Popular culture refers to culture that is based on the tastes of the masses rather than an elite group. It is often viewed as being trivial, or dumbed down, as it seeks to gain consensus amongst the wider mainstream population. This tends to be criticised by non-mainstream groups (for example counter cultural groups) as being superficial, often sensationalist, consumer-oriented and, especially by religious groups, corrupt.
It is within this context that mainstream cartoons have historically reflected the memes, images and attitudes that define global western culture, as it emerged through the 20th and into the 21st centuries. It is influenced by commerce, mass marketing, mass media and mass consumption. This populist culture can sometimes even appear to be reactionary and non-cerebral, with a core focus on entertainment above relevance or didactic content. The themes tend to reinforce the status quo and emphasise social hegemonic structures. Occasionally it is given a definition that locates it as ‘authentic’ people’s culture, although the notion of people is again highly contested.
American animated movies and shows have for much of the past been almost exclusively made for audiences aged 12 or under.
Yet, in the rest of the world, animated films aimed at adults aren’t uncommon. Ali Forman’s autobiographical film about the Lebanon War, Waltz With Bashir, was moving, disturbing and often poetic – and was given an 18 rating in the UK.