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Reproduction of Popular Culture: Standardization vs. Individualization?

Text / SIU Heng

The Meaning of Reproduction

The word "reproduction" is in fact an ambiguous sign, as it embraces both notions of sameness and difference. It can refer to copying, where sameness is emphasized. Contrary to the biological sense, it means giving birth to a new individual where creation is stressed. But when "reproduction" is employed to describe cultural processes, it becomes even more ambiguous, as Raymond Williams suggests.

The ambiguity of this word does not end here. As far as culture is concerned, it can also refer to the production of another cultural product after one has been consumed. "Reproduction" (or more precisely "re-production") here is a mere description, with emphasis on neither sameness nor difference. In this essay, unless otherwise stated, the word "reproduction" refers to this neutral description of the process. This ambiguous word is still employed because the process itself involves both copying and innovation, or in other words, standardization and individualization. The three meanings of "reproduction" are indeed inter-related. ...

(Published in CR@SH, Issue 2, Sept 2001.) [Link]

About This Essay

"Siu Heng's analysis of the process of reproduction are also bound up with the critique of ideology... [The essay] critiques what the author calls the "grand narrative" of love and information technology, homophobia and "red xenophobia" (anti-communist sentiment)."

"What is also interesting is that these essays are not reduced to a form of negative critique. They open up two more ways of studying popular culture. The first one is the historical and anthropological perspective underlined by Siu Heng's analysis of pop songs, advertisements and films. While maintaining that pop culture is reproductive and imitative, he suggests that standardization and reproduction are more complicated than the Frankfurt School formula of core and shell. In the process of reproduction, there are different stylistic variations but also transformations of the core ideology, which are associated with historical and social change."

-- Esther Cheung, "Hong Kong Popular Culture Matters"

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