History Of Popular Culture

.. vent their resentments and some form of entertainment. Festivals were an escape from their struggle to earn a living. They were something to look forward to and were a celebration of the community and a display of its ability to put on a good show. It is said that the mocking of outsiders (the neighbouring village or Jews) and animals might be seen as a dramatic expression of community solidarity.

Some rituals might be seen as a form of social control, in a sense that it was a means for a community to express their discontent with certain members of the community (charivari). The ritual of public punishment can be seen in this light, as it was used to deter people from committing crimes. Professor Max Gluckman used the African popular culture to explain the social function of the ritual of reversal of roles as it happened during rituals as Carnival. Similar rituals still occur in certain regions in Africa. Gluckman explains this ritual as an emphasis of certain rules and taboos through lifting them for a certain period of time.

The apparent protests against the social order were intended to preserve and even to strengthen the established order. As a counter example Gluckman states that: “in regions where the social order is seriously questioned, ‘rites of protest’ do not occur.” Riots and rebellions frequently took place during major festivals. Rebels and rioters employed rituals and symbols to legitimise their actions. Inhibitions against expressing hostility towards the authorities or individuals were weakened by the excitement of the festival and the consumption of large quantities of alcohol. If those factors were combined with discontent over a bad harvest, tax increases or other calamities, this situation could get out of control.

It could prove a good opportunity for people excluded from power to try and enforce certain changes. It is hardly surprising that members of the upper classes often suggested that particular festivals ought to be abolished. They felt threatened by the populace who during festivals tried to revolt against the ruling classes and change the economical situation they were in. The reform of popular festivals was instigated by the will of some of the ‘educated’ to change the attitudes and values of the rest of the population (” to improve them”). This reformation took on different forms in different regions and it took place at different moments in time.

There were also differences in the practices that were being reformed. Catholics and Protestants opposed to different elements of popular festivals and they did so for different reasons. Even within the Protestant movement, the views towards reformation of festivals and popular rituals varied. Missionaries on both sides worked in Europe to install their religious values in the local people. Reformers on both sides objected in particular to certain elements in popular religion. Festivals were part of popular religion or were at least disguised as an element of popular religion.

The festival of Martinmas (11 November) was a good example of this. What were the objections of the authorities against these elements of popular culture in general and popular religion in particular? There were two essential religious objections. Firstly, the majority of festivals were seen as remnants of ancient paganism. Secondly, the festivals offered the people an occasion to over-indulge in immoral or offensive behaviour, at many occasions attacking the establishment (both ecclesiastical and civil). The first objection meant that reformers disliked many of the popular customs because they contained traces of ancient customs dating from pre-Christian times. Protestant reformers went very far in their objections, even denouncing a number of Catholic rituals as being pre-Christian survivals, considering the saints as successors of pagan gods and heroes, taking over their curative and protective functions.

Magic was also considered a pagan remnant: the Protestants accused the Catholics of practising a pagan ritual by claiming that certain holy places held magical powers and could cure people. The reformers denounced the rituals they didn’t find fitting as being irreverent and blasphemous. Carnival and the charivaris were considered “the work of the devil”, because it made a mockery of certain godly elements the Church held sacred. The reformers thought people who didn’t honour God in their way to be heathen, doomed to spend their afterlife in eternal damnation. Flamboyance was to be chased out of all religious aspects of culture, and, where possible, out of all other aspects of life, according to the Protestant doctrine.

In some areas, gesturing during church services was banned, as was laughter. All these things were seen as irreverent, making a mockery of religion. All these changes were introduced in order to create a sharper separation between the ‘sacred’ and the ‘profane’. The ecclesiastical authorities were out to destroy the traditional familiarity with the sacred because “familiarity breeds irreverence.” The objection against popular recreations stemmed from the idea that they were ‘vanities’, displeasing God because they were a waste of time and money and distracted people from going to church. This objection was shared by both the ecclesiastical and civil authorities. The latter mainly objected because it distracted the populace from their work, which in turn affected the revenues of the leading upper classes, or from other activities that were benefiting the rich, reasons that would vary per region.

Catholic and Protestant reformers were not equally hostile to popular culture, nor were they hostile for quite the same reasons. Protestant reformers were more radical, denouncing festivals as relics of popery and looking to abolish feast-days as well as the feast that came with it, because they considered the saints that were celebrated during these festivals as remnants of a pre-Christian era. Many of these Protestant reformers were equally radical in their attacks on holy images, which they considered ‘idols’. During the end of the 16th and the first half of the 17th century Dutch churches were pillaged by Protestants trying to destroy all religious relics and images (de Beeldenstorm). Catholic reformers were more modified in their actions; they tried to reach a certain modification of popular religious culture, even trying to adapt certain elements to the Catholic way of worshipping and incorporating popular elements into their religion. They insisted that some times were holier than others, and they did object to the extend to which the holy days were celebrated with food and drink.

Some argued that it was impossible to obey the rites of Lent with proper reverence and devotion if they had indulged in Carnival just before. Catholic reformers also installed rules in order to regulate certain popular festivals and rituals, such as a prohibition on dressing up as a member of the clergy during Carnival or a prohibition on dancing or performing plays in churches or churchyards. Contrary to the Protestant reformers however, the Catholic reformers did not set out to abolish festivals and rituals completely. Civil authorities had their own reasons to object to popular festivals in Early Modern Europe. Apart from taking the people away from work or other obligations, the authorities feared that during the time of a festival, the abundance of alcohol could stir up the feelings of discontent the people had been hiding all throughout the year. Misery and alcohol could create a dangerous mix that would give people the courage they needed to rebel against authorities. This was a good reason for the authorities to try and stop, or at least control, popular festivals.

Bibliography Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe; P. Burke The Reasons of Misrule: Youth Groups and Charivaris in 16th century France; N.Z.Davis, Past and Present 1971 Order and rebellion in Tribal Africa; M. Gluckman The waning of the Middle Ages; J. Huizinga Levend Verleden; Prof. Dr. H.P.H. Jansen Blood, tears and Xavier-water: Jesuit missionaries and popular religion in the 18th century in the Upper Palatinate; T.

Johnson Popular religion in Germany and Central Europe 1400-1800.

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