sehepunkte 24 (2024), Nr. 4

Tobias Becker / Len Platt: Popular Culture in Europe since 1800

Read as a "student's guide" "Popular Culture in Europe since 1800" is designed to provide a way into key aspects of modern popular culture. To do this, the book is divided into eight distinct chapters relating to: the written word, visual culture, performance, play (games and sport), music, film, television, and digital media. In each of these, care is given to provide a broad sweep of the overall period, tracing changes over time as cultural values and cultural meanings transformed through - and along with - simultaneous processes of socio-economic and political change.

Particular attention is given to what the authors Tobias Becker and Len Platt call "creative cultural travel": that is, popular culture that "moves within Europe" but also beyond the continent's historically amorphous borders (15). America, in particular, looms large as the supposedly true home to - or driver of - what we commonly understand to be popular culture. To this end, changes within Europe are as important as changes relating to Europe's engagement with the wider world. The book thereby provides a mutable history of shifting emphases, wherein multiple cultural identities and initiatives jostle to forge both innovation and tradition.

Given the book's subject matter, problems of definition are numerable. Popular culture itself is something of a nebulous term. Notions of high and low culture retain, even after they have supposedly collapsed into the postmodern vortex. What pertains to be popular evidently changes over time and might depend on what lens - class, race, gender, local, national - is being applied. For the most part, "Popular Culture in Europe" concentrates on how the products of the accelerated cultural industrialisation evident from the late 18th century served to inform a "new order of things" (3). This is, in part, as much a story of technological innovation and consumerism as it is one of cultural form, as much about the forces of cultural production as it is about the forces of creativity. As the in-text box defining Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer's concept of "The Cultural Industry" makes clear, the history of popular culture is bound also to contested theories of socio-political challenge and change.

The chapters themselves are concise but rich with a range of details and examples. Shifting national borders are crossed to delineate emergent or diminishing trends. Iconic - and not so iconic - references scatter across the prose to emphasise both popular culture's import and its transience. Western European countries predominate. In the chapter on music, for example, mention might be found of Franz Liszt and Kraftwerk, Enrico Caruso and French rockers Darlin', The Ambassador Jazz Band and The Beatles. Elsewhere, however, reference to smaller and East European countries may be found to demonstrate broader trends. Moreover, as the book moves towards the later twentieth and early twenty-first century, extra-European influences become more manifest - underlining why the book is called "Popular Culture in Europe" and not European Popular Culture. Lived realties transfer to virtual realities via increasingly vicarious experience and ever more spectacular mediums of entertainment. Europe becomes very much part of a wider and more digitised world.

The strength of the book lies in the provision of a broad picture, a sweep of history. It has a clear structure and succeeds in offering an introduction for students keen to gain an overview of cultural change in relation to popular culture in Europe. The book covers a lot of ground over a relatively short space. Equally, the sheer scope of the study ensures little room for digging deep or unpacking some of the complexities and contradictions that emerge. Without a concluding chapter, the reader is left cut adrift, staring into the future as if expelled from the ever-accelerating cultural production of the previous 200 or so years. And while this might feel very postmodern, it does not allow for useful absorption of the book's lessons or any underlying thesis.

Overall, then, "Popular Culture in Europe since 1800" is an excellent primer. It provides a compelling overview of both popular culture and the period in general. It refers to key events, people, products and theories. It captures the creative vibrancy of a transformative time. The inclusion of in-text surveys of, for example, Roland Barthes's "Mythologies" (1957) and The Beatles "Sgt Pepper" album sleeve (1967), direct the reader to both useful modes of thinking and intriguing points of reference. As a course textbook it serves its purpose well, hopefully offering a launch pad for future scholars to imagine and complete PhDs long into the current century.

Rezension über:

Tobias Becker / Len Platt: Popular Culture in Europe since 1800. A Student's Guide, London / New York: Routledge 2024, 236 S., 66 s/w-Abb., ISBN 978-0-415-71684-0, GBP 34,99

Rezension von:
Matthew Worley
University of Reading
Empfohlene Zitierweise:
Matthew Worley: Rezension von: Tobias Becker / Len Platt: Popular Culture in Europe since 1800. A Student's Guide, London / New York: Routledge 2024, in: sehepunkte 24 (2024), Nr. 4 [15.04.2024], URL:

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