Hegemony and Graffiti

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‘Popular culture is an arena of consent and resistance. It is partly where hegemony arises and where it is secured.' (Stuart Hall, Notes on Deconstructing the Popular)

Popular culture is widely recognised as the ‘people's culture', in that it refers to the forms of culture e.g. film, television, that broadly appeal to the widest range of people. Ruling classes capitalise on this fact by filtering certain forms of popular culture into the dominant ideology, so long as they are not overtly counter-hegemonic, to generate the impression of a collaborative society. This, in turn will secure their hegemony. Their aim is to use the semiotics in their chosen forms of popular culture to display their ideology and manipulate the audience into accepting it. The ideology is never simply in the message, but in the position of the message in the general societal discourse, and in the position of its producers in the societal formation. [1] However because of different upbringings in different societies, there is inevitably semiotic variability. The audience will not always generate the ‘preferred reading'. As theorist Stanley Fish believed, there is no meaning in the text, meaning is created only at the point of encounter between text and reader. Therefore the hegemonic class must account for this and so, constantly update and allow new forms of popular culture to be accepted as they are created, otherwise they would essentially forfeit their hegemony as their manipulation of popular culture and its audience would become apparent. However the validity of popular culture as an art form may prove to be the debate that will either secure the ruling class' position, or may very well be the incubus manifestation that incurs their downfall.

Culturalists may romanticise popular culture as the vessel through which their innermost fears and emotions are displayed; a mode of pure self-expression. And while in most cases this is evidently untrue, with graffiti, it is exactly that. Since the beginning of time people used wall patterns as a means of self-expression and to mark their territory. [2] As humans we study these patterns as a way of understanding who we are and why we are. Graffiti – wall murals, reflect a form of art as varied as fine art – created in the minds of those who wish to convey a message [3], be it hope, beauty, obscenity. Every piece of graffiti art carries the burden of an underlying preconception that it's message in invariably obscene. However it is often the case that the artist just wanted to convey something beautiful. Traditionalists battle against this view, condemning popular culture as a lower form of expression than ‘high' art. Yet Manet, whose work is now considered ‘high' art, was once condemned for his paintings of the naked female form. His work was believed to be obscene, yet he just wanted to portray what he considered true beauty. Studios refused to exhibit his paintings, namely ‘Olympia' and the ‘Déjeuner sur l'Herbe', society deeming his subjects prostitutes instead of Goddesses, ignoring the incredible and immaculate attention to composition, and the creation of his message through lack of depth of field, emphasising the starkness of the figure, and not sugar-coating reality. Graffiti artists also create their imagery with a greater purpose in mind, ‘... where each mark is vital to the entire painting itself, as well as what it does to the marks...
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