The geography of popular culture

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Chapter Outline

California State University, Northridge


Recall from last chapter the differences between Popular Culture and Folk Culture

If “folk culture” was defined in geographic terms as “local culture for local people”, then popular culture could be defined as..?

Popular Culture and Place

Has Pop Culture destroyed place?

Ed Relph-argues that the world is increasingly characterized by “placelessness”

Have you been to a location that is “placeless”?

Homogeneity of place

Place Product Packaging

Holiday Inn / McDonalds

Why would franchising, and the construction of expectation be valuable to travelers, tourists?

Niche Places/Lifestyle Clusters

The opposite of placelessness

Perhaps communication and transportation have made more specialized places.

Weiss- “America has become increasingly fragmented”

Robbin – “lifestyle clusters”

What was this?

Clicker Question:

The fact that you recognized the last building as a Taco Bell is proof of what concept?

A. Placelessness

B. Lifestyle Cluster

C. Place Product Packaging

Food and Drink Consumption

Name some instances of “placelessness” when it comes to food and drink

Name some instances of regional specialties

Are regional specialties dying out or getting stronger?





Popular as well as folk food custom

Environmental and geographic constraints

Location provides distinctive quality

What pattern is obvious on this map?

Carolina’s Cheerwine (fig)

Carolina Bar-B-Q

Served on a bun

Served off-the-bone

Vinegar and tomato based

Often with red cole slaw

Carolina Bar B Q Sauce (fig)

Folk ways spilling into popular culture.

Why pork and not beef bar b q in the Carolinas?

Where would beef bar b que be more popular?

Other factors in the style of BBQ?

Popular Music

The consumption of music varies from place to place.

The production of music varies from place to place.

Why Memphis – Rock n’ Roll?

Why did so many of the early stars of the rock n’ roll era come from Memphis?

What cultural factors were in situ in 1955 that made Memphis an ideal location?

The invention of magnetic tape a decade earlier made recording music cheap and accessible to more people. What parallels are there today?

Why Seattle - Grunge?

Why did the city of Seattle have very few bands in the national spotlight from 1970 to 1990, and then suddenly experience an explosion of popularity?

What was the role of Seattle’s isolation on the ability of local bands to secure record contracts?

What was the role of isolation in the creation of the grunge subculture?

Which of the following statements is incorrect?

A. Both Seattle and Memphis had isolated musical cultures

B. Both Seattle and Memphis had many talented musicians.

C. Both Seattle and Memphis created musical innovations.

Why Bronx – Hip Hop?

See folk culture notes…

A different kind of isolation from Seattle

Different cultural inputs


Regions of the country have differing tastes in sport.

Certain regions of country are especially productive in terms of athletes.

Who produces the most football players?, Basketball?, Hockey? Baseball?

Who watches what sports most closely?

Sports (fig)

Sports (fig)

Sports Regions

Clothing and Fashion

Many clothing options have roots in the environmental and/or folk cultural traditions of other countries.

Occupation or work clothes

Some have jumped into popular culture.

Which of the following states would you most likely find folks playing sports non-competitively?

New York


North Dakota


Blue Jeans

Once exclusively the pants of the working class; popularized in ______ during the _______ _______ by Levi Strauss.

Have become an international symbol of America, and a value system.


Consider the shopping mall and how it uses place to sell clothing.

Can you think of a company that sells a “place” as it tries to sell clothes?

What places are highly desirable?

What is it about those places that make them desirable?

“Where” are they selling?

Exclusivity? Escape? Where can you get that?

Could this be the place?

Where about these guys?


Place Imagery

Place image is a highly manipulatable and highly contestable notion.

Advertisers use it heavily


Chambers of Commerce


Beauty Pageants

Popularized in Atlantic City during the 1920s

A beauty queen belt can be discerned stretching from Mississippi to Utah

What do you supposed are the causal factors behind this pattern?

The Beauty Belt (fig)

What might account for the relationship between football fandom and beauty pageant success?

A. Poverty

B. Gender Roles

C. Race/ethnicity

D. Religious values

Vernacular Culture Regions

Defined: regions perceived to exist.

Such regions often overlap and have poorly defined borders.

In what region of the country do we live?

Where is Dixie?

Where is “So Cal”?

Where is “the Midwest”?

How would you delimit such a region?

Phone Book Regions (fig)

Diffusion of Classical Place Names

Demonstrates an abiding fascination with all things Greek and Roman during the 19th Century

Classical Revival Architecture (fig)

What does this building “say”?

A. Democracy

B. Persistence (lasts a long time)

C. Style (at least in 1830)

D. All of these

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