Popular culture as mass culture

Posted by: | March 22, 2009 | Comments Off on Popular culture as mass culture

Although football is not a fascinating topic for me, I found Alex Bellos’s article interesting in its way of presenting futbol in Latin America and in Brazil in particular as one of the main component of the national culture. I guess here, mass culture could be understood as nationally spread. But of course mass culture also implies the major role of the Media in the romanticization and exaltation of sport’s events. When I was reading the text, I have really seen an application of Benedict Anderson’s view of nations as ‘imagined communities’. Football in Latin America gather citizen’s imaginations and emotions together towards a similar goal. As the author says, ‘football gives Brazilians a feeling of national identity and citizenship’. I was both amused and surprised to read that the national football strip has a stronger national meaning that the national flag. Since the invention of the Olympic Games, it seems like sport has almost become a peaceful way of fighting other countries and to pit states’s strenght against other’s. A lot of references and terms in the text made me think that sport almost had the same purpose than military assertion for countries. The 1950 World Cup for Brazilians was a way of proving the state’s modernity. And yet we know that a state and its army’s modernity has always been crucial to the history of wars. For the Brazilian nation, losing the World Cup has been comparable to a military defeat and this historical event has stayed in Brazilians’s memories until today while Uruguayans already forgot they won. It was like ‘Hiroshima’ (I can’t believe they even dared making the comparison!. This defeat deserved a monument, like the one to the unknown soldier. This competition was supposed to become part of the national construction of Brazil by asserting the place of the country, as any myths in national histories. Instead it becames a myth of despair, exaggerated and romanticized by numerous books, narratives, movies, but still national. The ideological climat of this 1950 World Cup, both before and after, reminded me of every period of nationalist propaganda preceding wars.

I do have difficulties to decide whether or not national culture has to do with mass culture and popular culture. We usually explain the emergence of nation-states with the expansion of technologies of communication, which means a new ability of massive symbolic diffusion. However can national culture be considered as popular?

Nelson Hippolyte Ortega’s article present Telenovelas as a important expression of Latin American popular culture, but he does precise than telenovelas have been highly nationalized and identified to each producing country’s identity. So here, telenovelas are both popular and national, as well as being mass culture. The author describes telenovelas as a representation of the public’s symbolic and affective world, showing reality and daily life. The producers emphasize people’s identification and try to make of telenovelas a family ritual. The melodramatic aspect is supposed to emphasized the importance of the ordinary. To be honest after reading about the Brazilian Hiroshima, melodrama now seems to be a Latin American cultural trait. When we discussed it in class, I was wondering if this emotional exxageration about every events and drama in telenovelas could have an aim of catharsis. Make people living things that shouldn’t happen in real life. My understanding of this article is that telenovelas make ‘coexist commercial language and popular culture’ and this is precisely where lies the tension. At some points, the danger is that telenovelas that are supposed to be an expression of popular culture are took over by commercial exigencies and become populist and demagogist. Mass Media, although they have positive outcomes, are also at the crossroads between commercial and political stakes which force to ask ourselves about the messages in these televisual emissions. Is resignification really possible, or have telenovelas a manipulating and alienating component?

This is always the downside of all our technologies of mass communication; knowing if it really serves as support for the diffusion of popular culture, or if it is used as a mean for shaping people’s culture and attitudes, both by politics and commercials.


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