I've recently written a book called Enjoying It: Candy Crush and Capitalism. The book discusses Gangnam Style, Candy Crush, Game of Thrones and Football Manager, trying to show that these often un-interrogated bits of popular culture can be really important parts of our social order. It was my belief that these were some of the most important things going on around us. Popular culture is deeply political and can show us important truths about our society and how it works.
Already though, people I know have dismissed the book as being not very serious: they think it is not a real critique of capitalism, compared to say, a book on the serious topics of Politics, Philosophy or History. This seems to be the general attitude: that popular culture is something simple and not deserving of our attention.
Here I put together a list of 5 books from the history of literature that have taken pop culture seriously, very seriously indeed.
1. Plato, The Republic (around 380BC).
In ancient Greece, Plato wasn't writing about what we call 'popular culture' today. But, he was deeply suspicious of all sorts of things that he considered 'lower' than philosophy, even (controversially) Homer and his poetry. He thought we should 'censor' such material and protect our impressionable people from having access to it. Today, Plato's claims seem a little right-wing, but if he were alive now he would at least know that popular culture is a powerful thing that we should not be taken lightly.
2. Louis Aragon, Paris Peasant (1929)
In 1929, Surrealist writer Louis Aragon walked through the streets of Paris and recorded all the signposts, adverts and written words he could see all around him. He compiled these images from the Parisian streets and Arcades and turned them into a truly bizarre and powerful surrealist 'novel' which captured just how powerful and important everyday life is.
3. Theordor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, 'The Culture Industry' (1944)
In 1944, Frankfurt School philosophers Adorno and Horkheimer produced a scathing critique of everything popular, coining the term 'culture industry' that would be used for generations afterwards. They thought that mass culture was producing a widespread false society in which we are all controlled and restricted.
4. Roland Barthes, Mythologies (1957).
Somewhat breaking away from Adorno's conviction that pop culture was almost all bad, in 1957 Roland Barthes discussed the hidden and secret ideologies behind all sorts of popular things that appear in everyday life. In this fascinating and revolutionary book he analyzes washing detergent adverts, cars, wrestling and the Tour de France among other things, showing how strange our relationship to all things popular can really be.
5. Joe Moran, Reading the Everyday (2005)
English Literature lecturer Joe Moran produced a brilliant study of everyday life in 2005, taking literally everything seriously. The book includes chapters called 'Reading the Bus Stop' and 'Location, Location, Location.' The book asks us to think again about what we see around us on a daily basis.
These five powerful texts really challenge the assumptions that are made in our society that things like Candy Crush, bus stops, adverts and pop music are uninteresting and un-important. They show that, whether we like pop culture or not, it is vital to think about it carefully!