Essay by SimonKCollege, UndergraduateA-, January 2008

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According to some of its critics, popular culture is superficial, formula-based, mass produced for cheapness and standardised. Using examples, explore the strengths and weaknesses of this argument.

The growing presence and popularity of Reality TV is the perfect example of the dumbing down of popular culture in recent years. Viewers derive their entertainment from the voyeuristic nature of such programmes, gaining pleasure through watching others' personal conflict (Wife Swap, Brat Camp, Trisha), insecurities (What Not To Wear, 10 Years Younger), belittlement/embarrassment (X-factor, Britain's Got Talent) and so on. These programmes work on a superficial level in that they often perform little or no educational or thought-provoking function and many rely on sensationalism and shock value to draw in audiences. The ever prominent Soap-Opera genre also relies on these attributes to draw in audiences and in the same way as much Reality TV, follows an arguably simplistic and limited formula in order to assure high ratings for the channel on which they are broadcast.

Hollywood movies often follow a set formula that the filmmakers know will take enough at the box office to justify their multimillion-dollar budgets. The typical "blockbuster" film makes great use of special effects, catchy, memorable one-liners, clichéd plotlines and/or star power often at the expense of long periods of profound or thought-provoking dialogue or, it could be argued, subtlety in any respect. Film studios - and indeed publishers, record companies, newspaper editors and television executives - often invest huge sums of money in broadcasting through their media channel. In order to justify this, they must receive an equally huge return on their investment, and sticking with a formula that has been proven in the past to produce a healthy profit is the economically safest option. This kind of mass culture is primarily a matter of enterprise, not...