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mass culture


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1. Cultural products that are both mass-produced and for mass audiences. Examples include mass-media entertainments—films, television programmes, popular books, newspapers, magazines, popular music, leisure goods, household items, clothing, and mechanically-reproduced art.

2. In the affirmative sense, synonymous with popular culture (the preferred term in cultural studies and where the focus is on uses rather than production), although some theorists distinguish it from traditional folk culture because it is oriented toward profit and is organized according to the laws governing commodity exchange.

3. In the negative sense, a term used from the 1930s to refer to cultural products judged from the perspectives of both Frankfurt school Marxism (Adorno, Horkheimer, Benjamin) and anti-Marxism (Leavis) to be both trivial and trivializing when compared to serious high culture (see also elitism). This can be seen as a privileging of pleasures labelled aesthetic and the disparagement of those which are ‘only entertainment’. Mass culture is also criticized for its standardization (see also broadcast codes; commodification). Since the 1950s, sociologists, joined from the 1980s by postmodern critics (e.g. Jameson) have taken a more pluralist view, though some critics see globalization as leading to homogenization.

4. That which produces and maintains hegemony in capitalist societies, allowing the dominant class to control and pacify the masses.

5. The product of ‘the culture industry’ that is analysed in terms of its commodity form, its psychological effects, and its capitalist ideology (Adorno, Horkheimer).

6. Sometimes a synonym for mass society, or more strictly, the culture of mass society. A monolithic conception of culture which has been in decline since post-Fordism, postmodernism, and the web: see also demassification; niche market; segmentation.

Subjects: Media Studies.


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