Symbolism of Popular Culture
While cultural places provide context within which content (products) are consumed, cultural places might also be viewed as symbols or products themselves. This point is made by Philip Kotler in Marketing Places who reminds us that places are also products subject to being branded and marketed. The idea of cities as products is well-known to the various Visitors and Tourist Convention Bureaus and Chamber of Commerces around the nation that fight for to attract new business and meetings and conventions to their specific cities.
And, in the increasingly global community, nations might also be products. Like cities, nations are really products competing to attract investment money, business and visitors in the emerging global economy. This conclusion is reached by Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter in his book titled Competitive Advantage of Nations.
Within the larger context of cities and nations, there are specific places which can also be viewed symbolically as products. These places might include theme parks, destination resorts, hotels, retail establishments and restaurants. Like other products of popular culture, these places have more or less popularity at particular periods of time and this may very well reflect the dynamics of symbolism. For example, an interesting chart of places preferred by Hollywood appeared a 1996 In Style magazine article. While somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it nevertheless says much about changing standards of popular culture as a whole and overall swings in contextual symbolism.
Hollywood Clubs, Hotels, Restaurants & Getaways By Decade
Again, one can see broad trends in general popular culture reflected in the above chart. For example, The Viper Room of the 90s is a very different symbol than the Mocambo of the 50s and Chasens of the 60s very different than Patina of the 90s.
An important book about general types of places in the modern world is Place, Modernity, and the Consumer's World by geography professor Robert David Sack (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992). Sack argues for a contextual understanding of modern consumption and capitalism remarking that consumption is a "place-creating and place altering act." In this sense, we consume not only products but the context of the products as well.
In his book, Sack observes that places of consumption "have rapidly spread across the landscape in the last hundred years." The result is that much of the modern world is composed of these types of places. They are the familiar places we all know well and constitute "much of the modern home and its furnishings, planned neighborhoods and housing developments, shopping strips along highways, cityscapes, shopping malls, recreational areas and resorts, recreational theme parks, and natural settings, and vast tracts of countries that are mass consumed as tourist attractions." It is within these places that most of our "non working lives" are spent.
The general types of places of particular periods really borders on architectural themes and movements. Architecture is place and a product one consumes when they spend time within the architectural environment. While it provides a context of tangible product consumption, cultural place is also a product itself and subject to categorizing in particular genres and themes like films and television. The style says much about the symbolism of the period but like all symbols in popular culture that border on contexts and mediums, it is difficult to recognize. The difficulty though only serves to make it more rather than less important to an investigation of symbolism.