Delving into Pop Culture

February 28, 2019 Published By Sarah Garriepy

Delving into Pop Culture

We are excited to announce our upcoming exhibit, Pop! Goes The Gables opening on April 5. This exhibit focuses on the impact The House of the Seven Gables and Hawthorne’s novel have had on popular culture through various forms of media such as film, comics, and television. We examine the relationship between popular culture and identity, particularly the contributions made to American popular culture by immigrants.  We want visitors to leave with a sense of The House of the Seven Gables as an American cultural touchstone from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day.

The most difficult question we faced while planning this year’s exhibit was defining “What is Popular Culture?”. As Holt N. Parker concluded in his 2011 article, “Toward a Definition of Popular Culture,” in History and Culture, pop culture is hard to define, but you know it when you see it. What separates high culture from pop culture? What is culture itself? Anthropologists distinguish between “big C” and “little C” culture. They define “big C” culture as being the grander, visible aspects of group identity, like art. “Little C” incorporates the subtler aspects like language.

Just as important to these theorists as the question of what pop culture is, is the question of how pop culture is used. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw the rise of mass forms of communication, such as daily newspapers, magazines, film, radio, and television. This was precisely the same time that The House of the Seven Gables rose to cultural prominence. Hawthorne’s novel has been drawn upon, again and again, appearing in many forms of media over the last 168 years. Theorists have much to say about the effects of images and ideas received from mass sources and the outcome on the societal systems of power.

There isn’t enough space in our exhibit to do justice to all the dimensions popular culture entails. We have incorporated the history of The Gables by looking at Hawthorne’s novel; the mansion’s use by the Upton family in the 1880s along with Caroline Emmerton’s use in the early 1910’s to Americanize immigrants. We hope visitors to our exhibit gain an appreciation for the ways that cultural objects, like The House of the Seven Gables and Hawthorne’s novel, can shape and be shaped by the culture at large.

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This post was written by Sarah Garriepy