Popeye and Mainstream Culture
The Sailor dear to everyone’s heart
The Popeye cartoon and its characters have been in existence for nearly a century and it is only natural for it to make its mark into mainstream popular culture or pop culture. However, what is popular culture anyway?
A definition of popular culture is the sum of all perspective, ideas, attitudes and others that are favored through an informal consensus within the majority of a specific culture, normally the Western culture. Popular culture is often criticized to be heavily manipulated by mass media and that these popular culture penetrates the daily routine of individuals within a society.
Moreover, several groups including religious organizations often deem popular culture as superficial and inconsequential. It is also criticized to be a propaganda movement to enthrall the general public. However, writer of Cultural Theory and Popular Culture, John Storey identifies six different definitions for popular culture.
The first definition is that of popular culture is a set of cultural artifacts that are held in high esteem. This would be your William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Leonardo da Vinci and Pablo Picasso among others. This would also include the Beatles, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson.
His second definition of popular culture is the culture that is left once those in the first definition were weeded out. There are many works that may sway between these two definitions like Edgar Allan Poe and Barbara Streisand. Nevertheless, you could probably consider the spinach-loving Popeye, Smurfs and Superman to fall under this category.
The third definition associates popular culture with media culture. This is typically seen as propaganda intended for mass production for the consumption of the general public. From an Oriental viewpoint, these could be the western influences on art, music and the like.
John Storey further adds his fourth definition of popular culture as the genuine culture of the group of individuals. There are going to be gray areas since a group can be defined as a collection of more than one individual. This means that a small family having the same likes can already technically be considered promulgating popular culture.
The fifth definition tackles on the political angle of popular culture. John Storey states that popular culture is a power struggle between the resisting minority group and the dominant group in a society. This relates to the last definition of popular culture wherein there are no clear and definable distinction between popular culture and high culture.
I think it is safe to say that Popeye cartoon and its characters are part of popular culture. Why? Well, the Popeye cartoon was originally made for the print syndicate, King Features, however; it was eventually picked up for an animated cartoon produced by Fleischer Studios until the late 1950s. Moreover, the Popeye characters like Olive Oyl, Sweet Pea and Bluto were adapted for radio in the 1930s but it was short-lived and only lasted three seasons.
A movie was also produced in 1980 starring Robin Williams as Popeye the Sailor Man and Shelley Duvall as his darling, Olive Oyl. This movie was shot in Malta and currently; the town is part of a tourist attraction named Popeye Village.
The Popeye Village or Sweethaven Village is a cluster of rustic buildings that can be found in Anchor Bay in the island of Malta. It was originally constructed in 1979 in a span of seven months and is still currently open to the public with an open-air museum and family entertainment compound.
The iconic Popeye the Sailor Man has even made its mark in the gaming industry. Nintendo created the first Popeye Game & Watch game in 1981 and the game also features Olive Oyl and Bluto in it.
There was also a Popeye arcade game produced by Nintendo that came out in 1982 that features a lot more Popeye characters like the Sea Hag, Wimpy and Sweet Pea. This paved the way for more Popeye games for the Famicon, Game Boy, Game Boy Advance and Super Famicon.
Furthermore, you won’t see a shortage of Popeye toys and merchandises in several retail stores across the world. You would see the image of Popeye and other characters on toothbrushes to spinach. Crazy huh?
This even spun off to restaurant chains inspired by Popeye the Sailor Man. The popular fast food chain, Popeye’s Chicken and Biscuits is not named after the lovable Popeye characters but instead from a character in the film, The French Connection. However, the restaurant chain later obtained a license to use the Popeye characters with their restaurant merchandise to avoid confusion. If you are a fan, you might want to visit their branches in Puerto Rico where they use the images of these Popeye characters extensively.
Popeye wasn’t the only one who was able to lend his image to a restaurant business. J Wellington Wimpy inspires the Wimpy restaurant chain in Chicago in the 1930s wherein their hamburgers are called Wimpy burgers. Wimpy is also an international chain boasting of branches from Japan, Botswana, Saudi Arabia, Netherlands, Beirut and United Kingdom among others.
Popeye has even endorsed a couple of products like Minute Maid, Quaker Oats and Dr. Pepper. The United States Postal Service even came out with Popeye commemorative stamps along with 20 other classic comic strip personalities in 1995.
Popular culture continues to change frequently and is also unique to a place and period in time. Popular culture can also mean different things to different people however; one thing remains that everyone might agree to. Popular culture, whether old or new, will always be there and we’ll probably associate a period of our life with a certain set of popular culture.
It could be the Beatles during the 1960s or 1970s. It could also be the Menudo or Air Supply in the 1980s. It might be New Kids on the Block or Madonna in the 1990s and probably Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears during the early 2000s. As adults, we might scratch our heads at what the young ones right now consider popular culture like Justine Bieber and Hannah Montana but you were once a child and your parents probably had the same reaction to Menudo or New Kids on the Block, or for that matter, Popeye.
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