How to Cite

Marshall, P. D., & Bruns, A. (1999). Pop. M/C Journal, 2(4). https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.1757
Vol. 2 No. 4 (1999): Pop
Published 1999-06-01

Welcome to the world of pop. Even to announce this issue in such a way seems like a quaint anachronism, a mild nostalgia; the expression echoes the voices of countless TV presenters on Top of the Pops, Beat Club, Countdown, or whatever your local variety was. This association demonstrates that pop has been historically located in the arts and in popular culture as something connected to the 1960s: not so much to the politicisation of musical intent that embodied the late sixties, but to the current of the three-minute-or-less love song, the early Beatles, the vacant but loving repeat of Andy Warhol and his images. The Archies kept it going into the late sixties along with the Monkees and the 1910 Fruitgum Company's beautiful pop bubble "Yummy Yummy Yummy I've Got Love in My Tummy". What pop implied retrospectively was a clear sentiment of unity even as it set up binarisms that separated the serious and significant in popular culture from the ephemera and the momentary, with the perishable products of pop apparently placed quite clearly on the lighter side.

This is why there is a nostalgic association between pop and the world: pop implies a simpler unity of the world that is carried momentarily by the pleasure of the song, the image, the dance. It is also why we associate pop with the transitional moments in our lives: it is the music of preteendom, the images of early youth and the moment of unselfconscious dancing to and in front of this aural and visual landscape provided by the very core of the transnational (read "world") culture industries. Those affective connections to cultural products is what pop art plays with and makes the viewer ponder.

At the same time, pop styles also move beyond the preteen stage, grow up and change: within the space of a decade, "Yummy Yummy Yummy" mutated to The Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star"; within a similar space of years, a suntanned, mirrorshaded George Michael in Wham! became a Sony-battling (mis)user of public toilets; and eventually, even the once united quintamfeminate of Spice World seems inevitably on the course towards diadochal wars. As much as we may look back on personal and public memories with fondness, pop isn't forever caught in a static McHappyland, where nothing ever changes. Or perhaps that is to say that these (and other) pop styles aren't: beyond the stylistic formations, there seems to be a deeper kind of pop, a kind of primordial soup of popness from which a particular species of pop evolves every once in a while, matures, mutates, and discovers whether it is capable of survival even once it's left home.

The momentary pleasure of pop is never completely compartmentalised into an historical moment, however much British popular music documentaries try to produce that effect, or however much the postwar generation venerate their particular liminal moments of the 1960s as the most significant. Pop is regenerative. Just when one thinks that the various strands of popular culture have organised themselves completely into niche markets we have the will-to- worldpop, with something like Spice World or Aqua's Barbie Girl. The term 'pop sensibility' -- sensibility to an underlying 'popness' which doesn't equate with any particular style of pop, but pervades all of them -- is useful here, and it informs some of the articles in this issue. Pop sensibility is an understanding of the pleasure generated by popular culture, and recognises that in some ways they point to complex relationships between people and cultural forms. It is difficult to explain why one of our editors (David) enjoys a hit by the boygroup Five while the other (Axel) has serious difficulties telling one boygroup from another, or from many of the more forgettable members of the Stock/Aitken/Waterman stable of the early 80s; but it is partly connected to seeing through the various generations of musical style a pop sensibility that has something to do with accessibility and the pleasure generated by that complex simplicity. Pop engages us with what Fiske described as the "art of making do" and thereby is a conduit to the operations of contemporary culture, industrially and culturally.

The 'pop' issue of M/C explores this pop sensibility or, in some cases, a pop sensitivity through a variety of channels that should onomatopoeically "pop" into your thinking processes.

Martin Laba's feature article "Picking through the Trash" provides the pin to burst cultural studies' reading of the popular bubble, by identifying and then working through the meaning of the supposed detritus of popular culture that doesn't possess the cultural cache of either 'marginal' or 'hip' status. His inspiration remains Don DeLillo's White Noise for its celebration and lament of the popular as it is organised through consumer culture and the various uses made of the apparent ephemera of contemporary culture. Pop, from Laba's perspective, remains the source for understanding the deep structure of the contemporary, and through detailed investigation in the tradition of DeLillo we can unearth the organisation of cultural value.

Sean Smith also dances in the light of consumer culture in his tragicomic "Ya Bloody Cappie!", through his sudden realisation that his hard-working consumption practices had been appropriated as a popular culture practice and demographically defined in a way that made them seem as contrived and deplorable as those of the 1980s yuppie. The identification of the cappie, the Face-designed acronym for Consumer of Alternative Pricey Products, presents a crisis of persona for Smith, and leads to a perceptive reading of this shift as evidence of a new "class formation" through a shifted organisation of the self via a form of exclusive cultural capital.

Such media stereotyping gone wrong may be partly behind the atrocities committed by members of the often-quoted "trenchcoat mafia" at Littleton, Colorado, but the media have turned a predictably blind eye to their own complicity in the shootings. In "Seen But Not Heard: Pop Culture Scapegoats and the Media Discourse Hierarchy", Nick Caldwell investigates the incredibly repetitive media patterning of establishing cause and effect relationships between outbreaks of youth violence and the usual suspects of cultural artefacts: 'satanic' popular music and grossly violent and antisocial computer games. Caldwell's article finds the discursive proliferation sadly familiar as the media looks to popular culture to stitch together its neverending narrative without the requisite sideways glance at the cultural context of violence.

Benign or malignant, media power is also evident in the excitement leading up to and surrounding the release of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, and we simply couldn't pass by this major artefact of current pop culture in this issue. In many ways, Tara Brabazon's "A Red Light Sabre to Go and Other Histories of the Present" is a process of excavation of popular cultural memory. In an elaborate reclamation program, Brabazon establishes Star Wars as a generational benchmark for a certain affectivity or -- in our terms -- pop sensibility that intersects with how cultural experiences are received by that same generation. Linking the Star Wars generation with Generation X (and her academic/pop self), Brabazon weaves a shifted tapestry of the significance of cultural memory in working out contemporary engagements with culture, and thereby presents whole new territories for the investigation of what Raymond Williams called "the structure of feeling".

Cultural studies academics unimpressed with George Lucas's storytelling abilities have plenty of other fields to cover, too, though. Diane Railton's "Justify My Love: Popular Culture and the Academy" provides an invigilating examination of where academics have engaged with popular culture. Her critique is with what may be called new Bourdieuian 'distinctions', where popular music is reintegrated into cultural judgments of taste and thereby simply recategorised with shifted monikers of high (legitimate) and low (illegitimate) designations. Railton calls for a realisation of the political nature of academic work on popular culture that moves beyond this new and shifted constitution of cultural elitism.

One of the key divides in research into popular music is about authenticity, which often gets reorganised into new categorisations of cultural value. In "Seeing Sound, Hearing Image: 'Remixing' Authenticity in Popular Music Studies" Steve Jones has provided a map through the debates in popular music studies on how the authentic is deployed by scholars. Jones situates the significance of affect in understanding the pop aesthetic and provides some material for how new technologies are shifting the ground on which popular music's authenticity has been built.

Two of the remaining articles in this issue also deal with authenticity in various ways, if not necessarily as the term is used by Jones. In the first of these, "Painting Out Pop: 'Andy Warhol' as a Character in 90s Films", Julie Turnock traces more or less authentic portrayals of Andy Warhol (what would a 'pop' issue be without him?) in recent movies. She uncovers how Andy Warhol's blank visage sits uncomfortably with the narrative and content of three films that need the richness of a normative biography. In the process, the films cannot deal with the conceptualisation of pop that Warhol embodied as an artist, where content disappears to surface and repetition. The celebrity persona of Warhol in its contentlessness is Warhol's ultimate canvas, but the films miss this completely.

Where Warhol's celebrity refuses its biopic, David Riddell discovers that sports god Wayne Gretzky's retirement reproduces naturally and seamlessly the spectacle of ice hockey into a movie narrative. Riddell's "Wayne's World: The Making of a Hockey Movie" is a close textual reading of Wayne Gretzky's last game in terms of heavily pre- planned causation which transforms the pleasures of the unexpected that are part of watching any sporting event into the constructed celebrity spectacle, throwing into doubt its authenticity as a sports contest. The blur of speed and spontaneity that is ice hockey becomes the blur of celebrity where fact and fabrication are melted together.

Warhol and Gretzky (there's an unexpected pairing!) as media superstars both represent the way pop is defined by the cultural industries in all its crassness and oversimplification; frequently, though, the media's attention is self- centred, in a continuous desire to rate their popularity and measure it against those of their rivals. Axel Bruns's "What's Pop, and What's Not? Measuring Popularity in the Many-to-Many Age" questions the meaningfulness of these ratings, and debates the significance of the ways the Internet determines popularity (for example through the ubiquitous counters). Playing against the need to construct an audience to sell to someone (and advertisers are of course always welcome at the bustling M/C site itself) is the manner in which the Internet is constructed, used and abused by its surfers. The mythic models of measuring the television audience prove to be inadequate to describe the forms of interactions and sideward hypertext movements on the contemporary Web. Nevertheless, the counting goes on....

Finally, we turn to myths of a different kind. There is a certain pop sensitivity that Adam Dodd's article, "Making It Unpopular: The CIA and UFOs in Popular Culture" identifies in 1950s America. Dodd's provocatively argued piece indicates that a fear of mass hysteria motivated moves by the CIA and other government agencies to debunk through apparent explanation any possibility that UFOs actually existed and were seen. The desire to believe was so strong in the popular will that the American agencies felt compelled to work in propagandistic techniques to manipulate that belief. Although we may never know with the amount of propaganda and misinformation masquerading as fact, Dodd presents an interesting case study in the government control and movement of information about a popular cultural phenomenon.

From "Yummy Yummy Yummy" to White Noise, from Warhol to Gretzky, from satanic music to academically accepted 'pop', from Star Wars to 'real' UFOs, the scope of this issue of M/C demonstrates the wide reach and diversity of 'the popular'. As issue editors, we hope it will also prove popular with our readers (a pun which had to be made eventually), and won't leave the shallow aftertaste of so much average pop. Much rather, we'd like you to remember once again those 60s pop music shows and agree that "it's a hit!" (And feel free to hit M/C's pages frequently and repeatedly.)

P. David Marshall
Axel Bruns
'Pop' Issue Editors

Author Biographies

P. David Marshall


Axel Bruns