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What is Pop Culture?

The term popular culture as used by the Oklahoma Folklife Center refers to fads, fashions, and art. Usually, popular culture is driven by the mass media. Including broadcasting, movies, the Internet, and other processes. Western Swing music of the 1930s and 1940s was a fad of that era. It became so commonly known that when the fad lost momentum the dance styles and styles of music remained. Much of the music and dance known as "Swing" was learned through informal means, and the fad became a tradition. Today, most Oklahoma fiddlers will know one or two fiddle tunes played by Bob Wills or other Western Swing players. The style was passed on by oral tradition and not always bound to a tune or song. For jazz and blues musicians, swing is a tradition of style not just tunes or songs.

Some popular culture is purely oral tradition. For example, skateboarding became a fad in Southern California in the 1960s. The fad spread to most parts of America. The vocabulary of the skateboarder includes some of the language from surfing of the 1950s and 1960s. Over the years since the 1960s, skateboarders have learned by watching and listening to other skateboarders. The vocabulary keeps evolving but still includes some of the terms from its origins. Skateboarding is rarely seen in modern media and the media was not responsible for its growth.


Wiley Walker and Gene Sullivan

Other streams of popular culture include bodies of written works that drift into oral tradition. The songs of Woody Guthrie, the Carter Family, and Stephen Foster have become a part of oral tradition. That is, the songs are learned by listening to them and recalling them from memory. Eventually, what was once a contemporary song became traditional as many singers learned the songs only by listening to friends or family. Poetry often lives as oral tradition but may fade entirely in its written form.

The image featured on the Popular Culture section is Wiley and Gene. Wiley Walker and Gene Sullivan performed a hillbilly/swing music act on radio and television and were based in Oklahoma City. Their song "When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again" is a frequently recorded song by many popular musicians. Is the song in oral tradition? Many Oklahoma fiddlers and bluegrass bands play it as do some swing musicians. Perhaps it is in the process of going into oral tradition.


J. C. Broughton of Sapulpa, Oklahoma, plays "swing" fiddle and builds fiddles!

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