Pop culture has always seemed to me to be a 1960s and onward phenomenom. But that’s because I’m an idiot and confuse it with pop art, which is very cool, but only an element of our culture.
Popular culture is as old as us humans’ tendency to gather together and entertain one another. Pop culture references are a shared language/understanding, a shortcut to “you know, that old song (television show, advertising jingle, movie) and all the emotions it evokes”.
It used to be that poetry was a significant part of pop culture. People could half-recognise quotations from the Bible, Shakespeare, Tennyson, etc.
Palgrave’s Golden Treasury is an old anthology of poems read across and British empire, and as such, gives me a pop culture collection to dip into when writing my 1890s steampunk. Mostly, I resist the urge to quote poetry in my writing, but sometimes it provides mood.
“Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse — and Thou”
Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam of Naishapur