chapter
23 Pages

Introduction

ByNadia Atia, Kate Houlden

Popular cultural forms have long been controversial and contradictory. 1 The popular is both what is chosen, enjoyed and consumed by a majority of people, and – at the same time – its very popularity condemns it to be dismissed as inauthentic, uninteresting or even dangerously corrosive. Its mass consumption, large sales figures and easy accessibility (be it commercial or semantic) is both what marks ‘the popular’ as successful and what damns it as fatuous. Despite later challenges and critiques, Matthew Arnold’s influential understanding of culture as ‘the best which has been thought and said in the world,’ with its implied hierarchical, class, gendered and race-bound investment in an educated elite protecting the established and worthy canon against the potential contagion of popular forms, arguably continues to shape our understanding and reception of culture today. 2 Popular cultural products remain contentious: defended, rehabilitated, dismissed or maligned but never without debate.