© Erkki Karvonen
Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Tampere.
Popular Culture and Mastery of Life
On the pacification use of popular fiction
The main question I pose in this text is about how and why people use popular culture. Therefore, my point of view is the one of "the uses and gratification research." The answer I propose here is following: people use popular fiction to restore their cognitive and moral order, which is confused during frustrating and chaotic everyday life. The restoration of cognitive order gives the feeling that "everything is all right" and that "nothing is out of place." People can use popular fiction to master their life.
My theoretical approach is based on Mary Douglas's notion of cultural order and disorder (and of purity and dirt). The existence of cultural order makes disorder possible. Disorder is never a unique and separate phenomenon in itself, but it is always the by-product of a systematic ordering of matter. Where there is cultural order, there is also cultural disorder. Douglas states that "dirt" is something, which is out of place and in disorder.
As we all know, dirt and disorder irritate and burden us. Unfortunately "real" life is often chaotic and very difficult to keep in order. The main feature of our ordinary life is the fact that it does not go as expected; things tend to be "out of place." That is why we have on the one hand cognitive and moral order of "ought" (how things ought to be) and on the other hand order of being (how things really are). Constant discrepancy between these orders is somehow the normal state of our life. We are constantly more or less worried and frustrated about our everyday concerns.
Fortunately popular fiction helps us. A popular text represents the prevailing beliefs and expectations in the given culture. People "used to" that kinds of texts (genre) always find the same good old order there. Popular texts are predictable; you can trust they always satisfy your expectations and therefore you never get frustrated of them. By using popular fiction people recreate (re-create) and refresh themselves, i.e. they satisfy the claims of their cognitive/ moral order.
This late-modern time is a time of rapid "progress" or change.
Every day we meet new changes, which are actually new demands on our ability
to master life. The more demanding the modern lifestyle becomes, the more
people need an escape into familiar, safe and predictable popular fiction.
In my paper I use texts by Umberto Eco, Margaretha Rönnberg and Janice
A. Radway to argue for the lines of thought presented here.