Class in Pop Culture

Issues of class in US pop culture have received far less attention than gender and race (the opposite tends to be true in Britain where class was for a long time the dominant pop issue). Recent work on the political economy of culture has slightly improved the picture, but much more work needs to be done.

General Sites

  • Bad Subjects. “Political Education for Everyday Life.” Dedicated to progressive political interpretations of culture. Take the link to all the back issues to find many articles on a variety of subjects.
  • Caucus on Class in Film Rich Society for Cinema and Media Studiessite focusing on class as an analytic for understanding film.
  • Marxist Media Theory. A project by Daniel Chandler.
  • Media Monopoly. Fine synopsis of a classic book by Ben Bagdikian.
  • New Deal Network. Another excellent 1930s site that includes many photographs, cartoons, and other pieces of popular visual culture.
  • Who Owns What. Good resource, listing the holdings of major media juggernauts.

Online Articles

Class In Cyberspace


Few topics on popular culture can be adequately researched on the web alone. These reading suggestions are designed as beginning points for further offline study.

Ewen, Stuart and Elizabeth Ewen. Channels of Desire: Mass Images and the Shaping of American Consciousness. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1982.
Incisive look at how advertising and related consumer-oriented messages have shaped US culture and consumer consciousness.
Gaspar de Alba, Alicia. Chicano Art Inside/Outside the Master’s House: Cultural Politics and the CARA Exhibition. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998.
Brilliant interpretation of a major Chicano art retrospective that raises key questions about the construction of high art vs. popular art among marginalized ethno-racialized groups.
Gray, Herman. Watching Race: Television and the Struggle for "Blackness." Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995.
Brilliant interpretation of the evolution of representations of African Americans in television news and fiction programming, from the 1980s to the present.
Jhally, Sut. The Codes of Advertising: Fetishism and the Political Economy of Meaning in the Consumer Society. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987.
Strong study of how advertising texts shape racial, gender, and class beliefs and create a “consumer” consciousness.
Jhally, Sut and Justin Lewis. Enlightened Racism: The Cosby Show, Audiences, and the Myth of the American Dream. Boulder: Westview Press, 1992.
Combines audience surveys and textual analysis to look at how confusions of race and class in the US are reflected in and reinforced by Cosby’s mid-80s show.
Lipsitz, George. Time Passages: Collective Memory and American Popular Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990.
Innovative study of relations between mass-produced pop culture and the realities of communal memory dimly present in those commodified productions.
Dangerous Crossroads: Popular Music, Postmodernism and the Poetics of Place. London; New York: Verso, 1994.
Incisive study of various musical ethnic subcultures and their complex negotiations with the dominant culture and their co-resisters in a global/local struggle over meaning.
Nasaw, David. Going Out: The Rise and Fall of Public Amusements. New York, NY: Basic Books, 1993.
Wide-ranging study of the culture industries of the early 20th century, with particular emphasis on the role they played for immigrant workers.
Peiss, Kathy. Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York. Philadelphia, PN: Temple University Press, 1986.
Classic American Studies text, looking at the various forms of early 20th century pop culture aimed at women from the working class.
A Feeling for Books: The Book-of-the-Month Club, Literary Taste, and Middle-Class Desire. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
One of the few books that looks carefully at the construction of “middle-brow” taste as exemplified in the book of the month club’s efforts to provide enlightening reading.
Rose, Tricia. Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America. Hanover, NH: Published by University Press of New England for Wesleyan University Press, 1994.
Arguably the best book yet on rap, this study analyses both the political economic cultural roots of rap, and its textual meanings.
Ross, Andrew. No Respect: Intellectuals and Popular Culture. New York: Routledge, 1989.
Important collection of essays tracing the various kinds of analysis US intellectuals have made of popular culture over the course of the 20th century.
Ross, Andrew, Tricia Rose, and Andrew Rose, eds. Microphone Fiends: Youth Music and Youth Culture. New York: Routledge, 1994.
Excellent collection of essays on rock, rap, heavy metal, dance scenes, and the youth cultures that surround them.