Art, Pop and the Culture Industry

Creative Media, Critique and Culture

7 min readOct 11, 2017


We’re going to delve into Art, Popular Culture and the use of critique as a method to impact the audience. Before we become enthralled in the sheer entertainment and spectacle of The Simpsons, lets define a few key terms that I will refer to throughout this inquiry.

Oxford Dictionary defines Art as “The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power and Works produced by human creative skill and imagination”. [1]. John Story in work ‘Cultural Theory and Popular Culture’ defines Culture and Popular Culture as “the works and practices intellectual and artistic activity, the texts and practices whose principal function is to signify, to produce or to be the occasion for the production of meaning. This Definition of Culture is synonymous with what structuralists and post-structuralists call ‘signifying practices’, or Pop Culture, would allow us to speak of soap opera, pop music, and comics, as examples of culture. These are usually referred to as texts”. [2]. Popular Culture is further divided to six sub-definitions. The first is culture that is popular or liked by many by quantitive means, for example album sales, plays on the radio, attendance at screenings or concerts and audience ratings on television shows. The second sub-definition of culture is culture that is not high culture, for example culture that is seen in a gallery is high culture, this definition would be considering all art and media that is not deemed as ‘Art’ in certain societies. Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu states that the cultural definition of not high culture functions as a marker of social and economic class, though in contemporary times the line for this definition becomes a little blurred, for example artist Banksy would of fallen into this category, but his works have now made it into some of the world best Galleries for sale to the ‘high society’. The third definition of Popular Culture is mass culture and mass is the key word in this definition as it applies to the mass of society, and mass production and consumption of this culture. The fourth sub definition of culture is culture of the people, defined as the authentic culture of the people or the working class, in the past also known as ‘Folk Culture’. Rock or Punk bands could be defined under this category of making authentic art of the people. The fifth category of culture is Hegemony. This is defined as culture that uses the site of struggle between the economic and social lower class to those of a much higher social and economic demographic or an area of compromise between the two, where the dominant , subservient and oppositional cultural value are mixed dependent on what message they are conveying in the culture. The sixth category of culture refers to Postmodernism and this is defined as culture that no longer notices the distinction between high and low art, some are celebratory of the end of high art and the divide other are despaired by the achievement of commerce over culture. Also known as a culture to critique, to analyse and examine an argument or question. Popular Culture is a site where everyday life can be examined therefore critiqued. [2]. The following section examines an opening sequence of Pop Culture TV show The Simpsons, created by Postmodern street artist Banksy, as an example of this critique.

[3]. Retrieved from

Culture that is a parody of Culture. The above opening sequence of The Simpsons functions as a critique of the Culture Industry by highlighting the environmental and social issues associated with the Industry that produces Culture, that ‘culture’ also includes The Simpsons. Evidence of this is shown by the Simpsons couch segment with the whole family being hypnotised by the spectacle of media culture and entertainment, the television. The screen zooms into the television, into the production and system of that media culture, as an exhibit of culture as a commodity. With scenes of child and women labour in an Asian sweatshop style factory, with bad working conditions and chemicals polluting the environment. The factory is in mass production, pumping out The Simpsons animation reels and merchandise, with scenes of animal cruelty; cats mulched into stuffing toy Bart’s, endangered animals used as production tools and machinery, with a panda pulling heavy carts, a dolphin tape stick for packaging and a unicorn to punch holes in DVD’s. The opening segment finalises with an image of the 20th Century Fox productions studio barricaded behind razor wire emulating a high security prison, as a critique of the culture industry. These are examples of Hegemony, the site of the struggle between Culture with the Industry and Commerce that produces it.

The Simpsons as a cultural text is defined under the Pop Culture category of culture and has been described as not High Culture, Postmodern, popular, mass, and culture of the people, therefore has contributed to the production of the meaning not only by being part of this Cultural Industry but using their art or Popular Culture as a message for delivery to a wide audience and critique as a method to cause an impact on their audience. Co-Creator of this scene, street artist Banksy has contributed to the message behind this culture with his use of Hegemony and Postmodernism, further critique the culture or industry. He has used this culture as a message and critique of the social and economic issues with production of culture. Evidence of this is shown by mass advertising throughout the town of Springfield, that has been graffitied, vandalising as a demonstration of detest of mass advertising. While Bart’s in detention writing lines on the blackboard I must not write on walls also writing this all over the classroom walls as a testimony of his non-compliance to establishment. At the same time Abraham Simpsons Memorial is being beheaded also demonstrating these anti-establishment views, an example of art with use of Hegemony. With a final example of Banksy’s graffiti tag on the wall of the school as evidence of the author of the sequence and a final critique of culture. Both The Simpsons and Banksy have contributed to the message of this text with their Popular Culture. Culture that is a parody of Culture.

These uses of Popular Culture as a critique has aided to bring awareness to the social and environmental issues of the industry to the audience while still entertaining. For a society that has such a strong desire for entertainment, how do serious issues like politics evolve with contemporary audience and mass appeal for Popular Culture?

[4]. Retrieved from

Politics thats a parody of politics. For Politics to compete for attention with contemporary media culture and audiences, Politics had to become spectacular and entertaining. Politics use Popular Culture as a method to gain audience attention by means of mass culture with Youtube streaming channels for Political parties and the Hegemony and Postmodernism of the Trump campaign, Politics has become a parody of Politics.

Theorist Guy Debord was accurate in his prediction in work ‘The Society of the Spectacle’, of a society obsessed with spectacular images and a insatiable need to be entertained. In contemporary media culture the Trump campaign is the best example of this Society of the Spectacle and the need to be entertained, with Trump’s antics and press power it seems that theres a plethora of evidence to to suggest that Guy Debord was correct on his prediction. A spectacle can be defined as “an unusual or unexpected event or situation that attracts attention, interest, or disapproval”, [5], or, “A visually striking performance or display, or an event or scene regarded in terms of its visual impact”. [6]. Therefore the Trump campaign can be seen as a spectacle, causing attention, interest and disapproval. Not to mention Trumps striking performances or displays that have caused visual impact. The spectacle affects the way we relate to mediated images by causing a media hype and impacting the audience. The amount of press and reactions Trump received, being the number one topic in conversation during and since the campaign is obvious evidence of this audience impact.

Guy Debord explains that it is illusion that becomes sacred or valued and truth is un-sanctified, and we uphold this spectacle of highest regard. [7]. Theorist Theodor Adorno works on the Culture Industry, argued that the effect of the Culture Industry on Society would be restricting of the development of individuals critical awareness of social conditions and subverting of societies psychological development for their capitalist society. [8]. I would have to disagree with Adorno as the use Art and Popular Culture as critique or a message about social, political or environmental issues, to impact the audience and affect mass hype around these issues, gives Popular Culture value and relevance to Society and Culture.

I’m going to leave you with a final quote from theorist Guy Debord, “In a topsy turvy world the true is a moment of the false”, [7], and possibly the false can be a meaning of the true. I shall leave you with that final thought while you watch this final clip on The Simpsons and Trump.

[9]. Retrieved from


  1. Oxford Dictionary, “Website: Art definition”, (N.d.): Retrieved from
  2. John Story, “Article: Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction,” Pearson, Longman: London, UK (N.d.): [1–14].
  3. The Simpsons, “Youtube: The Simpsons, Banksy opening sequence”, (2010): Retrieved from
  4. Wisecrack, “Youtube: Is Trump the END of Politics? — 8-Bit Philosophy”, (2016): Retrieved from
  5. Cambridge Dictionary, “Website: Spectacle definition”, (N.d.): Retrieved from
  6. Oxford Dictionary, “Website: Spectacle definition”, (N.d.): Retrieved from
  7. Guy Debord, “Book: The Society of the Spectacle”, (1967): Zone Books, NY: USA.
  8. Theodor Adorno, “Article: The Culture Industry”, (1944.): Retrieved from
  9. Paranormal Channel, “ Youtube: The Simpsons PREDICTED a Donald Trump presidency”, (2016.): Retrieved from




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