This unit focuses on the linkages between mass media and popular culture. It examines how the mass media threaten the propagation of popular culture and its use by the people in vocing the concerns, and promoting their interests.


At the end of this unit study, you should be able to:

  1. Discuss the interplay between mass media and popular culture
  2. Explain the use of mass media in the development of popular culture
  3. Appreciate the role of research in integrating African popular culture with the mass media


3.1 Mass Media and African Popular Culture

The transmission of culture is one of the functions of the mass media. However, Opubor (1985b:148) quoted in Nwuneli (1985) stated that:The problem with this function in Nigeria is that the media tend to transmit the culture of … various metropolitan powers on whom our elites are dependent. If culture refers to the way of behaving, … values, attitudes, … shared ideas, etc, then one can raise questions about whatculture our media are transmiting. Some of our broadcasting stations, many of our newspapers and magazines, all … our cinema houses, feature … culture[s] of Europe … North America more prominently and more consistently than they do the indigenous cultures of Nigeria

So the question now is: are the mass media custodians of Nigeria culture? Or they are helping to shape and to create that amorphous, even nebulous things – neo-Nigerian culture?

It should be noted that “the indiscriminate introduction of modern means of communication as vehicle for the propagation of western cultural influences may lead us to increased political and intellectual dependence on the West, with disastrous consequences for our societies” (Balogun, 1985:151) in Nwuneli (1985). So, “For our societies to progress, the old-age values of our culture and civilisation must return to the fore…of our lives and inspire our thoughts and actions.” (Balogun, 1985:153). Asante, (2004:3) captured it thus:

If we are not careful, Africa will travel the same path as the Western world in producing cities that contain people who move mindlessly in an abstract world of machines and telecommunication equipment. One can readily see in [Lagos, Abuja] Abidjan, Enugu, Kumasi, and Mombasa individuals who are so enamored with the idea of telecommunications that they walk the concrete streets with two and three different gadgets in their pockets. So we know that Africa cannot escape the technological events of the postmodern age, but it can, with the proper alignment to culture, check the rampant destruction of the common good and create new ways to preserve human [African] community (Asante, 2004:3)

Researches into the growth of African popular culture vary in their interpretations of its social value, but agree about the hold it has on African life and the role of the media in not promoting it but making amorphous, even nebulous and neo-African culture. Scholars studying the phenomenon of African popular culture discredit the mass media with being a compelling force in its growth, both within Africa and in the rest parts of the world.

However, there is hope for a better future. Many African musicians have used popular culture, especially, music to comment on social, economic, religious and political issues that mainstream media are often unable to do (Musa, 2005). Popular culture is created and sustained as a result of opposition between the ruling elite and the people that are marginalised in the scheme of things. The opposition might be between the desire of the power-block to foster homogeneity by controlling, structuring and minimizing differences on the one hand, and people’s attempt to maintain their separate identities and promote/protect individual and group interests (Hall, 1981).

To promote their lack of transparency and unaccountability to the people, the power elite censor communication media, especially the mass media through exclusive ownership and control by the government until recently, particularly for the broadcast media. They surveil the print to ensure that nothing negative about the government is published or circulated. It is against this backdrop, that popular art forms such as music, drama, and other channels of expression have emerged as important channels of development communication in Africa. Music has been increasingly used as a major channel (see the unit on music), (Ayu, 1986; Musa, 1998 and 1990). As Musa (2005:25-26) puts it:

The role of music as a medium of social and political communication is most pronounced under circumstances where the people lack access to formal communication channels. [So] Two factos that partly favor the adoption of poluar music as a forum for socio-political commentary include the dominance of oral culture in African and the intolorenace of the ruling class toward open criticism. Music has been a convenient way for oral cultures to communicate their experiences and ideas in ways that can be easily committed to memory [and easily recalled]. Both traditional African folk and contemporary pop music have consistently served the dual purpose of entertaining and narrating/commenting on events

3.2 Mass Communication and the Developemnt of Popular Culture in America

Scholars studying the phenomenon of American popular culture credit the mass media with being a compelling force in its growth, both in the United States and abroad. Researches into the growth of popular culture vary in their interpretations of its social value but agree about the hold it has on American life and the role of the media in promoting it (Agee et al, 1997:27-28).

According to Agee et al (1997:237-238), The impact of popular recordings on the public conciousness is insufficiently recognised as a means of mass communication. Tape cassettes and compact dics form crucial channels of communication in the youth culture. Through them, desires, anger, ideas, attitudes, and facts spread around the country and across the oceans….the recordings, music videos, and stage performances of …stars as Madonna and Bruce Springsteen have a strong impact on youthful thinking.

“Hot” individual performers and groups sing fervently of youth’s yearnings for love, freedom from restraints, popularity, and peace. The voice of protest and defiance is prominent in the lyrics.
Unorthodox ideas and uninhibited language that challenge codes of conventional social conduct have found an audience through recordings.

In earlier years, musicians were prominent in … anti-Vietnam war movement. Today, their voices are raised in the campaign against AIDS, in the environmental crusade, in … women’s movement, and in the form of gangsta rap against governmental authority. The upsurge in the popularity of rap singers has increased attention to social issues.Although popular music is heavily oriented towards teenagers and young adults, other types of recordings have devoted followers, mostly among … older groups.

Having seen the interplay between mass communication and the development of American popular culture, this unit turns to examine the situation in Africa, drawing from Nigeria.

3.3 Studies on the Use of Education-Entertainment to Promote Popular Culture in Nigeria Mass Media

The cultures of our forefathers should be well-documented by recording them in various media: still photographs, slides, sound cassettes, video cassettes, … films [and VCD and DVD]. These should then be deposited in our museums. As often as we wish, we can refresh our memories about our past when we visit the museums in order to learn about our past. Foreign tourists can also see the original African cultures. Museums in Europe and America have similar relics of Western cultures (Oduko,

While writing this text, a couple of films were watched. What was observed largely was the non-portrayal of the traditional media of communication discussed earlier. The emphasis of our local film producers seem to be focused more on the modern media of communication to the detriment of the local ones. This is not altogether wholesome as these local sources of information could still be depicted along side the modern communication media to achieve greater effects, help preserve and properly document these fading, but important aspects of African culture. Starcoms a telecommunication company in Nigeria currently promotes some indigenous communication equipment on its recaharge cards.

However, in the Ibo film “The Hidden Mask” the ‘Ikolo’ drum was mentioned and later portrayed but without the period of history being depicted. Similarly, the film “My Brothers Children” made use of Nigerian Folktales to show why family planning is needed.

Insights into the traditional Hausa communication sources could also be observed in the film “Mogana Jari”. It is a film based on traditional Hausa society and Hausa traditional institutions. Perhaps the greatest tribute paid to traditional sources of information by the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) is its network show, “Tales by Moonlight”. In this programme, various Nigerian folktales are related to the target audience of children and teenagers to teach them morality and extol the virtues of conformity to social norms.

Thus, it should be stated that our local film producers need to focus on our traditional communication media when making new films especially historical ones, not only to preserve African cultural heritage, but also to properly document and appropriately portray these local media of communication before some foreign film producers would one day take advantage of this lapse
and distort the correct picture by negatively depicting these local sources of information to the entire world.


From the studies reviewed, one may not be able to argue point blank on the overall impact of African popular culture on socio-political development, but what is undeniable is the fact that it has broadened the boundaries of public communication in Africa.


African popular culture is the driving machine of all that we are as Africans. It is our identity and what has kept us as a people through the ages. So, from the above, it is obvious that in many ways, we are lost as a people, and we need to know how we got to this point.

Self Assessment Exercise

  1.  Explain the linkages between mass media and popular culture.


  1. Examine how the mass media threaten the propagation of popular culture in Africa


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