The End of Mass Culture?

The last few decades have been great for mass culture. Intellectuals used to describe popular music, for instance, as “the sphere that mummifies the vulgarized and decaying remnants of romantic individualism.” They used to claim that consumers “behave like children. Again and again and with stubborn malice, they demand the one dish they have once been served.” Today, we’re more likely to point out that fans use their agency to negotiate with their favorite shows, songs and films, to analyze how, in those negotiations, they resist late capitalism. University syllabi include Star Wars, Harry Potter, and hip-hop, while professors write books about Bob Dylan, film noir, or sci-fi. Television, once exclusively ‘mass,’ is in a golden age: the best realist art of the 21st century, in America at least, is still The Wire; the best political satire, Veep. The most important critical opinions now belong not to New Yorker book reviewers, but to amazon customers. The latest Penguin Classic is Morrissey’s biography.

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