I have a piece coming out shortly in Philosophy Now, a pop philosophical magazine published in London. Starting on Labor Day, they gave me free access to online content. I’ve been greatly enjoying it, so much so that I’ll be tempted to subscribe once my coupon expires.
One of their more popular pieces was written in 2007 by Tim Delaney, “Pop Culture: An Overview” (subscription required). I found this passage useful for filling out some vague notions I had about the rise of mass society:
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Through most of human history, the masses were influenced by dogmatic forms of rule and traditions dictated by local folk culture. Most people were spread throughout small cities and rural areas – conditions that were not conducive to a ‘popular’ culture. With the beginning of the Industrial era (late eighteenth century), the rural masses began to migrate to cities, leading to the urbanization of most Western societies.
Urbanization is a key ingredient in the formation of popular culture. People who once lived in homogeneous small villages or farms found themselves in crowded cities marked by great cultural diversity. These diverse people would come to see themselves as a ‘collectivity’ as a result of common, or popular, forms of expression. Thus, many scholars trace the beginning of the popular culture phenomenon to the rise of the middle class brought on by the Industrial Revolution.
Industrialization also brought with it mass production; developments in transportation, such as the steam locomotive and the steamship; advancements in building technology; increased literacy; improvements in education and public health; and the emergence of efficient forms of commercial printing, representing the first step in the formation of a mass media (eg the penny press, magazines, and pamphlets). All of these factors contributed to the blossoming of popular culture. By the start of the twentieth century, the print industry mass-produced illustrated newspapers and periodicals, as well as serialized novels and detective stories. Newspapers served as the best source of information for a public with a growing interest in social and economic affairs. The ideas expressed in print provided a starting point for popular discourse on all sorts of topics. Fueled by further technological growth, popular culture was greatly impacted by the emerging forms of mass media throughout the twentieth century. Films, broadcast radio and television all had a profound influence on culture.