Thursday, July 24, 2008


The story of art in the twentieth century might be told in terms of the displacement of folk culture by mass media. Initially, the emerging entertainment industry made its peace with folk practices, seeing the availability of grassroots singers and musicians as a potential talent pool, incorporating community sing--longs into film exhibitions practices, and broadcasting amateur-hour talent competitions. The new industrialized arts required huge investments and thus demanded a mass audience. The commercial entertainment industry set standards of technical perfection and professional accomplishment few grassroots performers could match. The commercial industries developed powerful infrastructures that ensured that their messages reached everyone in America who wasn't living under a rock. Increasingly, the commercial culture generated the stories, images, and sounds that mattered most to the public.

Folk culture practices were pushed underground - people still composed and sang songs, amateur writers still scribbled verse, weekend painters still dabbled, people still told stories, and some local communities still held square dances. At the same time, grassroots fan communities emerged in response to mass media content. some media scholars hold on to the useful distinction between mass culture (a category of production) and popular culture (a category of consumption), arguing that popular culture is what happens to the materials of mass culture when they get into hands of the consumers, when a song played on the radio becomes so much associated with a particularly romantic evening that two young lovers decides to call it "our song", or when a fan becomes so fascinated with a particular television series that it inspires her to write original stories about its characters. In other words, popular culture is what happens as mass culture gets pulled back into folk culture. The culture industries never really had to confront the existence of this alternative cultural economy because, for the most part, it existed behind closed doors and its products circulated only among a small circle of friends and neighbours. Home movies never threatened Hollywood, as long as they remained in the home.


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