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The term “mass culture” is used in different contexts, therefore, in cultural studies itself, it became necessary to clarify this term. The definitions of mass culture can be divided into qualitative and quantitative.
The basis of qualitative definitions is the evaluation of mass culture. Popular culture is opposed to the elite on certain ethical and aesthetic criteria. Mass culture differs from the elite one as it refers not to the specialized (for example, professionally prepared), but to the ordinary, non-reflexive consciousness, in which the comprehended is transformed in accordance with the uncritically learned patterns. From the point of view of the aesthetic value of works of mass culture, it is customary to evaluate it as a profanation of culture, oriented not to masterpieces, as traditional art, but to obviously mediocre (and, most importantly, cash) works. This opposition, formed in the beginning of the twentieth century, retains its significance at the present time, when the elite culture has lost its authenticity and, if it exists, is reproduced according to the rules of popular culture.
Among the qualitative definitions can be attributed to those definitions where mass culture is considered as a positive phenomenon. The idea of mass culture as the vulgarization of “genuine” values is opposed here by the idea of democratizing culture, which makes high values accessible to the masses.
Quantitative determinations are characterized by the pathos of the distance, sometimes poorly concealed. These definitions emphasize, first of all, the formal signs of mass culture. Here there are two main approaches. The first proposes to consider mass culture as all that is transmitted through the means of mass communication. The main criterion here is mass character achieved by means of mass communication and not the quality. Therefore, the mass culture here is not only what, according to experts, was originally defined as “low”. This is the story of an elite writer, published in a popular weekly, and a book of the philosopher, released in large editions in the form of a pocket edition, and a concert of an opera singer, broadcast on radio or television. It can even be a “live” concert, for example, a performance on a square or a stadium – but only to the extent, that information is transmitted through a special technique that expands the usual range of perception.
The second approach determines mass culture through the market. Popular culture is all that is sold and enjoyed by mass demand. It turns out a huge number of works from different genres, presented in advertising and pop version. Here again, the question of the quality of the sold is removed. The material and economic component in such a culture are primary, it serves as a criterion for the evaluation and significance of the work. The higher the cost of the work, the more it should cause the delight and respect of the consumer. Another indicator of the success of a work is its profitability. The works of W. Scott and M. Twain, from this point of view, could well be attributed to popular culture since they managed to make a good fortune in their works, but their unsuccessful contemporaries did not.
Together with mass culture, a new model of spirituality appears: with the cult of pleasure, free time, comfort, prosperity, personal egoism and consumption, and this model becomes the basic model that determines the behavior of the middle classes and the bourgeoisie as a whole. The same can be said about the working class. It also lost his ethos. Mass culture, thus, deprived the historical meaning of the existence of the two most active forces of history, without giving any replacement. Thus, a person limited by the world of values of mass culture is divorced from the historical process, from the historical integrity that is associated with it – from the Church, family, school, state, army, etc. Mass culture pushes them aside, as does the whole range of responsibilities associated with belonging to these communities, highlighting the laws of consumption. She opposes many other competing models to the models of her father, teacher, great person, depriving the Church, family, school, state, army, etc. their educational strength. They become a burden for the mass man.
Depriving a person of feelings of rootedness in space and time, popular culture includes him in a special kind of game situation that destroys the difference between game and reality. Highlighting the culture of the spectacle game is paired with a diminishing value of labor. With mass culture, a new kind of nihilism is born – egoism, which is based on personal happiness. This is a culture that is directed against all supra-individual values, replacing genuine participation in the world with an illusory, playful one. Thus, mass culture is a specific industry that produces a “mass” person, borrowing “his” thoughts from radio and television broadcasts, newspapers and advertising, and who turns into a simple performer of given roles with an atrophied personality.