Cultural Criticism: A Primer of Key Concepts


Arthur Asa Berger

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  • Foundations of Popular Culture

    Series Editor: Garth S. JowettUniversity of Houston

    The study of popular culture has now become a widely accepted part of the modern academic curriculum. This increasing interest has spawned a great deal of important research in recent years, and the field of “cultural studies” in its many forms is now one of the most dynamic and exciting in modern academia. Each volume in the Foundations of Popular Culture Series will introduce a specific issue fundamental to the study of popular culture, and the authors have been given the charge to write with clarity and precision and to examine the subject systematically. The editorial objective is to provide an important series of “building-block” volumes that can stand by themselves or be used in combination to provide a thorough and accessible grounding in the field of cultural studies.

    • The Production of Culture: Media and the Urban Arts

      by Diana Crane

    • Popular Culture Genres: Theories and Texts

      by Arthur Asa Berger

    • Rock Formation: Music, Technology, and Mass Communication

      by Steve Jones

    • Cultural Criticism: A Primer of Key Concepts

      by Arthur Asa Berger

    • Advertising and Popular Culture

      by Jib Fowles


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    Series Editor's Introduction

    One of the most interesting and also challenging aspects of the emergence of popular culture studies in the last two decades has been the creation of a specific argot by scholars to describe the complex nature of cultural activities. This argot, replete with neologisms and often arcane language, has been both praised for its ability to creatively conceptualize new synergies of cultural interaction and also condemned for its impenetrability and obfuscation.

    The neophyte student of popular culture who is asked to read many popular cultural texts is often faced with having to work with a dictionary in one hand and his or her text in the other. In many cases the dictionary itself is not enough to provide a definition of how the usage of words and phrases have been shifted to meet the needs of popular culture scholars. For example, what is the difference between a “problem” and a “problematic”? No current dictionary makes this cultural criticism usage clear to the inexperienced reader. What does “hegemony” mean? How is the concept of “ideology” applied? Perhaps most difficult of all, what is “postmodernism,” and why should anyone care about it?

    This book by Arthur Berger, who has been one of the most prolific of all writers in the field of popular culture, examines these words and concepts from a perspective of more than three decades of experience. Throughout, Dr. Berger's wit and ability to “cut through” helps the reader to understand the new argot, while at the same time providing concrete examples of its application. There are bound to be a few readers who will take exception to some of his definitions and explanations, but this is the contentious nature of the field of popular culture studies at this point in time. However, this book is an extremely valuable addition to the field, in that it offers an introduction to complex ideas in a way that is itself very accessible.

    There will be other attempts to “define the territory” of popular culture in the future, but Arthur Asa Berger's book will stand as an important achievement for others to emulate. The volume can be a valuable addition to a variety of courses on popular culture, or it can be used as a primary text for introductory courses on popular culture. Whatever its intended use, students will be both charmed and informed by Dr. Berger's perspectives.

    GarthJowett Series Editor


    I would like to thank Sophy Craze, my editor at Sage Publications, for her encouragement, and Garth Jowett, the editor of the Foundations of Popular Culture series, for his support and friendship over the years. Mitch Allen, Sage's northern California editor, has been a good friend and has helped me come up with ideas for books for Sage for quite a while. He has also rejected an inhumane number of my manuscripts. As he once put it, “I've rejected better men than you, Arthur.” Rather than writing new books for Mitch to reject, I have now taken to sending him manuscripts he previously rejected, with new titles, for him to reject again—or maybe accept, in a moment of weakness or madness? One always hopes!

    This is, it turns out, my sixth book with Sage Publications. They probably deserve some kind of a medal! Or maybe I do? (Maybe we all do?) Whatever the case, I have had wonderful experiences with the people there—with the editorial staff, the production staff, and the marketing staff—so, even as I sit writing this, in the back of my mind I'm thinking up ideas for new books.

    My colleagues in the Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts Department at San Francisco State University have provided a congenial, supportive, and exciting place to work, and my students have endured my courses in criticism (where I discuss The Prisoner, blondness, professional wrestling, and teeth and hairstyles as signs, and explain how the Washington monument is a phallic symbol) with stoicism, skepticism, and a good-natured kind of puzzlement and bemusement.

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    Name Index

    • Abrams, M. H., 12, 13, 14, 25
    • Adorno, Theodor W., 6, 43, 44
    • Agamemnon, 110
    • Allen, Mitch, xi
    • Allen, Woody, 58
    • Althusser, Louis, 6, 29, 58
    • Aristotle, 10, 11, 33, 55, 140
    • Auden, W. H., 7, 103
    • Bakhtin, Mikhail, 2, 6, 35, 36, 91, 92, 142
    • Barthelme, Donald, 28
    • Barthes, Roland, 6, 29, 72, 84, 85, 142
    • Bartok, Bela, 27
    • Baudrillard, Jean, 28
    • Bazin, Andre, 6
    • Benjamin, Walter, 6, 65, 66
    • Bergman, Ingmar, 92
    • Berkeley, Busby, 31
    • Berkeley, George, 23, 81
    • Bluebeard, 131
    • Bond, James, 63, 84
    • Bourdieu, Pierre, 6
    • Braque, Georges, 27
    • Brecht, Bertolt, 6, 33
    • Brenner, Charles, 105, 107, 108, 110
    • Brooks, Cleanth, 19
    • Burroughs, William, 28
    • Byrne, David, 28
    • Campbell, R. J., 104, 106, 112
    • Cervantes, Miguel de, 142
    • Chandler, Raymond, 17
    • Chaplin, Charlie, 18
    • Christ, Jesus, 80
    • Cinderella, 24
    • Cirksena, Kathryn, 30
    • Comte, Auguste, 134
    • Crane, Diana, 3
    • Craze, Sophy, xi
    • Culler, Jonathan, 97, 98
    • DeFleur, Melvin L., 153
    • DeLillo, Don, 28
    • Derrida, Jacques, 2, 4, 6, 24, 25, 28, 142
    • Descartes, René, 81
    • Dietrich, Marlene, 31
    • Disney, Walt, 62
    • Dorfman, Ariel, 62
    • Dostoyevsky, F. M., 142
    • Douglas, Jack D., 163
    • Douglas, Mary, 6, 123
    • Durante, Jimmy, 138
    • Durkheim, Émile, 6, 144, 148
    • Echo, 116
    • Eco, Umberto, 6, 24, 76, 83, 142
    • Eisenstein, Sergei, 6, 37, 38
    • Electra, 110
    • Eliade, Mircea, 122, 123, 149
    • Eliot, T. S., 27
    • Ellis, Richard, 146
    • Empson, William, 6
    • Engels, Friedrich, 42
    • Eyck, Jan Van, 80
    • Fairchild, H. P., 136
    • Faulkner, William, 27
    • Featherstone, Mike, 27
    • Fisher, Lucy, 31
    • Fiske, John, 49
    • Fleiss, Wilhem, 108
    • Foucault, Michel, 2, 6, 28, 142
    • Freud, Sigmund, 2, 6, 31, 78, 88, 102, 103, 104–121, 131, 132, 142
    • Fromm, Erich, 113, 117, 118
    • Frye, Northrop, 6
    • Gadamer, Hans-Georg, 6
    • Gaines, Jane, 31
    • Gandelman, Claude, 80, 81
    • Garbo, Greta, 84
    • Geertz, Clifford, 6
    • Gerbner, George, 149–150, 151
    • Gershwin, George, 161
    • Girard, René, 14, 15, 57
    • Gitlin, Todd, 28
    • Glass, Philip, 28
    • Gramsci, Antonio, 6, 63
    • Graves, Michael, 28
    • Gray, Spalding, 28
    • Greenberg, Clement, 44
    • Greimas, A. J., 6
    • Grotjahn, Martin, 110, 111
    • Hall, Stuart, 6
    • Hammett, Dashiell, 17
    • Harbermas, Jürgen, 6
    • Hartley, John, 49
    • Haug, Wolfgang, 52, 53, 54, 66
    • Hawkes, Terence, 83
    • Headroom, Max, 28
    • Hegel, G. W. F., 142
    • Henderson, Joseph L., 127
    • Heracles, 110
    • Hermes, 20
    • Herzog, Herta, 6
    • Hinsie, L., 104, 106, 112
    • Hockney, David, 28
    • Hoggart, Richard, 6
    • Homer, 66
    • Horkheimer, Max, 6, 43
    • Hume, David, 140
    • Ingarden, Roman, 23
    • Innis, H., 6
    • Iser, Wolfgang, 22
    • Isuzu, Joe, 28
    • Jakobson, Roman, 6, 86, 88, 89, 98, 142
    • Jameson, Frederic, 6, 33, 34
    • Jauss, Hans Robert, 22
    • Jekels, Ludwig, 110
    • Jocasta, 110
    • Johnson, Mark, 86, 87
    • Johnson, Philip, 28
    • Jones, Ernest, 110, 112
    • Jowett, Garth S., ix–x, xi
    • Joyce, James, 27, 42
    • Jung, Carl, 6, 77, 125, 126, 128, 131
    • Kafka, Franz, 27, 42
    • Kant, Immanuel, 140, 142
    • Kottak, Conrad Phillip, 136
    • Krazy Kat, 161
    • Lacan, Jacques, 6, 112
    • Lakoff, George, 86, 87
    • Lazere, Donald, 59
    • Le Bon, Gustav, 153, 154
    • Lefebvre, Henri, 164
    • Levine, Sherrie, 28
    • Lévi-Strauss, Claude, 6, 29, 83, 93, 95, 97, 98, 99, 123, 142
    • Locke, John, 140
    • Lotman, Yuri, 6, 16, 142
    • Lowery, Shearon, 153
    • Lyotard, Jean-François, 28
    • Man, Paul de, 142
    • Mann, Thomas, 27
    • Mannheim, Karl, 59, 60
    • Marcuse, Herbert, 6, 43
    • Marx, Karl, 2, 6, 7, 40, 42, 46, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 142, 152
    • Matisse, Henri, 27
    • Mattelart, Armand, 62
    • McLuhan, Marshall, 6, 57, 155, 165
    • Merton, Robert, 147
    • Miller, Hillis, 25
    • Molière, 82, 83
    • Mueller, Claus, 58
    • Musil, Robert, 27
    • Narcissus, 116, 119
    • Nason, S., 48
    • Noelle-Neumann, Elisabeth, 152
    • Orestes, 110
    • Pavlov, Ivar, 37
    • Peirce, C. S., 6, 74, 75, 79, 83
    • Picasso, Pablo, 27, 42
    • Pirandello, Luigi, 27
    • Plato, 140
    • Pope, Alexander, 58
    • Poulet, Georges, 21
    • Propp, Vladimir, 6, 94, 95, 96, 99, 126, 127
    • Proust, Marcel, 27, 142
    • Pye, Lucian, 67
    • Rauschenberg, Robert, 28
    • Renoir, Jean, 93
    • Riegl, Alois, 80, 81
    • Rivers, Larry, 28
    • Saussure, Ferdinand de, 2, 6, 25, 37, 74, 76, 77, 78, 83, 89, 90, 95, 98, 121, 124, 142, 148
    • Schoenberg, Arnold, 27
    • Scholes, Robert, 35
    • Schramm, Wilbur, 6
    • Schwartz, Tony, 156
    • Shakespeare, William, 14, 15, 92, 111, 137
    • Shklovsky, Viktor, 6, 33, 34
    • Shorer, Mark, 122
    • Silverman, Kaja, 57
    • Sinatra, Frank, 28
    • Spinoza, Baruch, 140
    • Stravinsky, Igor, 27
    • Swift, Jonathan, 8
    • Tharp, Twyla, 28
    • Thompson, Michael, 146
    • Tocqueville, Alexis de, 49
    • Todorov, Tzvetan, 142
    • Tönnies, Ferdinand, 153
    • Tracy, Dick, 15
    • Turin, Maureen, 31
    • Turner, Victor, 6
    • von Franz, M.-L., 128, 130
    • Vytgofsky, L. S., 6
    • Warhol, Andy, 28
    • Warner, W. Lloyd, 48
    • Warren, Robert Penn, 19
    • Weber, Max, 6
    • West, Nathanael, 48
    • Wildavsky, Aaron, 68, 69, 146
    • Williams, Raymond, 63, 64
    • Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 6
    • Wolfe, Tom, 28
    • Wollen, Peter, 37, 93, 94
    • Zeyman, J. J., 75

    About the Author

    Arthur Asa Berger is Professor of Broadcast & Electronic Communication Arts at San Francisco State University, where he has taught since 1965. He has written extensively on popular culture, the mass media, and related concerns. Among his many books are Media Analysis Techniques (revised edition, 1991), Agitpop: Political Culture and Communication Theory (1990), Seeing Is Believing (1989), Popular Culture Genres (1992), and An Anatomy of Humor (Transaction, 1993). He is a film and television review editor for Society magazine, editor of a series of reprints, “Classics in Communications,” for Transaction Books, and a consulting editor for Humor magazine. He has appeared on 20/20 and The Today Show, and appears frequently on various local television and radio programs in the San Francisco area. Cultural Criticism is his twenty-fourth book and sixth book for Sage Publications.

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