From Popular Culture to Popular Custom, and Back Again : A love-lock's tale
Walk over a major bridge in a Western city and chances are you will come across at least one or two love-locks. These are padlocks inscribed with names or initials and attached to a public structure, typically by a couple in declaration of romantic commitment, who then proceed to throw the key into the river below. Some assemblages of these love tokens are modest; others number the thousands. This has become a truly global phenomenon, with over 400 love-lock assemblages catalogued across 62 countries in all continents bar Antarctica: popular custom in the true sense of the term. Although this custom was practised prior to the 21st century, with evidence of it in Serbia and Hungary in the 1900s,i it did not gain widespread popularity until the mid-2000s — sparked, this paper contends, by an Italian teenage romance novel. This paper explores the transition from popular culture, defined here as mass-produced cultural products — including but not limited to television, film, literature and music — accessible to and consumed by the majority of a given society, to popular (or folk) custom. It also explores the reverse. As the love-lock custom gained popularity and familiarity, it became an established folk motif in films, television, and novels — from popular custom to popular culture — and this paper considers what these transitions demonstrate about the relationship, or interrelationship, between popular custom and popular culture.