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Our Heritage Journal ISSN 0474-9030 is a multidisciplinary journal for research publication. Urgent Notice to authors: Note: Removed from UGC-CARE List on 27th Feb 2020. Title of the document

EMERGENCE OF MASS MEDIA AND POPULAR CULTURE IN 19th AND 20th CENTURY


Popular culture has received more and more attention in recent times –and has become a part of the broad definition of “culture”. The approach to study of the culture industry introduced by Frankfurt school historians Horkheimer and Adorno believes that “people” are docile passive agents available for manipulation by entertainment moguls-they are a passive mob of spectators who are fed an unwholesome diet of trivial entertainment to keep them pacified and distracted, thus they are more easily controlled and manipulated by ruling powers.

Literacy and Popular Press-

Early 19th century Europe saw numerous changes in the nature of publishing, the status of literary genres and the act of reading itself.  
  • Earlier in the 18th century, the publishers use to benefit unscrupulously by pirating the manuscripts and making handsome profits. Also, authors did not use to sign their work-therefore, the publisher had the liberty of saying whatever he wanted about the text’s authorship.  Under the patronage system, the authors did not get their name publicized. Aristocratic authors (the ones who were not dependent on literary activity for their livelihood)- wished to avoid the scandal of subjecting their name to public scrutiny.  
  • However, during 1790-1830, most nations adopted copyright laws. Authors also benefitted from the growing trend of publishers paying them royalties. The reading public grew larger and books began to get more widely circulated. At this point, the expectation that the authors’ names would be clearly identified grew apace.

Publishing-

In the 19th century, new structural changes took place in the world of book publishing as the market for published books and newspapers expanded. One reason for this was the rise of literacy-at the century’s beginning, only a minority of the people were educated but by the end of the century it was a substantial population. This was because most European nations adopted the policy of mandatory public education. The second reason was the drop in the cost of books. The cost of printing dropped dramatically in the 19th century as prohibitive dues on paper were removed. There was an end to the separation of the publisher and the book binder.  Previously, book publishers used to bind the least expensive publication while book binders used to bind for specific tastes of well heeled customers. By mid 19th century, book publishers were able to offer less costly editions  and focused on one standard appearance per publication.  The third reason  was that there grew a demand for novels of all kinds. The publishers now published for mass readership. Affordable editions of literary classics became available.

Newspapers-
The eighteenth century saw the emergence of newspapers as vehicles for dissemination and formation of opinion along with reports of current events. Newspapers were often read in coffee houses –where business men met to smoke their pipes and discuss the latest. According to Jurgen Habermas this development created a public sphere that enabled modern democratic debate and dialogue. 
  • In the 19th century, when newspapers became more affordable and easily available for purchase, the readers still used cafes to read the newspapers. For the first half of the 19thcentury in France, newsstands and kiosks remained unknown-all sales of newspapers were in the form of individual subscription priced out of reach for most individuals. Therefore, one needed to frequent cabinet de lectures, reading rooms that charged modest entry fee.
  • Most newspapers were censored but opinion about the existing regime  could be found in many newspapers of the day. In France, Charles Philipon founded the La Caricature(1830) which was devoted to caricature and public cartoon. In 1835, he introduced Le Charivari-this became the platform for one of the greatest caricaturist of the century-Honore Daumier.  
  • Censorship continued to remain a great threat in a monarchy and Great Britain was least restrictive about it. However it lessened by mid 19th century . It led to the establishment of a number of prominent European newspapers- e.g.:Le Figaro in France.
  • A new era of dawned in French newspaper publishing with the establishment of the Le Petit Journal-it was the first daily to be made available throughout France. Priced at one sou, it carried serialized fiction and stories. These newspapers reached the rural areas as well. This change led to the decline of the old book peddling trade that had flourished in the countryside-it was called ‘colportage’ in France and was an enterprise which brought relatively inexpensive books and periodicals to the hands of the rural population. As the Le Petit journal and similar newspapers began to get published, the latest novels were available in inexpensive paper form which shadowed the services provided by the colportage. 
  • The 20th century-Coverage of celebrity scandals and deeds of notorious criminals typified the European popular press in th1930s.  Gossip filled reports served to distract readers  from forebodings of further troubles. French newspapers such as Le Petit Parisien offered readers stories filled with lurid details about criminals. One of the most successful stories of the decade involved the Papin sisters who brutally murdered their employers after many years of service-this became the inspiration for Jean Ganet’s play Les Bonnes (The Maids).
  • In England, the tabloid press, The Daily Mail and Daily Mirror was the popular counterpart to the staid Times or Daily Telegraph. Tabloid coverage was given to the royal family  and the social networks in which its members moved.  This served as a means to offer vicarious participation in the life of the aristocracy. The year 1938 brought a lot of attention to the royalty because of the marriage and abdication of Edward VIII. Upon George V’s death, this rather frivolous playboy became King but his involvement with the American divorcee, Wallis Simpson produced a crisis. Edward abdicated the throne and shocked the nation with a speech broadcast on the radio-the throne passed on to his brother, George VI.  England saw three Kings in one year and the beginning of public examination of private lives of the royal family.
  • Humour in writing was welcomed in the troubled times of 1930s and 1940s.  The Irish Times featured regular columns of Flann O’ Brien called the Cruiskeen Lawn(The Little Overflowing Jug) –these shared the humour of his darkly comic novels, The Third Poiceman and At-Swim-Two-Birds.  Newspapers gradually became more diverse and catered to those who wanted political and economic news as well as to those whose aim was escapism and light hearted fun. 


Magazines-
  • An innovation which helped the rise in sales for 19th century magazines was the use of illustrations. The Illustrated London News (1842) experienced a dramatic rise in sales as a result of this innovation. Important subjects of newspapers included science and politics. Nature(1869) popularized scientific ideas while the satirical British weekly, The Punch became an institution in British political  life.
  • Women readers were an important market for magazines.  Women’s magazines of the 19th century addressed the domestic realm-issues such as household matters and child rearing. They were also a literary diversion and an entertainment. e.g: The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine was a popular publication and instructed women in the domestic arts such as dress making. Later fashion became an important theme in women’s magazines. eg: Myra’s journal of Dress and Fashion and Weldon’s Ladies journal. (1875)However, it was in Paris that women magazine first began to be published. e.g: Journal Des Dames(1825) debuted as a showplace of haute couture.

Novels-
The 19th century saw the establishment of novels as the principle literary genre for readers of every taste. This was a culmination of a process which started in the mid 18th century when novels were becoming popular but received little critical acceptance. The 18th century aristocrats did not want to officially sanction a literary form that was held to be devoid of uplifting value. 
  • In the 19th century, the aristocratic objection became irrelevant and readers rarely thought they needed to apologize for their taste in novels. However there still remained certain worries about the ill effects of reading novels-a steady diet of novels might lead to escapist avoidance of the real world and misled impressionable young minds to expect unrealistic things out of life. However, novels were so popular that the novelists were the most commercially successful writers of the 19th century.
  • Honore de Balzac was the most famous novelist in France and wrote 91 novels. He was the founding figure of literary realism. He wrote a collection of novels under the title La Comedie Humaine -had a vast array of characters. The realist writer used fictional description of the most recognizable social world to call attention to his societal ills and injustices. Eugene Sue was a French novelist painted a sympathetic picture of the urban poor in Paris that made him popular. His works like Les Mysteres de Paris were published in newspapers. This helped newspapers to continue their sales as it kept the readers eager for the next installment. George Sand  and Paul de Kock were the other popular writers. Adventure stories such as The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers(Alexander Dumas)  and futuristic fantasies of Jules Vernes  captivated the readers in a similar way. 
  • Some of the most admired English authors of the 19th century were women. A woman’s role in society –ie the domestic sphere was a subject of writing for most female authors. They typically depicted domestic scenes  and described complex interactions among principal characters. However in the 19th century there was a separation  between public and private sphere. Novels portrayed this reality  and the very act of reading novels –in closed domestic spaces- manifested the inferiority of woman’s assigned role. The reading of novels by women gradually rose as women literacy rose.
  • Some famous women novelists of that time were-Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, George Eliot, Elibazeth Gaskel.  Gaskel’s Sketches among the Poor appered in 1837.
  • Novels allowed for the steady accretion of many episodes and it heightened the awareness of historical time. The culture shaped by these tendencies led to the rise of modern historical study in the 19th century. 
  • The 20th century- inexpensive paperbacks such as Penguin Books in England and Goldman in Germany  became popular. Comic books enjoyed immense success –the French character Asterix and the simply drawn Tintin became cultural icons. Two of the most commercially successful authors of detective fiction began their careers during the World War II years-Agatha Christie and George Simenon. 

Electronic Media-

Mass culture (generalized market based array of distractions and entertainments) was developing in 20th century Europe.  During the 1930s there were improvements in technologies and transportation-led to cultural dissemination. It was during this period that the entertainment industry increasingly moved to the fore of economic life - radios and cinema entered people’s lives in a big way.  Frequent concern was expressed over the social and cultural effects  of mass consumption of the new entertainment.

Radio-

By 1930s the radio became a mainstay of a middle-class house hold.  Gathering around the radio for news and entertainment became an evening ritual for family members.  The radio announced news bulletins, interviews, game-shows  comedies, drama, concerts. People experienced major events as dramatic radio announcements especially during the World War II.  Radio continued to be influential till the 1950s as television penetrated the European world much slower than it did in the States.

Cinema-
  • Cinema was the most dominant medium of entertainment in the 20th century. In the late 19th century, a variety of indigenous devices preceded the invention of the motion picture camera. – magic lantern, the phenakistoscope, panoramas, dioramas, Zoetrope, Praxinoscope. . Eadweard Muybridge a British photographer made the first photographs of bodies in motion by using series of cameras in succession. By 1890s, American Thomas Edison, French Lumiere brothers had introduced many versions of motion picture camera. 
  • Motion pictures were embraced enthusiastically by the public. The first films by the Lumiere Brothers, Workers Leaving the Lumiere factory and Train Arriving at La Ciotat were instant sensations and the silent film era was born.  The silent films became sophisticated in 1920s(The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari by Rober Wiene). Directors from the Soviet Union such as Sergai Eisenstein introduced influential new techniques such as montage.  In 1927, Abel Gance developed the wide screen process for his epic fim, Napolean. 
  • The following decade brought the first sound films.  Britian became the leading European film producing nation of the decade. . Alfred Hitchcock was one of the most influential directors-with his suspenseful films such as Thirty Nine steps and The Birds, Psycho etc. The most dominant French director from the World War II period was Jean Renoir and was known for his La Grande Illusion-perhaps the greatest antiwar statement ever seen on screen. Leni Riefenstahl was one of the most technically gifted directors from Germany but her image was tainted because of association with the Nazis. She was sponsored by Hitler and commemorated his regime in the Triumph of Will and Olympia.
  • However despite these achievements, the American film industry played a more dominant role and appealed to the audience in Europe more than their own films. It was very difficult to compete with the American “dream machine”-and the Europeans followed a path of self conscious artistry. While in the American films, names of big stars overshadowed the big directors, the Europeans would aim for the exact opposite. 

Music-

Post 1945 many generations related more to music than cinema. The young people whose generation had sacrificed most in the war had found big band “swing” music a welcome respite to the horrors of their time.  Europeans were exposed to new styles of music in the 1950s-jazz and b- bop. Jazz influenced many genres of European music.  CafĂ© concerts in France led to a new music style called chanson-mix of pop sensibilities to French folk traditions. In England, around the 1950s, a new movement called “trad jazz” developed and American rock n’ roll invaded the British Isles.

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