POPULAR CULTURE

Introduction


POPULAR CULTURE and DUMBING DOWN

Part 1:

I would like to think that the lasting contribution, the gift, I offer to readers here is to recognise that mass appeal does not translate into lack of substance.  I try to write about popular culture as if popular culture matters, which it does, for precisely the reason that it's popular. I try not to frown on the "ordinary" reader's expectations of form and meaning, and this effort is allied to a similar effort to never talk down or, as it is often termed these days, engage in dumbing down(DD). DD is a deliberate diminution of the intellectual level of education, literature, cinema, news, and culture. The term DD originated in 1933 as movie-business slang, used by motion picture screenplay writers, meaning: "to revise so as to appeal to those of little education or intelligence." The nature of DD varies according to the subject matter and the reason for diminishing the intellectual level of the subject or topic, but it usually involves the over-simplification of critical thought to the degree of undermining the intellectual standards of language and of learning; thus tending to trivialise cultural, artistic, and academic standards, as in the case of popular culture.

In the late 20th century, the proportion of young people attending university globally increased sharply, including many who previously would not have been considered to possess the appropriate scholastic aptitude. In 2003, the UK Minister for Universities, Margaret Hodge, criticised Mickey Mouse(MM) degrees as a negative consequence of universities DD their courses to meet "the needs of the market".   MM degrees are degrees conferred for studies in a field of endeavour where the content is perhaps not as intellectually rigorous as one would expect, and where the degree, itself, may not have huge relevance in the labour market.  Thus, a university degree of slight intellectual substance, which the student earned by "simply stacking up numbers on MM courses, is not acceptable". For more on global university attendance go to: http://www.economistinsights.com/leadership-talent-innovation/analysis/higher-education-21st-century/casestudies

Part 1.1:

Clive James was for me a model as I started to write about popular culture. The secret of James's mixed style is its pitch between the vernacular and the mandarin and, indeed, between the funny & the serious. "Cracking wise" is precisely right: the ridiculous is in the service of the sublime. Every literary period and its serious writers and writings harbours within it traces of the popular culture of the age.  As my own serious writing evolved by sensible and insensible degrees from the 1950s and 1960s, through to the 2000s and 2010s, my writing about popular culture directly, & by traces, increased with the years.

As of This Writing, one of the 31 books written by Clive James, contains 48 essays on poetry, fiction, culture, criticism, film, and photography. He wrote on: Primo Levi, Casanova, Mailer on Marilyn and her "snuggle-pie sexuality," romance writer Judith Krantz ("A Blizzard of Tiny Kisses"), Bertrand Russell, and Fellini. The mix of high and low, of triumphant achievement and stunning weakness, is one of the things James at his best discerns and celebrates as a vital sign, a necessary element in the flow of a living culture.

Part 2:

There were two celebrated obscenity trials, one in Australia in 1964, the other in the United Kingdom in 1971. They revolved around an underground alternative magazine by the name of OZ. It was first published in Sydney, Australia, in 1963; a second version appeared in London, England from 1967 & is better known.  James wrote: "It was never a case of two worlds colliding; it was the one world, hiccupping on a breath of fresh air."  This
is the Jamesian sentence at its best: a pearl of wisdom disguised in other forms. Style, as James writes in The Meaning of Recognition, is "a brain and a spine, not just a skin".  Style is the physiognomy of the soul.  James's style reveals a way of thinking about literature, the world it represents, and that is open to all while being second to none. And so...with Clive James modeling for me as he heads through his mid-70s, & as I head through my early 70s, I submit this webpage on popular culture for the reading pleasure of those who chance upon my website. Readers who know nothing of Clive James might like to go to this link for some bio-data:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clive_James

Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts was published in 2007. At 900 pages, it took James thirty-seven years of reading and three years to write, as he says. He finally realized that "if it were going to be true to the pattern of my experience," it would "have no pattern." Each of its 107 chapters springs from a quote, or a few quotes, that James copied down or underlined in books by figures whom he admires or loathes. There "could be no scheme. There could only be a linear cluster of nodal points, working the way the mind, or at any rate my mind, such as it is, works as it moves through time," he writes. "Far from a single argument, there would be scores of arguments. I wanted to write about history, philosophy, politics & the arts all at once." I quote from Clive James here because so much of my writing about popular culture has some of the MO of Clive James, if not his erudition and wonderful writing talents.

GLOBAL CRISES AND POPULAR CULTURE

Global crises, the various forms of global terror and violence, as well as much of the tempest that afflicts humanity hardly have a place in popular culture. The following paragraph strikes this note. The “knowledge-ignorance paradox” is a term used to express the fact that the massive growth of specialized knowledge in the physical & biological sciences as well as the applied & social sciences is accompanied by a simultaneous increase in ignorance of these vast fields of scientific knowledge on the part of a mass popular culture. This is due to a number of complex factors including: personal roles & psychological motivations, institutional decision-making processes & a burgeoning public culture, as well as aspects of science and technology that are each & all involved in creating and establishing this state of massive public ignorance. This paradox can be described and expressed in all sorts of ways. One such way is by means of a sociological model that illustrates how our knowledge society, our information society, militates against the acquisition of scientific knowledge by the mass of the public.

It is this widespread scientific illiteracy that underpins the fact that climate change has failed to arose massive public concern.  In the world of popular culture the concern for climate change hardly exists &, when it does exist, it is drowned-out by popular culture's emphasis on humour and entertainment, fun and fashion, indeed, a cacophany of forms of music and meanings, trivia and trifles. The global concern for nuclear war has also suffered a similar fate lost as that concern is in the mushrooming, bursting world of popular culture.  These global crises exist in the context of a staggering sociological and psychological, historical and economic complexity. The following talk by Noam Chomsky: "The Emerging New World Order, its roots, our legacy" given in 2015: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ccNt4Dzyfg illustrates only a few aspects of this political, historical, complexity.

POPULAR CULTURE: DEFINED AND DESCRIBED

Part 1:

Popular culture is an expression of a country’s distinctive traditions, history, and language, as well as its current social, economic, and political systems and its degree of technological development. How events, institutions, and artists/performers shape popular culture and how in turn popular culture shapes the lives & identities of cultural consumers is a complex reality that defines much of contemporary life. Globalization,
multiculturalism, and diversity provide additional lenses through which to think about popular culture. Does American popular culture support a bland collection of homogenous Americans living uniform lives in gray suburbs or a rich cacophony of cultural voices that clash, “crash,” and co-mingle along lines of race, ethnicity, class, religion, and sexual orientation? To what extent do forms of popular culture express and inculcate dominant social values and support existing institutions? To what extent can popular culture provide a means for challenging such values and institutions? The degree to which the United States and other nations export their cultures produces new sources of cultural tension, resistance, and creativity. During 2009-2010, The Clarke Forum will explore these issues in a number of different contexts and from a variety of different perspectives. Go to this link for more: http://clarke.dickinson.edu/category/themes/theme_popular-culture/

Popular culture, sometimes referred to as 'pop culture', is the totality of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, images & other phenomena that are deemed preferred in an informal consensus within the mainstream of a given culture.  This is especially true, & for my purposes, at my website.  In Western culture of the early-to-mid 20th century, and the emerging global mainstream of the late 20th-and-early-21st centuries millions, indeed, billions, gradually became heavily influenced by a mass print and electronic media.  This collection of ideas at the core of pop-culture, popular culture, or populist culture, permeates the everyday lives of the members of a mass society.  'Mass society' is any society of the modern era that possesses a mass culture and large-scale, impersonal, social institutions. A mass society is a society in which prosperity and bureaucracy have weakened traditional social ties." Descriptions of society as a "mass" took form in the 19th century, referring to the leveling tendencies in the period of the Industrial Revolution that undermined traditional and aristocratic values. For more on this concept of a mass society go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_society

Part 2:

The term "popular culture", itself, is also of 19th century coinage.  In its original use it referred to the education and "culturedness" of the lower classes. The term was first used, as far as I know, in an address at the Birmingham Town Hall in England.[1]  The term began to assume the meaning of a culture of the lower classes separate from, & opposed to, "true education" towards the end of that 19th century.[2] This usage became established during the antebellum period, that is, the years
before the war, before the Civil War.  It referred, then, specifically to the period in US history before the Civil War(1861-1864), and after the War of 1812, that is, the years 1815-1861. The current meaning of the term, culture for mass consumption, originated especially in the United States.  It was fully established by the end of World War II when I was just one year old. The abbreviated form "pop culture" dates to the 1960s when I was bringing my adolescent & childhood enthusiasms for sport & for an endless seeking of fun and various forms of self-indulgence, so characteristic of youthfulness, to an end. It was then that I had just become a member of the Baha'i Faith, when I was in my four years of university and, finally, when I was in the first years of my marriage and the beginning of my career as a teacher and tutor, lecturer and adult educator.
--------------------------------------FOOTNOTES-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

1. See 1.1 Adam Siljeström, The educational institutions of the United States: their character and organization;  1.2 J. Chapman, "Influence of European emigration on the state of civilization in the United States: statistics of popular culture in America," 1853, p.243; and 1.3 John Morley presented an address on popular culture at the town hall of Birmingham in 1876 dealing with the education of the lower classes.
2.  The sentence: "Learning is dishonored when she stoops to attract," was cited in a section "Popular Culture and True Education" in University extension, The American society for the extension of university teaching, 1894. For a useful discussion of this topic go to A.J. P. Taylor's Essays in English History, Penguin Books, 1976(1950), pp.49-54.
3. Gloria Steinem, 'Outs of pop culture', LIFE magazine, 20 August 1965, p. 73.


ENTERTAINMENT

Part 1:

Entertainment is a form of activity that holds the attention and interest of an audience, or gives pleasure and delight. It can be an idea or a task, but is more likely to be one of the activities or events that have developed over thousands of years specifically for the purpose of keeping an audience's attention. It is at the very centre of popular culture. Although people's attention is held by an infinite number of things, because individuals have all sorts of different preferences in entertainment, most forms are recognisable and familiar. Storytelling, music, drama, dance, & different kinds of performance exist in all cultures. Historically, they were supported in royal courts, developed into sophisticated forms & over time became available to all citizens.The process has been accelerated in modern times by an entertainment industry which records and sells entertainment products.

Entertainment evolves and can be adapted to suit any scale, ranging from an individual who chooses a private entertainment from a now enormous array of pre-recorded products; to a banquet adapted for 2; to any size or type of party, with appropriate music & dance; to performances intended for thousands and even for a global audience. For more of a general introduction to this topic go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Entertainment

Part 2:

There have been a host of entertainers throughout history and I leave it to readers with the interest to do their own Googling on the subject. Richard Zoglin, a longtime editor and writer for Time, tells the story of the famous entertainer Bob Hope.  This biography in authoritative detail is found in his new book: Hope: Entertainer of the Century(Simon and Schuster, 600 pages). Frank Rich who reviewed the book for The New York Review of Books(19/3/'15) writes as follows: "Zoglin's real mission is to explain and to counter the collapse of Hope’s cultural status, a decline that began well before his death & accelerated posthumously. The book is not a hagiography, however. While Zoglin seems to have received unstinting cooperation from the keepers of Hope’s flame, including his eldest daughter, Linda, he did so without strings of editorial approval attached. Hope’s compulsive womanizing, which spanned most of his 69 year marriage to the former nightclub singer Dolores Reade (who died at 102, in 2011), is addressed unblinkingly. And with good reason; it was no joke. At least three of his longer-term companions, including the film noir femme fatale Barbara Payton & a Miss World named Rosemarie Frankland whom Hope first met when she was eighteen and he was fifty-eight, died of drug or alcohol abuse." For more go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/mar/19/how-bob-hope-captured-america/?insrc=toc ...Bob Hope, of course, is just one of 100s of entertainers whom enthusiasts of pop culture in general, and entertainment in particular, can read about ad nauseam, and ad infinitum.

JOURNAL OF COMMUNICATION AND CULTURAL STUDIES

The Catalan Journal of Communication and Cultural Studies (CJCS) is committed to publishing research and theoretical articles in the fields of media studies, popular culture and cinema, public relations and advertising studies, social communication, new media, language uses in the media, communication and cultural policies, social and national identities, gender studies, sports and leisure, tourism and heritage, among other related issues. CJCS publishes double blind peer-reviewed articles and its aims and scope cover not only Catalan media and cultural systems but also other social contexts. To access dozens of articles go to: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/intellect/cjcs/2015/00000007/00000001#ex

VIDEO GAMES

Part 1:

A video game is an electronic game that involves human interaction with a user interfaceto generate visual feedback on a video devicesuch as a TV screen or computer monitor. The word video in video game traditionally referred to a raster display device,[1] but it now implies any type of display device that can produce two- or three-dimensional images. The electronic systems used to play video games are known as platforms; examples of these are personal computers and video game consoles. These platforms range from largemainframe computers to small handheld computing devices. Specialized video games such asarcade games, while common in the 1980s, have gradually declined in use due to the widespread availability of home video game devices (e.g.,PlayStation 4 and Xbox One) and video games on desktop and laptop computers and smartphones. For more go to:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_game

Part 2:

'Video Games:The Secret Life' by Gabriel Winslow-Yost in The New York Review of Books(8/10/15) is a review of: (i) Gamelife: A Memoir by Michael W. Clune(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 210 pages); and (ii) God in the Machine: Video Games as Spiritual Pursuit by Liel Leibovitz(Templeton, 150 pages). The review begins: The slightly ungainly title of Michael Clune’s new book, Gamelife, gives an indication of what an unusual cross-breed it is: at once an affecting memoir of a lonely midwestern childhood in the 1980s and an argumentative essay on how video games work and what they can mean. It is brief and passionate, driven by the conviction that its subject matter is both essential and too often overlooked. “When it comes to probing questions about their intimate life as computer-game players,” he writes near the end, in what amounts to a kind of backdoor manifesto, “most people don’t have much to say…. Society has convinced them that computer games are a trivial pastime and there’s no reason to think about them.” It contines:

"The crucial word there is “intimate.” Video games have become immensely popular and lucrative—155 million Americans play them, according to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), spending over $22 billion a year, as compared to $10.4 billion on movie tickets—and are often written about as a business phenomenon or societal issue. But they are of course not experienced in anything like those terms; they intertwine with the daily lives of those who play them in all sorts of ways. A commuter may poke through a few minutes of the puzzle game Candy Crush Saga on her cell phone every evening after work, idly shifting a random assortment of colored shapes into matching lines with her mind still half on the workday. A teenager may play Bloodborneon a console all night in her room, entirely absorbed in its complex simulated combat and dreamlike environments." For more go to:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/oct/08/video-games-secret-life/ and 


FASHION: CLOTHES

As London Fashion Week approaches in September 2015, the owners of the following link contemplate the role of fashion and the meaning of style. A key function of clothes is to show that one belongs to a particular tribe. They let others know who we think we are, what we admire and what we consider important. Fashion is a popular style or practice, especially inclothing, footwear, accessories, makeup, body piercing, or furniture. Fashion is a distinctive and often habitual trend in the style in which a person dresses. It is the prevailing styles in behaviour and the newest creations of textile designers. Because the more technical term costume is regularly linked to the term "fashion", the use of the former has been relegated to special senses like fancy dress ormasquerade wear, while "fashion" generally means clothing, including the study of it. Although aspects of fashion can be feminine or masculine, some trends areandrogynous. For more go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fashion
and http://www.theschooloflife.com/shop/fashion/?utm_source=The+School+of+Life+Mailing+List&utm_campaign=39f4e62787-Philosophers_Uniform_9_8_2015&utm_




THE HUMANITIES: AN OVERVIEW

Popular culture is now studied as part of the humanities, academic disciplines that study human culture. The humanities use methods that are primarily critical, or speculative, and have a significant historical element—as distinguished from the mainly empirical approaches of the natural sciences.  The humanities include ancient and modern languages, literature, philosophy, religion, and the visual and performing arts such as music & theatre. The humanities that are also sometimes regarded as social sciences include: history, anthropology, area studies, communication studies, cultural studies, law and linguistics. For more of this general overview of the humanities go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humanities This website has separate sub-sections on several of these humanities & these several popular culture webpages deal with but one of these humanities, entitled popular culture. Readers with the interest in one or more of the several humanities subjects I deal with can access them by clicking-on the subject headings found at the top of this page.

LIFE'S SIMPLE PLEASURES

Pleasure describes the broad class of mental states that humans and other animals experience as positive, enjoyable, or worth seeking. It includes more specific mental states such as: happiness, entertainment, enjoyment, ecstasy, and euphoria. In psychology, the pleasure principle describes pleasure as a positive feedback mechanism, motivating the organism to recreate in the future the situation which it has just found pleasurable. According to this theory, organisms are similarly motivated to avoid situations that have caused pain in the past. For more go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pleasure  The internet now has all sorts of sites which suggest you take the time to bring a little perspective back to what is often a needlessly tense, but preciously brief, lives. Brought to you by: http://www.theschooloflife.com Go to this link for some simple pleasures in life: https://www.youtube.com/user/SimpleLittlePleasues and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2q0enNEkCc

POPULAR CULTURE, ACADEMIA and ICONS

Part 1:

In her 1999 book Popular Culture: An Introduction, Carla Freccero describes what she believes will happen to academia if popular culture continues to be “a degraded cultural form in the minds of liberal educators and students.” Liberal arts education will become an anachronism, as it is already accused of being, by focusing exclusively on forms of cultural production that are not widely shared in public culture. In my 30 years of teaching in post-secondary education in Australia(1974-2004), my half a dozen years among students from 12 to 18(1969-1974), and my 10 years teaching and posting, learning and studying, in cyberspace(2005-2015)--a total of nearly half a century--I became more and more aware that the potential of the liberal arts education I was dispensing, and still now dispense, is relevant only to a coterie.  

During the decades, the half century from 1965 to 2015, of my various means, formal and informal, of involvement in the education of adults,  I have become increasingly aware of: (i) the fracturing of the marketplace and (ii) the preference of many for entertainment & infotainment, over education and edification. Our society is a pluralist one in more ways than one.  I realized by the late 1960s that, if I was to have any success as a teacher and educator, a lecturer and adult educator, I needed to be both intellectually stimulating on the one hand, and entertaining on the other.  By 1972 when I taught high school in South Australia, this approach, this philosophy of teaching and learning, came to be at the centre of my modus operandi, my MO, as they say in the who-dun-its.

Part 1.1:

Any media market, broadcast market, media region, designated market area, television market area, indeed, any region where the population can receive the same, or similar, television & radio station offerings is now highly fractured. This market may also include all sorts of types of media including: magazines and newspapers as well as a myriad Internet locations from Facebook and MySpace to some 1 billion internet sites for some 3 billion internet users.  All, or some, of these print & electronic media can coincide or overlap with 1 or more metropolitan areas. Rural regions, with few significant population centers, are often designated as separate markets, but the fracturing of these markets still applies to them. This fractured media-space is part-and-parcel of the landscape of virtually all advanced and developed societies. Of course, this subject is very complex & highly nuanced; this part of my website makes no attempt at a sophisticated description and analysis of this subject.

New media marketing(NMM) is a relatively new concept used by businesses in developing a real-space or online community.  NMM allows satisfied customers to congregate & extol the virtues of a particular brand or group, party or policy, website or person.  In most cases, the online community includes mechanisms such as: blogs and podcasts, message boards & product reviews, Wikipedia & social networks, inter alia. All of these media-mediums contribute to a quite transparent and versatile forum where people can post: praises and criticisms, questions & suggestions, comments or invitations. I utilize this NMM as part of my literary business plan, part of the promotion of my writing in cyberspace. There are several thrusts to my marketing plan, some of which I refer to in this sub-section of my website, and some of which can be found by readers in the "print and media" sub-sections of this my website at: http://www.ronpriceepoch.com/PRINT.html

Part 1.2:

The domain of popular culture, the pervasive entity that it now is for millions, passes as fact into & through the minds & hearts of the individuals in mass society. One can argue that this arena of everyday life, of popular culture, is rarely used for argument, debate, & analysis. One can also argue a quite opposite point of view, namely, that just about any aspect of popular culture now has such a wealth of information, discussion and analysis available. One result of this polarity, this contradiction in terms, is that the average person, Everyman, makes no attempt to get an overview of the total package.  He or she is just too busy with their daily lives, and their areas of special interest that the great print & image glut washes over them on a daily basis like a large waterfall.

Everyman focuses on their areas of special interest in this immensely fractured print and electronic media space. Very few, except some students and some academics, analyse this popular culture in any serious and sophisticated, comprehensive and systematic, way.  The many journals and websites, books and blogs that produce an informed and analytical base for analysis are the preserve of a coterie; the great mass society, mass of society, is rarely engaged in the relevant social sciences that deal with popular culture: sociology and psychology, history & media studies, as well as philosophy among several other disciplines. And one can not blame them. The subject & the issues raised are enough to keep the pundits busy into perpetuity.

Part 1.3:

Popular culture has become increasingly, as the decades of the last half-century have advanced, and especially since the internet has taken-off in this 21st century, an arena of technocratic competence where the focus is on how to manipulate or manage its content, but not analyze & interpret it, at least not by reading what scholars write about it. In this immensely fractured market, the most popular material seems, for the most part, to be the most trivial. Facebook and Twitter and a host of websites which attract the great numbers of hits lack what one could call "serious discussion."

Carla Freccero is just one writer who takes this popular, this populist, culture seriously. She gives students of this aspect of our modern world valuable insights.  This seductive and unanalysed popular culture is at the centre of her writing and study.  She is Professor and Chair of Literature and History of Consciousness, and Professor of Feminist Studies at the University of California Santa Cruz(UCSC).  UC Santa Cruz is ranked 2nd in the USA. It is a public university like no other in California, combining the intimacy of a small, liberal arts college with the depth and rigor of a major research university. Freccero has taught at UCSC since 1991. Her books include Father Figures (Cornell,1991); Popular Culture (NYU, 1999); and Queer/Early/Modern (Duke, 2006).  She co-edited Premodern Sexualities (Routledge, 1996). Her current book project, on nonhuman animals and figuration, is Animate Figures. In 2010 she won the Critical Animal Studies Faculty Paper of the Year. Her fields include early modern European literature and history; critical theory; feminist and queer theories; popular culture and cultural studies; psychoanalysis and animal studies.


Part 1.4:

The theoretical and practical quandary which I have described briefly above is implicit in the somewhat apocalyptic fear that Freccero voices. It is a very familiar one to academic critics of popular culture, as it was familar to me for at least a quarter of a century when I was a teacher and lecturer. This fear, this concern, is now coming to be louder & stronger as the internet has burgeoned into popularity in the last 15 years or so. The problem Freccero describes and discusses in detail is built into the institutional condition of academic cultural studies in particular, & liberal arts education, generally.  In order to analyze what Freccero calls the most central, the most “widely shared” culture, the critic must devote his or her attention to precisely those cultural objects which are part & parcel of popular culture. It is those cultural objects whose technocratically competent producers have already demonstrated a prolific & disheartening ability to “manipulate and manage”.  In the process, hundreds of millions of people are getting immersed in trivia.


Part 1.4.1:

This ability of popular culture producers is only 'disheartening', though, to the dispensers of cultural criticism, and perhaps a small part of the great mass of society which has developed a cynical, a skeptical, a pessimistic, take on our modern world. The producers of that popular culture manipulate and manage aspects of popular culture in such a way so as to make that culture “pass as fact”, "enjoyed as pleasure", and "titillate the senses." It is, for the most part, unanalysed and taken as part of the air people breath. These producers both entertain and inform as they manipulate and manage.  Confronted with popular culture's mainstream, the critic’s usual tools are hardly effective in throwing light on this pervasive and seductive phenomenon. This sub-section of my website tries to do just that: throw some light on popular culture. It is an olympian task, but it is a task I have set myself to work on in the last several years since going on an old-age pension in 2009 at the age of 65.  In the years ahead, as I go through my 70s from 2014 to 2024, and old-age(80+), I shall return to this part of my website many times as this popular culture increases its strangle-hold over the minds and hearts of billions, and as I try to grapple with the many interrelated issues that the field of popular culture raises to the serious student of man and society, and of the global civilization we are all entering at the speed of light.

The reason the job of the critic of popular culture has such a difficult job is because, by definition, the mainstream center of popular culture is occupied by objects and images that have been, and are now, wholly consumable by the culture at large in a sort-of taken-forgranted-ness. This mainstream centre is part and parcel of the very air people breath.  These objects and images entertain and distract, delight and capture, charm and tickle, titillate and grab the emotions and feelings, imaginations and minds of a great mass of humanity. They are, de facto, in many ways beyond “argument, debate, and analysis.” The most extreme mainstream culture is, virtually by definition, simultaneously the most representative of “the popular” itself, and the least vulnerable to analysis and attack by academic theory and criticism. 


Part 2:

Under the circumstances I have described above, the “apocalyptic” tone of Freccero’s statements starts to look less like a prediction and more like a simple, a rhetorical flourish.  Her writing, I would argue, is tethered by mere convention to an older academic language and set of concerns. It is a language, a medium of analysis and discourse, that the great mass of society is simply not attracted to.  In the face of the extreme administration of the popular mainstream, the tone and content of Freccero's work seems to me, at best, as an anachronistic residue from the old days of the literary scholar.  At its worst, her work is just a symptom of the irrelevance of academic cultural theory and the towers of analysis and articles, books and journals that are spewed-out of the myriad word-factories.  My website is also, in some ways, just part and parcel of these word factories that have spread their tentacles across cybperspace. 

How, then, do we read the import of Freccero’s prophesy, the threat to which she gives voice?  How ought we to deal with the fact that, for the most part, neither the producer nor the consumer of mainstream culture feels any of the “threat” Freccero describes?  The notion of mainstream culture as something threatening because of the utter triviality and spiritual & psychological emptiness of so much of its content. In some ways, Freccero's writing is just a sign of the increasingly vast gulf between the cultural critic’s intentions, and those of the aforementioned producers & consumers. The producers and consumers of popular culture are most consummately non-threatening and not threatened.  They have grabbed the market by the jugular, & are aiming to keep that market as close as they can, bringing in the dollars as they travel the interstices of cyberspace.They are part of what you might call, and which I refer to above as, "a vast taken-for-grantedness."  What kind of a counter-threat is the cultural critic or theorist really able to impose in such a milieux? I would think "very little."

Part 2.1:

To chose but one example of a pervasive advertising grab for peoples' hearts and minds, I site part of an article which readers can access below. "American, indeed, western, fantasies of upward and outward mobility, of endless space, of vast and remote landscapes, and of possessive, libertarian-style individualism," the article begins, "are all closely linked to the automobile. Only a few decades ago, no American automobile was more desirable or iconic than a compact sports convertible with a powerful engine. Designed to rival European sports cars like the Porsche James Dean died in, the Ford Thunderbird, first manufactured in 1954, deliberately evoked the American continent—prairies, canyons, Native Americans. The T-bird convertible became the ideal automobile for that quintessentially American genre, the road movie.  As late as 1991 it was the vehicle driven by Thelma and Louise in their flight to Mexico."

"In the first decade of the new century, the West is still where many television ads are filmed," so the author contines, "and the open road is still an American fantasy, but the popularity of the compact sports car has given way to that of the “light truck,” a category that includes the SUV, the minivan, and the pick-up truck. It is therefore not surprising that the culture industry has abandoned the muscle car for what some websites have dubbed the “extreme machine.” This article is written for an American market, but readers here can easily transpose the points made to their own national and media culture. For an extended analysis of popular culture and its fantasies, the print and electronic media and their productions, readers can now access a vast literature. They can start by going to: http://www.uiowa.edu/~ijcs/mainstream/mainfe1.htm 

Having been involved in teaching about, and studying, popular culture for nearly half a century, I am more than a little aware of: (i) the complexity of the subject I am discussing here, (ii) the massive quantity of analysis now available, indeed, an avalanche of journals & magazines, literature & websites, as well as refined & systematic commentary from the social sciences and humanities, & (iii) the immersion of billions now in a pervasive, an engulfing medium. Like the waters of the Earth, the oceans and the seas, the rivers and the lakes, which cover vast parts of the surface, of the face, of the planet, popular culture covers the lives of billions of human beings who are swimming in its wordy waters. For most there is little study of, little understanding of, little wide-angled views, of the overall content and the effects of popular culture on the masses of humanity. For more on this subject you can go to an excellent overview of "the culture industry" at:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_industry as well as this link:
http://www.uiowa.edu/~ijcs/mainstream/mainint.htm 


OUR DAILY LIFE AND POPULAR CULTURE

Section 1:

I remember back in the 1960s Firuz Kazemzadeh(b.1924), a professor emeritus of history at Yale University saying that in one's life 99% of what we do, what we think about and how we act is as a result of the culture in which we are born and raised, in which we are immersed on a daily basis during our adult life. A very small 1% is a result of some independence and freedom from the cake of custom and culture, the generality of cultural beliefs and the identity we are socialized into as a result.  Kazemzadeh sounded, at least in making this statement, somewhat like B. F. Skinner(1904-1990), the American psychologist, behaviorist, author, inventor, and social philosopher. Skinner was the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University from 1958 until his retirement in 1974.

Skinner invented the operant conditioning chamber, also known as the Skinner Box. He was a firm believer of the idea that human free will was actually an illusion and any human action was the result of the consequences of that same action. If the consequences were bad, there was a high chance that the action would not be repeated; however if the consequences were good, the actions that led to it would be reinforced. He called this the principle of reinforcement. For more on Skinner go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._F._Skinner

Section 2:

Even if Kazemzadeh and Skinner are only partly right, the implications of this line of thinking are staggering. Firuz Kazemzadeh was born in Moscow where his father served in the embassy of Iran.  After completing his primary & secondary education in Moscow, he moved to the USA in 1944 & entered Stanford University, graduating with distinction in 1946 & obtaining an MA in 1947. In 1950 Kazemzadeh received a Ph.D. in Russian history from Harvard University. Kazemzadeh taught at Harvard in 1954-1956, then moved to Yale where he was professor of history until his retirement as professor emeritus in 1992.

He is the author and co-author of a number of books on the history of Russia and Iran, as well as numerous articles and reviews for authoritative scholarly publications. Between May 15, 1998 and May 14, 2003, Kazemzadeh served as a Commissioner on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, first appointed to this position in 1998 by President Bill Clinton, and in 2001, reappointed by US Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle. Kazemzadeh is an adherent of the Bahá'í Faith and, from 1963 to 2000, served as a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States. For more on this prominent academic go to:https://www.google.com.au/#q=Firuz+Kazemzadeh

SPORT VIOLENCE AND POPULAR CULTURE

Part 1:

"The Damage to NFL Players" is a letter in response to an article in The New York Review of Books entitled: The Super Bowl: The Horror & the Glory (March 5, 2015). You can access both the letter and the article at: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/mar/05/super-bowl-horror-glory/ The article is by Nathaniel Rich(b.1980-) an American novelist and essayist. He is the author of the 2013 novel, Odds Against Tomorrow, the 2008 novel, The Mayor's Tongue and the 2005 non-fiction book, San Francisco Noir: The City in Film Noir from 1940 to the Present. Rich has written essays and criticism for The New York Review of Books, Vanity Fair, The New York Times Magazine, Harper's Magazine, Rolling Stone, and Slate.

The following books were reviewed in the London Review of Books by Edmund Leach: (i) The Anthropology of Violence edited by David Riches
(Blackwell, 350 pages, 1986); (ii) Quest for Excitement: Sport and Leisure in the Civilising Process by Norbert Elias and Eric Dunning(Blackwell, 300 pages, 1986); (iii) Sport, Power and Culture: A Social and Historical Analysis of Popular Sports in Britain by John Hargreaves(Polity, 250 pages, 1986), and (iv) At the Dawn of Tyranny: The Origins of Individualism, Political Oppression and the State by Eli Sagan(Faber, 400 pages, 1986). For this review go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v08/n18/edmund-leach/violence

Part of the review goes as follows: Mainly on the strength of a two-volume work published in 1938 (Uber den Prozess der Zivilisation), there is a cadre of Dutch and German academics who consider that Norbert Elias was the greatest living sociologist. In 1930 Elias was the sociologist Karl Mannheim’s assistant at Frankfurt. Elias subsequently held posts in Paris, London, Leicester and Ghana &, finally, at Bielefeld. His very Germanic, 19th-century ideas of long-term social progress never caught on in Britain, however. An English version of Volume One of Elias's Civilizing Process was published in 1978 under the title: The Civilising Process: The History of Manners. Volume Two, with the title The Dynamics of the State, was promised for the autumn of 1979; it finally appeared in 1982 with the title State Formation and Civilisation.

Part 2:

The above book, Quest For Excitement, is a collection of previously published essays, the English versions of which are mostly post-1966, though much of the argument seems to belong to a much earlier period. Three are by Elias alone; four claim a joint authorship, Elias/Dunning; five are by Dunning, though in one of these he had collaborators. The same team is responsible for an essay in the Riches volume which is almost identical in content, though the words are different and it carries a different title. Norbert Elias(1897-1990) was a German sociologist of Jewish descent, who later became a British citizen. He is especially famous for his theory of civilizing (and decivilizing) processes. For more on Elias go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norbert_Elias

Part 2.1:

In July 1999 I was about to take a sea-change, and an early retirement at the age of 55 after a 50 year student-and-paid-employment life, 1949 to 1999. Edward Said wrote a delightful review that month in the London Review of Books(Vol. 21 No. 13, 1 July 1999). The review had the title: "John McEnroe plus Anyone," and it was a review of The Right Set: The Faber Book of Tennis edited by Caryl Phillips(Faber, 350 pages, June 1999). Said began as follows: "Of the several sports that have turned almost completely professional during the past three decades," I might have added if I had written this piece, 'in the 3 decades since I began my professional career as a teacher and tutor, among others roles in the educational apparatus', "tennis deserves a place of honour." Said went on:  "This place of honour is found especially in what Christopher Lasch called the culture of narcissism." Edward Wadie Said(1935-2003) was an American literary theorist and public intellectual who helped found the critical-theory field of postcolonialism. Said continued as follows:

"A sport of skilful, well-mannered ladies and gentlemen has metamorphosed into a brutal confrontation between often unpleasant, physically overdeveloped and remorselessly single-minded hitters, which is controlled by agents, TV networks, tournament bosses, sports equipment conglomerates, automobile and, until recently, cigarette companies. At the same time, an ever-increasing number of former non-tennis countries, besides having the de rigueur national airline and lavish arms procurement agencies, today put on at least one international tournament a year. There are now Qatar and Dubai Opens, to say nothing of counterparts in Tashkent and Conakry. Along with the Grand Slam Big Four: Wimbledon, Sydney, Paris, New York, and the national tournaments, a complex web of satellite tournaments keeps the sizable corps of men and women pros, plus – in the case of top players – retinues that include trainer, coach, psychologist, lover and bodyguard, in business for 52 money-earning weeks a year." For a companion piece on competitive sport go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n21/benjamin-markovits/success...For more of Said's essay go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v21/n13/edward-said/john-mcenroe-plus-anyone

Part 2.2:

Sport, or sports, involve all forms of usually competitive physical activity which, through casual or organised participation, aim to use, maintain or improve physical ability and skills while providing entertainment to participants, & in some cases, spectators. Hundreds of sports exist, from those requiring only two participants, through to those with hundreds of simultaneous participants, either in teams or competing as individuals. For a useful overview on the subject go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sport

Part 2.3:

For a review of Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan(Penguin, 450 pages) go to:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives  “The close, painstaking study of a tiny patch of coast, every eddy and angle, even down to individual rocks, and in every combination of tide and wind and swell…is the basic occupation of surfers at their local break,” Finnegan writes in Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life. Surfers, like children, naturally develop sensory affinity for their surroundings: they can detect minor changes in the smell of the sea, track daily the rise and fall of sandbars, are grateful for particularly sturdy roots onto which they can grab when scurrying down bluffs. The environment becomes an almost anatomical extension of them, mostly because it has to.


Part 2.4

When Greek men and boys journeyed to Olympia to compete in the great panhellenic festival that honored Zeus, when Greek girls ran races at the same site in honor of Hera, both participants and spectators seem to have understood that athletic bodies, observed in motion or at rest, can be sexually attractive. Most of the ancients acknowledged and celebrated the erotic element in sports. In modern times that same element has been feared, deprecated, and denied. Indeed, it has been customary to deplore rather than to affirm sports' sensuality and their ability to entice, excite, and sexually arouse participants and spectators alike. In the Victorian era, a number of medical experts complained that the craze for the newly invented bicycle was a thinly disguised desire for the illicit pleasures of masturbation. It was charged that the bicycle seat induced "priapism."  The presidents of evangelical colleges warned ominously that football games were orgiastic affairs more fit for pagan haunts than the groves of academe. In 1892, the Wesleyan Christian Advocate complained that the violent game unleashed "the lower impulses of the physical man" and allowed young males to "find their pleasure in mere sensual energy." For more of this essay 'Sports, Eros and Popular Culture' in the Stanford Humanities Review(Vol.6.2, 1995) go to: http://web.stanford.edu/group/SHR/6-2/html/guttmann.html

Part 2.5:

The Catalan Journal of Communication & Cultural Studies, Volume 6, Number 2, 1 October 2014 is devoted to the subject of sport. Sport is a huge global enterprise worth nearly $150 billion annually. As a result international federations and other stakeholders are keen to maintain the veneer of integrity and morality in an idealized vision of sport. The value of sport and what it means to the operation of global sports federations & associated enterprises, most notably the International Olympic Committee (IOC); The International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA); and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), is discussed. In this short viewpoint article I analyse the political economy underpinning the ‘war’ on athletes being waged at present in the name of ‘pure sport’. I argue that ‘pure sport’ and ‘level playing field’ are ideologies used to maintain the power position of major international sporting federations rather than an actual goal of these federations. For more of this article and many others go to: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/intellect/cjcs/2014/00000006/00000002


HOMOSEXUALITY, LESBIANISM TRANSVESTISM AND POPULAR CULTURE

Part 1:

There is now a vast literature on homosexuality, lesbianism and transvestism. These sexual orientations have moved into popular culture in the last several decades, sensibly and insensibly. Some of the history and psychology, laws and politics, sociology and discrimination as well as definitions and suggested reading lists are found at the links in the next three paragraphs.

A lesbian is a female who expresses romantic or sexual attraction to other females, whether primarily or exclusively, or a female who self-identifies as lesbian. The term is also used as a noun, to refer to girls or women who are characterized by others as having the primary attribute of female homosexuality, or as an adjective, to describe characteristics of an object or activity related to female same-sex attraction. For more on lesbianism go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lesbian

Part 2:

Terry Castle(b.1953-) is an American literary scholar who was once described by Susan Sontag as "the most expressive, most enlightening literary critic at large today."  She has published eight books, including the anthology The Literature of Lesbianism, which won the Lambda Literary Editor's Choice Award. She writes on topics ranging from 18th-century ghost stories to World War I era lesbianism and on to the so-called "photographic fringe." Her essays appear regularly in the London Review of Books, the Atlantic, and the New Republic. The daughter of British parents, Castle was born in San Diego and lived in England and Southern California as a child. She attended the University of Puget Sound and graduated in 1975 with a B.A. in English. She went on to attend the University of Minnesota to get her Ph.D. in English. A longtime resident of San Francisco, Castle is currently Walter A. Haas Professor in the Humanities at Stanford University.

Homosexuality is a romantic attraction, sexual attraction or sexual behavior between members of the same sex or gender. As an orientation, homosexuality refers to "an enduring pattern of, or disposition to, experience sexual, affectionate, or romantic attractions" primarily or exclusively to people of the same sex. "It also refers to an individual's sense of personal and social identity based on those attractions, behaviors expressing them, and membership in a community of others who share them." For more on this subject, as well as transvestism, go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transvestism, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality

THE CULINARY IMAGINATION

Part 1:

"Seduced by the Food on Your Plate" is a review in the 18/12/'14 edition of The New York Review of Books by Patricia Storace.  Storace reviews The Culinary Imagination: From Myth to Modernity by Sandra M. Gilbert(Norton, 400 pages).  The review begins: "In the seventeenth century, as the Ming dynasty was falling, its great historian and memoirist Zhang Dai revised his grandfather Zhang Rulin’s History of Cooked Food and renamed it The Old Glutton’s Collection. In his preface, which is all that remains of this lost work, he cites many Chinese classics of gastronomy and he describes Confucius’s refined appetite and way of eating as a kind of incarnate philosophy of how to live. He justifies this presumption in editing his grandfather’s work: 'I have been blessed with the ability to distinguish between the taste of the water of the Sheng and of the Zi rivers, to tell when the flesh of the goose is that of a black or a white one, know whether the chicken has perched in the open air or when the meat has been cooked over firewood that is already worn-out….'" For more of this review go to:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/dec/18/seduced-food-your-plate/?insrc=toc


Part 2:

Nigella Lawson came to visit the School of Life in London in order to talk about the deeper meaning of food. She talked with Alain de Botton. Nigella Lucy Lawson(1960-) is an English journalist, broadcaster, television personality, gourmet, and food writer. She is the daughter of Nigel Lawson, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Vanessa Lawson, whose family owned the J. Lyons and Co. food and catering business. After graduating from Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University, Lawson started work as a book reviewer and restaurant critic, later becoming the deputy literary editor of The Sunday Times in 1986. She then embarked upon a career as a freelance journalist, writing for a number of newspapers & magazines. In 1998, she brought out her first cookery book, How to Eat, which sold 300,000 copies and became a best-seller. She wrote her 2nd book in 2000, How to Be a Domestic Goddess, which won her the British Book Award for Author of the Year. For an interview with Lawson go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MBAGXkr4400&feature=em-subs_digest For more on this successful writer go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigella_Lawson

Part 3:

In the following audio-tape "Death of the Dinner Party" readers can access a discussion of the formal dinner party. Is it a thing of the past?  Social researcher & commentator Dr Rebecca Huntley joins 'reformed' dinner party host Susan Maushart to chew the fat on how our culinary entertaining habits are evolving. Maushart is the brains behind the ABCTV's programs "The Sinking Ships of Culture."  They discuss the pros and cons of the formal dinner party and how our entertaining habits have changed. Go to this link: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/blueprintforliving/dinner-parties/6445806

Part 4:

As the name suggests, the humanities is largely a study of the human condition, in which history sits as a discipline concerned with the past. Environmental history is a new field that brings together scholars from a range of disciplines to consider the changing relationships between humans and the environment over time. Critiques of anthropocentrism that place humans at the centre of the universe or make assessments through an exclusive human perspective provide a challenge to scholars to rethink our traditional biases against the nonhuman world. The movement towards nonhumanism or posthumanism, however, does not seem to have had much of an impression on history as a discipline. What would a nonhumanist history look like if we re-centred the historical narrative around pigs?

There are histories of pigs as food (see for example, The Cambridge History of Food which has a chapter on “Hogs”). There are food histories that feature pork in terms of its relationship to multiethnic identity (such as Donna Gabaccia’s We Are What We Eat) and examples made of pigs to promote ethical eating (Singer). Pigs are central to arguments about dietary rules and what motivates them (Soler; Dolander). Ancient pig DNA has also been employed in studies on human migration and colonisation (Larson et al.; Durham University). Pigs are also widely used in a range of products that would surprise many of us. In 2008, Christien Meindertsma spent three years researching the products made from a single pig. Among some of the more unexpected results were: ammunition, medicine, photographic paper, heart valves, brakes, chewing gum, porcelain, cosmetics, cigarettes, hair conditioner and even bio diesel. Likewise, Fergus Henderson, who coined the term ‘nose to tail eating’, uses a pig on the front cover of the book of that name to suggest the extraordinary and numerous potential of pigs’ bodies. For more go to: http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/viewArticle/289


Part 5:

This issue of The Catalan Journal of Communication and Cultural Studies (CJCS) is intended as a reflection on food research dynamics at European level where the issues to be faced and the approaches to doing so are increasingly complex. The proposal at this online journal is to consider these issues and the activities within which they are embedded as a series of communicative processes.  This series of articles seeks to provide an overview of some of the intense and controversial debates around food, health and communication that open up a range of topics for research in Europe. These debates involve negotiations within and between public institutions, private organizations, a multiplicity of stakeholder groups, traditional and social media and consumers. Controversial processes of sense making span across corporate communications, social movements’ insights, and an increasingly visible and established rhetoric around individual choices and responsibilities. These processes result in a fertile and productive terrain both for food and health campaigns across Europe & an associated wide ranging research agenda. The networked era, moving beyond traditional media is thus changing & challenging organizational and institutional forms of communication. This becomes visible in the hard struggle for constituting & imposing claims about food & its meanings. For more go to: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/intellect/cjcs/2013/00000005/00000002

TOBACCO, THEN FAT and SUGAR, AND not far down the track: ALCOHOL

Before I discuss tobacco, fat, sugar and alcohol in several paragraphs below, I'll direct readers to an excellent overview of the entire subject of food and popular culture. Food is very much a part of popular culture, and the beliefs, practices, & trends in a culture affect its eating practices. Popular culture includes the ideas and objects generated by a society, including commercial, political, media, and other systems, as well as the impact of these ideas and objects on society. For a useful link at "just food" on food research go to: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?tab=wm#inbox/14739255502a2e9c For the rest of the above overview go to:http://www.diet.com/g/popular-cult

Part 1:

Popular culture is often viewed as being trivial and "dumbed down" in order to find consensual acceptance throughout the mainstream. As a result, it comes under heavy criticism from various non-mainstream sources, most notably religious groups and countercultural groups, which deem it superficial and consumerist, sensationalist and corrupted. The following three topics are clearly consumerist with sensationalism as part of the discussion that takes place in the context of popular culture. Tobacco, the fat-sugar-debate, and alcohol consumption began to occupy the attention of millions by sensible and insensible degrees from the 1960s-1970s. The story of these three items of consumer culture is far from over. Beginning in my youth and middle age, these three products of mass consumption started to occupy many spaces in the print and electronic media, the great home and landscape that is the living place, the domain, of popular culture.

Owing to the pervasive and increasingly interconnected nature of popular culture, especially its intermingling of complementary distribution sources, some cultural anthropologists, literary, and cultural critics have identified a large amount of intertextuality in popular culture's portrayals of itself. Intertextuality is the shaping of a text's meaning by another text. Intertextual figures include: allusion, quotation, calque ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calque), plagiarism, translation, pastiche and parody. An example of intertextuality is an author’s borrowing and transformation of a prior text or to a reader’s referencing of one text in reading another. 

Part 1.1:

The term “intertextuality” has, itself, been borrowed and transformed many times since it was coined by poststructuralist Julia Kristeva in 1966. Readers might like to go to the following links to place both Kristeva & post-structuralism in context: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julia_Kristeva, and  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-structuralism. As philosopher William Irwin wrote, the term “has come to have almost as many meanings as users, from those faithful to Kristeva’s original vision to those who simply use it as a stylish way of talking about allusion and influence. One commentator has suggested this self-referentiality reflects the advancing encroachment of popular culture into every realm of collective experience. "Instead of referring to the real world, much media output devotes itself to referring to other images, other narratives; self-referentiality is all-embracing, although it is rarely taken account of."

The commentary on intertextuality and its self-referential nature has itself become the subject of self-referential and recursive commentary. For more on William Irwin(b. 1970), a Professor of Philosophy at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania who is best known for originating the "philosophy and popular culture" book genre with Seinfeld and Philosophy: A Book about Everything and Nothing in 1999 and The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D'oh! of Homer in 2001 go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Irwin_(philosopher)  For more on intertextuality go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intertextuality

Many cultural critics have dismissed this as merely a symptom or side-effect of mass consumerism; however, alternate explanations and critique have also been offered. One critic asserts that it reflects a fundamental paradox: the increase in technological and cultural sophistication, combined with an increase in superficiality and dehumanization. I leave it to readers with the interest to do some Googling on the subject of popular culture and its pervasive and intrusive role in the everyday lives, now, of billions.

Part 2:

2.1 TOBACCO:

The health effects of smoking are the circumstances, mechanisms, and factors of tobacco consumption on human health. Epidemiological research has been focused primarily on cigarette tobacco smoking, which has been studied more extensively than any other form of consumption. Tobacco is the single greatest cause of preventable death globally. Tobacco use leads most commonly to diseases affecting the heart, liver and lungs, with smoking being a major risk factor for heart attacks,strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease(COPD: including emphysema and chronic bronchitis), and cancer (particularly lung cancer,cancers of the larynx and mouth, and pancreatic cancer). It also causes peripheral vascular disease and hypertension. Gradually, beginning slowly in the 1960s and 1970s, the anti-smoking campaigns became more and more effective and the battle looked like it was winning, at least in many places, by the 21st century. But the problem is global and complex as the link in the folowing paragraph illustrates in some detail.

The effects depend on the number of years that a person smokes and on how much the person smokes. Starting smoking earlier in life and smoking cigarettes higher in tar increases the risk of these diseases. Also, environmental tobacco smoke, or secondhand smoke, has been shown to cause adverse health effects in people of all ages.Cigarettes sold in underdeveloped countries tend to have higher tar content, and are less likely to be filtered, potentially increasing vulnerability to tobacco-related disease in these regions.For more on this subject go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_effects_of_tobacco

2.2 FAT

In an article entitled "Why our food is making us fat" in The Guardian on 12 June 2012, Jacques Peretti wrote that: "We are, on average, 3 stone heavier than we were in the 60s. This is not because we're eating more or exercising less; we just unwittingly became sugar addicts. In the mid-1970s an American nutritionist, called Ancel Keys, blamed fat for heart disease, while a British researcher at the University of London Professor John Yudkin, blamed sugar. For the complex relationship between these two causes of disease: fat and sugar go to this article: http://www.theguardian.com/business/2012/jun/11/why-our-food-is-making-us-fat

The association between dietary fat consumption and the risk of cancer, especially colon, breast, prostate, and ovarian cancer, has been debated for many years. Ecologic studies over the past 30 years have demonstrated the correlation of greater dietary fat intake with higher mortality due to various cancers. Migrant studies have also shown that increased fat consumption may be associated with increased risk of cancer. Specific saturated fatty acids raise blood cholesterol levels and, thereby, increase the risk of atherosclerosis. Greater fat intake is a major cause of obesity and hypertension, diabetes, and gallbladder disease. Higher fat intake may heighten the risk of breast cancer directly through increased blood estrogen levels and/or secondarily through increased obesity. The critical experimental studies to determine the effects of a low-fat diet on disease risk have not been completed, but reducing fat in the US diet has the potential to decrease morbidity and mortality substantially. From the 1950s to the 1970s, fat was considered a major risk to people's health but, gradually, sugar became the "no-no."

2.2.1 Fat and Fitness

Part 1:

I have found the following discussion complex and, in some ways, difficult to follow because of the disagreements among experts. Recent research suggests that being overweight or even obese may not, in and of itself, be the health threat we think it is.  A 2012 study from the National Cancer Institute found that moderately obese people actually lived about 3.1 years longer than normal-weight women and men. Another study, published in the European Heart Journal, showed that when obese people are metabolically healthy, which means their blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar & other indicators fall within a healthy range, they are at no greater risk of dying from heart disease or cancer than those who are of normal weight. Since I have a BMI of 32, putting me in the bottom of the lower range of obesity, I found these findings comforting.

"What the public needs to understand is that there are several different kinds of saturated fats; they have different effects on the body," said Laurie Wadsworth, associate professor in the department of human nutrition at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S.  Stearic acid is a type of saturated fat found in relatively high amounts in animal fat which includes red meat and dairy products. Wadsworth points out that stearic acid doesn’t promote plaque buildup in the arteries and doesn’t seem linked to heart disease. Still, the war on saturated fat persists and this concerns some doctors because many people have dramatically increased their consumption of refined carbohydrates, including sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, as well as Omega-6 (polyunsaturated) fatty acids, as they lowered their fat intake. The evidence supports the idea that beef and other animal fats can be part of a nutritious diet when used in moderation. I have a moderate intake of animal fat and so, again, this is comforting.

Part 2:

"What we're learning is that a body that exercises regularly is generally a healthy body, whether that body is fat or thin," says Glenn Gaesser, PhD, a professor of exercise and wellness at Arizona State University and the author of Big Fat Lies: The Truth About Your Weight and Your Health.  Case in point, the metabolically healthy participants in the European Heart Journal study were generally more physically fit than their obese peers. "The message should really be that: "if you are exercising regularly, you shouldn't necessarily be looking at the scale to determine how healthy or fit you are," Gaesser says.

There are a multitude of reasons that movement is such strong medicine. This is because muscles are the largest consumers of sugar in the body, increased muscle mass reduces the chance of excess sugar accumulating in the blood, which is essentially what diabetes is. Regular physical activity reduces inflammation in the cardiovascular system and affects the secretion of clotting hormones, allowing blood to flow more easily to muscles and preventing the formation of deadly clots. Moderate exercise (at least 150 minutes a week of medium-intensity exercise like walking) combined with diet changes can also reduce the amount of potentially deadly fat in the liver. And study after study has shown that overweight and obese people who work out can reap such benefits and improve their metabolic health even if they don't shed a pound. A TV program entitled "The Man Who Made Us Thin"(ABC1 on 12/6/'14 from 9:33 to 10:25 p.m.) explored this issue in a convincing way with the controversy surrounding the topic. I have a moderate exercise regime of over 200 minutes of walking a week, and 15 minutes of swimming/week. My metabolic health, therefore, is good.

The fat world will have to wait longer for its get-thin pills. The truth is, such pills may never come, but anyone who starts to read the following book could be forgiven for thinking we’re almost there.  Ellen Shell who writes, & teaches the writing of, science journalism in the US, has remarkable stories of fat people made thin, and she mixes these stories with smart reportage and reasonably accessible accounts of the competitive world of obesity research. In the end, however, the disparity between what the book promises and what it delivers is considerable. For a provocative article in the London Review of Books(Vol. 25 No. 15, 7 August 2003) by James Meek, a review of The Hungry Gene: The Science of Fat and the Future of Thin by Ellen Ruppel Shell(Atlantic, 300 pages, 2003 go to: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v25/n15/james-meek/trillion-dollar-disease

Part 3:

Before leaving the above world of fat, I'll quote from James Meek's review as follows:  "Shell is selling two ideas. One is that obesity is building into a grand international tragedy. Everyone from the morbidly obese to those with flabby arms and a slight waistband overhang is lumped together in one great mass of ‘casualties’ and ‘victims’. She describes obesity researchers as ‘heroes’. That Frank Shuttlesmith from Des Moines, 48 years old and with generations of comfortable forebears stretching out behind him, is a noble victim of a fearful global epidemic because he’s thick around the middle, doesn’t care to walk and enjoys extra cheese on his burgers, is an attractive proposition." She continues:

"The other idea Shell is selling is that society has been unfair to the overweight and the obese; that science tells us people are fat because they are genetically programmed to eat more. Shell presents enough intriguing evidence to suggest that this is partly true. Still, she overdoes it. The opening of the book hints that the overweight are completely at the mercy of an inner eating machine they are powerless to switch off, but that science is about to find the switch. A telling passage which seems to belong more to the inspirational world of self-help and dieting manuals than to a book concerned with scientific data informs us that ‘at the heart of the story are the people whose lives are bound by their struggle with weight. It is their stories – the eminently human ones – that are the common thread, and it is their lives that this book is meant to change.’ Maybe. But I wonder how delighted these people are going to be to reach the end of the book, only to find the author expounding on ways to get people to eat less fast food and walk more. All that hope, and it comes down to fresh fruit and vegetables, and exercise. Again. Damn!

The number of people who are dangerously obese is large and growing, & not just in the rich world. So is the number who have the lesser problem of being technically ‘overweight’. Grouping together those who are in imminent danger of multiple organ failure because they are so heavy with those who are stout is misleading. Being a few pounds overweight may increase the risk of heart disease and other nasties, but everyone has to die of something. The experience which unites all the overweight, from the massively obese to the faintly porky, may be not health problems but a loss of dignity, whether it involves the quest for food, the search for a way to become thin or submitting to the lies of the marketeers who plug both.

2.3 SUGAR  

There is now a vast sea of research suggesting that sugar is a public enemy. Science has now shown us, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that sugar in our food, in all its myriad forms, is taking a devastating toll on our health. The single largest source of calories for Americans comes from sugar—specifically high fructose corn syrup. Just take a look at the sugar consumption trends of the past 300 years:(1) In 1700, the average person consumed about 4 pounds of sugar per year; in 1800, the average person consumed about 18 pounds of sugar per year; in 1900, individual consumption had risen to 90 pounds of sugar per year. In 2009, more than 50 percent of all Americans consume one-half pound of sugar PER DAY—translating to a whopping 180 pounds of sugar per year!

Sugar is loaded into our soft drinks, fruit juices, sports drinks, and hidden in almost all processed foods: from bologna to pretzels, from Worcestershire sauce to cheese spread.  Now most infant formula has the sugar equivalent of one can of Coca-Cola; so babies are being metabolically poisoned from day one of taking formula. No wonder there is an obesity epidemic in the USA and many other countries. Today, 32 percent of Americans are obese and an additional one-third is overweight. Compare that to 1890, when a survey of white males in their fifties revealed an obesity rate of just 3.4 percent. In 1975, the obesity rate in America had reached 15 percent, and since then it has doubled. Carrying excess weight increases your risk for deadly conditions such as heart disease, kidney disease, and diabetes. In 1893, there were fewer than three cases of diabetes per 100,000 people in the United States. Today, diabetes strikes almost 8,000 out of every 100,000 people. You don't have to be a physician or a scientist to notice America's expanding waistline. All you have to do is stroll through a shopping mall or a schoolyard, or perhaps glance in the mirror. For more on this problem go to:http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/04/20/sugar-dangers.aspx

2.4 ALCOHOL

The battle against alcohol has barely got off the ground, but it will be next in the fight for people's health at the centre for disease control and social problem exploration. The various health problems associated with long-term alcohol consumption are generally perceived as detrimental to society; for example: money due to lost labor-hours, medical costs, and secondary treatment costs. Alcohol use is a major contributing factor for head injuries, motor vehicle accidents, violence, and assaults. Beyond money, there are also significant social costs to both the alcoholic and their family and friends. For instance, alcohol consumption by a pregnant woman can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome, an incurable and damaging condition. Estimates of the economic costs of alcohol abuse, collected by the World Health Organization, vary from one to six percent of a country's GDP. One Australian estimate pegged alcohol's social costs at 24% of all drug abuse costs; a similar Canadian study concluded alcohol's share was 41%. One study quantified the cost to the UK of all forms of alcohol misuse in 2001 as £18.5–20 billion. All economic costs in the United States in 2006 have been estimated at $223.5 billion. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

It's no secret that alcohol consumption can cause major health problems, including cirrhosis of the liver and injuries sustained in automobile accidents. But if you think liver disease and car crashes are the only health risks posed by drinking, think again: Researchers have linked alcohol consumption to more than 60 diseases.  "Alcohol does all kinds of things in the body, and we're not fully aware of all its effects," says James C. Garbutt, MD, professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine and a researcher at the university's Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies. "It's a pretty complicated little molecule." Here are 12 conditions linked to drinking at: http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/features/12-health-risks-of-chronic-heavy-drinking

2.5 TEA, COFFEE AND BEVERIDGES

Tea is an aromatic beverage commonly prepared by pouring hot or boiling water over cured leaves of the Camellia sinensis, an evergreen shrub native to Asia. After water, it is the most widely consumed drink in the world.[4] Some teas, like Darjeeling and Chinese greens, have a cooling, slightly bitter, andastringent flavour,[5] while others have vastly different profiles that include sweet, nutty, floral, or grassy notes. For more go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/?title=Tea

By the 12th century, coffee was extensively cultivated in Yemen, and qawha and cahveh, hot beverages made from roast and ground coffee beans, became popular in the Islamic world over the next 300 years. Commercial production of coffee outside Yemen started in Sri Lanka in the 1660s, Java in the 1700s, and Latin America in 1715, and this production has associations with histories of colonial expansion and slavery. Introduced to Europe in the 17th century, coffee was described by Robert Burton in the section of his 1628 Anatomy of Melancholy devoted to medicines as “an intoxicant, a euphoric, a social and physical stimulant, and a digestive aid” (quoted in Weinberg and Bealer xii). For more on coffee go to: http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/issue/view/coffee and https://en.wikipedia.org/?title=Coffee

Beveridges or drinks are liquids intended for human consumption. In addition to basic needs, beverages form part of the culture of human society. Although all beverages, including juice, soft drinks, and carbonated drinks, have some form of water in them, water itself is often not classified as a beverage, and the word beveragehas been recurrently defined as not referring to water. For more go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drink

TASTE IS NOT JUST ABOUT FOOD

What does sorrow taste like? Or anger? In 2012, the people at Hoxton Street Monster Supplies of London launched The Taste of Emotion, a unique range of seasoning salts collected from human tears. There are five varieties of salt available in the collection which the company explains have been harvested from humans experiencing all kinds of emotions in various situations including: laughing, sneezing, anger, sorrow, and, of course, chopping onions. Each of the five salts have a distinctly different flavour. Sorrow tastes of delicate lavender.

Beyond its association with food, but also incorporating that, taste is not only shaped by people’s different experiences according to their class and social position, geography and ethnicity, it also serves as a marker of identity and status. Pierre Bourdieu has famously argued that taste forms part of the cultural capital that confers respect, often linked to social class: "Taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier. Social subjects, classified by their classifications distinguish themselves by the distinctions they make, between the beautiful and the ugly, the distinguished and the vulgar, in which their position in the objective classifications is expressed or betrayed". 

Although, following Bourdieu, taste’s use as a metaphor for aesthetic sensibility has been a significant interest for scholars, the literal sense of taste has not captured serious research interest until relatively recently. The privileging of written & visual texts in western research & scholarship has meant that our other senses are frequently neglected, & this is especially so for taste & smell. According to Carolyn Korsmeyer, the disparaging of taste is related to three particular assertions that are both popular and often found underpinning empirical studies: (a) there are only four tastes—sweet, salt, sour, and bitter—so it is a sense of limited scope; (b) taste is a “poor sense”, because most flavour is contributed by smell; and, (c) taste and smell are “primitive” senses, somehow unworthy of serious study (Making Sense, 75). (See, also, Korsmeyer, Taste Culture Reader.) For more on this subject go to the online M/C Journal of Media and Culture(V. 17, N. 1, March 2014) at: http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/viewArticle/795 For a generous helping of essays on the subject of taste go to: http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/issue/view/taste

VEGETARIANISM

There is, as Andrew Rowan dubs it, a “constant paradox” in the way we treat, relate to, and consume animals in our everyday lives (Arluke and Sanders 4). This paper examines this paradox in relation to the rise of vegetarianism as a new taste and consumer culture in the West. The first part of the paper, drawing upon Bourdieu, argues that vegetarian “taste” is fundamentally a social practice linked to class and gender. It then offers a preliminary theoretical sketch of the sociological drivers and consequences of vegetarianism in late-modernity, drawing on social theory. Having established the theoretical framework, the second part of the paper turns to an empirical analysis of the moral motivations and experiences of a selection of Australian bloggers. The key argument is that the bloggers narrate vegetarianism as a taste practice that entangles self-care with a larger assemblage of non-human responsibility that works to re-enchant a demoralised consumer modernity.

“Taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier”, Pierre Bourdieu famously claimed. Bourdieu demonstrated the classificatory power of taste not only in relation to music, home décor, and art but also in relation to food. Taste, for Bourdieu, is a social process by which people actively communicate social position through classification of the judgements and preferences of both themselves and others. For example, he highlighted how the working-class dislike for fish was part of a wider class system of dispositions where the middle-class favour “the light, the refined and the delicate” defined in negation of working-class taste for “the heavy, the fat and the coarse”.

How then do we read vegetarianism as a taste practice? First, we need to take Bourdieu’s point that vegetarianism is not simply an expression of personal preference, but is a social practice that articulates identity, group membership, and systems of cultural distinction. Bourdieu, while not writing about vegetarianism, did link meat eating to masculine and working-class displays of embodied strength and power—“warrior food”, as Nietzsche called it. Meat, Bourdieu wrote, was “nourishing food par excellence, strong and strong-making, giving vigour, blood, and health is the dish for men”. For more go to M/C Journal of Media and Culture(V.17, N.1, 2014): http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/viewArticle/759

INTERNET ADDICTION

The concept of Internet addiction has recently entered the social problem lexicon. Many writers are now talking about inordinate amounts of time spent engaging in various types of Internet activities such as muds, chat rooms, and online groups. They have all been cited as having a negative impact on social relationships, marriages, school achievement, work performance, health, & other vital life functions. Given the fact that the internet has reached saturation point in the population of most developed nations Internet addiction is perceived as a possible societal epidemic. To address this increasing concern The Center for On-Line Addiction has classified Internet addiction into five specific types. They are as follows:

(i) cybersexual addiction to adult chat rooms or cyberporn; (ii) cyber-relationship addiction to on-line friendships made in chat rooms; in muds, that is computer programs that allows multiple users to participate in virtual-reality role-playing games; or newsgroups that replace real-life friends and family; (iii) net compulsions – compulsive online gambling, online auction addiction, and obsessive online trading; (iv) information overload, that is compulsive web surfing or database searches, and (v) computer addiction to obsessive computer game-playing or to programming aspects of computer science.

Since I use the internet for the most part the way I used to use a library, that is, to provide me with reading material; and, since I use it in my many roles as: a writer and author, poet and publisher, online blogger and journalist, editor and researcher, reader and scholar, I could admit to some degree of addiction. It is an addiction I already had before the internet came into my life in the late 1990s. I used to read a dozen or more books a week: skimming and scanning, learning and studying, reading and writing, editing and researching, interpreting & cultivating, reasoning and reflecting.

POPULAR CULTURE: COARSENESS AND PRIVACY

Part 1:

Many observers mourn the coarseness of popular culture & the general level of ruthless gossip that permeates the public square.  On the Internet, this is particularly true.  Gossip can be a delightful pleasure, but if it starts to dominate the country, it’s not such a good thing. Even investigative journalism qualifies, in Oscar Wilde’s description of the profession as “organized gossip.”  “It’s that whole spirit of exposé,” Joseph Epstein says. “I think it brings down the tone of the country.”  Essayist and culture critic, Joseph Epstein, calls the “ruination of reputation” and the disregard of privacy the two most destructive aspects of gossip, and he expends a lot of old-fashioned ink proclaiming that the Web specializes in both.

“Scandal is gossip made tedious by morality,” Wilde wrote, not the only one of his quips that is, in light of his life, rather wince-inducing. But the irony that Western societies became more gossip-obsessed as they became generally less moralistic is a subject that one would have liked to see Wilde, or at least Epstein, tackle. In recent decades there has been an increasingly personal nature to political coverage, and a near worshipping of the famous. One of the great skills of many popular figures in the media has been to encourage a fundamental unseriousness in their viewers and readers. Presumably there is a connection between the obsessive focus on the personal lives of politicians and celebrities and the fawning regard they are shown by those same media outlets. 

Part 2:

A more intriguing discussion of gossip and the Internet might have focused not on the content of the gossip, but the speed with which it spreads. Daniel Solove’s fine book on the subject, The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet (2007), is not sanguine, even if he recognizes gossip’s social utility. The Internet is not just another outlet for gossip; it is, in Solove’s words, gossip “on steroids.” Gossip has a much greater ability to catch hold and circulate online. Scandalous rumors can attach themselves to gossip as it spreads. Tracing information back to an original source becomes even more difficult, and once a piece of information is in the public arena, expunging it becomes nearly impossible. The medium becomes the message.  Gossip could be said to be at the dark heart of our status-seeking culture.

In Epstein's book we get quick sideways glances at the subjects of gossip's whisperers, and their excesses: the slutty Greek Alcibiades; those infamous Roman orgies; randy and rancorous Lord Byron; and Fatty Arbuckle, the Rabelais of Old Hollywood. But Epstein’s focus is largely on the craftsmen and connoisseurs of that scuttlebutt—he calls them the “Great Gossips of the Western World.” He celebrates the Duc de Saint-Simon, the best of the scandalmongers of the court of Louis XIV, and the first truly modern gossip. There are amusing excursions into the gossip of literary circles from Proust to the New Journalists, and gay subcultures including: Oscar Wilde, of course, but also Leo Lerman, Truman Capote, and the most charming of them all, Noël Coward. I leave it to readers with the interest to follow more of this review of Epstein's book at New York Books: http://nymag.com/arts/books/features/joseph-epstein-2011-12/

POPULAR CULTURE AND MY WRITING

Part 1:

There is a great deal in popular culture that I have found useful to draw on for this prose-poetic website. This is also true for my literary corpus in the last 20 years since I began to write extensively, in the last 30 years when my writing was first published in the print media, in the last 40 years since I began to teach in post-secondary colleges and universities in Australia, in the last 50 years since beginning my own university studies in 1963/4 in an arts degree in Ontario Canada, and in the last 60 years(1955-2015) since I first began to become immersed myself in popular culture in my late childhood, ages 11 to 12, if not before.

Below are an essay and several poems that arose out of what I find to be a rich reservoire of relationships between popular culture and my writing on the one hand, and the world of the serious, intellectual, culture and the Baha'i Cause on the other. The essay below is the introduction I wrote to a collection of some 150 published articles, about 800 words each, which appeared in a newspaper in the town of Katherine in the Northern Territory of Australia between 1983 and 1986. For the most part these were essays on popular culture, high & low culture, the serious & the everyday. These published articles and several others in other media, a total of some 200,000 words, are my major published works in the traditional literary forms of: books and journals on the one hand, and magazines and newspapers on the other.  In the last dozen years, though, the years from 2004 to 2015, I have published extensively in cyberspace, and popular culture is certainly one of the centres of content of this online publishing.

Part 1.1:

I do not possess a detailed interest in the trivia of the celebrity culture. I do not know that much about the hundreds of celebrities, say, since the beginnings of cinema some 120 years ago, or the beginnings of television, perhaps six or seven decades ago.  Much of celebrity culture is simply & fundamentally outside my interest inventory. The endless litany of celebrity and popular-interest magazines like: fishing and fashion, music and movies, sport and services, which adorn newsagents and super-market checkouts have always been outside my reading & viewing interests. But much of popular culture is now something, paradoxically, I have come to increasingly draw on as I have advanced into this last decade of my late adulthood, the years from 70 to 80 according to one model of human development used by psychologists. I aim my writing at a popular, populist, culture and, at the same time, go in pursuit of an understanding of my times, my age, and my epochs.  Readers, therefore, will find much of my writing of this ilk.  

There is a difference between celebrity and recognition. Celebrities are recognized in the street, but usually because of who they are, or who they are supposed to be. To achieve recognition, however, is to be recognized in a different way. It is to be known for what you have done, and quite often the person who knows what you have done has no idea of what you look like. I think that the mass-psychotic passion for celebrity, for big names and famous people, for superstars, bigwigs and the endless leagues of luminaries, this enormous talking point that engages millions in our civilization, is one of the luxurious diseases that Western liberal democracy will have to find a cure for in the long run. The cure, though, will have to be self-willed.  I thank Clive James for some of the above, and for more from James on the subject of celebrity go to: http://www.clivejames.com/lectures/recognition

Part 2:

On those occasions when I do draw on popular culture, I am not usually capable of being funny about it as is, for example, the Australian writer Clive James.  I find that digging down fearlessly through the strata of the hardly negligible & finding, in the process, some underlying ephemerality, not to my liking. It takes a particular kind of feeling for the serious to treat what doesn't matter as if it mattered.  I don't possess that talent. Sometimes I find, though, that some aspect of pop-culture is not ephemeral and it is useful to my literary purposes.  On 28/11/'13, for example, I watched a film that was part of popular culture. That film provided insights into the realities of life, as I saw them, that were as valuable as any serious article or essay found in high culture, in serious academic thought.

What makes fame and celebrity so alluring to audiences and yet so disillusioning for the object of fame? How have the criteria for what deserves or attracts fame changed in different historical eras? What makes people famous? Is it their exemplary conduct as public figures? Or is it their uncompromising resistance to a social paradigm which is trying to absorb them? The Frenzy of Renown is both a who’s who of western history’s heavyweights and an insightful exploration of the human urge to be recognized. For a review of this book go to: http://suhailrafidi.wordpress.com/2012/04/23/book-review-the-frenzy-of-renown-fame-and-its-history-by-leo-braudy/

Being in the limelight, as celebrities clearly are, can eat away at their mind, spirit & soul as decisively as quicklime decomposes the body. Celebrity is the theme of Clive James's book The Blaze of Obscurity published in 2010.  More accurately his book is about the changing relationship between celebrity status and real achievement. This is what emerges as his books' principal focus. For some reviews of this work of Clive James go to: http://www.clivejames.com/books/current/blazereviews

Part 3:

"How to Become a Celebrity" is an article by Robert Darnton in The New York Review of Books(21/5/'15). The article is a review of the book: Figures publiques: L’Invention de la célébrité, 1750–1850 by Antoine Lilti(Paris: Fayard, 450 pages). He construes celebrity as a historical subject, and he works it over with all the rigor and originality that he deployed in his earlier book, Le Monde des salons: Sociabilité et mondanité à Paris au XVIIIe siècle (2005). Lilti sees an affinity between Marie-Antoinette and Princess Diana, as well as an affinity between Voltaire and Rousseau on the one hand and Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe, on the other. The something they all have in common, Lilti argues, is celebrity. But what exactly is celebrity?

Lilti situates celebrity between two older notions: on the one hand, reputation, a judgment attached to a person by others in relatively close contact with him or her, & glory, a renown earned by great deeds that extends far beyond the range of individual contacts and also outlasts the life of the celebrated person. Like reputation, celebrity tends to be ephemeral. Like glory, it reaches many people, moving in one direction: a celebrity is known to a broad public, but he or she does not know them. The knowledge, however, is superficial. It is attached to an image of the person conveyed by the media, whether printed pamphlets and crude woodcuts or films and Facebook. Also, celebrity tends to be double-edged. It may be desirable, but once achieved, it can produce painful aftereffects, such as a sense of imprisonment within one’s public self while suffering damage to one’s true self. For more go to: http://lectures.revues.org/15851?lang=en


Part 4:

In the 1920s, gossip columnist Walter Winchell catered to a formidable public appetite for celebrity news, reaching about 50 million Americans via his weekly radio show and daily newspaper column. Winchell relished the power his column gave him: “Democracy is where everybody can kick everybody else’s ass…. But you can’t kick Winchell’s.” These words are from Neal Gabler's book Winchell: Gossip, Power, and the Culture of Celebrity(New York, Knopf, 1994, p.xiii). Precisely because public opinion had become such a formidable political force, the autocratic few who shaped it were cushioned from its blows.

Today Winchell would be posting online and getting kicked by commenters within seconds. In the Internet era, no single tastemaker has the monopoly Winchell once enjoyed, and the lines between producers and consumers of public opinion have blurred. When pop music celebrities like Bono practice international politics, & politicians like Brazil’s Lula become international stars; when Lady Gaga can exhort her millions of Facebook fans to protest government policies such as “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” when in the week following Michael Jackson’s death millions of people the world over watch a YouTube video of Filipino prisoners dancing to his music; it is time to ask whether we are witnessing structural changes to celebrity or whether the Internet has merely accelerated and extended dynamics that have fundamentally changed little over the past two centuries. For more of this essay "Celebrity, Past and Present" by Sharon Marcus in the online journal Public Culture(V.27, N.1, 2015) go to: http://publicculture.org/articles/view/27/1/celebrity-past-and-present

Part 5:

Mathieu Deflem, 48, a sociology professor at the University of South Carolina at Columbia plans to teach a course called “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame.” He believes it is the only such full-time college course in the country.  He wants to explore what makes a person famous and what being famous means in today’s culture. Or, as the course description puts it: “The central objective is to unravel some of the sociologically relevant dimensions of the fame of Lady Gaga.” This course could also be called “Obsession.” Mr. Deflem said he was instantly entranced with Lady Gaga when he saw her on “The Tonight Show” in January 2009. Then he went to a concert in Atlanta. That led to his traipsing after her around the world to more than 28 shows. He owns more than 300 of her records on vinyl and CD, most of which are international releases. He has started a Web site, gagafrontrow.net, a respectful and adoring fan site with pictures and audio downloads of rare Gaga songs. For more go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/29/us/29gaga.html

MY WRITING IS ALSO ABOUT HIGH CULTURE

I have several books on the Internet, but they do not deal, for the most part, with popular culture.  One is entitled: The Emergence of a Baha'i Consciousness in World Literature: The Poetry of Roger White: http://juxta.com/ebooks/the-emergence-of-a-bahai-consciousness-in-world-literature-the-poetry-of-roger-white/(click on the words Download PDF on the right side of the access page at juxta.com)

Some of my other books on other topics---not on popular culture---can be found at:

http://bahai-library.com/price_mental-health_history_autobiography-memoir

http://bahai-library.com/price_culture_learning_paradigm

http://bahai-library.com/price_pioneering_four_epochs

THE ROMANS AND POPULAR CULTURE

I took an interest in popular culture in Roman civilization back in the centuries around the time of Christ, during both the Republic(before 31 BC) and the Empire( 31 BC to 476 AD). This interest arose due to my teaching Roman history in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Scholars who have gone in search of Roman popular culture have focused on trying to recover the voices of ordinary Romans. Graffiti survive on the walls of Pompeii and other Roman towns, in arenas and at favourite destinations for ancient tourists, such as the miraculous ‘talking’ Colossi of Memnon and the Valley of the Kings. Romans boasted, named and shamed; for example, ‘Atimetus got me pregnant’ or ‘I f+d Nisus up the arse ten times’.  They scrawled everything from elegant poems to ‘Lucius was here’ on ancient monuments. For more on this subject go to: https://www.google.com.au/#q=Rome+and+popular+culture+

Curse tablets were often scratched, fortunately for us, on durable metals such as lead. They were also hung on walls, buried with the dead or deposited in water. They begged for horrible things to happen to every organ of a rival’s body; they expressed a desperate unrequited love, a determination that a favourite team in the chariot races should win, or anger about the theft of a cloak from the baths – clearly a major hazard. The gravestones that lined the roads in and out of any town in the Roman Empire, and the ‘dovecot’ funerary monuments that were shared by a household’s slaves and servants, carried posthumous opinions. One minimalist epitaph reads: ‘I was not, I was, I am not, I don’t care.’

The mass of the Roman people constituted well over 90% of the population. Much ancient history, however, has focused on the lives, politics and culture of the minority elite. Jerry Toner's Popular Culture in Ancient Rome helps redress the balance by focusing on the non-elite in the Roman world. It builds a vivid account of the everyday lives of the masses, including their social and family life, health, leisure and religious beliefs, and the ways in which their popular culture resisted the domination of the ruling elite. For more of this review of Popular Culture in Ancient Rome(250 pages, 2009) go to:http://www.polity.co.uk/book.asp?ref=9780745643090

THE 18TH CENTURY AND POPULAR CULTURE

Part 1:

The following paragraphs come from a review back in 1986 in the London Review of Books.  In 1986 I moved to Western Australia and began my 14 year stint in that remote backwater of the planet. In those 14 years I was far too busy to keep-up my reading on early modern history immersed as I was in a job, family life and community responsibilities. This review takes in these books: (i) Literature and Popular Culture in 18th-Century England by Pat Rogers(200 pages, 1985), (ii) Eighteenth-Century Encounters: Studies in Literature and Society in the Age of Walpole by Pat Rogers(200 pages, 1985), (iii) Order from Confusion Sprung: Studies in 18th-Century Literature from Swift to Cowper by Claude Rawson(400 pages, 1985), and (iv) Jonathan Swift edited by Angus Ross and David Woolley(700 pages, 1984).

The main ideas at large in the 18th century have been elaborately described in the disciplines of history and philosophy, as well as in literary criticism among other subjects.  Students of the period in the last 50 years have been resorting to more oblique procedures of coming to grips with the realities of that 18th century.  In 1968, in The Counterfeiters, Hugh Kenner turned 18th-century ideas into systems, and derived a comedy of entrapment from the spectacle of men coping somehow with systems designed to suit other people. Install a man in an ill-fitting system, and you may witness that discrepancy between the organic and the mechanical which the French philosopher Henri Bergson regarded as the provocation of comedy.

Part 2:

Kenner probably got the hint from Wyndham Lewis: if so, it is explicable that his account of Gulliver’s Travels and Robinson Crusoe makes them seem like Monstre Gai and Malign Fiesta, respectively. In The Great Cat Massacre (1984) Robert Darnton described a night in Paris in the late 1730s when two apprentice printers went on the hunt for cats and staged a mock-trial before hanging them, to the raucous delight of their apprentice colleagues: the episode, as Darnton tells it, was an instance of elaborately vengeful symbolism in which workers taunted their bourgeois masters, mocked middle-class sexuality, and enjoyed Rabelaisian carnival on the margin of a society they resented. The moral of the story doesn’t seem as dramatic as the massacre of the cats, but street-history is bound to show disproportion between actions and their social meaning. Much of popular culture, & populist history, deals with what you might call 'street-history', endless everyday detail that fills the pages of newspapers &, now, online news and the vast landscapes of the electronic media.

Part 3:

Pat Rogers’s approach to 18th-century literature is by way of popular culture. He agrees with other scholars that Augustan satire gets much of its vitality from its relation to Lucian and Juvenal, Rabelais and Erasmus, Scarron and Cervantes, but he emphasises its nearer relation to ‘the actualities of 18th-century life’. He is far less concerned with the history of ideas than with pantomimes, freak-shows, masquerades, bear-baiting, boxing matches, newspapers, gossip, advertising. When he refers to Heidegger, he doesn’t mean the philosopher but the operatic impresario John James Heidegger (c.1665-1749).  Most readers who come to this part of my website will know little to nothing of any of these names from western literary history.  If you are interested, you can easily Google excellent overviews of all of their lives at Wikipedia, that most popular of encyclopedia in the world.

In Literature and Popular Culture in 18th-Century England, as in his Grub Street (1972) and its abridged version Hacks and Dunces (1980), Rogers proposes to describe ‘how things were,’ or how they seemed to be, to the people who lived among them. It would be accurate, but too high-minded, to describe Literature and Popular Culture and Eighteenth-Century Encounters as studies in the economics and sociology of England in that century. Both books are gatherings of essays in which Rogers comes to a culture by asking what people did to pass the time, what they thought about Italian opera, why they were so fascinated with Jonathan Wild, what exactly went wrong in the South Sea Bubble, and why Swift’s Laputa has more to do with money-making gadgetry than with the Royal Society and its proceedings. For most people in our 21st century globalizing culture, the 18th century is as remote as some distant galaxy that can only be observed faintly in the sky with a little effort and curiosity.

THE BARBARIANS

Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays from the Classics to Pop Culture is a book by Daniel Mendelsohn reviewed some 18 months ago in an article in The New York Review of Books, 25/10/'12.  Mendelsohn’s Waiting for the Barbarians collects twenty-four of his essays on subjects that range from Homer and Sappho through Stendhal and Rimbaud to Spider-Man and Mad Men. Even more than his earlier books about literature and culture, this book displays the author's characteristic strengths of style and judgment, as well as his distinctive and engaging voice. As always, he is surprising yet convincing when he praises what practically everyone else condemns.  His writing also demonstrates a capacity to see through the pretensions and confusions of books and dramas that everyone else admires. For more of this review as well as a second review go to: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-59017-607-8 , and to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/oct/25/triumph-moral-critic-daniel-mendelsohn/


PHENOMENON AND POPULAR CULTURE

The word “phenomenon”—from the Greek word phainesthai, “to appear,” and related to another Greek word that is the root of the English word “fantasy”—possesses a unique potency in our culture. While scientists may use it to mean anything observable, it is popularly applied to rock stars, movie stars, top athletes, and the like. Even today, in our hype-drenched society, it is not used promiscuously. It is reserved for that special minority of people who seem to have singular talent and potential; for those with the ability, that is, to fulfill our collective fantasies. For  more on this subject go to:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2006/nov/30/the-phenomenon/

FANTASY LIFE

Part 1:

A surprisingly large part of our lives is taken up with fantasies: fantasies about being heroic, about how we'd like our careers to go, how our love lives should be, what we'd want our bodies to be like and how we'd like to remould the past. We're often cagey about these fantasies. But perhaps we shouldn't be. As sometimes on this channel, we use light humour to drive home a point. For a u-tube item on fantasy go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TzlHdvoh0wQ&feature=em-subs_digest  Fantasy is a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary plot element,theme, or setting. Many works within the genre take place in imaginary worlds where magic and magical creatures are common. Fantasy is generally distinguished from the genres of science fiction and horror by the expectation that it steers clear of scientific and macabre themes, respectively, though there is a great deal of overlap between the three, all of which are subgenres of
speculative fiction. For more go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fantasy
 
Part 2:

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first of the Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis, is a fairy tale. A fairy tale is a type of short story that typically features European folkloric fantasy characters, such as: dwarves, elves, fairies, giants, gnomes, goblins, mermaids, trolls, or witches in a context of magic and/or enchantments. Fairy tales may be distinguished from other folk narratives such as legends (which generally involve belief in the veracity of the events described) and explicitly moral tales, including beast fables. This fairy tale of C.S. Lewis has an obvious Christian theme. In addition, the work artfully renders a medievalist symbolic conception of the planet Jupiter. However, the novel is also laced with an ideological element that reflects certain negative attitudes toward totalitarianism. This essay explores the political aspect of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, showing how it harmonizes with the Western anti-Soviet mentality of the early Cold War period. For a fine essay on the subject in the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture (Volume 24, Number 1, Spring 2012) go to: http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/journal_of_religion_and_popular_culture/v024/24.1.chapman.html

THE CELEBRITY-ICON

Fifty years ago, in ‘The Face of Garbo’, Roland Barthes(1915-1980) a French literary theorist, philosopher, critic, and semiotician whose ideas explored a diverse range of fields---described the film star’s make-up as ‘an absolute mask’ whose ‘snowy thickness’ gave her a ‘totem-like countenance.’(1)  Barthes’s description exudes wistful adoration, yet there is irony, too. His breathlessness casts doubt on the barrier erected by his master, Lévi-Strauss, between cold and hot societies, the totemic and the mechanical, or ratiocinative. Lévi-Strauss(1908-2009) was a French anthropologist and ethnologist, and has been called, along with James George Frazer, the "father of modern anthropology".


Moderns associate rigid and stereotyped visages with primitive societies, with the Inuit totem poles and African masks that stare out lifelessly in the museum spaces dedicated to dead societies. Once, these wooden carvings were regarded as totems, religious symbols of the sacred and profane that sustained meaning, ritual, and solidarity. It seems easy to agree with Lévi-Strauss that totemism marks only the earliest and most irrational societies. We see such wooden visages as distorted representations, badly carved, far from the realism of contemporary information societies.(1)- Roland Barthes, ‘The Face of Garbo’, in Mythologies, Hill and Wang, NY, 1972(1957), pp.56-7.

When sophisticated moderns approach celebrities they see neither totem nor meaning, neither ritual solidarity nor symbolic form. When their realism is sympathetic, they see deserved fame and great achievement, as in a Joe DiMaggio or Denzel Washington. When their realism is critical, which is more often, they see celebrities as products of fakery, as deflated symbols, manipulated puppets. Perhaps we should not so quickly separate ourselves from ancient peoples....go to this link at the journal Cultural Sociology, Volume 4, Number 3, November 2010 for what was, for me at least, a fascinating analysis of our celebrity culture in a sociological-anthropological perspective: http://ccs.research.yale.edu/pubs_research/directors_pubs/alexander/

JOURNAL OF FANDOM STUDIES


The multi-disciplinary nature of fan studies makes the development of a community of scholars sometimes difficult to achieve. The Journal of Fandom Studies seeks to offer scholars a dedicated publication that promotes current scholarship into the fields of fan and audience studies across a variety of media. The journal focuses on the critical exploration, within a wide range of disciplines and fan cultures, of issues surrounding production and consumption of popular media including: film, music, television, sports and gaming. The journal aims to address key issues in fans studies itself, while also fostering new areas of enquiry that take us beyond the bounds of current scholarship. There are now at least a dozen journals that seek to discuss the culture of "the fan." For more on these journals go to: http://fanstudies.wordpress.com/fan-studies-journals/

JOURNALS OF POPULAR CULTURE


Part 1:

Issuu is a free electronic publishing platform for magazines, catalogs, newspapers and more. It functions as a digital newsstand with over 25 million publications and 85 million active readers.  Issuu features leading and emerging titles in fashion, culture, arts, and hyperlocal content, all of which are accessible on any device. Issuu software is used by many online publications. Some of its partners include The New York Times, Vice, and V Magazine. For more go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Issuu  Intellect Publishers Ltd. is yet another source of a myriad of online journals, most of these journals are somewhere between the mainstream of popular culture on the one hand, and the more intellectually demanding journals on the other.  Go to these two links to access the journals of this publishing company: http://www.intellectbooks.co.uk/journals/index/ and http://issuu.com/exploreu

Part 2:

There are now literally dozens of journals that are concerned with some aspect of Popular Culture. Having spent my life in Australia and Canada, I have taken an interest in The Australasian Journal of Popular Culture and The Canadian Journal of Popular Culture.  The conceptions of popular culture encompass non-mass-mediated as well as mass-mediated, historical as well as contemporary, forms, texts and practices. The journals are interested in receiving articles which focus on Australian, Asian and Canadian examples, or broader comparative and theoretical questions viewed through an Australian, an Asian or a Canadian lens. Go to this link for a special journal on escapism: http://issuu.com/squareupmedia/docs/e12  For a survey of many more popular culture journals: http://www.intellectbooks.co.uk/journals/view-Category,id=10/ 


AUSTRALASIAN JOURNAL OF POPULAR CULTURE

The Australasian Journal of Popular Culture is a peer-reviewed journal devoted to the scholarly understanding of everyday cultures. It is concerned with the study of the social practices and the cultural meanings that are produced and are circulated through the processes & practices of everyday life. As a product of consumption, an intellectual object of inquiry, and as an integral component of the dynamic forces that shape societies. The journal will be receptive to articles which focus on Australasian examples, or broader comparative and theoretical questions viewed through an Australasian lens.  Go to this link for more: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/intellect/ajpc/2011/00000001/00000001

JOURNAL OF EUROPEAN POPULAR CULTURE

The Journal of European Popular Culture investigates the creative cultures of Europe, present & past. Exploring European popular imagery, media, new media, film, music, art and design, architecture, drama and dance, fine art, literature and the writing arts, and more, the journal is also of interest to those considering the influence of European creativity and European creative artefacts worldwide. For more go to: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/intellect/jepc/2010/00000001/00000001

CULTURAL STUDIES

Part 1:

Cultural studies is an academic field of critical theory and literary criticism initially introduced by British academics in 1964. It was subsequently adopted by allied academics throughout the world. Characteristically interdisciplinary, cultural studies is an academic discipline aiding cultural researchers who theorize about the forces from which the whole of humankind construct their daily lives. Cultural Studies is not a unified theory, but a diverse field of study encompassing many different approaches, methods and academic perspectives. Distinct from the breadth, objective and methodology of cultural anthropology and ethnic studies, cultural studies is focussed upon the political dynamics of contemporary culture and its historical foundations, conflicts and defining traits. Researchers concentrate on how a particular medium or message relates to ideology, social class, nationality, ethnicity, sexuality and/or gender, rather than providing an encyclopedic identification, categorization or definition of a particular culture or area of the world


Part 2:

Graeme Turner(1947- ) is an Australian professor of Cultural Studies at the University of Queensland. He is also Federation Fellow, Past President of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, Director of the Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies, and Convenor of the ARC Cultural Research Network. He has written what was, for me, a useful review of two books on the subject of the history and present state of the field of cultural studies. The two books are: What’s Become of Cultural Studies by Lawrence Grossberg(2012), and Cultural Studies in the Future Tense(2010). "
Cultural Studies is in some sort of trouble," writes Turner in his opening sentence. "But is it a mid-life crisis or a terminal decline?" he asks. British Cultural Studies began life in 1964 when I was an honours history and philosophy major at a university in Ontario Canada.

Stuart Hall(1932-2014) was a leading cultural theorist. He was a Jamaican-born cultural theorist and sociologist who lived and worked in the United Kingdom from 1951. Hall, along with Richard Hoggart and Raymond Williams, was one of the founding figures of the school of thought that is now known as British Cultural Studies orThe Birmingham School of Cultural Studies. He was President of the British Sociological Association 1995–97. In the 1950s Hall was a founder of the influential New Left Review. At the invitation of Hoggart, Hall joined the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University in 1964. Hall took over from Hoggart as director of the Centre in 1968, and remained there until 1979. While at the Centre, Hall is credited with playing a role in expanding the scope of cultural studies to deal with race and gender, and with helping to incorporate new ideas derived from the work of French theorists.


Part 3:

Cultural Studies began its life on the literal and metaphorical margins of the formally constituted disciplines of English and Sociology at the University of Birmingham. I became aware of this new field, this interdisciplinary mix, sensibly and insensibly during the 1980s and the 1990s when I was a lecturer in technical and further education colleges in Australia, what have become polytehnical colleges in the 21st century. After I had retired from FT, PT and all volunteering teaching by 2005, I began to get my intellectual teeth into this cross-disciplinary field which contains many a useful analysis of popular culture.

Just when even the stodgiest of academics was getting used to the idea of cultural studies as a traditional academic discipline, a new book came along which has shaken-up the field yet again. Of course, part of the point of a field like cultural studies is that it constantly needs shaking up; its contemporary appeal relies on the energy of new discussions, new theories and new interpretations of emerging trends in popular culture. As a discipline, it’s a bit like a sandwich left out for an hour; you come back to it, and it’s already stale. This, at least, is the impetus behind New Cultural Studies by Gary Hall and Clare Birchall.  This edited collection of essays presents a range of new theoretical ideas in cultural studies, some of which reinforce the work of previous generations, some of which call earlier work into question.

The editors, both Senior Lecturers in Media and Cultural Studies at Middlesex University in the UK, are well qualified for their task. Hall is the author of Culture in Bits: The Monstrous Future of Theory (Continuum, 2002). He is also founding co-editor of the e-journal Culture Machine and editor of the Culture Machine book series published by Berg.  Birchall, too, has published widely on cultural theory and cultural studies; she is the author of the book Knowledge Goes Pop: From Conspiracy Theory to Gossip(Berg, 2006). The British edition of New Cultural Studies was published in 2006 by Edinburgh University Press. For more on this book go to: http://www.popmatters.com/review/new-cultural-studies-by-gary-hall-and-clare-birchall-editors/  For an excellent overview of the discipline of Cultural Studies, now half a century old, go to these 3 links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_studies , 
http://epress.lib.uts.edu.au/journals/index.php/csrj/article/view, & http://www.intellectbooks.co.uk/page/index,name=home-MediaStudies/?utm_source=Cultural+Studies


CULTURE THEORY AND THEORISTS

Culture theory is the branch of comparative anthropology and semiotics that seeks to define the heuristic concept of culture in operational &/or scientific terms. Culture theory is not to be confused with cultural sociology or cultural studies. In the 19th century, "culture" was used by some to refer to a wide array of human activities, & by others as a synonym for "civilization". In the 20th century, anthropologists began theorizing about culture as an object of scientific analysis.Some used it to distinguish human adaptive strategies from the largely instinctive adaptive strategies of animals, including the adaptive strategies of other primates & non-human hominids, whereas others used it to refer to symbolic representations and expressions of human experience, with no direct adaptive value. Both groups understood culture as being definitive of human nature. For more on culture theory go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_theory

The dominant figures of cultural theory in the 1970s were Jameson, Lyotard, Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze, Lacan. They each and all shied away from popular culture. But things would change by the late 1980s as a new generation of cultural theorists, men and women raised in front of the tube, would understand culture in a way that fostered an appreciation of technology. The old world sense of cultural depth that so marked theorists like Adorno and Horkheimer, and their "Culture Industry” began to appear irrelevant as mediated cultural objects drenched the landscape. 

POPULAR CULTURE STUDIES

Part 1:

Popular culture studies is the academic discipline studying popular culture from a critical theory perspective. It is generally considered as a combination of communication studies and cultural studies. Following the work of the Frankfurt School, popular culture has come to be taken more seriously as a terrain of academic inquiry and has also helped to change the outlooks of more established disciplines. Conceptual barriers between so-called high & low culture have broken down, accompanying an explosion in scholarly interest in popular culture, which encompasses such diverse media as comic books, television, and the Internet.

Reevaluation of mass culture in the 1970s and 1980s has revealed significant problems with the traditional view of mass culture as degraded and elite culture as uplifting. Divisions between high and low culture have been increasingly seen as political distinctions rather than defensible aesthetic or intellectual ones.  Aside from precursors such as Umberto Eco and Roland Barthes, popular culture studies as we know them today were developed in the late seventies and the eighties. The first influential works were generally politically left-wing and rejected the "aristocratic" view. However, they also criticized the pessimism of the Frankfurt School.

Part 1.1:

Contemporary studies on mass culture accept that, apparently, popular culture forms do respond to widespread needs of the public. These studies beginning in the 1970s, just as I entered the field of post-secondary education as a lecturer and tutor, also emphasized the capacity of the consumers to resist indoctrination and passive reception. They also avoided any monolithic concept of mass culture. Instead they tried to describe culture as a whole, as a complex formation of discourses which corresponded to particular interests, and which can be dominated by specific groups. They saw mass culture, mass society, as always dialectically related to its producers and consumers. The field was overwhelmingly complex.

An example of this tendency, this new approach to mass culture in the last 40 years, is Andrew Ross's No Respect. Intellectuals and Popular Culture (1989). His chapter on the history of jazz, blues and rock does not present a linear narrative opposing the authentic popular music to the commercial record industry. Ross shows how popular music in the U.S., from the twenties until the 1980s, evolved out of complex interactions between popular, avant-garde and commercial circuits, between lower-and-middle-class youth, between blacks and whites. By the 1990s I was teaching sociological theory in what is now a polytechnic in Perth Western Australia; I was strongly influenced by both the Frankfurt School, which was central to my teaching curriculum, and by new approaches to the analysis of mass society.

Part 1.2:

Go to the following link for more on popular culture studies, and specifically on the following sub-topics:

1 Traditional theories of popular culture

1.1 The theory of mass society
1.2 The theory of culture industry
1.3 The theory of progressive evolution

2 Contemporary popular culture studies
2.1 Traces of the theory of culture industry
2.2 Contemporary liberal pluralism
2.3 Contemporary apocalyptic thought

3 Recurring issues in popular culture studies
3.1 The interactions between popular and legitimized culture
3.2 The possibility of a "subversive" popular culture

4 Neuroscience
5 References
6.1 Notes
6.2 Bibliography

7 External links .......http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Popular_culture_studies


COMEDY: AN OVERVIEW

Part 1:

Comedy in the contemporary meaning of the term, is any discourse or work generally intended to be humorous or to amuse by inducing laughter, especially in theatre, television, film and stand-up comedy. I have placed 'comedy' here under 'popular culture', although I might just as easily placed it in the 'literature-modern' sub-section of this website, or in one of my sociology, history or media and print culture sub-sections. I grew-up in a Canadian small-town culture from the 1940s to the 1960s, had lots of fun and laughs with my friends and developed, at the same time, quite a serious side which four years at university allowed me to give seriousness many windows of opportunity. I then moved to Australia in my mid-20s in the early 1970s.  In Australia humor is virtually compulsory. Now in my 70s my life is a balance between the serious and the light, the comedic and the reflective, the meditative and the humorous.

A comedy is any sort of performance intended to cause laughter or the emotions associated with laughter. This sense of the term comedy in relation to inducing humor in popular culture must be carefully distinguished from its academic side, namely the comic theatre, whose Western origins are found in Ancient Greece. In the Athenian democracy, the public opinion of voters was influenced by the political satire performed by the comic poets at the theaters. For ancient Greeks and Romans a comedy was a stage-play with a happy ending. In the Middle Ages, the term expanded to include narrative poems with happy endings and a lighter tone. In this sense Dante used the term in the title of his poem, La Divina Commedia. You might like this little piece of humor: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/67835538113310170/

Part 2:

The theatrical genre can be simply described as a dramatic performance which pits two societies against each other in an amusing agon or conflict. Northrop Frye famously depicted these two opposing sides as a "Society of Youth" and a "Society of the Old", but this dichotomy is seldom described as an entirely satisfactory explanation. A later view characterizes the essential agon of comedy as a struggle between a relatively powerless youth and the societal conventions that pose obstacles to his hopes. In this struggle, the youth is understood to be constrained by his lack of social authority, and is left with little choice but to take recourse in ruses which engender very dramatic irony which provokes laughter. For more on comedy in drama go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comedy_(drama)

Satire and political satire use ironic comedy to portray persons or social institutions as ridiculous or corrupt, thus alienating their audience from the object of humor. Satire is a type of comedy. Parody subverts popular genres and forms, using certain ironic changes to critique those forms from within (though not necessarily in a condemning way). Screwball comedy derives its humor largely from bizarre, surprising & improbable situations or characters. All of these types, and more, are as common as the air here in Austrralia where I have now lived for over 40 years. For a description of many types of humor and comedy go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comedy

There are, according to one study, some forty-five techniques of humor that have been elicited by research and scholarship. They are written about by Arthur Asa Berger of San Francisco State University. He explains most of these techniques in his books An Anatomy of Humor and The Art of Comedy Writing.  He uses Aristotle’s “voice" in his writing. To flesh out the book, since some of Aristotle’s books are relatively short, the author has annotated his fake Aristotle and offered various jokes and other material relevant to the study of humor. For more on comedy, as I indicated above, go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comedy

Part 2.1:

A. The massacre of Charlie Hebdo journalists in Paris on January 7 2015 was an attempt to impose the assassin’s veto on poliitical & religious satire. Where the heckler’s veto says merely “I will shout you down,” the assassin’s version is “dare to express that and we will kill you.” Instead of the academic’s metaphorical “publish or perish” we have the Kouachi brothers’ “publish and perish.” In the quarter-century since the fatwa on Salman Rushdie, this has become one of the largest threats to free speech in the West, and certainly the most extreme.  Here is one suggestion below on how to deal with this problem. It has emerged in conversations with the editor of The New York Review, Robert Silvers, drawing on his own more than fifty years of experience of making difficult editorial decisions.

Why not establish a website specifically dedicated to republishing and making accessible to the widest readership offensive images that are of genuine news interest, but which, for a variety of reasons, many journals, online platforms, and broadcasters would hesitate to publish on their own? Such a site would be a prime target for hackers, so it would need cybersecurity better than the social media accounts of the US military’s Central Command, which were hacked by Islamists at the time of the Charlie Hebdo affair. For a delightful series of several dozen pieces of political satire from the journalists, the cartoonists, at Charlie Hebdo in Paris go to: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?tab=wm#inbox/14b2f23e562731a2

B. Currently, the serious threats come mainly from Islamist killers, but the Italian mafia have used it too. We must be concerned about the underlying religious and political ideology, but what changes everything is the use of violence to impose one's taboos. If extreme Islamist views were advanced by entirely peaceful means, there would still be an issue, but it would not be this issue of violence. If Buddhists, nationalists, or mafiosi kill people, or credibly threaten to kill them, simply to stop the expression of certain views or tastes, that is also the assassin’s veto. For more on this topic go to Timothy Garton Ash's article in The New York Review of Books on 19/2/'15. Timothy Garton Ash(1955-)is a British historian, author & commentator. He is Professor of European Studies at Oxford University. Much of his work has been concerned with the late modern & contemporary history of Central and Eastern Europe. He has written about the Communist regimes of that region, their experience with the secret police, the Revolutions of 1989 and the transformation of the former Eastern Bloc states into member states of the European Union. He has examined the role of Europe and the complex challenge of combining freedom and diversity, especially in relation to free speech. His op-ed piece is at: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/feb/19/defying-assassins-veto/?insrc=hpma

Part 3:

MONTY PYTHON: 

Section 1:

In 1968 a group of young English comedians made a TV special called How to Irritate People.  It was released on 1 January 1969 in the USA.  At the time I was 24 years old and recovering after being hospitalized and institutionalized as a result of an episode of bipolar I disorder which had hit me for 6 while living on Baffin Island in Canada's Arctic. It took at least two decades for this group of five war-babies to come onto my radar; they've been fully ensconced there now for the last quarter-century.

Monty Python, sometimes known as The Pythons, was a British surreal comedy group that created Monty Python's Flying Circus, a British television comedy sketch show that first aired on the BBC on 5 October 1969. All the members of the group, which came to be known as Monty Python, began their acting and/or writing careers while I was at university in the 1960s and just starting out on my teaching career.  As one media commentator once wrote: “They never had the widest audience, but they had the hippest audience.

In October 1969 I had just settled back into the teaching profession in a small rural town in southern Ontario called Cherry Valley; I was renting a room with a family in the small town of Picton where I opened a new Baha’i locality.  I have never seen myself as especially ‘hip’ but, more to the point, I did not have a TV on 5/10/’69--not until sometime in 1978.  So I knew nothing of Monty Python back then. The sketch continued until 1974. By then I was living in Tasmania and was a tutor in education studies at what is now the University of Tasmania. I still had no TV and still had not heard of Ponty Python.

On Sunday 6 October 1974 at 10:00 pm Dallas’ public television station and program director, Ron Devillier, changed the television comedy landscape forever. It was 6 months later, in March of 1975, that Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam and Graham Chapman appeared in studio at KERA in Dallas for “Festival ’75″, part of the station's fundraising drive.  Python madness had begun, but they were still not on my radar immersed as I was: in my job as a lecturer at a university, in my upcoming second marriage to one of my students who had two children. and in my activity in the Baha'i community of Melbourne.

Section 2:

Monty Python’s Life of Brian came out in 1979, the year I had four different part-time jobs. I was living in Tasmania, by then, with my second wife and our three children. I was also in the midst of another episode of bipolar disorder. I did not watch much TV that year, although my wife and children had persuaded me to get a TV.  Despite the fame and notoriety of the group, they still had not arrived on my radar. When this British surreal comedy group’s The Meaning of Life came out in 19831 I was working 70 hours a week as an adult educator in the Northern Territory, in a remote part of Australia.  I was the secretary of the local Baha’i group, had a sick wife and was on the cusp of middle age.  I don't recall now, more than 30 years later, whether this zanny, irreverant, and highly successful group and its dozens of pieces of comedy, had become part of my media experience.

On 9 October 1999, to commemorate 30 years since the first Flying Circus television broadcast, BBC2 devoted an evening to Python programmes, including a documentary charting the history of the team, interspersed with new sketches by the Monty Python team filmed especially for the event. I had just taken a sea-change and an early retirement after a 50 year student and employment life 1949 to 1999 in a little town by the Bass Strait, an extension of the Great Southern Ocean.  I was just settling-in to another Baha'i group in what became the northern Tasmanian Baha'i cluster in the first years of the 21st century.

Section 3:

In 2009, to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the first episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus, a six-part documentary entitled Monty Python's Almost the Truth was released. It featured interviews with the surviving members of the team as well as archive interviews with Graham Chapman and numerous excerpts from the television series and films. When this 6-part doco was televised in the Australian winter of 2011,  I had been retired from FT, PT and casual work for half-a-dozen years.  My bipolar disorder had been treated and I found myself settling down on a daily basis to television’s delights after midnight and after my day of writing and editing, research and blogging, and pretensions at scholarship and journalism.

‘Monty Python Live (Mostly) – One Down, Five to Go’ went live 3 months ago now, in July 2014, for several nights, and ‘The Last Night of the Pythons’ was broadcast live to cinemas on 20 July 2014.  Bill Young wrote on the website tellyspotting: Your Brit TV Pub as follows on 23/7/'14: "Dressed in white suit jackets befitting the occasion, the five surviving members of Monty Python, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, John Cleese, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, closed out their run of reunion shows on 20/7/'14 by bidding farewell with the 1979 song from Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." I turned 70 that same day.  

For the 15,000-strong crowd each evening – and the thousands more who watched in more than 2,000 cinemas in 36 countries across the world – it was a moving finale. "Their status speeds past ‘comedy royalty’ into ‘godlike geniuses’" wrote Ben Williams at the website Time-Out London on 17 June 2014, and  "You’d be hard-pressed to find another comedy group who have had such a profound influence on comedy, heck, even British culture at large," he added. The career-spanning Monty Python’s Total Rubbish: The Complete Collection box set was released in June 2104 in the UK by UMC on CD and vinyl. A new Python video game also came out.-Ron Price with thanks to “Monty Python” in Wikipedia and Pioneering Over Five Epochs, 22 August 2011 to 7 October 2014.

Section 4:

1969 was a hot summer for me,
Michael, living near Toronto: &
they put a man on the moon as
you started your diary1 about a
Monty Python world which was
a revolution--changed the course
of comedy, eh?..It made million$
and millions loved it, although the
BBC nearly killed it.2   Pythonesque
came into our vocabulary & made
so many other aspects of modern
life’s traditional ways & institutions
look like obsolescent and irrelevant
appendages of our society. Perhaps
what underpins the violence, & the
tempest which we all face is in these3
outworn doctrines and shibboleths
which these bizarre comedians have
shown to us over these last 45 years.

1 'Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years' by Michael Palin, (Weidenfeld & Nicolson), reviewed by Michael Palin 1 October 2006, in The Telegraph, 22/8/’11.
2  Anita Singh,  “BBC nearly killed off Monty Python, says Terry Jones,” The Telegraph, 3 August 2010.
3 Reading about philosophy and Monty Python goes a long way to explaining some of the dilemmas of modernity at least in many direct and indirect ways. I leave this to readers to Google. as they try to come to grips with the imaginations of the pundits of error who now fill the air-waves.

Ron Price
22/8/’11 to 7/10/'14. 


Part 4:

RUSSIAN HUMOR

Russia is the funniest country in the world. Some countries, like America and England, are funny mostly on purpose, while others, like Germany and France, can be funny only unintentionally. Still that counts! Being funny is tricky, so any way you do it counts. Russia, however, is funny both intentionally (Gogol, Zoshchenko, Bulgakov) and unintentionally (Vladimir Putin singing, as he did at a televised event a few years ago, “I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill”). Given the disaster Russian history has been more or less continuously for the last five centuries, its humor is of the darkest, most extreme kind. Russian humor is to ordinary humor what backwoods fundamentalist poisonous snake handling is to a petting zoo. Russian humor is slapstick, only you actually die. For more on Russian hmour go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/may/07/daniil-kharms-strangely-funny-russian-genius/

THE DAY'S ROUTINE

Part 1:

The world of work structures a person's life in the linear trajectory of a career, punctuated by days, weeks, months, and years.  During this part of a person's lifespan the world of work contains projects to be completed and paychecks that repeatedly close the narrative of the life cycle. Industrial labor has collaborated with the modern subject, and his or her life, resulting in making a person centered, rational, and autonomous, well, at least in some ways. The media of print and film confirmed, deepened, and extended the modern subject as a coherent individual with stories that were completed, events that were explained, and a world that moved toward progress and betterment. The individual was an agent whose own life had a particular direction which could be harmonized with the direction of history. Encouraged and cajoled to leave their wartime occupations, American women entered the suburban home to organize it and the lives of their children in a sexual division of labor that was constraining to be sure but which also provided them a sense of connection with the modern. As alter egos to their husbands and as managers of the home women too might believe, as the dominant discourse insisted, that they were agents of history.

The structure and content of television introduced a new pattern into the lives of modern Americans and Canadians in the 1950s. A continuous flow of images worked against the temporality of cultural objects as demarcated in time, and a continuous interruption of programs by commercials undermined the unity of the program. An imaginary geared to the aesthetics of coherence was punctured with regularity by fantasies of gratification through consumption. The linear narrative of Oedipal desire was displaced by a schizophrenic narrative of multiplicity, of fragmentary yearnings, opening the subject to less centralized patterns of identification. The political economy of commercial network broadcasting introduced into the most privatized nuclear unit in history an outside, a mediatized public world with a post-Oedipal libidinal structure. By the 1960s this was also true in Australia where I came to live in the early 1970s. For more on this theme go to:http://www.uiowa.edu/~ijcs/mediation/poster.htm

Part 2:

Cultural Studies has tended to prioritise the domain of leisure and consumption over work as an area for meaning making, in many ways defining everyday life in opposition to work. Greg Noble, a cultural researcher who examined work in the context of the early computerisation of Australian universities made the point that "discussions of everyday life often make the mistake of assuming that everyday life equates with home and family life, or leisure". This article argues for the need within Cultural Studies to focus on work and media as a research area of everyday life. With the growth of flexible and creative labour and the widespread uptake of an array of new media technologies used for work, traditional ways to identify and measure the space and time of work have become increasingly flawed, with implications for how we account for work and negotiate its boundaries. New approaches are needed to address the complex media environments and technological practices that are an increasing part of contemporary working life. 

Cultural Studies can make a significant impact towards this research agenda by offering new ways to analyse the complex interrelations of space, time and technology in everyday work practice. To further this goal, a new material practices account of work termed Officing is introduced, developed through my doctoral research on professionals' daily use of information and communication technology. This approach builds on the key cultural concepts of "bricolage" and "appropriation" combined with the idea of "articulation work" proposed by Anselm Strauss, to support the analysis of the office workplace as a contingent and provisional arrangement or process. For a series of articles on this subject go to: http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/issue/view/impact

SUBURBIA

Part 1:

A special issue of M/C Journal of Media and Culture(Vol. 14, No. 4, 2011) has been prompted by the "Creative Suburbia" symposium held at the Queensland University of Technology in September 2010. The symposium brought together researchers from cultural studies, communication and media studies, cultural geography, urban planning and cultural policy to share research and perspectives while collectively exploring issues around understandings of suburbia and suburban life. The word “suburbia” is almost automatically associated with homogeneity and dullness. But we ask does this "imagined geography" of suburbia match suburbia’s material and experiential geographies? If not, what suburban cultures, economies, and movements might it obscure? Where, and what is suburbia, and how does it work?

Despite a renaissance in critiques of the city, attention has largely been focussed on city centres and their inner core, with far less attention paid to the suburbs. As urbanism intensifies across the world—for the first time in history the majority of people live in cities—concerns about environmental degradation and management, social cohesion and the cultural diversity of cities are firmly on the agenda. In Australia, as in many other countries, the suburbs are where most people live and work, and, while metropolitan centres have undergone major changes, so too have their suburbs. Shaping the suburbs today are influences such as technological innovations enabling more people to work from home or to work flexibly. Many suburbs are now busy commercial centres offering a wide range of activities and services. The increasingly multicultural nature of Australian suburbs, enhanced access to mortgages and consumer credit fuelling speculation and consumption, have all contributed to the development of a suburban geography that is very different from the suburbs’ 1950s antecedents. For a series of papers on the subject of suburbia go to: http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/issue/view/suburbia

Part 2:

A suburb is a residential area or a mixed use area, either existing as part of a city or urban area or as a separate residential community within commuting distance of a city. In most English-speaking regions, suburban areas are defined in contrast tocentral or inner city areas, but in Australian English, "suburb" has become largely synonymous with what is called a "neighborhood" in other countries. In some areas, such as Australia, China, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and a fewU.S. states, new suburbs are routinelyannexed by adjacent cities. In others, such as France, Arabia, most of the United States, and Canada, many suburbs remain separate municipalities or are governed as part of a larger local government area such as a county.   
Suburbs first emerged on a large scale in the 19th and 20th centuries as a result of improved rail and road transport, which led to an increase in commuting. In general, they have lower population densities thaninner city neighborhoods within an metropolitan area, and most residentscommute to central cities or other business districts; however, there are many exceptions, includingindustrial suburbs, planned communities, and satellite cities. Suburbs tend to proliferate around cities that have an abundance of adjacent flat land. For more go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suburb

LISTS

“Everyone uses lists,” Francis Spufford tells us. Lists are all pervasive; they are part-and-parcel of how we experience and make sense of the world. According to Umberto Eco, the whole history of creative production can be seen as one that is characterised by an “infinity of lists.” This infinity of lists comprises: (i) visual lists like sixteenth century religious paintings, & Dutch still life paintings; (ii) pragmatic or utilitarian lists like shopping lists, library catalogues, assets in a will; (iii) poetic or literary lists such as in the works of writers like Joyce or Sebald; (iv) lists of places, lists of things like the great list of ships in the Iliad, and so on, ad infinitum. In accordance with such variation in form comes great variation in purpose, with lists used to “enumerate, account, remind, memorialize, order,” and so on. List making, Geoffrey Bowker and Susan Leigh Star point out, “has frequently been seen as one of the foundational activities of advanced human society”: to cite three examples, list making is argued to be crucial to our understanding of orality and the development of literacy, and to the connection between these and later forms and techniques of information management, as well as to our appreciation of the functioning and value of narrativity. In this way, Robert Belknap perhaps has a point in proposing that, “The list form is the predominant mode of organizing data relevant to human functioning in the world”. For a series of papers on this subject go to: http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/issue/view/list

COMIC BOOKS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS

Part 1:

The “Comics and Media” special issue of the online journal, Critical Inquiry, considers a range of mediascapes: the objects of its critical essays include film, ballet, vernacular Russian print, transmedia games, comics, sculpture, panorama, & hyperprint. Examining, as these essays do, ballet alongside games and alongside comics, the question for readers is: how do these forms inform each other and, through their constellation, promote a robust comparative media studies? These forms raise a number of aesthetic and philosophical questions into how artistic forms in general generate movement and stillness on both their surfaces and within their audiences. There are also questions about how they enable different forms of play, and how people experience and apprehend media in relation to each other. This special online issue balances three essays exploring different media forms that make up a transhistorical media triptych: Yuri Tsivian, Daria Khitrova, and Patrick Jagoda, N. Katherine Hayles, and Patrick LeMieux.

There are three essays that take comics as a central point of inquiry and reveal their commitments by situating the form within various media ecologies.  The essays are illustrated with comics art by ten contemporary cartoonists. There are also images from the May 2012 “Comics: Philosophy & Practice” conference at the University of Chicago, and a sampling of images from Henry Jackson Lewis (1837–1891). He was an artist who was born into slavery and has been called the first African-American cartoonist.  This issue does not emphasize multimedia forms but rather transmedia relations—both historical and currently unfolding—among ostensibly discrete and evidently imbricated or impure forms. For more go to:http://criticalinquiry.uchicago.edu/past_issues/issue/spring_2014_v40_n3/

Part 1.1:

Like other popular cultural forms before them, comic books and graphic novels have moved up Stuart Hall's 'cultural escalator' and, as a consequence, have had their cultural value enhanced in the eyes of cultural and aesthetic institutions.  Hall, along with Richard Hoggart and Raymond Williams, was one of the founding figures of the school of thought that is now known as British Cultural Studies or The Birmingham School of Cultural Studies.  Hall was the director of The Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University from 1968 to 1979. Hall left the centre in 1979 to become a professor of sociology at the Open University. Hall retired from the Open University in 1997 and is now a Professor Emeritus. The British newspaper The Observer called him "one of the country's leading cultural theorists".

The academy has helped propel this rise of comics and graphic novels; there are an increasing number of conferences, journals & journal editions dedicated to comics. Published works, such as Hunting the Dark Knight: Twenty-First Century Batman (Brooker 2012), Critical Approaches to Comics: Theories and Methods (Smith & Duncan 2012) and Comics and Culture: Analytical and Theoretical Approaches to Comics (Magnussen 2000), have all extended the range of scholarly understanding of the comic book phenomenon. Works by artists, writers and scholars including Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Art Spiegelman, Frank Miller, Scott McCloud, Will Brooker & Danny Fingeroth have forced a reappraisal of the space occupied by comic books: "A form that was once solely the province of children's entertainment now fills bookshelves with mature, brilliant works. Cartoonists' work is hung on the walls of galleries and museums" (Wolk 2007, 3). For a useful overview of 'the graphic novel' go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graphic_novel

Part 2:

At No. 9 on the graphic books hardcover best-seller list in July 2013 is Volume 1 of “Thor: God of Thunder,” which reprints the first five issues of the latest series devoted to Thor, one of Marvel’s top heroes. The series is written by Jason Aaron and illustrated by Esad Ribic. The first word to describe the result of this creative team is: "Wow" according to George Gene Gustines in his New York Times article on 4 July 2013:
 "Graphic Books Best Sellers: A ‘Thor’ That Wows." This volume of Thor is part of Marvel’s “NOW” initiative which restarted many of the company’s signature series. The Hulk, Captain America, and various groupings of X-Men and Avengers, have been nothing short of impressive. Now Thor happily joins those ranks. For more on comics as reviewed in the New York Times go to: http://query.nytimes.com/search/sitesearch/#/editorials and opinion comics  Go to this link for a more general overview:  http://scan.net.au/scan/index.php

WONDER WOMAN

Officially the comic, not a comic strip in a newspaper, but a book following the serial adventures of a hero or in this case a heroine, was launched in 1941.  It was launched by a man named William Moulton Marston. Marston, working under the name Charles Moulton, was without doubt the creator, but in practice he was assisted by his wife, Sadie Elizabeth Holloway Marston (sometimes called Sadie, sometimes Betty), and by a younger woman, Olive Byrne, who had lived with the married couple for years. After Marston died in 1947 Sadie & Olive would live together for several more decades. The trio’s domestic arrangement has often been called “polyamorous,” a shorthand label that doesn’t quite capture its alternating vibes of sexual fluidity, personal and professional fusion, and the convenience of its work–life balance. For a review in The New York Review of Books(14/11/'14) entited "Wonder Woman: The Weird, True Story" by Sarah Kerr go to the following link. It is a review of The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore(Knopf, 400 pages), and Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine by Tim Hanley(Chicago Review Press, 300 pages). Go to:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/nov/20/wonder-woman-weird-true-story/?insrc=toc



IDENTITY: IN A POST-MODERN WORLD

Part 1:

Within ‘traditional’ societies, identity was perceived to be fixed, solid, and stable, a function of predefined social roles. Within the ‘age of modernity,’ identity becomes more ‘mobile, multiple, personal, self-reflexive, and subject to change and innovation. Yet the forms of identity in modernity are also relatively substantial and fixed; identity still comes from a circumscribed set of roles and norms.  However, ‘from the postmodern perspective, as the pace, extension, and complexity of modern societies accelerates, identity becomes more and more unstable, more and more fragile’ a process whereby identity is a game that one plays, so that one can easily shift from one identity to another. As Hall articulates in Lee Baron's "The Seven Ages of Kylie Minogue: Postmodernism, Identity, and Performative Mimicry," in the journal Nebula, V. 5, N. 4, December 2008:


"The Postmodern subject is conceptualized as having no fixed, essential or permanent identity. Identity becomes a ‘moveable feast’: formed and transformed continuously in relation to the ways we are represented or addressed in the cultural systems which surround us."  Identity is historically, sociologically and psychologically defined, not biologically and traditionally.  The subject assumes different identities at different times, identities which are not unified around a coherent ‘self. ’ I became conscious of this aspect of my life by my middle age: (i) as I went through the many and several stages in the lifespan, and (ii) as I went from job to job, country to country, state to state, and city to city. Coherency had its source in several places one of which was an ethical and philosophical core that was derived from the religion I had joined in my mid-teens.

Within us are contradictory identities, pulling in different directions, so that our identifications are continuously being shifted about, no matter what our religion and philosophy, our ethics and belief-system may be. The fully unified, completed, secure & coherent identity, says Baron, is a fantasy. I can go a long way with Baron, but not all the way in relation to this complex and fascinating subject.

Part 2:

Postmodern identity is consequently constituted theatrically, at least within this social scientific perspective.  In our contemporary world it is possible to change identities, to switch with the changing ‘winds of fashion’(Kellner, 1992).  Millions are now involved in this process, although each individual's understanding and capacity to articulate this reality, varies a great deal. This is only obvious. People frequently change thier life, their life-style, the direction of their life-narrative, because identity is something individuals construct and reconstruct.  For Baron, among many other students of the subject, a person's identity is grounded in game playing, and specifically, mimicry. Some sociologists call this a dramaturgical view of social reality.

There is now a whole language, a specialized vocabulary of terms, that sociologists, who draw on this view of the individual and society, utilize. In addition to the terms "agon, alea and ilinx" within the classification of games, as articulated by Caillois, there is a fourth concept – "mimicry".  Man, Play and Games is the influential 1961 book by thIS French sociologist Roger Caillois.  I suggest that readers here who find this subject of interest, do some Googling of the sociology of play & games. Caillois' terms, his sociology, is derived from play and the work of historian Johan Huizinga. Caillois interprets many social structures as elaborate forms of games and much behaviour as a form of play. Go to this link for more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man,_Play_and_Games

For Caillois,‘all play presupposes the temporary acceptance of a closed...imaginary universe’   For Callois this is not an illusion; it is nothing less than beginning a game.  Play, in this sense, which Caillois terms ‘mimicry,’ involves ‘make-believe,’ the shedding of identity whereby the player engages in masquerade, and the crux of mimicry is ‘incessant invention.' For this interesting and, I hope, useful, analysis of identity go to: http://www.nobleworld.biz/images/Barron.pdf


Part 3:

Defining oneself involves more than merely ascribing self-descriptors, there is an evaluative aspect to personal identity (Taylor, 1985) that typically requires individuals to hold some type self-theory that explains aspects of their self-conceptions to themselves and to others. Along with this evaluative component to personal identity, self-narratives are important to explaining who we are and what we stand for, both to ourselves and others. Recent research has presented models of identity that are autobiographical in nature (Bruner & Kalmar, 1998, Freeman & Brockmeier, in press, McAdams, 1993; Ferrari & Mahalingham, 1998). "We tell ourselves about our own Self and about other Selves in the form of story" (Bruner & Kalmar, 1998). Thus, we are able to elaborate who we are through the telling of self-narratives. The stories we tell reveal cues of our selfhood and selfhood in others (Bruner & Kalmar, 1998). For instance, McAdams, Diamond, de St. Aubin, and Mansfield (1997) view identity as an internalized and evolving life story, "a way of telling the self to the self and others, through a story or set of stories complete with settings, scenes, characters, plots, and themes" (p. 678).

Furthermore, autobiography is rooted in action (Lewis & Ferrari, in press). For instance, if a person conceives of herself as adventurous, then the narratives she tells herself & others must be rooted in actions that she conceives of as adventurous. Thus, self-narratives are derived from actions or expressed through actions. The self is transformed through interplay between the narratives we endorse and past, present and future life events (Ferrari & Mahalingam, 1998). Furthermore, from a narrative perspective of self-conception, the most profound changes in selfhood are revealed by the turning points in an individual’s autobiography (Bruner & Kalmar, 1998). For more go to: http://www.piaget.org/GE/2001/GE-29-1.html#item1 and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Identity

SUSAN SONTAG ON POPULAR AND HIGH CULTURE

"By the 1960's some of the popular arts, notably film and rock music, had taken up the abrasive themes and some of the "difficult" techniques that had hitherto been the fare of the university-educated, museum-going, cosmopolitan audience for the avant-garde or experimental arts. The modernist sensibility had created new boundaries for popular culture, and was eventually incorporated into it.  This is a fact that nobody who has cared for culture can ignore or should fail to treat with high seriousness." These words were written at the start of 1976 as I was about to begin my three years teaching the social sciences to students working on their: BA, BSc, BEd, Diploma, or Adv. Dip. at what is now the University of Ballarat, a one hour drive north of Melbourne Australia.  The words were written by Susan Sontag(1933-2004) an American essayist, literary icon, and political activist.

She continued: "It seems rather late to stop identifying culture with some Masterpiece Theater of World History.  It also seems rather late to respond ----on the basis of contemporary experience, and moved by pleasure rather than resentment----to how complex the destiny of "high culture" has become since Matthew Arnold whistled in the dark on Dover Beach."  The notion of culture implied by this distinction seemed to Sontag as awfully middlebrow, and plausible only to someone who has never been really immersed in or gotten intense pleasure from contemporary poetry and music and painting.

Toryish labels like "cultural elite" and "instinctual mass" do not tell us anything useful about how to protect that endangered species, "high" standards. Diagnoses of cultural sickness made in such general and self-congratulatory terms has become a symptom of the problem, not part of the answer. For more on Sontag go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_Sontag, and for more on the above theme go to:
http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/03/12/specials/sontag-notes.html

AUTOBIOGRAPHY AND POPULAR CULTURE


As I emphasize so often on this website writing is a form of autobiography. A home movie is a motion picture made by amateurs, often for viewing by family and friends. This is also a form of autobiography and it is used mainly by those who prefer a visual account of their life to a literary one. When the hobby began, home movies were produced on photographic film, but availability of video cameras and camcorders and digital storage devices has made the making of home movies easier and more affordable to the average person. The boundaries between consumer movie-making and professional movie-making are becoming increasingly blurred as prosumer equipment, targeted at the video and film production communities, often offers features previously only available on professional equipment.  This is yet another form of popular culture and autobiography.

Autobiography is one of the dominant aspects of this website. Readers will not be able, though, to find a home movie or any moving set of pictures to locate my life utilizing this new technology.  I do have some moving pictures, some cinematic, material at this site. But it is not about me.  Some moving pictures are found in several u-tube items in the music section of my site.The following link provides an example of some of these cinematic resources: http://www.bahaipictures.com/

For a history of the use of home movies go to: Wikipedia. I do have several videos, as I say above, on topics other than my memoirs in different sections of this site from U-tube among other sources. I have also posted several dozen photos at this site and across the internet, at Facebook, Photobucket and a plethora of other sites. When I pass from this mortal coil they will still be there as long as there is some form of internet and a web hosting service that allows people like myself to make their own website accessible via the World Wide Web---after their passing. Web hosts are companies that provide space on a server they own or lease for use by their clients like me. They provide internet connectivity after I have died and a place, a space, for people to read what I have written.  For a detailed explanation of this hosting process go to: "Web Hosting Service" at Wikipedia.  I now have a host for this website at Define Studio, an internet design company in Mosman NSW Australia.  I have made arrangements with that design company to host my site in perpetuity.


TWO FORMS OF AUTOBIOGRAPHY

Everyone from the ordinary middle-class person to rich celebrities now produce home movies.  Of course, in third-world countries such things are luxuries and, even in the first, the developed, world, many millions of people have not taken an interest in such forms of entertainment. Such visual resources, for those who do take such an interest, promote new forms of relationships between artists & their audiences, between autobiographers and their readers and they have a strong appeal to the fans of the celebrities and artists, fans who feel intimately connected with their favorite heros and heroines, big names and personalities, idols and icons in the electronic media.

Two students of autobiography, Sidonie Smith, professor of English and women's studies at the university of Michigan and Julia
Watson, associate professor of comparative studies at Ohio state university---describe two forms of autobiography.  One form focuses on the everyday practices of autobiographical narrating, the ordinary lives of people everywhere.  Home movies, for the most part, fall into this category. The other form of autobiographical text could be said to have an association with high culture. This latter form of autobiography is, they say, a more artful and analytical, more literary and insightful, autobiography.  Such distinctions are somewhat tenuous, though, in our postmodern culture.  Ours is a culture that encourages people to draw on a repertoire of multimedia forms for identity construction and definition as well as their personal life-narrative.  Videos made about everyday life by our consuming culture connect the formerly elite practice of video-movie-art with more pedestrian uses of the home movie users and their autobiographical lives.  Variously positioned autobiographical discourses, like my own, are intended to prompt interventions by others in my everyday life. My literary autobiography is intended, too, to bring like-minded people together.  My autobiography positions itself in a host of different ways across the internet at the more than 8000 sites I have joined.  It is read, in whole or in part, by an uncounted number of people. In the process, I take part in both forms of autobiography referred to by Smith and Watson.

AUTOBIOGRAPHY IN POPULAR AND HIGH CULTURE

Autobiographies are now found in both high art and in popular culture. They are not limited to either side of the above dichotomous societal divide of elite and popular culture and their respective social hierarchies.  My autobiography can be said, then, to participate in both forms, both styles, of this genre.  Autobiographical texts can, as I’ve said above, promote new forms of social interaction in everyday life. There are the more literary approaches to personal narratives and there are the more popular culture approaches; low-end confessional videos by independent artists & more sophisticated analytical treatments, are all part of the varied mix that is found in today’s world. The tension that the confessor experiences between a focus on subjectivity and an attempt to construct an identity that is communal rather than individualistic is a common one and it helps to provide a welcomed opportunity for introspection and often useful analytical and subjective writing.

Autobiographical videos have been making their appearance in the last two decades more and more.  While video has not been part of my autobiography in the first seven editions,  I may be more adventurous in an eighth and future editions.  Time will tell. I mention home videos here because of their increasing use in our culture, in our popular culture, for personal memoiristic/autobiogrpaphical purposes.  I think it unlikely that readers will ever find such resources at my website or anywhere else in the print and electronic media.   My life is expressed in print in the main as was my grandfather's before me, an autobiography he wrote in the early 1920s and which got published for family members in 1980. After my demise, print will be what I leave behind for those who take an interest in its contents.

SELF-EXPOSURE, SELF-REPRESENTATION, AUTOBIOGRPAHY AND POPULAR CULTURE

Smith and Watson's writing about autobiography and the difficult issues of self-representation is all part of the remarkable outpouring of self-portraiture in contemporary painting, photography, artists' books, and mixed visual forms such as installations, collage, and quilting that marked the last two decades of autobiographical inquiry in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, and elsewhere. My autobiographical work does not flaut autobiographical conventions; it does not exist at the outer limits of the practice of memoir.  I observe a kind of decorum; I limit my self-exposure before readers even if they might have a hunger for more intimacy and vicarious adventure. This limitation is part, as I see it, of my self-defined role. I have no intention of breaching social decorum in order to renegotiate what is permissible in the name of public presentation of my past. The procrustean bed of autobiography is now inescapably a rumpled one.  It is much slept in and is warm from extensive use.  I am one of those many academic critics who want to say "no" to excessive and repeated self-display.  But the autobiographical world is also haunted by conspicuously absent bodies who do not write and who do not know what to say. 

T
he world of the autobiographical has become a moving target of experimentation.  The visual excess of the artist seems to me to be the equivalent of the obsessive confession of the talk show, or disclosure on the psychiatrist's couch?  I'm sure some readers at this website will feel that I, too, have gone too far.  As I see the self-revelation found at this site, it presents the idiosyncratic particularity of my own past, one often at odds with conventionality and the multitude of norms of my contemporary society.  I invite readers to remake me in the present, to compose their own interpretive narratives of my life or theirs, to collaborate in constructing what I have provided as the indisputable authenticity of my autobiographical self.

WRITING AS PLAY AND POPULAR CULTURE

As distinct boundaries between and among the categories of autobiography and memoir are fading, it has been asked in recent decades: to what extent are literary, or narratively-based, theories of autobiography useful for inquiring into self-reflexive narratives? To what extent are they useful when they interweave presentations of self across multiple media, including virtual reality? To what extent does our theorizing itself need to be remade by contemporary practice at the so-called rumpled sites of the experimental, so that we may take account of changing autobiographer-audience relations, shifting limits of personal disclosure, and changing technologies of self that revise how we understand the autobiographical?  In different ways many self-representational acts are testing the limits of the autobiographical as act, discourse, and visual/verbal interface.
For more on this subject go to: http://www.the-rumpled-bed-of-autobiography-extravagant-lives-extravagant-questions/

I would like to close this brief essay with a focus on the concept of writing as a form of play, as a form of praiseful thanksgiving, as a way that mercurial energy finds a place, where the imagination can leap, where the heavenly wit of Hermes, that Roman god, finds a home.  Poetic language, wrote the hermeneutical philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer, is “language at its most playful.” Play, of course, takes many forms for me in my poetry and my life and in this autobiography.  Here are two manifestations of this tendency so crucial to language and life, two prose-poems that draw on aspects of popular culture: music, TV, film, games and the Baha'i Faith, from both a contemporary and a historical perspective.

WRITING ON POPULAR CULTURE

Harvard University Press should be wildly applauded for publishing an enlarged edition of Robert Warshow's essays on politics & popular culture. Confirmed admirers will relish the addition of eight previously uncollected essays. Those readers who are encountering Warshow for the first time are to be pitied for having missed out on one of the most intelligent critics of American popular culture. For more of this review of Robert Warshow's essays go to this link:http://www.othervoices.org/2.3/cbowman/index.html. The review is by Curtis Bowman and it is entitled "Robert Warshow on the Perils of Too Much Theory."  It is a review of Robert Warshow, The Immediate Experience: Movies, Comics, Theatre and Other Aspects of Popular Culture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001). Warshow's essays appeared from 1946 to 1955, primarily in The Partisan Review, The Nation, and Commentary. Because he died of a heart attack in 1955, at the age of 37, his life's work fits into a single volume.


THEY CAN'T GET NO SATISFACTION

Arguably the greatest English essayist of the nineteenth century, William Hazlitt, wondered whether anyone who had lived through the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars would find satisfaction in the contrived ardours of literature. It seems to me that the same question that Hazlitt asked early in the nineteenth century can be logically asked, a fortiori, early in the twenty-first. Although more novels are read now that ever before, there are millions of people for whom the renditions of experience that literature attempts hold no attraction. People for whom the electronic media bring the events of the world and forms of sensory entertainment into their homes day after day, year after year, for an entire lifetime and in such graphic colour and texture, sound and acuity,
experience a level of stimulus far in excess of that stimulus referred to by Hazlitt.  Hence the contrived ardours of literature in our day hold little to no satisfaction for these and other reasons to a substantial portion of humanity. -Ron Price with thanks to George Steiner, Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, Penguin Books, 1967(1959), p.27.

You might think this sheer mass
of observed fact and factual analysis,
the absolutely massive, burgeoning
literature out there day after day
would overcome and dissolve my
poetic purpose, my pretentions at
any formal control of experience
in these many clear literary ways.

Pioneering Over Five Epochs (1)
sole owner, Ron Price!....I claim
for this poetry the territory of my
own life, it goes without saying---
identified as I am with this new,
this emerging world religion in
a global society and not with the
precious and not so precious.....
graveyards of all civilizations that
are, as that historian Toynbee said
were moribund--perhaps they have
long ago died and are now singing(2)
their last songs and their last words.

1 The title of my entire poetic opus, now some 7000 prose-poems and several million words
2 Ivan Karamazov in  Penguin, 1967, p.36.
The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky in George Steiner, Tolstoy or Dostoevsky.

Ron Price
28 March 2002 to 6 July 2011.


NORTHERN EXPOSURE

Several years before I retired from my career as a full-time teacher, there was a highly successful television series entitled Northern Exposure(NE). The series aired from 1990 to 1995, but its popularity persisted many years after cancellation, well into the first decade of my retirement: 1999 to 2009, as dedicated fans continued to enjoy reruns and recorded episodes on VHS or on DVD.  Among the thousands of continuing NE fans, many often referred to the program to interpret, endure, and celebrate their everyday experience—as people do with some of the many forms, narratives and images in the print and electronic media.

The program text and its interpreted themes became for many an essential part of their personal, their biographical, narratives. Some of these fans came to understand NE as a narrative for the exploration of their own spiritual questions and spiritual discourse assisting them, in the process, to interpret their experience.  NE represented a confluence of popular culture, audience practice, and contemporary patterns of religiosity in the quest for meaning.-Ron Price with thanks to John Mihelich and Jennifer Gatzke, “Spiritual Quest and Popular Culture: Reflexive Spirituality in the Text of Northern Exposure,” The Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, Vol. 15, Spring, 2007.

I learned, Joel, over the decades to be(1)
consistently exhilarated and delighted by
the play of intelligence & its psychological
nuances. You are still so very young, Joel.

Sometimes I had to call truce to life’s drama
with its wonderful ten-course banquet. There
was the fatigue as my faith strained feebly
against the unbelieving night and there was
the melancholy, Joel, a sadness so ancient as
to have no name and trivializing as it did my
pitiable trophies & my minor virtues garnered
in so many old-sweet but often bitter times.(2)

My imperfections, Joel, are not so epically
egregious as to embarrass the seraphim who,
I am inclined to think, ruefully yawn at their
mention and my shame will not topple cities
or arrest the sun’s climb........Learning is so
often a very slow business, Joel.....You gave
starved imaginations: magic, myth, ritual, and
philosophy, religious wisdom, folklore, fantasy,
and living sparks from the moral dialectics of
diverse characters as masses discovered their
own meaningful autobiographical experiences.

What more could you want to give, Joel?

(1)The writers of this series thought of the five-year sojourn of Joel Flieshman, the young doctor from New York, in Cicely Alaska in terms of Joseph Campbell's myth of a hero's journey into a strange and magical land. By surmounting great challenges, this legendary hero wins new powers to take back home at the end of his adventure. I, too, had my pioneering adventures and hero’s journey as a Baha’i after nearly 60 years of association with this new world Faith. We can foresee, so argue some of this TV series’ analysts, that Joel’s moral and spiritual education will be unlike any in our own lives. Nevertheless, by living through his education vicariously with him, we might both liberate and discipline our own hearts. If this guy can grow, perhaps we can too, goes this line of thinking.
(2) Roger White, “Lines from a Battlefield,” Another Song Another Season, George Ronald, 1979, p.111.---Ron Price 4 July 2010


Many of my posts on aspects of popular culture are found at these sites:

http://forum.dvdtalk.com/movie-talk/592109-peter-falk-1927-2011

http://forums.onlinebookclub.org/viewtopic.

http://forums.comicbookresources.com/showthread.

http://www.talk-movies.com/movie-stars-directors-studios-awards/7359   
         (click on my photo and then on the words  "Find all posts by RonPrice)

https://www.dropbox.com/home#/History/Cinema/Popular%20Culture
(Dropbox is a site at which one can archive massive quantities of one's writing.)

LAW AND ORDER

Part 1:

By late evening, say 8:30 p.m. after, I’ve had a day of reading, writing, research, what I sometimes refer to as independent scholarship, as well as whatever social activity and domestic work has to be attended to--one of the programs I’ve been watching on TV, off-and-on in these first years of my retirement from FT, PT and casual and volunteer work, is Law & Order(L&O). It was and is the longest running who-dun-it drama on television, some two decades now, and has consistently included religious themes and issues in its storylines. There has been, as far as I know, virtually no research into the portrayal of religion in the program.

This prose-poem will examine: (i) how religion and religious concerns are dealt with in this drama, this who-dun-it series and (ii) some of my own views on religion.  Readers who find it difficult to understand how a writer like myself---with pretentions to making serious comments about life and society---can get some pleasure out of such a simplistic program, should keep in mind that a person like Ludwig Wittgenstein, arguably one of the greatest of 20th century philosophers, however arcane and obscure his writing was to most people who chanced upon his work, after exhausting philosophical work, would often relax by watching an American western or reading detective stories. I usually engage in some form of intellectual work for 8 hours out of the 16 I am awake and have done so since I took an early retirement in 1999.


The show was piloted in 1989, the year I started teaching at Thornlie College of Technical and Further Education in Perth Western Australia. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a spin-off of L&O, starring Mariska Hargitay premiered on 20 September 1999 the very week I moved to a town by the ocean in Tasmania for a sea-change and an early retirement after 30 years as a teacher. This series is still going strong.

Part 2:

I will try to assess the implications of the views of religion and religious practices in L&O and its spin-offs. I will argue that this drama’s views of religion represent a common view of religion in the USA in particular and in the West in general, that is: religious devotion is tolerable as long as: (a) it is of a socially acceptable variety, (b) it is not taken to irrational extremes; and (c) it does not harm other persons. It is a view I hold as a Bahá'í, although I have: (i) a wide range of exceptions to these criteria and (ii) I often felt somewhat as a strange outsider since the Bahá'í Faith is the newest of the world’s religions on the planet and I take my religion seriously, indeed, it is a way of life for me. -Ron Price with thanks to Dan W. Clanton, Jr., “These Are Their Stories: Views of Religion in Law and Order, The Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, Volume 4, Summer, 2003.

Each episode adheres to a standard format:
the routine is as predictable as the sun rising
in the morning-one can shut one’s brain right
off and go into visual-auditory-sensory mode.

The mechanisms of the criminal justice system
are given by good old exec-producer Dick Wolf.
No character arcs, nothing complex and personal
in relationships, no family woven-in to get in the
way of storytelling. Storytelling, tales and issues
ripped from the headlines and thus the narratives
of the show represent the events and concerns of
a large segment of America from the 1990s & the
2000s--into these years of this new 3rd millennium.

There is no essence, no real substance to religion
in this series; religion is just one among many of
the factors in human behavior sometimes productive
for the protagonists and destructive for perpetrators.

The total lack of any character development as well
as formal boundaries of the cop and lawyer genre
inhibits any in-depth substantive investigation into
religion. L and O is bound to a simple functionalism
in life and a view of religion as pragmatism in reality
and life-functioning as a myth that builds confidence
in our present social system------turning horrendous
crimes of passion into intellectual puzzles giving any
reassurance that in spite of threats to social order we
need not lose our rational equilibrium as the Western-
American criminal justice system......a workable moral
guide punishes evil & provides security for the good
and law-abiding citizens that we as the viewers are.

L&O advocates that people should accept personal
responsibility for their actions, no matter what their
upbringing, motivations, or situation.......Within this
more general call for personal responsibility, it only
makes sense to portray religious believers as a......
specifically culpable group for their actions, even if
it is their religious tradition that prescribes their,,,,,
behavior, their action, or motivation in question.........

People may believe what they will, but when their belief
turns into illegal action, they are responsible for that
action, not their spiritual leader, not their congregation
or tradition......L&O is tied to pragmatic, economic, &
ethical concerns. L&O is, in my view, one of the most
intriguing, routinized and comfortable views that is
found of religion on television in these hectic days
of international tensions & social complexity. For me
it is a marvellous sedative after a busy day & it helps
get me ready for a good sleep at night knowing that
the world is in the hands of Dick Wolf and the gang
and especially that very pretty Mariska Magdolina
Hargitay who speaks Hungarian, French, Spanish,
Italian & English and makes a quarter of a million
dollars for every episode she helps L & O make!!

Ron Price
5 April 2010 to 7 July 2011

TRAVEL

Part 1:

Travel is the movement of people between relatively distant geographical locations; travel can involve movement by foot, bicycle, automobile, train, boat, airplane, or other means, with or without luggage. It can be a one way or a round trip. Travel can also include relatively short stays between successive movements.‚Äč The internet is filled to overflowing with travel information. Here are two links with lots of information for your possible reading pleasure, FYI at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Travel and http://www.ba-bamail.com/content_12922/12_Trains_You_Have_to_Take_Som This last link will give you an insight into some of the best train trips you can take. Since the first steam-powered locomotive was displayed in 1804, trains have shaped the lives of humanity. By allowing people and freight to be carried along known routes in high speeds, trains made the world smaller, trade goods more available and travel more comfortable and swifter. Thanks to the transcontinental railroad that connected America’s east and west, the United States became an economic superpower. Besides their cultural and historical significance, trains also allow you to travel in comfort, while experiencing incredible vistas. These 12 train-rides are some of the world’s most scenic and luxuriant rides in the world, and should be experienced by everyone.


Part 2:

Entire sub-sections of this popular culture page could be devoted to the many means of travel:  foot, bicycle, automobile, train, boat, airplane, inter alia. I'll post a link to a series of papers about the car and leave it to readers to study in more detail the other means of travel. A car is a wheeled, self-powered motor vehicle used for transportation. Most definitions of the term specify that cars are designed to run primarily on roads, to have seating for one to eight people, to typically have four wheels, and to be constructed principally for the transport of people rather than goods. For more of this comprehensive overview of the car go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/?title=Car

Six hundred million cars traversed the world’s roads, or sat idly in garages and clogging city streets in 2010.  The West’s economic progress has been built in part around the success of the automotive industry. The private car rules the spaces and rhythms of daily life. The problem of “automobile dependence” is often cited as one of the biggest challenges facing countries attempting to combat anthropogenic climate change. Sociologist John Urry has claimed that automobility is an “entire culture” that has re-defined movement in the contemporary world. As such, it is the single most significant environmental challenge “because of the intensity of resource use, the production of pollutants & the dominant culture which sustains the major discourses of what constitutes the good life” Climate change has forced a re-thinking of not only how we produce and dispose of cars, but also how we use them. What might a society not dominated by the private, petrol-driven car look like?

Part 2.1:

I leave it to readers with the interest go follow-up on their interests in this burgeoning field with a vast landscape of data and books, essays and articles in cyberspace. For more go to: http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/viewArticle/176 For a u-tube item on the philosophy of travel go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aaExiKsvt9A&utm_source=The+School+of+Life+Mailing+List&utm_campaign=60e5362035-Holiday_Themed_Content_Email7_20_2015&utm_medium=email&utm_term

GARDENING


"The Floral Kingdom in the Bronx" by Robin Lane Fox appeared in The New York Review of Books on 8/1/'15. The article is a review of: (i) Flora Illustrata: A Celebration of Botanical Masterworks an exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden, November 15, 2014–February 22, 2015, and (ii) Flora Illustrata: Great Works from the LuEsther T. Mertz Library of the New York Botanical Garden edited by Susan M. Fraser and Vanessa Bezemer Sellers New York Botanical Garden/ Yale University Press, 300 pages. For this review go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/jan/08/floral-kingdom-bronx/?insrc=hpma


Gardening is the practice of growing and cultivating plants as part of horticulture. In gardens,ornamental plants are often grown for their flowers, foliage, or overall appearance; useful plants, such as root vegetables, leaf vegetables, fruits, and herbs, are grown for consumption, for use as dyes, or for medicinal or cosmetic use. Gardening is considered to be a relaxing activity for many people. Gardening has become one the central features of popular culture at least in developed and affluent nations. For more on gardening go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gardening

MY FIRST ESSAYS ON POPULAR CULTURE: 1983 TO 1986

Part 1:

Over thirty years ago now, from May 1983 to March 1986, some 150 of my essays appeared in the newspapers of a small town in the Northern Territory.  I had travelled-pioneered to this place in 1982, and I remained there until 1986. Many of my essays were about popular culture. Looking back it would seem that whatever intellectual-literary gifts I have been endowed with were first in evidence in these published writings, these essays in what was then and still is now a remote part of Australia. None of this material, these essays, have been transferred to this website.  Less than 10 years before these essays first appeared, I was a senior tutor in education studies in a college of advanced education, an institution that became a university some years after I left my position there. That writing ability had begun to be in evidence back then but, whatever gift of writing I was to possess, it was not really strongly in evidence until those essays started to appear in the Northern Territory, in The Katherine Advertiser in 1983.

“Time, which puts an end to human pleasures and sorrows”, said the famous English author Samuel Johnson(1709-1784), “has likewise concluded the labours of this Rambler.”(1) In 1784 Johnson’s literary labours were concluded and my own, in the field of writing, had just begun exactly two centuries later. A meticulous researcher can find some of my articles in former college magazines in Ballarat and Launceston at their colleges of advanced education, in newspapers in Tasmania and in Baha’i magazines and archives in the period up to 1984. But, in the main, even up to this date, most of my published works are in this collection of essays--if one excludes the internet and its new forms of publishing where my writing began to appear by the truckload in the last 15 years. Since taking a sea-change at the age of 55 to a little town by the sea: 1999 to 2014, I have published literally millions of words in cyberspace and found literally millions of readers.

For those who find my poetry not to their liking, or who find my autobiography in its many forms not to their taste, they may find in my essays manageable chunks of interest. Essays are autobiography in another form, at least that is one way that I see them.  In the years when the Lesser Peace(a Baha'i term you might like to Google) was gradually unfolding, 1919 to the early years of the 21st century, it was difficult to get direct and overt Baha’i content into the print media; few in Australia had been successful, although when I came to Perth I met two or three individuals who were more successful than I, or at least successful in different ways.(2) Indirection was often the only way in most situations in both the print and electronic media that a Baha'i who was a writer could get his work into print. In addition, many Baha'i academics have published their work in academic journals. I have not made a list of their efforts at other places on my website.

Part 2:

“The distinctions between living, writing and reading were beginning to become blurred” wrote the British literary critic Tony Tanner(1935-1998) in his analysis of the life of Henry James and the Art of Fiction”(3). James saturated himself with, immersed himself in, his own writing. These essays published in this small town in the Australian outback represent the beginning of this process of literary immersion in my own life. Ten years later by the mid-1990s, I was well advanced in my poetic efforts. My employment and my family and community responsibilities kept me, at least until the turn of the millennium, from the extremes of that immersion which James and other writers expressed in their lives. Even now, a decade later in 2011, there is little to none of the sacrificial vicariousness in my own writing and life that is found in James’ writing, none of the heroic proportions found in the erudite performances of some of the great writers of history, none of the immense energies applied to the effort to write as they were, for example, in the case of the Australian writer Xavier Herbert. Most of my writing in the decade after these essays appeared(1986-1996) was in the form of poetry and this poetry was mostly a font of pleasure with a great weariness at the edges. This continued to be true, at least in part, fifteen years later in 2011. It was also writing for a coterie and in small chunks of time due to my inability to sustain work at the keyboard for more than two or three hours.

Some of those essays from 1983 to 1986 deal with why I write and I will not reiterate these reasons here, but I should refer to the articles about Harold Ross, Shiva Naipaul, Brian Matthews and Norman Podhoretz since they contain some useful perspectives which I have integrated unknowingly into my own writing. I have not sent these articles to the Baha'i World Centre Library(BWCL). They are in the collection in my study here in Tasmania. I would also like to refer to James Olney, one of the great analysts of autobiography, who said autobiography can “advance our understanding of the question ‘how shall I live?’”(4) If these essays contribute in some small part to answering this question I shall be amply rewarded. And if this I cannot do, I hope at least that I can give the reader a little pleasure. I hope one day to make these 150 essays available on the internet.
-----------------------------FOOTNOTES--------------------------
(1) Bertrand Bronson, editor, Samuel Johnson: Rasselas, Poems, Selected Prose, third edition, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, NY, 1952, pp.164-168.
(2) Keith McDonald, Mike Day and Drewfus and Chelinay Gates, as well as the Baha’i Office of Public Information for Western Australia, in the years I have lived in Perth: 1987 to 1999, have contributed in no small way to the proclamation of the Baha’i Faith in the print and electronic media. They would merit a story unto themselves.
(3) Tony Tanner, Henry James and the Art of Fiction, University of Georgia Press, London, 1995, p.29.
(4) James Olney, Metaphor of Self: The Meaning of Autobiography, Princeton UP, 1972, p.xi.

Ron Price
3 August 2001 To 21 June 2011