American Popular Culture

Topics: African American, White American, Minstrel show Pages: 10 (3873 words) Published: April 23, 2013
Social Constructions
American popular culture has brought entertainment to many for the past two centuries. However, very little people know the extent to which American popular culture has shaped the historical relationship between marginalized social groups and dominate American society. Traditionally, the term popular culture has denoted the education level and general "cultural-ness" of the lower classes, as opposed to the "official culture" and higher education emanated by the dominant classes. This separation of upper class and lower class became even more pronounced towards the end of the 19th century. At the end of the 19th century the was a strong need for one to express their intellectualism as well as further their education in order to gain a higher status in society. Due to the need to denote other races, we have the arrival of black face minstrelsy in American popular culture, which allowed for inferior white races such as the Jewish of Irish to gain approval from the dominate white culture. However, black face minstrelsy also forced African Americans further into segregation from American society. During the period of Modernity from 1870 to 1930, there was a strong fascination with the Wild West and Manifest Destiny. During this time there was the formation of the Boy Scouts, which was the true depiction of what Americans thought it was like to be Native American. Due to irrational fears and anxieties, American popular culture took comfort in “playing Indian” because it allowed them to express these worries in American mainstream media. From the end of World War I, following major cultural and social changes brought by mass media innovations, the meaning of popular culture began to overlap with those of mass culture, media culture, and culture for mass consumption. Because of World War II, many women were put to work in order to fill the jobs of the men at war allowing them to gain a sense of independence. However, other events in history such as Vaudeville, and the idea of the New Woman also allowed women to gain a sense of power during the 19th century with pioneers such as Sarah Bernhardt. American popular culture was the gender revolutions biggest supporter as well as its biggest critic. Throughout American history, popular culture has been an entry way for marginal social groups into the political, economic, and social mainstream of American society. With Irish and Jewish males finally being accepted by dominate white society through the performance of black face minstrelsy as well as women being able to control their own being through expression in Vaudeville. However, while these minorities are able to further their social hierarchy through performance, African Americans and Native Americans were often exploited as a way of making profit. While American popular culture has its positive social constructions, I believe the negative effects that American popular culture has had on the historical relationship between marginal social groups and American society has caused too much damage to repair. Through acts such as the minstrelsy shows, the Buffalo Bill Show as well as films and plays of the time, minorities are depicted in a subordinate role to the Anglo-Saxon male. These acts within popular culture spilled over onto American society and allowed for the prejudice and racism of the 19th and 20th century.

The minstrel show, or minstrelsy, was an American popular culture entertainment consisting of comedy skits, variety acts, dancing, and music performed by white people in blackface. Blackface was when a White American would paint their face with black makeup and exaggerate their lips and being to impersonate an African American male. Minstrel shows caricatured black people as poor, lazy, dim-witted, buffoonish, happy-go-lucky and violent. The minstrel show began with brief parodies and comic entr'actes in the early 1830s and emerged as a full-fledged form of mass entertainment in the next decade....

Cited: Kasson, John. Amusing the Millions: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century. Hill and Wang; First Edition edition, 1978. Print.
Levine, Lawrence, “American Culture and the Great Depression,” The Unpredictable Past: Explorations in American Cultural History Oxford University Press, 1993. Print.
Nasaw, David, and . Going Out: The Rise and Fall of Public Amusements. Harvard University Press, 1999. Print.
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