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Influence of popular culture on contemporary Croatian children's novel


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Slunjski, Kristina. (2018). Influence of popular culture on contemporary Croatian children's novel. PhD Thesis. Filozofski fakultet u Zagrebu, Department of Croatian Language and Literature.
(Poslijediplomski doktorski studij hrvatske kulture) [mentor Kos-Lajtman, Andrijana].

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To discuss the influence of popular culture on a contemporary Croatian children's novel is a complex task. The cause of this is the intertwining of different sociological, cultural and poetic constructs and their effects. It is the interference of phenomena such as postmodernism, culture, ideology, and popularity that influence the formation of popular culture itself and its implications within literature. The introductory part of the dissertation will present the methodology of work and the aim of the research. The next chapter is related to postmodernism which is discussed from different theoretical perspectives. It will offer definitions and insights into the features of postmodernism. Namely, in postmodernism, there is a new poetic approach to literature, and thus to children's literature, within which popular cultural elements come to be more pronounced than it was before. Therefore, the understanding of the phenomena of postmodernism contributes to the understanding of popular culture, and thus the detection of its impacts within the children's novels. Postmodernist literature, as well as the whole art, primarily seeks to achieve a better audience reception by reaching for the occurrences with which the recipients meet every day and that are accessible to everyone, and those are popular cultural elements. Thereby the postmodernist art becomes populist, and consequently 'high' art does not occupy a privileged space, that is, it clears the boundaries between 'high' and 'low'. Thus, the relationship between postmodernism and popular culture is reflected in dehierarchisation and antielitism. Also, postmodern discourse is often linked to new popular communication and information technologies that simultaneously shape it by adapting it to their needs. For example, new technologies are primarily oriented on popular. Furthermore, postmodernist literature reaches for the elements commonly referred to as trivial, which often appear as components of popular culture due to which popular culture is well accepted by a large number of people. Some of the above mentioned elements are certainly sentimentality, penetration ('stickiness'), that is a sense of delight stimulated by sentimental experiences, imitation, clichés, banality and others, coupled with many popular cultural products; from soap operas, movies, radio shows all the way to literature. Media propaganda is also contributing to this, greatly defining the public's taste by allowing people to flee from everyday efforts through the consumption of popular cultural creations. Of course, marketing also promotes the creation of new, mostly material values, which contributes to the development of consumer culture, and profitability becomes one of the features of postmodernist but also of popular culture. In postmodernism the powerful exclude individuals, as well as entire collectives, from their discourses, thus creating subordinate identities, that is the othernesses. However, popular culture is often seen as a culture of subordinates, so it includes othernesses such as non-white races, homosexuals, women who are the otherness of men etc. in its discourses. It is therefore evident that postmodernist culture and popular culture have an ideological component, which is why pluralism prevails as a coexistence of different interests and opinions within society. New communication and information technologies are of great importance in the spread of ideological intentions. They enable the transfer of information to a large number of people, and accordingly, they can also serve for manipulative purposes by which ideologies are transmitted through different cultural products (while capitalist interests often are in focus) and people accept or neglect some of the available information in accordance with their own preferences. Therefore, to understand the presence of popular culture within children's literature, it is important to raise awareness of the mechanisms of production and spread of ideological elements within the framework of contemporary global society. As ideology is often used to indicate distorted images of reality, texts, and practices of the powerful, it helps in understanding the nature of popular culture (cf. Storey, 2009: 2-3). Namely, the ruling often supervise the production resources within the framework of politics, education, literature and the media and thus create room for acceptance of their ideologies (cf. van Dijk, 2006: 13). For example, in popular culture consumer practices are in focus, they occupy the leisure time of people, so popular culture can be associated with a capitalist ideology in which subordinates are not considered to be oppressed but 'voluntarily' participate in spending practices. Therefore, ideology permeates the everyday life of people creating the conditions for the continuation of capitalism and the consumable popular cultural products contribute to that as well. Because of their immaturity, children are subject to the acceptance of ideological influences to a greater extent, and accordingly interpret different texts in different ways. Therefore, in accordance with the personal perception of the world that depends, for example, on the ideological influences that come from the family environment in which the child is growing up and the educational system in which it participates, given the fact that the children do not have sufficiently developed critical awareness. As consumers, they are exposed to popular cultural products and practices since childhood, and children's literature, in order to achieve better reception and attractiveness, accepts popular cultural elements. Furthermore, before contemplating the popular culture, it is necessary to consider culture as a phenomenon as well as the phenomenological aspects of popular in order to better analyze and understand the popular cultural features and the relationship between popular culture and children's novels. As in the case of postmodernism and ideology, it is impossible to offer a generally accepted view of the culture and meaning of the popular. However, it is noteworthy that culture usually relates to phenomena of knowledge, laws, habits, beliefs, art, social heritage, patterns of behavior, etc. Raymond Williams (1976) has offered several meanings of popular, but Stuart Hall (2006) notes that all meanings of popular cannot be linked to popular culture. Hall concluded that something is called popular primarily because it is something that a mass of people consume and enjoy it (cf. Hall, 2006: 304). In the dissertation, Hall's statement will be accepted as popular cultural products are close and attractive to children for which they consume them, but Williams' (1976) definition of popular will also be taken into account, according to which popular implies all that serves to attract people because, for example, children’s novels precisely for this reason contain popular cultural elements that shape the worldviews, behavior and appearance of characters, introduce current topics and current language, play with the novelistic structure in order to achieve a better reception but also authenticity and persuasiveness, that is similarity with reality. Furthermore, apart from the various approaches to popular culture, its recognizable features, such as the satisfaction that it stimulates with the recipients, spectacularity, obviousness, clichés, availability, emotionality, intertextuality, etc. will be considered (cf. Fiske, 2001) and the contemporary novel will be discussed in the context of popular culture. The main part of the dissertation will primarily include guidelines for selecting the novels needed for the analysis. In order to better analyze the interaction between popular culture and children's novels, it is necessary to determine the children's novel as such, that is its key determinants. It is important to point out the approximate upper age limit of the recipients of children's literature, to try to determine when contemporary time begins, given that the dissertation is about contemporary novels, and to keep in mind the relationship between children's and adolescent literature. After presenting different opinions about the end of childhood and the beginning of adolescence, to determine the age of the recipient the fact that the duration of childhood, that is, the beginning of adolescence is not determined solely by biological factors but by social factors as well will be taken into account and 15 years of age will be accepted as the approximate upper age limit of the recipients of children's literature because the boundaries between childhood and adolescence are flexible and relative. Also, the proposals of children's and adolescent literature researchers on the factors that would help separating children's literature from adolescent literature will be presented. But also, given the individuality of each child, it is obvious that readers of the same age have different reading preferences, different ability to understand the readings, etc. Consequently, (children) readers can also reach for works intended for younger adolescents, therefore novels that could be included in both literatures according to individual segments will be presented in the analyses. Around the year 1970, a new poetic approach begins to overcome in children's literature, that is, postmodernist features such as language games, ironicism, genre-based indeterminacy, connecting with popular culture, etc. can then be noticed in children's literature (cf. Hranjec, 2008) and the 70's are precisely what will be considered the cornerstone of contemporary children's literature. After a more detailed definition of the guidelines according to which the novels needed for analysis were selected, the analyses conducted on the corpus of 30 contemporary Croatian children's novels will follow. Popular cultural elements are analyzed at the level of characters, at the thematic-motive level, at the linguistic-stylistic level and at the level of the novelistic structure. At the level of characters, popular cultural influence is observed within the worldview context through the construction of the appearance of characters and the phenomena of leisure and consumption that shape the characters, within gender stereotypes and through the emergence of new characters. Namely, popular culture through public persons and contemporary media promotes a certain look. Consequently, in the novelistic characters one can notice dissatisfaction and obsession with appearance, which is why they apply, for example, different weight loss methods and reach for popular cosmetic products that will enable them to achieve the goal, that is, the imposed beauty ideal. Of course, their dissatisfaction is also reflected in the lack of self-confidence because of which they compare themselves to others or measure them. They are also preoccupied with clothing, and they are constantly striving to possess new, modern and 'branded' fashion accessories. It is noteworthy that even male characters are occupied with their appearance, so examples of this can also be extracted. Namely, they exercise, practice healthy eating, all just to achieve good looks. Furthermore, spending is an indispensable practice of contemporary times, which is also reflected in the ways in which characters spend their leisure time. They often visit shopping centers, cinemas, concerts, go to vacations, etc. If leisure time is not spent on spending, they dream about it and sometimes feel excluded. Also, characters spend their free time watching TV programs, playing computer games, reading Internet contents and other popular readings, such as biographies of celebrities and various magazines. Within gender stereotypes, there is a noticeable shift of male-female roles in the household, but also wider. Female characters do not appear stereotypically as housewives, but are also presented as highly educated and enterprising characters. They usually appeared as gentle characters fallen under the domination of male characters, but the popular cultural influence in this respect is apparent in the rebuttal of such stereotypical representations of female characters that are now appearing as characters that do not tolerate harassment and orders coming from male characters. Apart from the aforementioned, there are also examples of female characters that are in many aspects more dominant, intelligent and more ingenious than male characters, thus questioning the stereotype that male characters prevail in intellectual segments. In the emergence of new characters, the pervasion of popular culture and children's literature is particularly evident. Accordingly, there are characters of aliens, robots, stuffed toys, characters following the lives of celebrities or who are already famous, characters of homosexual orientation, characters of children with developmental difficulties, etc. At the thematic-motive level, popular cultural presence is expressed through the emergence of love, science fiction, criminal and taboo themes, but it is also visible within smaller thematic complexes that segmentally permeate through novels, that is, within microthemes, as regarded to in the dissertation. Popular culture has contributed to the spread of love themes by means of media content, and they are also interesting to children because they encounter the first experiences of falling in love. The occurrence of science fiction themes was inspired by the informatization of society, but also with current, provocative questions, such as the existence of extraterrestrial beings. Also, the informatisation of the society has enabled the opening of new areas for carrying out criminal activities with the convenience of anonymity, of what the popular culture speaks through its products, such as criminal series. Therefore, the currentness of criminal topics and children's interest in solving mysteries prompted the spread of criminal topics in children's literature as well. The general availability of information within popular media has enabled the breaking of taboos of certain topics, so children's novels also often deal with them. Pluralism, that is the coexistence of diversity, one of the features of contemporary time, has caused the emergence of smaller thematic complexes within larger thematic complexes. In that sense, children's novels include issues of ecology, sexuality, various forms of addiction and violence, economic inequality, death, etc. Namely, in contemporary time, awareness of issues such as environmental pollution, addictions, violence, inequality based on financial situation, sexual orientation, etc. is growing, and, accordingly, children's literature discusses these topics. Of course, children's literature introduces children with popular cultural genres such as horror as well. The intertwining of popular cultural influences and children's literature is evident at the language level itself and the stylistic aspects of its literary formulation. The popular culture influences the formation of everyday communication, which is reflected in the linguistic formulation of children's novels and is evident in the novelistic taking on of the language used by young people on social networks (for example Facebook), in correspondence with peers (for example SMS messages, chat), in the use of economical abbreviations that are a component of contemporary fast communication, etc. In the novels there are also language games and buzzwords whose role is to point to the rather small fond of words used by contemporary children influenced by popular media and genres, foreign language words, jargonisms, neologisms, words belonging to dialects, etc. The emergence of fictional languages that correspond to the appearance of new characters, constructs of popular culture, such as robots and extraterrestrials, and flirtation of the novel with the publicistic style of expression that is present in the everyday life through the popular media and print media is particularly emphasized. At the level of the novelistic structure, the influence of popular culture is sometimes seen at the level of the entire novelistic structure, for example, when the novel is structured as a computer game or written as a diary that, of course, did not yield from popular culture but was popularized by it through numerous screenings of diary forms. Sometimes the forms that do not originally belong to the novelistic structure are inserted in it, such as SMS messages, publicistic texts, songs of media exposed performers, etc. The aforementioned results in one of the fundamental features of contemporary novels, the hybridity of discourse, which is realized differently through individual author poetics. After the analysis, the conclusion of the dissertation will follow. The conclusion will primarily indicate that to study the relationship between popular culture and children's literature it is not advised to perceive popular culture as a separate phenomenon, that is as a phenomenon independent of social and cultural changes. Furthermore, it will be shown that popular cultural elements certainly influenced the formation of children's novelistic discourse, but their presence in each of the analyzed novels is not necessary on all studied novelistic levels. The presence of popular cultural elements within the novelistic discourse varies from novel to novel, which means that in some of the analyzed novels they can be noticed in almost all of the novelistic levels studied in the dissertation, and sometimes in only a few levels. In general terms, the popular cultural influence is most noticeable at the level of characters and at the thematic-motive level, while at the linguistic-stylistic and structural level it is sometimes harder to notice it. Thus, the conclusion will summarize the obtained results that will contribute to a better understanding of the interaction of popular culture and contemporary Croatian children's novels, the reasons for reaching of children's novels for popular cultural elements and the function of popular cultural elements within the children's novels will be considered. This will point to the two-way process between popular culture and children's literature, that is to say, the insights will be given that show that literature is involved in shaping popular cultural elements just as popular culture participates in shaping children's literature, thus closing the perpetuating process of their interaction. At the end of the dissertation, a list of scientific and professional literature will be presented, as well as a list of analyzed Croatian children's novels.

Item Type: PhD Thesis
Uncontrolled Keywords: ideologija, popularna kultura, postmodernizam, potrošaĉka kultura, suvremeni hrvatski djeĉji roman
Subjects: Slavic languages and literatures > Croatian language and literature
Departments: Department of Croatian Language and Literature
Supervisor: Kos-Lajtman, Andrijana
Additional Information: Poslijediplomski doktorski studij hrvatske kulture
Date Deposited: 07 Jun 2018 08:57
Last Modified: 29 May 2019 23:15

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