John Fiske Argues That ‘Popular Culture Lies Not in the Production of Commodities so Much as the Productive Use of Industrial Commodities’

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As the essay title states John Fiske argues that popular culture lies not in the production of commodities so much as the productive use of industrial commodities. What is meant by this is that popular culture produced upon the constant and active use of it by its consumers. He dismissed the idea that it is imposed from above on a helpless passive mass, which is what the Frankfurt School and other mass culture theorists suggest. In his book Understanding Popular Culture, Fiske states, ‘culture is a living active process, it cannot be imposed from without or above’ (Fiske, 1996, pp.23). Here Fiske is claiming that there are two economies, the financial economy which revolves around the commodity and is only really concerned with the exchange value of the product, and the cultural economy, where the audience actively take an interest in finding meanings and pleasure within the product. Once in the culture economy, the product is at the mercy of the audience, the producers no longer have any control. It is the use the audience then make of these products within the cultural economy which determines popular culture. The first studies of mass culture and the effect of it came from the Culture and Civilisation tradition. Matthew Arnold suggested that popular culture among the new working classes would lead disruption. He feared revolution and believed a strong centralised state was needed to counter the new barbarism of the working class and their culture. Also we have Q.D. Leavis who like Arnold, believed that mass culture would lead to anarchy as the traditional power was seen to be under threat. They believed that this mass culture led to a passive audience John Fiske’s evaluation of popular culture varies from what has been stated by others who have commented on the topic including the Frankfurt School, widely known for proposing the theory of mass culture. The
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