By Rebecca Wanzo

About Rebecca Wanzo

Rebecca Wanzo is Associate Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. She is the author of The Suffering Will Not Be Televised: African American Women and Sentimental Political Storytelling (2009) and various essays in the fields of popular culture, African American literature, critical race theory, and feminist media studies.


The term “popular” is a tendentious term defined by both audience and content. A popular cultural production is generally understood as appealing to a large group of people or as designed to do so, with the mass appeal suggesting—­to some people—­that the popular is of lesser quality or inferior.

Part of what can make the popular “lesser” is its association with identity-­based entertainment. “High” culture is problematically but frequently associated with the universal, while the popular is often seen as targeting groups such as women, children, or the working class. Ironically, the association with an identity group has also made popular texts interesting to many scholars, who see the texts as offering a possibility for subjected or minority groups to voice perspectives not found in mainstream culture. But whether these representations actually speak to the experiences and identities of these groups is a constant source of debate. In the influential …

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