Tecmerin. Journal of Audiovisual Essays
Nº7 2021 (1)
Ocho apellidos vascos and Spanish Popular Culture
Milagros Valerio, Claudia Sánchez y Mar Muñoz (Universidad Carlos III de Madrid)
The term “popular culture” has multiple meanings. Generally, we can define this concept as the set of habits and cultural expressions that are known, understood and accessible by the people. In his book, Cultural Theory and Popular Culture, John Storey makes clear that “popular culture” is a highly complex concept that should be studied cautiously as a discursive notion (Storey, 2018). This means that we must bear in mind that its definition has been gradually constructed according to how reality has unfolded.
Focusing on the Spanish context, and according to the Ministry of Culture and Sport, in order to speak about popular culture we would need to go back to the 19th century, a period in which Spain’s national identity began to consolidate. Among the references that began to be popularized at that time, everything related to the world of bullfighting and flamenco stands out; references that extolled patriotic pride and epitomized “the character of an entire nation, spontaneous and joyful” (Ministerio de Cultura y Deporte, 2020).
Cinema is, of course, a space that allows people to visualize the representation of the concept “popular culture”. To this end, it is useful to analyze the most successful film productions in terms of number of spectators. In the Spanish case, comedy dominates the box-office; four of the ten highest-grossing films ever belong to this genre. This audiovisual essay focuses on this specificity and takes the film Ocho apellidos vascos / Spanish Affair (Martínez-Lázaro, 2014) as the main case study. Based on the fact that this film is, to date, the production that has achieved the highest box office takings in Spain, this work explores Ocho apellidos vascos in order to identify the characteristics that made it such a popular film. Similarly, it will seek to evaluate the definitions proposed by Storey based on the theories of Raymond Williams. Among these, we find: the conceptualization of popular culture as something that many people like; as an inferior culture; as something produced for mass consumption; as something made by the people and for the people; and as an element of important political value, taking into account that “it is a process of intellectual and moral leadership, which tries to win the consent of the subordinate groups of society” (Storey, 2018).
Additionally, this audiovisual essay also seeks to investigate the difficulty of drawing a boundary between popular culture and culture in general, as well as to assess whether it is really possible to determine who belongs to the category that Storey calls “the people”. In the same way, within this approach, we interrogate the existence of a system that determines what is a product of high and low culture, especially when we talk about the Spanish film landscape. We have already mentioned that Ocho apellidos vascos and, more extensively, many films designed to become popular products have one characteristic in common: they are comedies, preferably romantic comedies or “rom-coms”. There is another singularity that binds these films together: despite their box-office success and their large production teams, these are works that film critics typically dismiss, categorizing them as “low culture”. The opposite happens when this categorization fades away, since they achieve a broad public engagement, which means that, habitually, they will be seen by all socio-economic classes without distinction. The way in which the representation of popular culture is intertwined with a sociological process, which in today’s context would be postmodernity, is thus evident. Therefore, it is important to highlight these relationships considering their implications for the very definition of the concept of “popular culture”, their use in cinema when understood as entertainment and the ideological implications of their representation on the big screen.
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How to cite this article: Valerio, M., Sánchez, C. & Muñoz, M. (2021) Ocho apellidos vascos and Spanish Popular Culture. Tecmerin. Journal of Audiovisual Essays, 7(1). ISSN: 2659-4269