I recently told a friend, I’m basically 90% popular culture. I spend the majority of my time online entrenched in fandom, I’m part of a ridiculous number of discord groups and find myself surrounded by fan culture in my everyday life – My room is jokingly referred to as the shrine to fandom.
However, I found it difficult to narrow down exactly what I wanted to talk about in this post. Since I have a lot of options, I thought I’d start by defining the term.
Storey (2015) has come up with several ways to define popular culture, but I think one of my favourites is the idea that it is culture originating “from the people.” While large corporations like Disney may try to sway the masses, it is the individuals, the fans who are the driving force behind the popularity of this so called “inferior culture.” I personally find popular culture a way to connect to others, to express yourself and your beliefs in an accepting and welcoming community.
Over time, how people access and consume media content has changed dramatically. Recently, the phenomena of convergence culture has necessitated a rethinking of how media flows across boarders works (Norris, 2010). Where in the past ideals of cultural proximity, the notion that people “gravitate towards media from their own culture” (Ksiazek and Webster, 2008), where the norm, society has begun to transform. A key example of this is popular Chinese Web novel Mo Dao Zu Shi (MDZS).
While MDZS started out as a web novel, it rapidly grew in popularity and now consists of a range of adaptations including; an animated series (donghua), comic (manhua), audio drama and live action series called The Untamed. The popularity of The Untamed in particular subverts ideals of cultural proximity, as the series plays on the traditional Wuxia genre, and is only available with subtitles. Relying on older media theories, it would be assumed that a Western audience would prefer dramas that are easier to consume (predominantly in English, with recognisable tropes and references).
Otmazgin (2014) describes the prevalence of anime, and other eastern media as “owing greatly to the crucial role of fans as cultural agents.” This ties directly to the belief that popular culture is supported by those very fans, something especially prevalent in the MDZS fandom – where fans try their best to convince friends and family alike to view some form of the series.
Personally, I first viewed the series through it’s donghua, as I often watch anime and enjoy the similar styles. From there I moved on to the novel, manhua and finally the live action. Many others have found the drama a much more accessible option, it is because MDZS offers so many different adaptations and variations that allows it to gain a much wider audience. The prevalence of convergence culture has led to audiences being more open to new and different types of media, allowing a series that in the past may have stayed a small novel to grow and change to suit the needs of its new audience.
References: Ksiazek, T. and Webster, J., 2008. Cultural Proximity and Audience Behaviour: The Role of Language in Patterns of Polarization and Multicultural Fluency. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 52(3), pp.485-503. Norris, C., 2010. Images of resistance in manga and anime’s improbable subjects. Journal of the Oriental Society of Australia, [online] 42, pp.95-114. Available at: <https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsihs&AN=edsihs.375779373569129> [Accessed 5 September 2020]. Otmazgin, N., 2014. Anime in the US: The Entrepreneurial Dimensions of Globalized Culture. Pacific Affairs, 87(1), pp.53-69. Storey, J., 2015. Cultural Theory And Popular Culture: An Introduction. 7th ed. New York: Routledge, pp.1-16.
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