chapter  6
ByMichael O’Shaughnessy
Pages 15

In the last few years there has been much study of ‘popular culture’, an area in which television programmes are perceived as a central concern. I want to look at how popular culture has been conceived as a broad context for thinking about the ideological meaning and pleasures of popular television programmes. So, what is ‘popular culture’, how has it been understood and why did cultural theorists become interested in it? Popular culture is difficult to define because of its diversity; football, Christmas celebrations, Space Invaders, bingo, disco dancing, EastEnders, MacDonalds, and fish and chips might all be included. Yet there are common defining characteristics; first, for my purposes, popular culture refers to those activities and pastimes which take place outside the constraints of work as a part of leisure time, and which are perceived by consumers as providing forms of pleasure and entertainment. Second, ‘popular’ combines two meanings: originally ‘popular’ culture referred to the culture ‘of the people’, to folk and working-class cultural pursuits produced for the people and by the people. From some leftwing perspectives this has been seen as the only authentic and politically correct form of culture.2 With the developing technology of the twentieth century this culture has been disappearing fast, and the second meaning of ‘popular’ refers to those cultural forms which, through the rapid and easy dissemination of the mass media, are consumed by large numbers of people.