarded as a demarcation from the mainstream in the sense of the sixties. For this reason, it would be more obvious to define pop as a (cultural) attitude towards life that expresses itself differently for different subcultures. "Cultural preferences", forms of behavior, styles or symbols of rappers differ from those of girlies.
Pop is racist and sexist
The various concepts of lifestyles, actually the whole of pop culture, have to put up with the accusation of being racist and sexist by some actors and recipients. For example, women were / are not accepted or even noticed in the music business for a long time. The reduction of a musician or producer to being a woman runs like a red thread through pop history. The classification of an artist is primarily based on her gender and only secondarily on her actions. The designations of female DJ (or even DJane) or female director testify - if the terms are not consciously used in the sense of provocation or the like - of this problem .
Discrimination against women is only one side of the coin. Pop culture is also often attributed to racism. In addition to the gender discrimination described above, ethnicized women also struggle with not being white. Lailah Hanit Bragin, "Teen Dyke" from New York, defines pop culture as "white culture" for this reason. She criticizes that it is not even possible that "all sisters together" rebel against this "fucked up system". There is the assumption that "anyone who is smart, combative, radical and intelligent and does cool things must be white".
Women reacted differently to the structural disadvantages. One strategy, for example, was to reinterpret sexist or racist terms. It was a matter of redefining words and thus depriving them of their negative attribution. This is how the rapper Roxanne Shanté described herself as a bitch - whore - what for her "strong woman" mean.
The young Courtney Love from Hole followed a different strategy. (see also fiber # 1) She confronted the beauty craze of women and the judgment of women about their attractiveness with an excessive look. She slipped into baby doll dresses, wore smeared lipstick and disheveled hair and did everything to break the stereotype of a nice, pretty, well-behaved housewife and mother. According to Debbie Stoller, editor of the feminist magazine BUST from New York, Love represented "everything that was ever to be feared in a woman [...]: a money-hungry, dogged careerist, a sexually aggressive narcissist and - worst of all - a wicked mother!" .
Pop is political
The reinterpretation of terms á la Lailah Hanit Bragin or the attempt like Courtney Loves to break a stereotype can undoubtedly also be seen as a political strategy. So being political can be described as a further quality of pop, even if this is not always the case. On the one hand, pop is political when the protagonists explicitly position themselves politically through their texts, content, visuals, sounds, performances or attitudes. For example, Manu Chao deals with xenophobia in his texts and calls on the stage to support the Mexican Zapatista.
On the other hand, pop can also be described as political when the actors do not explicitly define themselves politically, but rather when the recipients empower themselves to interpret the protagonists' representation, content, visuals, etc. as political. In this sense, it can be political when a text by a pop star stimulates the fans to think or even to take action. For example, few would have attested a political position to the Spice Girls, but their portrayal as girlies confronted many girls with girlism (see book review). Was the adoption of the "girlism concept" of the Spice Girls fanatics a mere imitation tactic or maybe more - an argument with it?
Pop is capitalist
However, since the content of pop music in particular is being watered down more and more by commercial attempts at appropriation, the question may be asked, for example, what political potential pop music (still) has. (see fiber controversy). The parameter "capitalistic" penetrates the concept of pop to the core. Nobody would want to deny that there is a lot of money to be made with most pop phenomena - of the so-called mainstream, mind you. In the music business, the record companies make billions with their stars and starlets and the musicians themselves also earn golden noses, such as Madonna, who, according to the BBC, earned an incredible 30 million pounds in 2001. And last but not least, politics is getting into the money cycle and organizing mega-events with pop stars in order to get a piece of the pop cake.
In particular, the actors who practice political criticism are often not aware of their own entanglement in capitalist / commercial relationships. But not all of them, of course. For this reason, the band Bikini Kill, for example, decided not to work with big labels and entertainment groups.
Pop is like a house
Perhaps some are now wondering to what extent pop or pop culture can still inscribe subversive strategies on itself based on these negative scenarios and be understood as counterculture if the opinion is that "everything is pop" and the "mainstream", politics and industry discovered pop culture for themselves.
The good thing is that there are so many readings to describe pop culture and as many opinions as the "inside" of pop culture and its (possibly) diverse potential could look like. We could compare it to a house. This has many rooms (areas), floors (decades), corridors (properties), windows (actors) and bricks (theory / analysis shell), each of which has a different meaning for itself and for the viewer. It is possible to view the house from the left ("the" left), from the right ("the" right), from above (rule) and below (women, men, migrants, etc.).
And the house isn't finished yet. It can be extended by many rooms, floors, corridors and windows. fiber is currently involved in the Pophaus as a client. Through the feminist view of pop culture, it built a nice large room next to others, opened windows through the features of actors and, in the theoretical / analytical / critical / lustful view of pop culture, enlarged the house with many bricks. Over time, the house will grow. It will get taller, longer and wider, with lots of windows. And fiber will do its part.
Author: Hanna Sohm
1) Cf. Bragin, Lailah Hanit: you and me and our revolution. In: Baldauf, Anette / Weingartner, Katharina (eds.): Lips Tits Hits Power? Feminism and pop culture, Vienna / Bozen 1998, 34ff
2) ibid., 152
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