Sociological Forum

, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 387–414 | Cite as

Culture and Stigma: Popular Culture and the Case of Comic Books

  • Paul Lopes

This paper argues that a better articulated conception of stigma can enhance the analysis of popular culture. Beginning with the work on stigma by Erving Goffman and other scholars, the article contends that the stigma sometimes attached to the production and consumption of popular culture is distinct from the low status associated with certain forms of popular culture. Unlike low status, stigma discredits cultural forms and practitioners often rendering them problematic. This reassessment of stigma is applied and developed further through a study of comic books, showing the various ways stigma can operate in popular culture. The analysis suggests that stigma significantly impeded the evolution of the comic book as an art form, illustrating the potential negative effects of stigma in popular culture.


popular culture stigma status culture mass media 


  1. Ang, Ien 1988 “Feminist desire and female pleasure: On Janice Radway’s ‘Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy and Popular Literature.’” Camera Obscura 16:179–190.Google Scholar
  2. Bacon-Smith, Camille 2000 Science Fiction Culture. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bacon-Smith, Camille 1992 Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  4. Beisel, Nicola 1993 “Morals versus art: Censorship, the politics of interpretation, and the Victorian nude.” American Sociological Review 58(2):145–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bielby, Denise E., and William T. Bielby 2004 “Audience aesthetics and popular culture.” In R. Friedland and J. Mohr (eds.), Matters of Culture: Cultural Sociology in Practice: 295–317. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Binder, Amy 1993 “Constructing racial rhetoric: Media depictions of harm in heavy metal and rap music.” American Sociological Review 58(6):753–767.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bourdieu, Pierre 1984 Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Boyer, Paul S. 2002 Purity in Print: Book Censorship in America from the Gilded Age to the Computer Age, 2nd ed. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  9. Brigman, William E. 1997 “Politics and the pornography wars.” Wide Angle 19(3):149–170.Google Scholar
  10. Brunsdon, Charlotte 2000 The Feminist, the Housewife, and the Soap Opera. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Bryson, Bethany 1996 “‘Anything but heavy metal’: Symbolic exclusion and musical dislikes.” American Sociological Review 61(5):884–899.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Crocker, J., B. Major, and C. Steele 1998 “Social stigma.” In D. T. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske and G. Lindzey (eds.), The Handbook of Social Psychology: 504–553. Boston: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  13. Daniels, Lee 1971 Comix: A History of Comic Books in America. New York: Bonanza.Google Scholar
  14. Dean, Carolyn J. 1996 “The great war, pornography, and the transformation of modern male subjectivity.” Modernism/Modernity 3(2):59–72.Google Scholar
  15. Doherty, Thomas 1999 Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema, 1930–1934. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Erenberg, Lewis A. 1981 Steppin’ Out: New York Nightlife and the Transformation of American Culture, 1890–1930. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  17. Ehrenreich, Barbara 1983 The Hearts of Men: American Dreams and the Flight from Commitment. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press.Google Scholar
  18. Estren, Mark James 1987 A History of Underground Comics. Revised ed. CA: Ronin.Google Scholar
  19. Fiske, John 1992 “The cultural economy of fandom.” In L. A. Lewis (ed.), The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media: 30–49. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  20. Gamson, Joshua 1998 Freaks Talk Back: Tabloid Talk Shows and Sexual Nonconformity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  21. Gans, Herbert J. 1974 Popular Culture and High Culture: An Analysis and Evaluation of Taste. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  22. Garofalo, Reebee 1997 Rockin’ Out: Popular Music in the USA. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.Google Scholar
  23. Goffman, Erving 1963 Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  24. Goulart, Ron 1986 Great History of Comic Books. New York: Contemporary.Google Scholar
  25. Grindstaff, Laura 2002 The Money Shot: Trash, Class and the Making of TV Talk Shows. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  26. Grossberg, Lawrence 1992 “Is there a fan in the house? The affective sensibility of fandom.” In L. A. Lewis (ed.), The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media: 50–65. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  27. Groth, Gary, and Robert Fiore 1988 The New Comics. New York: Berkley.Google Scholar
  28. Harrington, C. Lee, and Denise Bielby 1995 Soap Fans: Pursuing Pleasure and Making Meaning in Everyday Life. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Hills, Matt 2002 Fan Cultures. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  30. Jenkins, Henry 1992 Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  31. Jensen, Joli 2001 “Fandom as pathology: The consequences of characterization.” In C. L. Harrington and D. D. Bielby (eds.), Popular Culture: Production and Consumption: 301–314. Malden, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  32. Link, Bruce G., and Jo C. Phelan 2001 “Conceptualizing stigma.” Annual Review of Sociology 27:363–385.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lopes, Paul 2005 “Signifying deviance and transgression: Jazz in the popular imagination.” American Behavioral Scientist 48(11):1468–81.Google Scholar
  34. Lopes, Paul 2002 The Rise of a Jazz Art World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Nasaw, David 1993 Going Out: The Rise and Fall of Public Amusements. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  36. Nyberg, Amy Kiste 1998 Seal of Approval: The History of the Comics Code. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.Google Scholar
  37. Ogren, Kathy J. 1989 The Jazz Revolution: Twenties America and the Meaning of Jazz. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Paterline, Brent 2000 “Community reaction to the deadhead subculture.” In R. G. Adams and R. Sardiello (eds.), Deadhead Social Science: 183–199. New York: Altamira Press.Google Scholar
  39. Peiss, Kathy 1986 Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Pustz, Matthew J. 1999 Comic Book Culture: Fanboys and True Believers. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.Google Scholar
  41. Radway, Janice A. 1984 Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy and Popular Literature. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.Google Scholar
  42. Robbins, Trina, and Catherine Yronwode 1985 Women and the Comics. Forestville, CA: Eclipse Books.Google Scholar
  43. Rose, Tricia 1994 Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America. Hanover, CT: University of New England Press.Google Scholar
  44. Sabin, Roger 1996 Comics, Comix, and Graphic Novels. London: Phaidon.Google Scholar
  45. Sabin, Roger 1993 Adult Comics: An Introduction. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  46. Schelly, Bill 1999 The Golden Age of Comic Fandom. Seattle, WA: Hamster.Google Scholar
  47. Sigel, Lisa J. 2000 “Filth in the wrong people’s hands: Postcards and the expansion of pornography in Britain and the Atlantic world, 1880–1914.” Journal of Social History 33(4):859–885.Google Scholar
  48. Sternheimer, Karen 2003 It’s Not the Media: The Truth about Pop Culture’s Influence on Children. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  49. Storey, John 2001 Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction. New York: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  50. Swingewood, Alan 1977 The Myth of Mass Culture. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  51. Varnum, Robin, and Christina T. Gibbons 2001 “Introduction.” In R. Varnum and C. T. Gibbons (eds.), The Language of Comics: Word and Image: 9–19. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.Google Scholar
  52. Wright, Bradford W. 2001 Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and AnthropologyColgate UniversityHamiltonUSA

Personalised recommendations