CHAPTER 1: Understanding Popular Culture
This book consists of a number of analyses of popular culture in practice. In their various
ways they all, I hope, shed some light on the meanings and pleasures we generate and circulate as
we live our everyday lives. Culture is the constant process of producing meanings of and from our
social experience, and such meanings necessarily produce a social identity for the people involved.
Making sense of anything involves making sense of the person who is the agent in the process;
sense making dissolves differences between subject and object and constructs each in relation to the
other. Within the production and circulation of these meanings lies pleasure.
Culture making (and culture is always in process, never achieved) is a social process: all
meanings of self, of social relations, all the discourses and texts that play such important cultural
roles can circulate only in relation to the social system, in our case that of white patriarchal
capitalism. Any social system needs a cultural system of meanings that serves either to hold it in
place or destabilize it, to make it more or less amenable to change. Culture (and its meanings and
pleasures) is a constant succession of social practices; it is therefore inherently political, it is
centrally involved in the distribution and possible redistribution of various forms of social power.
Popular culture is made by various formations of subordinated or disempowered people out of the
resources, both discursive and material, that are provided by the social system that disempowers
them. It is therefore contradictory and conflictual to its core. The resources – television, records,
clothes, video games, language – carry the interests of the economically and ideologically
dominant; they have lines of force within them that are hegemonic and that work in favor of the
status quo. But hegemonic power is necessary, or even possible, only because of resistance, so these
resources must also carry contradictory lines of force that are taken up and activated differently by
people situated differently within the social system. If the cultural commodities or texts do not
contain resources out of which the people can make their own meanings of their social relations and
identities, they will be rejected and will fail in the marketplace. They will not be made popular.
Popular culture is made by subordinated peoples in their own interests out of resources that
also, contradictorily, serve the economic interests of the dominant. Popular culture is made from
within and below, not imposed from without or above as mass cultural theorists would have it.
There is always an element of popular culture that lies outside social control, that escapes or
opposes hegemonic forces. Popular culture is always a culture of conflict, it always involves the
struggle to make social meanings that are in the interests of the subordinate and that are not those
preferred by the dominant ideology. The victories, however fleeting or limited, in this struggle