Popular Culture as Mass Culture

Posted by: | March 16, 2009 | Comments Off on Popular Culture as Mass Culture

This week’s articles displayed popular culture through mediums which I most identify as being representative of Latin American popular culture: football and telenovelas. I felt like both articles, particularly the article on Brazilian football, did an excellent job of tying together all the different concepts we have discussed in class up to date.

I really enjoyed the reading Futebol: A Brazilian Way of Life. It was entertaining to read, and tied in many of the concepts we have discussed in class, from the people, to issues of race, to concepts of cultural mixing. Since the reading was rather long and included a variety of topics, I’ll focus on a few that I found particularly interesting.

The reading begins with a look into what is known as the “Maracana Tragedy”. The author analyzes reasons for why this event became so important in the lives of the Brazilian people as well as key in the history of the country. The author quotes Roberto daMatta who believes that this loss of the World Cup in Brazil’s own backyard was so influential to the Brazilian people because “it happened collectively and brought a united vision of the loss of a historic opportunity.” These collective events and memories are often the subject of popular art and culture, which brings us back to the key element of popular culture that people must be able to identify and relate to it.

The occurence of transculturation, for lack of a better word, is also included in the discussion of Brazilian football. The author mentions the contributions that the Brazilian indigenous people have made to the game of football. The indigenous people taught the Brazilian football players their style of football, later called “headball”, in which they passed a ball around using only their heads. Brazilian players later incorporated this element into their football style, and now this is recognized as a defining element of Brazilian-style football.

Football has also been widely accepted by the indigenous people. To be able to make it as a professional football player is a way for indigenous people, considered to be at the bottom of the social ladder, to climb the ladder up to the higher social classes. Some believe that the indigenous peoples’ acceptance of football is a way to bring modernity to their cultures. However, at the same time, it is also a way for them to preserve their culture, as the author mentions that indigenous teams, when playing non-indigenous teams, would shout “commands to each other in their language.”

Lastly, what I found most interesting in this article was the story of the Brazilian football legend, Garrincha. I felt that through the telling of his story, I was better able to understand how something comes to be recognized as part of popular culture. Garrincha reminded me in some ways of Eva Peron, in that the people of his country strongly identified with him. Alex Bellos, the author, quotes Jose Sergio in his article, who stated that Garrincha “never lost his popular roots. He was also exploited by football so he was the symbol of the majority of Brazilians, who are also exploited.” This quote further strengthens the fact that a defining element of popular culture is that the people must be able to identify with it. They must see a relation between them and it. I felt that the depiction of popular culture was clearest in the comparison between Pele and Garrincha. The two players could not have been any more different. Although both were loved by the people, I believe the people saw Garrincha as one of them, and were able to see themselves in him, and identify with him. Bellos writes that “Garrincha indulged in most of the vices available to him, Pele behaved always as a model player.” The average person cannot be perfect all the time. Everyone has flaws. Garrincha wasn’t ashamed to show his flaws, and people recognized him as therefore being human. He was accepted by the people, similar to how Eva Peron was accepted by her people.

In Big Snakes on the Streets and Never Ending Stories, the case of Venezuelan telenovelas is explored. In particular, the author focuses on one telenovela, Por estas calles. This telenovela in particular changed and re-defined the genre in Latin America. This redefinition was mainly due to the change in subject matter of the telenovela. While most televenovelas follow a similar storyline, Por estas calles tried to break conventions and include different subject matter.

However, even prior to Por estas calles, telenovelas were widely watched by the Latin American people. Telenovelas, which we can consider to be a part of popular culture, often include elements of melodrama, which Peter Brooks defines as “a popular form not only because it is favored by the audience, but also because it insists– or tries to insist– on the dignity and importance of the ordinary.” We can tie this quote back to the article by Raymond Williams who stated that “culture is ordinary.” Melodrama can be considered a popular form because it relates to the ordinary or things we experience every day in our lives, but makes it into something more.

However, the main point of the article in its analysis of Por estas calles is that this telenovela became such a defining part of the genre and of Venezuelan popular culture in general because it was real. The topics and storylines covered in the telenovela were reflections of what was actually going on in the country at the time. Therefore, viewers were able to identify with the storylines AND the characters. The telenovela was, in essence, a reflection of their lives.

For me, the major takeaway from both articles was that a defining characteristic of popular culture is the ability for people to recognize and relate their lives to it. If the people don’t feel that the subject matter is relevant to them, they will not accept it. And if it is not accepted by the people, we cannot consider it to be popular culture in its truest form.


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