The distinction between folk culture and high culture existed in pre-industrial society where the local customs of ordinary people was divorced from the high culture of the aristocracy. With industrialization and urbanization (the movement of people in to the towns) a new culture began. This mixed elements of folk culture with the new ways of life in the cities. It both affected media content, and was shaped by media content. This new form of culture came to be known as ‘Popular culture’.
What is popular culture? This term has different meanings. Fulcher and Scott (2011) list three different meanings:
That which is not High culture – this is an elitist way of defining popular culture as inferior to high culture. This distinction is problematic as Shakespeare and Dickens were originally seen as popular entertainment but are now treated as high culture. There is considerable overlap.
What most people like – pop and dance songs are seen as part of popular culture. However it becomes difficult to decide how popular something needs to be to qualify as ‘popular culture’ as tastes vary across class, gender and ethnicity.
Culture created by the people – this definition avoids the problem of deciding on numbers of people and can be used to describe all forms of music, hobbies, clothing trends etc. However most music, film, advertising and fashion originate from the big six media companies so it difficult to see these trends as ‘made by the people’.
Postmodernist reject the distinction between different types of culture in modern society as they see all forms as equal, combined and interlinked. However other writers disagree and point to the exclusive practices of the upper class who still maintain a belief in the superiority of high culture like opera and art.
Mass Culture Mass culture is seen as having an inferior quality. Often it is in contrast to high culture and is associated with those from a lower socio-economic group. As we have seen, the characteristics of Mass Culture are that it is: