The Sociology of American Popular Culture
This course explores a range of topics and issues relevant to the sociological study of popular culture as both mass media (film, recording, television, paperback fiction, advertizing) and lived experience (tourism, fads and fashions). We will begin by introducing and re-evaluating conventional assumptions regarding the nature of popular culture, including its much-talked-about relationship to our larger society. In doing so, we will challenge our everyday definitions of “popular” as well as “culture.” We will then move our analysis toward the production of mass media and live entertainment, with emphasis given to the functioning of the culture industries and their increasingly dominant presence in modern American life. We will also examine how individual artists and entertainers (i.e. musicians, designers) understand their own role within this larger commercial context. Next, we will focus on how various audiences consume and experience mass media and popular culture as a means of creating worlds of meaning of themselves, with attention given to issues of class, race and gender. Finally, we will explore the political uses and implications of youth-oriented popular culture and fashion, including the rise of riot girl bands and hip-hop music, the consumption of second-hand clothing, and the rise of the global anti-corporate movement. Specific course topics will also include: Disneyland; shopping malls; MTV and the commodification of “cool”; popular culture and bohemians, beats and hippies; tourism and the search for authenticity; subculture worlds and the invention of the “mainstream”; the business of television and film-making; painting and selling graffiti; the spatial organization of indie-rock clubs; Ecstasy and the international rave scene; and the place of the blues in the American imagination.