Mass media are the channels of communication that distribute popular culture to the all members of society. According to An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture, mass media “refers to popular culture which is produced by the industrial techniques of mass production, marketed for profit to a mass public of consumers,” (Strinati, 10). Mass media flourishes with commercial success, once made popular by an audience that consumes it. Mass media is important because it allows people to connect with each other. With mass media, people can form a community around shared ideas and experiences.
Critics of mass media will say that mass culture is considered to be “low culture,” as opposed to “high culture,” because it appeals to a broad, less-educated audience, rather than an elite, educated audience. With this viewpoint, it is argued that in mass culture, audiences are passive, vulnerable to manipulation and discouraged from thinking because of how widespread the subject matter is.
Popular culture refers to the media that is consumed by an audience based on its popularity. Popular culture is well-liked, measured on commercial success, and refers to well-known people or celebrities (Grazian, 8). Popular culture is meant for general or “mass” consumption because it belongs to the people of society, and was created “by a people or by the majority of a people” (Williams.) Popular culture is meant for the mass audiences because it appeals to a broad audience and the lowest common denominator of interests between people.
Similar to mass media, critics of popular culture will compare it to “low culture” because it is meant for everyone and it is very widespread, whereas high culture is meant for the elite and educated. Raymond Williams argues that high culture is being replaced by popular culture because of how common it is in society and because it is inclusive of all, such that it is created by and for a mass society. High culture excludes those who aren’t well educated or elite enough to understand their consumption, yet low culture is inclusive of all. It is argued that popular culture is “low” culture because popular culture refers to media spectacles that are well-liked by a large, broad audience.
Although the two sound similar, the difference between them is that mass media refers to the type of media produced to disseminate information, whereas popular culture refers to what is consumed. Any media spectacle can be mass produced in society, yet it only becomes popular culture if it is consumed by a large audience. In An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture, Strinati argues that unlike mass media, popular culture has the ability to be diverse because each audience will consume media differently. He notes that popular culture can be “consumed selectively due to the influence of more specific and cultural factors than mass culture theory is capable of recognizing,” (Strinati, 35). Therefore, it is seen that each audience member is different and will consume media differently, as opposed to mass media being produced in the same way. The difference between mass media and popular culture is that mass media is not diverse and only produced in one way, whereas popular culture can be consumed in multiple ways.
After examining the differences between the two, it is seen that popular culture, despite what critics may argue, is beneficial for society because it forms communities amongst people. With mass media, information is disseminated in a widespread manner. In popular culture, information is still consumed in a widespread manner, but the interpretation of the information will be different for each audience member. Audiences can then compare, contrast, and even grow upon and form communities based on their shared ideas.