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Is pop culture popular? There are many different kinds of culture and the present controversy over “apasanskriti” may have resulted from a confusion of specific terms and their meanings, argues Subha Dasgupta. A tool for communication can quite easily be transformed into an instrument for creating a gap in communication. In the recent controversy regarding culture and its decadent forms, we have witnessed a veritable Tower of Babel when ministers, artists, lawyers, judges, the press and the public came forward with a profusion of terms into which each put his own content. The question, what precisely is “apasanskriti” or “decadent culture,” was asked again and again. Did “popular culture” by extension become “pop culture”? And if the latter was decadent then did not “folk culture” and mass culture,”. also by extension, become decadent? These are being asked without acknowledging the qualitative differences in the semantic contents of the various terms. “Pop culture” cannot be used as a synonym for popular culture and a singer who is popular cannot simply be called a “pop singer. Pop” may be a derivative of the term “popular,” but usage has invested the term “pop” with a restricted meaning. Today the term refers to a particular movement which appeared in England and in America in the early sixties and the proponents of which used a particular form and subscribed to a particular philosophy. That was the time of the beatniks and the hippies when the socially adjusted average middle class modal personality and all that he stood for, his ideals of culture, art or music were suspect. Pop art, as against established art forms, used images from comic strips and advertising posters, often enlarged them and set them in outstanding colours. Pop music, descendant of rock n’ roll and of folk rhythms, was characterised by a rejection of over retinement and smoothness, careful orchestration and in general of accepted rules in music. It was often played to ear-splitting saxophones, heavy beats and to teenagers shrieking out their togetherness—something a minister might object to on grounds that it can create a law and order problem. This kind of music did incorporate a sort of drug experience, but it was also quite often a vehicle of protest against a progress-at-all-costs oriented materialist society. Disco music also is a product of a particular period, a relatively modern one, and is characterised by the use of a variety of musical instruments and of violent rhythms. Again one cannot speak of “pop” and “disco” in the same breath except as two distinct movements belonging to popular culture. Popular culture, in fact, is an all-embracing term referring to the people, to a culture whose sole arbiter is the people. Within its ambit it harbours different microcultures and .to refer to any such unit simply as popular culture may. lead to ambiguity because of the marked differences inherent in each. A popular Hindi film and the song of a Baul are both examples of popular culture and their mere juxtaposition highlights the diverse composition of popular culture. A popular Hindi film is a product of mass culture which is collateral with mass society and has its own history of evolution. Although initiated earlier, mass culture dates from the middle of the nineteenth century when there was a concentration of people. in urban or semi-urban places. Their days had broken up into units of work and leisure and it was primarily to fill the leisure hours that a new entertainment industry had begun to grow. Technology came to the assistance of this industry by producing new means and techniques for the rapid and wide-scale transmission of its products and gradually individual cultural groups began to be replaced by a more standardised culture. Aimed at the majority, the products of this standardised or mass culture developed their own formulae. They could not be too complicated or demanding, they had to conform to the experiences as well as the expectations of the majority, they could not offend any particular taste or belief, they had to be adaptable to mass production and lastly, they had to be technically skilful and be able to produce variety within a known framework. Unlike other popular cultures, mass culture was not in any case a culture where the people assisted in its production. It became a culture fabricated for the mass with economic or other motivated ends in view, but without the participation of the mass in the production. A Baul song on the other hand, is a manifestation of folk culture. As opposed to mass culture, folk culture and its expressions can be possible only in a pre-industrialised state where the community is still self-sufficient and does not accommodate external interferences. An expression of particular ethnic groups, it is shaped by the group’s social and aesthetic traditions, its religious beliefs and precepts, its cosmogony and its rituals. The end product is an embodiment of life-experiences where the experiences themselves are linked in an organic manner. A Baul song, for instance, is not only an expression of the Sahajiya faith but also connected with the Baul’s belief is a series of quotidian experiences. The song also relates trivial daily experiences to a reality which the singer conceives as universal and primordial. It is this organic quality of folk culture that permits one to talk of it as living culture while the mass cuture that is diffused by the mass media is an imposed synthetic one. In folk culture again is it possible for each and every individual to participate in cultural expressions. When these expressions are sought to be transferred into the orbit of mass culture they are emptied of their content. Different socio-political groups operating. from their different ideological bases propagate yet another form which claims to be a part of popular culture. Their objective is primarily to popularise their beliefs or ideas, but simultaneously in relation to mass culture, they serve to create alternate cultures and foster alternate tastes. It is interesting to note in this connection that socio-political groups in this region use the appellation “gana” before their-cultural products, a term which may be translated as "mass" or “people’s” in English. The proponents of such culture would certainly not agree to their product being called mass culture after the way we have defined the term. They rather give themselves the right to determine what culture the people ought to have. The fact is, there is no generally accepted equivalent term for “mass culture” in the Bengali language. Maybe there lies the starting point of the confusion over terminology.