“Hey girl, I hear you like iambic pentameter” as I nervously try to break the ice between my classmates and I, in my Shakespeare class during my first year of university.
Literature is used sufficiently in contemporary popular culture, from making pickup lines to enlightening a debate. We wittingly quote from the likes of Aristotle, Shakespeare and Blake. This doesn’t just happen in literature, contemporary popular culture is also prominent in the field of science, where contemporary artists combine science with puns to tell a joke, for example:
In contemporary popular setting, popular culture dominates majority of the media, news, religion, politics, art and even science. We are fed with constant parodies of Miley Cyrus’ music videos, to weekly episodes of Keeping up with the Kardashians. A general political debate can turn into a subject of memes once a social media user extracts the source of material from its contemporary setting. Popular culture has a strong grasp on literary culture. It manipulates the narrative thread and even revitalises literary culture, placing it in a popular contemporary setting.
Source 1 is a picture of Ryan Gosling with a quote from Shakespeare’s ‘name of play’, whereas source 2 is a picture of Charles Dickens
Popular culture has also perverted religion, turning a spiritual figure into a source of meme – please take the time to appreciate Buddha’s words of wisdom which are listed below.
In Literature, there is a strong intersection between Literature and the popular culture. One example I’m going to focus on is the novel ‘Innocence and Other’ by Dana Spiotta. In the novel, the writer embeds Hollywood and the diet Dr. Pepper in her novel, which are two significant symbols of American popular culture. But why does Spiotta create space for popular culture in her novel? What role does this play in her contemporary setting?
Firstly, literary writers may use popular products/ settings to help the novel become relatable to the audience, and Spiotta does this through the incorporation of the Dr. Pepper as well as Hollywood. As you read the novel, as a reader you are left in this state of confusion as you are evoked by objects that are real in our contemporary setting. We are left confused as we read the novel, trying to figure if everything that is referenced is either real or fiction. That is the beauty of using popular culture in novels – it creates a fictional reality.
Secondly, why do literary writers influence their art with their contemporary popular cultural setting? Some may suggest that some contemporary literary writer writes for the contemporary popular culture because it brings financial beneficiary to them as well as fame. When we look at Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Temple Hill Production adaptation for example, it is said that Twilight film has have grossed over $190,000,000 in US alone in comparison to the original novel which grossed. By having a more relatable novel (due to the use of popular culture), it would not be surprising if sales of the novel heightened. We can thank popular culture and it’s diverse audience for that!
In Stuart Hall’s, Encoding, decoding, Hall argues that “messages are produced and disseminated”, and that when communicating a particular object/topic, it goes through a “four-stage” phenomenon: “production, circulation, use, and reproduction.” To simplify this, what Hall means is that when a message/topic is produced, the message is then consumed by the reader/audience before being reproduced into a brand new meaning.
How is this Relevant?
We can potentially look at the way Literature looks at popular culture as an object or how popular culture looks at Literature as an object. We can look at the way they consume the object before reproducing it. For example, referring back to the memes and how popular culture reproduces Literature: popular culture changes the definition of its object by turning what is supposed to be academically stimulating into a form of satire/joke to its popular audience. A clear example can be seen in this epic rap battle between Dr. Seuss and Shakespeare:
That can also be said with Literature; Literature circulates and reproduces popular culture and redefine for the purpose of the text.
Contemporary popular culture has a seemingly overwhelming influence over literary art. In contemporary setting, popular culture influences literary writers, and it clearly manipulates and reconstructs literary art from the past to help feed and entertain contemporary popular readers. It also widens the platform for contemporary literary artists, allowing them to showcase their creation and hopefully generate publicity, appreciation and income for their literary work.