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Critical Thinking Example: Popular Culture and Media

7 pages
1829 words
George Washington University
Type of paper: 
Critical thinking
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The idea of popular culture is familiar to many people. The reason is that many people in the current technological boom consume lots of media content in the form of music, television, movies and the internet. The relation of popular culture to mass culture places emphasis on the placement of popular culture within a capitalist view whereby economic production is a significant factor. Through this point of view, pop culture represents a collection of commodities that are produced through capitalist procedures and driven by profit acquisition and marketed to consumers. From another point of view, popular culture is a collection of practices and beliefs by a group of people who are considered to be culture makers. These beliefs and practices result in ideas and content that is acknowledged and accepted by audiences in a broader scope beyond that subculture. Popular culture is influential in peoples lives and determines their social relations. It also plays the role of a uniting factor among them through large-scale social institutions that shape their lives.

Popular Culture and Media

Haugen and Musser (2011) define popular culture as a set of practices, opinions, and material that represent the most widely shared understanding of a social structure. Brym and Lie (2013) propose another definition of popular culture as the sum of beliefs, concepts, descriptions, viewpoints, and other elements within the mainstream of a specific culture. When thinking about popular culture, despite how much audiences might respond to a commodity, the primary motivation is established to make profits for the culture makers (Hammond and Cheney 2016). For example, for a fashion trend to catch on among the masses, the trend makers might use various forms of marketing strategies such as advertisement through celebrities and other fashion icons to make the masses aware of the design. After the trend has gains acknowledgement, the consumers will be willing to purchase it, and that will give the trend makers profits. Popular culture content designed in a simplified and easily understandable way is most attractive to large audiences due to its familiarity (Hammond and Cheney 2016). To make the most profit from public culture content, the commodity being popularised and marketed to consumers should be standardised and formulaic.

According to Hammond and Cheney (2016), there are two main elements in the study of any popular culture, one being the perspective of the culture makers such as companies and marketers, and the other being the perspective of the consumers who purchase commodities. The main subjects in the sociological assessment of popular culture comprise the depiction of specific styles and collectives within the context of cultural items or activities. According to Brym and Lie (2013), classic sociologists explain the concept of culture and its role in determining peoples social life without the aspect of the precise form of popular culture. Pop culture is significantly impacted by mass media which integrates into the day to day activities of the society (Brym and Lie 2013). It is perceived as a method of persuading an individuals beliefs towards desired topics. Haugen and Musser (2011) mention that sometimes, popular culture is viewed as being trivial and dumbed down with the primary aim of having widespread acknowledgement throughout the mainstream. Because of the dumbing down, pop culture has many critics who mostly comprise of non-mainstream sources such as religious associations and countercultural groups. These sources believe that pop culture is shallow, commercially oriented, dramatic, and shady (Haugen and Musser 2011). For example, since the beginning of the 21st Century, the Catholic Church has been vocal in condemning the trending pop culture of the fashion world that they believe promotes the sin of the flesh. They also consider pop culture to be a platform for spreading immoral beliefs and lack of religious understanding among the younger generation who are most affected by the influence of popular culture.

Some forms of pop culture reside in the music people listen to on a daily basis. Favorite music having broad appeal on a global scale is usually spread to large audiences via the music industry which markets and benefits from the commodity. These forms and styles of the musical artform can, therefore, transfer to the listeners which influences their beliefs and practices. Music is used to tune the minds of the listeners by using it as a way of communicating to the masses via the lyrics that spread a particular idea to the listeners (Haugen and Musser 2011). The use of musical videos further promotes influence as there are graphical representations that can help to influence the mind of the listeners. For example, celebrities with large fan bases are currently being used by fashion houses to market their products via music. The fashion houses pay the musicians to wear their brand in their music videos and as a result, bring about the perception of that particular brand being cool or trendy since a favoured celebrity wears it. The idea is then communicated to the musicians audiences who will be inclined to purchase the fashion wear, so they also seem trendy. Personally, I have experienced the influence of pop culture through music whereby friends of mine have adopted fashion trends that are notably very close to that of a specific artist to whom they listen.

Televisions and film are other primary forms of popular culture dissemination whereby movies, tv shows and advertisements are used to propagate ideas about certain things and beliefs that are mostly commercially driven. For example, there are currently many shows and movies that all have a standard formula to them which enables the target audiences to relate to them and even believe in specific ideologies transmitted through these media. Most of the television programs may be fictional such as comedies and dramas or even non-fictional in the form of news, documentaries, and reality television. The characteristic feature among all these types of visual entertainment is the element of a topical focus that is used to entertain and pass a message to the audiences. Currently, there are many critics of mass media which are believed to be used to actualise various agendas some of which are politically or otherwise motivated (Brym and Lie, 2013). For example, during the recent national elections, some of the candidates used mass media as a platform to air their ideas and spread their influence over the citizens with the primary aim of swaying their votes. The same mass media was used by some candidates to spread propaganda and intoxicate the minds of the audiences by appealing to their inner fears regarding the popular culture of the current times. This aspect shows just how much popular culture is influential in the contemporary world where mass media is used to communicate political agendas and influence the beliefs and practices of the target audiences.

While critical theorists suggest that the masses enable their control through the popular culture which eventually sustains the societal status quo and capitalism, functionalists view popular culture from a different perspective. The functionalists believe that the primary purpose of pop culture is not self-serving to the culture originators but rather a bonding element for the society which brings together different people into one understanding and cohesive beliefs (Hammond and Cheney 2016). Hammond and Cheney (2016) use the example of how modern communal practices such as sporting activities serve as bonding rituals where there is recognition, identity, and trust among communities and social groups. Through such collective events, connections develop within society, and there is sharing of a common popular culture that allows strangers to communicate with each other (Hammond and Cheney 2016). An excellent example of a real-world sporting event that sustains pop culture is the World Cup. This phenomenon is a significant world event that is held every four years in different parts of the world, and it brings together millions of people from different countries who come together to enjoy the sport. These people support teams that they feel connected to and in so doing they are united in their shared support for the groups.

Apart from sporting activities and other shared practices, there are many more institutions that help to spread popular culture and enable shared interests and beliefs. Large social organisations such as the family, education, work, politics among others influence not only societys perceptions of the world but also their practices and relations. For example, my own life among many others has been shaped by social institutions that infuse popular culture into our minds. Ever since I was young, my family has guided me and has moulded my beliefs about the world such as how to relate to other people and how to behave appropriately. The guidance it provided was shaped by the shared societal views of the world which set the standards adhered to by most people in the world. Education is another institution that has developed my life by enabling me to acquire useful knowledge about the world and other cultures aside from my own. The experience has helped me to understand other people from different places around the globe and schooling has allowed me to interact with others from diverse cultural backgrounds which have shaped my perception of the world. The political landscape of my country and the world at large has also influenced my life and that of the society by determining our everyday lives regarding how our leaders serve us. Politics has also helped the community and myself to understand better how the political world functions and how different countries relate to each other. Through elections, we can make choices about how we want to be ruled and what ideas we believe in based on our leaders beliefs and their methods of operation. Religion is another social institution that has shaped my life and that of the society I live in for many years. From a young age, I have learned many things from my religion which have shaped how I perceive the world and my personal beliefs about humanity. The society in which I live has moral standards and ideas that determine how we as members are supported to conduct ourselves and how we associate with each other.


From the essay, there is an explanation of various concepts about popular culture and its medium of transfer in the society. There is also an understanding of how popular culture has been commercialised and has promoted consumerism whereby the originators of popular customs use it to make profits by marketing commodities. From a different point of view, the essay has also described the perception of popular culture as a uniting factor within society and among different people from all over the world. The influence of popular culture is demonstrated through real-world situations and current events. It has also been observed to influence societal beliefs and practices including my own, through various largescale social institutions that shape our lives.



Brym, R. and Lie, J. (2013). Sociology: 3rd ed. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.

Hammond, R. and Cheney, P. (2016). Sociology. Santa Clarita, Calif: College of the Canyons.

Haugen, D. and Musser, S. (2011). Popular culture. Detroit, MI: Greenhaven Press.


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