The Cultural Scene of Disasters: Conceptualizing the Field of Disasters and Popular Culture

March 2000 (VOL. 18, NO. 1)

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This paper is a modest attempt to encourage serious social scientific consideration of disasters and popular culture. It considers three questions: (1) How should the field of disasters and popular culture be defined?; (2)Why should we study the popular culture of disasters?; and (3) What analytical frameworks(s) might be used? In answering the questions, I argue for an inclusive view of the field and for the inductive development of its definitions and boundaries. I offer what I think are some solid reasons to study the popular culture of disasters, contending that the field is both intellectually interesting and of practical importance. And I put forth elements of one possible framework with which we can study the popular culture of disasters, one which includes three levels of cultural analysis and several comparative dimensions. Following consideration of these questions, the paper discusses an interesting example of disaster popular culture – a compact disk of music played on board Titanic – and suggests ways in which this example might be approached if it were to be studied in depth.