Detective Work

A closer look at popular culture and communication

So Low It’s High?

Emo Albert Einstein


If we are producing ourselves performing, as stated in a February 10th lecture, how can one define expressive culture within a specific social context?


Stuart Hall acknowledges that there has been a hegemonic shift in the meaning of culture; from high culture to mainstream popular culture. In order to explore this shift, I turn to American sociologist Herbert Gans and his book Popular Culture and High Culture: an Analysis and Evaluation of Taste.


High culture is an academic discourse to address what is deemed high art, classical music, and academic level literature. High culture is usually bound in academic journals and reviews. Constrating high culture is low culture, that which is deemed uneducational, trashy, or appeals to the average joe. This can include gossip magazines, MTV, comic books, celebrity interviews ect. Low culture is generally spread through word-of-mouth or magazines. However, high and low culture are not completely distinct.


The internet has furthered an already progressive gray area between these two entities. Gans groups the blurry distinction into two categories; upper middle culture and lower middle culture.


YouTube exemplifies the interconnected relationship between the two. High culture makes its way into mainstream popular culture through parody, appropriation, and the accessibility of the products to “average people”. The underprivileged are able to access the same virtual information sharing library as the educated via the Internet.


As stated in class, we, the average person, are producing 70% of the world’s digital culture. This number is sure to increase as user-generated content gains further popularity. Much like the arrival of the Guttenberg press, in which “more books were published in fifty years than in the entire human history before that” (Strangelove), our “low culture” products are taking the form of print through blogs and video through amateur created content. If word-of-mouth is predominantly a characteristic of low culture, what happens when our words become physical texts everyone to access? If the average man creates more content than educated philosophers and protégées, will low culture become the new high as it reflects new meanings and ideals of our current society? This idea isn’t too far fetched as, “in six months we put more stuff up on YouTube than NBC, MTV, and Fox produced in 60 years” (Strangelove).


Who decides?


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