Looking High and Low for Meaning of 'Pop Culture'
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Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.
I'm Doug Johnson. On our show this week:
We listen to some music from singer Gloria Estefan …
Answer a question about "pop culture" …
And report about an American sports hero's trip to China.
America's newest sports ambassador has returned home from his first government supported trip outside the United States. Former Baltimore Orioles baseball player Cal Ripken was named to the position in August. His first trip was to China. Bob Doughty has more.
Cal Ripken was in China for ten days, visiting with sports officials and young people in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. He talked about baseball and showed Chinese young people how to play the game. His hometown newspaper, The Baltimore Sun, provided sound from his trip on its Web site. Here, he works with students at Xidan Elementary School in Beijing.
Cal Ripken is not the first American sports ambassador. Last year, figure skater Michele Kwan visited China and Russia. She said that meeting with young people of other nations gives them a better understanding of the United States. She also said such meetings help change any false ideas that people have about this country.
Baseball is not very well understood or very popular in China. The Chinese people enjoy basketball and soccer much more. But things are changing. American major league baseball just signed four Chinese players and Major League Baseball International has begun a program in China.
Cal Ripken says he went to China to open communication with another culture through sports. He told reporters that sports bring people together in a friendly way, and he is sharing with others the sport that he loves. One thing he says he has learned is that children are children no matter where they live. They love to play and want to have fun.
Cal Ripken says being a sports ambassador means teaching baseball as a way of making friends in other nations. And he says that the rules of baseball include values that provide people with an idea of American life.
Our listener question this week comes from Vietnam. H. Nguyen wants to know what the expression "pop culture" means.
This is a good question that requires a more complex answer than we can give in a few minutes. In very general terms, pop culture, or popular culture, includes the movies, television shows, sports, music, cooking, clothing styles and other examples of mass culture that a society produces.
Examples of American pop culture that have become, well, popular around the world include the movies of Sylvester Stallone, hip-hop music, fast food, and blue jeans.
Many professors who study culture argue about what is, what is not, and what once was but is no longer, popular culture. The fact that popular culture is always changing makes it even more difficult to define exactly.
Most people would probably agree that popular culture is influenced in some way by the cultural products that sell well and make money. Some experts note the differences between a popular or "low" culture and a "high" culture valued by wealthier and more educated people in a society.
For example, such experts might say that a song by Britney Spears is an example of pop culture, but music by classical composers like Mozart or Bach is not. Within this group, some might say that commercial and market forces corrupt culture.
Then again, other experts believe that there is no longer a "low" and "high" culture because the two have mixed together. The American economist Tyler Cowen does not believe in organizing culture into high and low. Instead, he says that a strong economy makes all kinds of culture possible.
And no discussion of popular culture could be complete without talking about Andy Warhol, the father of Pop Art. During the nineteen sixties, Warhol created a movement that celebrated turning everyday images of famous people and food advertisements into fine art.
Pop artists praised popular culture in all of its forms and made it the subject of their art. Andy Warhol said that once you understood Pop you could never see a sign the same way again. And he said that once you thought Pop, you could never see America the same way again.
Gloria Estefan has been making records for over twenty years. Her latest album "90 Millas" honors the musical traditions of Cuba, the country where she was born. The songs express a longing for the home she left as a young child. Estefan helped write most of the songs on the album, which are in Spanish. She gathered famous musicians from around Latin America to perform with her. Barbara Klein has more.
That was the song "No Llores" or "Don't Cry." The well-known Mexican-American musician Carlos Santana plays guitar on this song.
Gloria Estefan made this album with her husband, record producer and musician Emilio Estefan. The couple live in Miami, Florida, which has a large population of Cuban-Americans.
The name of this album means "90 miles." This is the distance between Cuba and the United States. It is a small distance, but to many Cuban-Americans with families still in Cuba it feels much larger.
Gloria Estefan invited several performers in the world of Latin music to join her in this album. These include the flute player Johnny Pacheco and Israel Cachao Lopez, who is known as the inventor of mambo music.
Gloria Estefan has said that her only wish was that the Cuban-born salsa singer Celia Cruz had been alive to perform on this album. Cruz died in two thousand three. Here is "A Bailar" with the Puerto Rican musician Pappo Luca playing the piano.
Gloria Estefan has made a career out of combining the sounds of Latin America with popular dance music. In "90 Millas" she gives a modern version of traditional Cuban songs.
But her first songs mixed the dance sounds of disco and salsa music. In ninety eighty-five, she and her band, the Miami Sound Machine, released "Conga." We leave you with that song which helped launch Gloria Estefan's career.
I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today.
It was written by Dana Demange and Nancy Steinbach. Caty Weaver was our producer. To read the text of this program and download audio, go to our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio magazine in Special English.