Takacs, Stacy. Interrogating Popular Culture: Key Questions.

Takacs, Stacy. 2015. Interrogating Popular Culture: Key Questions. New York: Taylor and Francis.

Chapter 4 – “What is the Object of Popular Culture Study?”

Study of culture as study of systems of representation – use of ‘texts’ to describe a representational system a la movie, clothing, books, etc. Texts, despite meanings with, are also shaped by social contexts. A representation as “a sign, image, or picture that stands for, or depicts something else” (67) – cultural studies perspectives would note that there are always gaps between the depiction and the entity depicted – reconstituted realities through mediation – Stuart Hall notes that mediation happens in two steps – 1) assignment of signs and symbols to encountered objects as a form of classification and organization to other concepts and symbols; 2) communicating ideas with others using these symbols and signs. Representation comes from field of semiotics (Ferdinand de Saussure) – signs comprised of signifier (word, sound, image) and signified (meaning). “We cannot make sense of representations without knowing the social codes that link certain signifiers to certain signifieds within a given context. In a real way, then, meaning does not reside in the signifier or the signified but in the codes that connect them” (68). Interpretation through:

  • Intentional approach – translating what author means to say through message. Foucault (1984) notes that author is a relatively recent concept – as prior, communal news and message transmission dominated. However, approach is flawed as it does not provide context for how author generates this message – author’s intentions may be impacted by sociocultural contexts, or may be misinterpreted by readers who come from other contexts.
  • Narrative approach – what is the ‘story’, and how is it arranged for a particular effect? How is information framed, and how may this impact us? Distinguishing between (holistic) story and (event-based) plot; recommends the questioning between equilibrium-chaos-new equilibrium model. Commutation test (Alan McKee 2003) – replacing characters or elements of text with ‘similar but different’ ones to see impacts and taken-for-granted assumptions. Nonfiction may use similar literary fictional elements.
  • Genre approach – grouping and classifying texts together for comparison – genre can be a means to measure innovation, despite offering standards of belonging (plot, weapons, character types, etc.) Genre offers accessibility to mass culture
  • Reception Theory- based on presumption of intertextuality and polyseme – based out of 1970s assumption that readers actively produce meaning – examines how readers process information and construct interpretations.
    1. Dominant (where author and receiver use similar codes of interaction – “What makes the reading ‘dominant’ is that it is the preferred message of the text and also of the culture from which the text is created” (76) )
    2. Negotiated – readers may take some meanings but ignore others, slight disjunction between encoding and decoding
    3. Oppositional readings – little to no overlap in encoding/decoding processes –
  • Reception Theory has now been modified to reflect a co-production of reading and text – where local contexts impact how readers interpret texts, and how a text is accessed.

Roland Barthes (1977)(semiotician) says that all texts are intertextual – borrowing from cultural references regarding the world and reintegrating them into new stories as a whole – making references to cultural scripts – they are polysemic, carrying many possible meanings.

David Grazian (2010) – works do not just become popular through the efforts of the entertainment industries – individuals’ actions are incredibly important to transmission, interpretation, and recreation.


Barthes, Roland. 1977. “The Death of the Author.” In Image/Music/Text, edited by Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang.

Foucault, Michel. 1984. “What Is an Author?” In The Foucault Reader, edited by Paul Rabinow. New York: Pantheon Books.

Grazian, David. 2010. Mix It Up: Popular Culture, Mass Media and Society. New York: W.W. Norton.

McKee, Alan. 2003. Textual Analysis: A Beginner’s Introduction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

“How Do We Relate to Popular Culture?” – Chapter 7

“Cultural systems help identify us as members of a group and provide us with a shared vocabulary through which we can communicate with one another” (140). Identity as not who we are, but something that we do (per cultural studies theory) – Buckingham (2008) – “identity is about identification with others”. Althusser’s idea of interpellation (hailing) – how we define and locate within already existing social orders – how we limitedly understand the vast identity of others, within our own scope and use – markers and gestures can be used in interpellations to create very real consequences. Kathryn Woodward (2002) – social factors may demonstrate what’s available to us, but “they do not exlain what investment individuals have in particular positions and the attachments the make to those positions” (143). Judith Butler (1988) and identity – coherence, multiplicity, tension and stability – “as a performance behind which there is no unified, coherent, or fixed self. Rather the social agent is produced as such through performance; the performance creates the subject, not the other way around” (143) – gender as a particular repetition of acts and style, but these are restricted by structures, histories, and discourses of our lives. Individuals become identified by symbols, and also use symbols to craft identity and connect with others – establishing patterns of (dis)belonging. Representations invite identification with symbols, characters, and values depicted. Henry Jenkins (1994) – representations are not simply stimuli that induce automatic response, but offer meanings that are emergent and active. Roland Barthes – exnomination – demonstrating how dominant viewpoints may be taken for granted (black superheroes versus superheroes, ex.) – similar to commutation test of McKee (2003) – he notes – “often texts will systematically exclude certain kinds of representations and not draw attention to this” – called structuring absences. Identification not as distancing or passivity – but “Identification involves some sort of imaginative extension of the self into the world of the text or ritual” (153). An investment and projection of self into the text – must be rooted in context – can we really know everything about people’s insights to their behaviors? Are they always honest, conscious, and complete? Online representations (particularly on social media sites) are mediated by ability to personalize, ‘friends’, and ‘likes’- group identification as offering norms and values à can individual actions online ever be truly personal? ^Read more on identity tourism (Langer 2008) – temporary and voluntary states of otherness.


Barthes (see above)

Buckingham, David. 2008. “Introducing Identity.” In Youth, Identity, and Digital Media, ed. David Buckingham. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Butler, Judith. 1988. “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.” Theatre Journal 40(4).

Jenkins, Henry. 1994. “Star Trek Rerun, Reread, Rewritten: Fan Writing as Textual Poaching.” In Television: The Critical View, ed. Horace Newcombe. Pp 470-495. New York: Oxford University Press.

Langer, Jessica. 2008.“The Familiar and the Foreign: Playing (Post)Colonialism in World of Warcraft. In Digital Culture, Play and Identity: A World of Warcraft Reader, eds. Hilde Cornelissun and Jill Walker Rettberg. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

McKee, Alan. 2003. Textual Analysis: A Beginner’s Introduction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Woodward, Kathryn. 2002. “Concepts of Identity and Difference.” In Identity and Difference, ” ed. Kathryn Woodward. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.


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