Unformatted text preview: High/Middle/ Low Coney Island Brow John L. Sullivan Central Park, NYC Department Stores Cheap Amusements Terms for "Modern Popular Culture"
Harlem Renaissance Duke Ellington Nickelodeon National Board of Review Rudolph Valentino Movie Palaces Patrons Leaving a Movie Theater, NYC, 1915. What is Popular Culture?
"Popular culture... includes both `folk' or `popular' beliefs, practices, and objects rooted in local traditions as well as `mass' beliefs, practices, and objects generated from political and commercial centers. Conventionally, objects taken to be part of popular culture are `readable' objects, written or visual materials for which there are available traditions of interpretation and criticism"
Michael Schudson and Chandra Mukerji, "Popular Culture" American Review of Sociology, Volume 12 (1986), 47-66. What role does popular culture play?
Provides examples of a "social drama" being played out Upholds ceremony and/or tradition Offers a "cultural framework" for change Glorifies the "popular," the common, the "mainstream" Reminds us of the subjectivity within a democratic society Questions for HIST-1302
What is "modern" about popular culture? Differences between high, low, and middlebrow culture? How does culture change the U.S. in ways that politics and economics do not? What is lost as pop culture takes on greater importance? Societal values? (Post-Modernism) Political assumptions? When? c.1880-1930 Redefines: Citizenship and Society Race and Gender Business and Economics This is not a political change supported by law; but a cultural one that is much less predictable Rise of Modern Popular Culture But sets new limits Very subjective CONSUMERISM (not producerism) now the greatest variable African-American Family Galveston, Texas, 1908 Victorian or "Highbrow" Culture
Debutante Balls (Quinceaera) Society Galas Fine Restaurants Art Museums Control Exclusive ($$) Value laden (what is high art?) White Male Native born "Red Light" or Vice districts "Low Brow" Saloons Brothels "Chop Houses" W/C 1893 Columbian Exposition: "The White City" 1893 Columbian Exposition: "The Midway" What Changes?
Income Salaries of white-collar and professionals increase (often with increase in social prestige) Wages of skilled workers increase Mass produced, cheaper goods e.g. "ready made clothing" and prepared foods "Style" becomes a relevant issue to many "Reason why" advertising Consumption Marketing "Reason Why" Advertising
Listerine (1920) General antiseptic 1921, manufacturer "discovers" a new need: fight "halitosis," bad breath will prevent your success in a modern society Ads show those using Listerine as "winners" in the modern world Two people, one uses product, leads to "success" (love, riches, acclaim) Note how the same is true today in most ads but less obvious than with these early attempts "Social Parables" Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt Another Key Factor in the Rise of Modern Popular Culture:
Perceptual change about the role of the City in American Life Charlestown, South Carolina, c. 1790 Cincinnati, Ohio, 1826 Five Points, NYC, 1820: "a rendezvous for thieves and prostitutes" [Gangs of New York (2002)] Milwaukee, 1890:
500 gals. urine and 10 tons of manure per day! The Highbrow Response: "City Planning" and Parks Calvert Vaux Frederick Law Olmsted "Tame" the City Through Nature "Tame" (or control) the urban resident with culture Four preconditions (all met by around 1900) But an emerging "Middle Brow" Culture complicated this picture Electrification
Mass transportation and evening activities Rise in disposable income and fall in prices
Approx. increase of 50% from 1880-1920 Increase in leisure time
Total of 3.5 hours per person per week Rapid urbanization (e.g., Chicago) "Cheap Amusements" Replace Highbrow Planning and Control
Also displays four characteristics Glorifies the urban environment
Modern popular culture is not a rural culture Mixed gender
Young, single, women with money Non-chaperoned Commercial the triumph of consumerism
Costs something to participate Separate space
Set aside for unique activities Frees behavior (not the church basement or Aunt Minnie's house) Middle Brow, "City Planning," and Amusement Parks
Coney Island's Sea Lion Park, 1895 - Steeplechase Park, 1897 - Luna Park, 1903 Coney Island's Luna Park
- Advertisers claim LP offers slower pace and lack of crowding - 90,000 people a day visited Luna Park in 1904! Uncontrolled excitement, something altogether new, wild, and "modern" Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras (1913-1914) -- Joseph Stella Note how "modern" art is now highly subjective YOU see what YOU want to see (rejects collective or high brow standards of beauty) Modern Popular Culture
Made more forceful because of the multiple ways in which it was expressed by Americans Today Spectator Sports Shopping Music Movies 1. Spectator Sports
Baseball (aka "rounders" in 1830s) 200+ amateur or semi-pro teams by 1865 1st professional league in 1876 Early National League very concerned with "low brow" image Stiff fines for players who violate dress codes and morality laws (gambling, drinking) Ban liquor sales, gambling, and Sunday games Raised admission to $0.50 to keep out ne'er-do-wells But influence from "low-brow" much greater than "high"
Baseball was big business with massive revenues by 1900 Profit motive makes this change happen Sunday double-headers Stadiums built in immigrant neighborhoods Penny newspaper coverage Most stars from lower-urban-classes Abandoned by dad at 7-years old for being a "bad kid;" spends next 13 years in institutions (200+ baseball games/year; learns upper-cut swing)
Films don't capture his athleticism like a middle linebacker, rangy and mobile, powerful "American League" openly caters to working-class George Herman "Babe" Ruth Red Sox: pitcher, outfielder, awesome hitter
Ruth hits 29 home runs in 1919, more than any other TEAM! Then hits 54 in 1920!! Harsh treatment by others
"Big Baboon" "Nigger Lips" (speculation that mother was African-American) Ruth (like Elvis later) represents the w/c "little guy" Pop culture puts those once on the bottom at the top! Very socially radical (like industrial capitalism) Prize Fighting Stag at Sharkey's (1909) -- George Bellows John L. Sullivan defeats Jake Kilrain, 1889, 75 rounds John L. Sullivan Boston Herald: "Excepting General Grant, no American has received such ovations as `the Great' John L. Sullivan" But an interesting question... What happens when sporting heroes do not "reflect" the majority population? Jack Johnson 1st Black (and Texan) Heavyweight Champ
"Brought home the bacon" in 1908 Held title until 1915 Challengers invariably seen as the next "Great White Hope" Fights usually led to riots Married white woman! 2. Stores and Shopping Shopping meant aggressive "bargain hunting," Lower East Side, NYC Shopping for and as a "fashion statement," the act itself is a consumable good Department Stores Marshall Fields & Co.: "Give the Lady What She Wants" Woman Drawn into the City Both service workers and shoppers "feminize" urban America; it becomes a place for unchaperoned mixed gender contact 3a. "Degenerate Culture" (Music) Duke Ellington and the Jungle Band at the Cotton Club, Harlem, NYC
Ellington considered by many to be America's greatest composer An Era of Phenomenal Cultural Expression: "Harlem Renaissance"
"Le Hot Jazz" Langston Hughes The "New Negro" Movement
Archibald Motley, Jr. Josephine Baker When "Degenerate" becomes "Mainstream" Culture "Flappers" "Fibber McGee and Molly" Amos `n Andy Bert Williams It then "plays in Peoria" because of the radio 3b."Degenerate Culture" (Movies) "Nickelodeon" Content
National Board of Review (1908) Hollywood self-regulates to avoid governmental oversight (again, progressive business provides for the "welfare" of consuming public) Rating System Thematic content
Happy endings No greedy capitalists No passion Little humor But is this what people want? Is this what they will spend their money on? More typical was... "Star System" Chaplin's "Message" (if it can be called this)
Wealth usually the product of luck, not Divine guidance Most people more concerned with getting by than grand ideological concepts In a democratic society, most authority figures are jerks (post-modernity?) Combined with remarkable physical skills as a comedian One A.M. (1914) America's First "Sex Symbols" Theda Bara "The Vamp" Clara Bow Movie Palaces Conclusions to Modern Popular Culture
1. Middle Brow Culture greatly eased the transition for many Americans into the modern era Chicken Egg? City Values and Mores (sex, gender, age, morality, etc.) Citizenship Consumerism 2. Popular Culture redefined all that was around it 3. Popular Culture reflected and amplified a new generation's views about society But something was lost and what, exactly, was gained? (again, the cost of post-modernity?) Sex Gender People of Color Edward Hopper, Hotel Room, 1931 Edward Hopper, New York Movie, 1939 4. Modern Popular Culture remained within (even supported) the new values of Modern Industrial Capitalism Modern culture was isolated within a world of stars, disposable consumer goods, and glitzy diversions [Post-Moderns accept this without worry; doh!] Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942 Chaplin: The Great Dictator (1940) ...
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- Spring '08
- Modern popular culture