There’s always the question of “why zombies?”. Zombies, people tell me, are stupid. In fact, popular culture is stupid. Reality TV makes you dumb. Romance is for bored housewives. YA is just dumbed down story (*shudder*). There’s no meaning to be found there. It’s all stupid.
Which is a rather narrow view that is really quite old and useless. So let’s re-evaluate your assumptions together!
“Culture is ordinary; that is where we must start”, Raymond Williams wrote. Culture is not defined within the theaters and operas, culture is common or shared meanings (something Stuart Hall agrees with). Culture is not something you DO, it is something lived. It’s not just the arts, it is in everything. It even includes furnishings, clothing, cars, appliances – as Gans says, most appliances are treated as necessities, but their forms, styles, material etc are a matter of culture.
High vs Popular culture is, in part, a sort of class warfare based on how rich and educated you are. In essence, they are stereotypes. In his introduction, Gans refers to a US report into the arts stated “cultural equality remains as elusive as social, economic and educational equality”. Research is not needed to point out that some people cannot afford to go the opera – of course! Culture is not just dependent on wealth or education, although social institutions definitely play a role, but it’s also about identity (age, race, gender etc) as well as personal choice.
Garrosh, previous leader of the Horde, thinks orcs are better than undead, aka the Forsaken, and looks down upon them. So for this example, Garrosh thinks orcs are high culture, and the undead are popular culture.
Culture is not distinct from systems of power, as it acts as a hegemonic force. Hegemony for Gramsci is a continuous and uneven struggle by the dominant class, culture or other grouping to present their world view and sort of convince other classes or groups that it’s the normal thing to do. Essentially, they rule by a sort of twisted consent. How does this relate to culture? Well, everything is ideological. There is no singular dominant ideology, but rather a struggle of conflicting beliefs and ideas that work similarly to hegemonic power.
Vol’jin is now the leader of the Horde, which is made up of a bunch of different races. While the undead would like to go around murdering humans to create more undead, the leader of the horde often pushes his ideology onto them and say “Welllll that’s not really nice. So don’t.”
Hall, Gans and Williams all reject that culture is an enforced thing, but that it does have power and influence. Hall concludes that there is no need to restrict it; at the same time that cultural industries do have the power to rework and reshape what they represent, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone just blindly follows and accepts they see/read/do:
“These definitions don’t have the power to occupy our minds; they don’t function on us as if we are blank screens. But they do occupy and rework the interior contradictions of feeling and perception in the dominated classes; they do find or clear a space of recognition in those who respond to them. Cultural domination has real effects – even if these are neither all-powerful nor all-inclusive.”
So not all undead really go for that “don’t murder humans” thing. At the Wrathgate, when the Alliance and Horde united against the Lich King, some undead thought it was a brilliant time to plague-bomb the lot of them. Sylvanas, leader of the undead, was all “WTF bro?”
To be very particular, popular culture is actually considered as a site of cultural struggle. For Fiske, pop culture “contains both the forces of domination and the opportunities to speak against them”. Crawford argues that it is because genre, such as paranormal romance, is considered to be lower in status to high literature it is less controlled and allowed to speak more directly to themes and voices that might otherwise be silenced.
The Forsaken is a particular site of struggle. On the one hand, they cannot leave the Horde. They are too close to Alliance territory to go it alone. On the other hand, they will slowly die as there are no legit means to create more undead.
While cultural studies changes and morphs all the time, this is the general current theory that I ascribe to. Next time on TL;DR: Cultural Studies edition, I’ll go more into “but what does it meannnnn?”, looking at representations, a few different approaches on how it is thought representations work, and probably more selfies to fill up the space and give you something pretty to look at.
- Popular Culture and High Culture, An Analysis and Evaluation of Taste by Herbert Gans
- Anything you can find by Stuart Hall
- Huge borrowing from Representation 2nd Edition, edited by Stuart Hall, Jessica Evans and Sean Nixon.
- Williams, Raymond. “Culture Is Ordinary.” The Everyday Life Reader. 2002. 9
- Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci.
- Fiske, John. Understanding Popular Culture. 2nd Ed. London: Routledge, 1996.
- Crawford, Joseph. The Twilight of the Gothic? Vampire Fiction and the Rise of the Paranormal Romance 1991-2012.