Film & Media Studies Theory

Whitman College – FMS 387

Denali Elliott – (Horkheimer & Adorno) Popular Culture Analysis

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In the waning days of August, the inclusion of a new word into the Oxford Online Dictionary reflected the rapid ascent of an ostensibly neoteric symbol into popular culture. Twerk:

(v.) dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance. Just wait till they catch their daughters twerking to this song. Twerk it girl, work it girl.

In the past five days, Huffington Post has named last week the “twerkiest week of all time ever,” speaking to both music, video and news media in which the most recent demonstrations of twerking have permeated the national social atmosphere with sensationalized sexuality and vehement, superficial debate. While the successful “musical artist,” Miley Cyrus, leaves the media-engaged public in various states of idolization or disgust after twerking at the MTV VMA awards, the New York Times reports on how NYC Fashion Week will be featuring a newly launched line of short-shorts to “pay homage” to Miley’s performance. In actuality, it is the public who will be making this payment.

According to German theorists Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorner of the Frankfurt School, “one might think that an omnipresent authority as sifted the material and drawn up and official catalog of cultural commodities to provide a smooth supply of available mass-produced lines.” Certainly, when observing the rise of this most recent mass media phenomenon, one can see the overwhelming amount of informational and material influx from several, seemingly disconnected, industries on the subject of twerking. Whether that material originate from a new clothing line, news stories from respected publishers, or top video and music hits, twerking is, quite suddenly, ubiquitous.  And not by coincidence. Twerking as a symbol of popular culture is but an accelerated reproduction of the absorption and objectification of mind-numbing, sexualized and exclusively lucrative entertainment. One example of this is the new music video “Bubble Butt,” in which twerking is the sole component of entertainment.

An audience who watches a video of women using “thrusting hip movements” is not inclined to think independently or creatively. Devoid of logical connection to a greater meaning behind the flashes of sexualized images and empty song lyrics, the audience is alienated from satisfying the desire that this rush of sensory (rather than didactic) information instills within their individual consciousness. Not only does this subordinate the general audience to a state of mental inertia, but reinforces the class barrier between those who profit from popular culture and those who don’t.

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Author: Denali Elliott

I am an undergraduate student at Whitman College and will graduate with a Film & Media Studies major, English and Politics double minor in the spring of 2015. Aspiring to become a multimedia, international journalist, I enjoy creating short films or experimenting with photography and writing through both academic work and free time. My latest films and photographs will be the product of my travels to Zurich, Switzerland and Paris, France over spring break. In addition, I share my work from an Advanced Filmmaking class, The Pioneer (a school newspaper), and projects or classes prior to this year.

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