Deadline: March 1, 2022
Popular culture has long been identified either as the expression of working class or common folk or as the lowly substratum of an idealized high culture; thus, the emergence of a media-crossing pop aesthetic in the 1950s marked the beginning of a whole-scale social and cultural transformation. As an aesthetics of surfaces and artificiality, of the somatic, the serial and mass-produced, the “zany, cute, and interesting” (Ngai 2012), pop has amplified the ambivalence of the popular, for instance, its qualitative connotations of the simple and trivial or the resistant and subversive, as well as its quantitative claims of being better known, more commercially successful, and more widely disseminated than that which is not popular.
The quantitative and qualitative components of the popular inevitably intersect if we assume that the simple and trivial can attract the attention of large audiences, because it requires no effort on the part of the recipients. According to this approach, popular culture is always low culture. That this is not the case becomes apparent when works of high culture make bestseller lists or when institutions of high culture seek popularity—when museums, opera houses, quality publishing houses, or theaters aim to attract the attention of many to justify their existence. The result of this process is the disruption of the established distinction between low culture and high culture, as these institutions would not claim that their popular exhibitions, concerts, publications, or performances are trivial.
With the popularization of the Internet in around 2000 and our current digital, algorithm-driven culture and its constant display of the metrics of popularity (likes, retweets, views; rankings, charts, hit-lists), the disruption of high/low distinctions has clearly intensified. In fact, pop’s popularity is putting pressure on the institutions of high culture, whose reactions range from accommodation and resilience to outright resistance. These developments call for new approaches to the study of popular culture.
We invite original articles that account for the role of pop in the transformation of the popular. We are particularly interested in work that examines the dissolution of high/low distinctions and for innovative analyses of pop as part of digital culture. Contributions that focus on the prehistory of these developments are also welcome.
Prof. Dr. Daniel Stein
Prof. Dr. Niels Werber