307 Leblanc Mainstream

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According to the Oxford English Dictionary, what is regarded as “mainstream” refers to: “the ideas, attitudes, or activities that are shared by most people and regarded as normal or conventional”. It derives from the compound noun formed by the words “main” and ”stream” which respectfully highlight two characteristics of the mainstream.

First of all, the mainstream is marked by a sense of power and efficacy of the masses to dictate the popularity and the success of a trend, the essential criteria being how big is the audience. Secondly, “stream” helps to understand the elusive aspect of the mainstream as it constantly changes and as it is revitalized by subcultures. Thus, one can think of the mainstream as the “principal current of a river” which rushes and swallows everything. Hence the definition of the mainstream according to the Online Etymology Dictionary as : “the prevailing direction in opinion, popular taste”.

Regarding culture, the emergence of mass media and its ability to spread information worldwide gave birth to a massive way of consuming culture. As a matter of fact, some cultural goods can become mainstream, meaning that they are purchased and consumed broadly and so they acquire a worldwide status of cultural model. Blockbusters, best-sellers and musical hits form the mainstream, which is characterized by being “accessible, widely available, and intended for consumption by as many people as possible”, according to Susie O'Brien and Imre Szeman.

As it is regarded as the dominant trend, the mainstream conveys an idea of normality through the dictatorship of the taste of the majority. Thus, the overwhelming mass culture, which spread the same kind of cultural good all over the world, contributes to creating the fear of a cultural standardization. So, because it is supposed to seduce everyone, mainstream culture is often associated with brainwash and worthless content, responsible for the alienation of mankind, in keeping with the norms, as opposed to the subcultures and countercultures which are regarded as meaningful and subversive to the mainstream. One can see a harsh criticism of the supposedly meaningless content of mainstream culture in a definition of “mainstream” given by the Urban Dictionary: “A gigantic brainwashing cover that the media and the government uses to blindly mislead people into all going the same way.”


O'Brien, Susie, and Imre Szeman. Popular Culture: A User's Guide. Toronto: Nelson, 2004. Print.