The BackShop Journal

A Gallery of Thoughts on Arts, Culture and Orthodox Christian Spirituality

American Pop Culture

One of the explanations for the prevalence of pop culture in America can be that there was no aristocracy that would set high aesthetic standards in culture. Various forms of arts became a commodity, therefore, and just like all the other products, subject to the rules of the market and competition. As everyone knows, high arts can never achieve the same demand as products of popular culture, so in the United States they cannot compete with pop culture. It is interesting that even in modern visual arts, some of the most famous works play upon the emblems of popular culture (Andy Warhol's Marilyn Monroe and Campbell soup, Jasper John's American flag, Lichtenstein's comic strips).

Like almost everywhere else in the world, television has played a crucial role in the dissemination of popular culture. Comedy shows and sitcom series, like Saturday Night Life (1975 - ), The Simpsons (1989 - ), Seinfeld (1989-1998) and Friends (1994-2004) have set standards in the industry in terms of popularity and profit. American Idol (2002-2016) was the first musical audition/competition show that created numerous offshoots around the world. The Real World (1992 - ) has also created a plethora of spin-offs, what became known as reality TV. Various talk shows, such as Oprah (1086-2011), Dr. Phil (2002 - ) and Late (Night) Show with David Letterman (1982-2015) helped create public opinion. Some talk shows, like The Jerry Springer Show, bring the worst from the low culture, including real fights in front of cameras, but they continue to draw large audiences. The most hyped up public event on TV is certainly The Super Bowl (1967 - )which combines a sports spectacle, music at the half-time show, and the long-anticipated, pricey commercials.

As opposed to some shows and phenomena that openly and unawaringly cultivate kitsch, others can be classified as camp, the deliberate and self-acknowledged theatricality, or a parody of bad taste. One of the American stereotypes is the love of everything big, and this excess is reflected on various levels, the capital of sin, Las Vegas, for example, the abundance of obese people, and the willingness to do anything to gain five minutes of fame, even performing outrageous or criminal acts.

The pervasiveness of the Internet in the 21st century drastically increases the speed of communication, which facilitates the sharing of cultural items from person to person through mobile devices and social media. This can cause pop culture items to explode in popularity almost instantaneously. The new phenomenon of popular culture are internet memes, an activity, concept, catchphrase or piece of media which spreads, often as mimicry, from person to person via the internet. Some examples include Gangnam style song, the LOL cats, and the Ice-Bucket Challenge.


With Amusement for All: A History of American Popular Culture since 1830 (2012), a book by LeRoy Ashby, is a first comprehensive history of two centuries of entertainment in the United States, covering everything from the penny press to Playboy, the NBA to NASCAR, big band to hip hop. Other topics in the book include film, comics, television, sports dance and music.

Why the Monkees Matter: Teenagers, Television and American Pop Culture (2016) is a book by Rosanne Welch about how a television show changed television, introducing a new generation of slapstick comedy.

This is Spinal Tap (1984) is a famous "mockumentary" about a heavy metal band trying to make a comeback while being followed around by a filmmaker.

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