Low-life  

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The Smoker (ca. 1654 - 1662) by Joos van Craesbeeck
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The Smoker (ca. 1654 - 1662) by Joos van Craesbeeck
Lazarillo de Tormes (1808-12) by Francisco de Goya "Before the blind man could withdraw his long nose that was choking Lazarillo, his "stomach revolted and discharged the stolen goods in his face, so that his nose and that hastily chewed sausage left (Lazarillo's) mouth at the same time".
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Lazarillo de Tormes (1808-12) by Francisco de Goya
"Before the blind man could withdraw his long nose that was choking Lazarillo, his "stomach revolted and discharged the stolen goods in his face, so that his nose and that hastily chewed sausage left (Lazarillo's) mouth at the same time".

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

A low-life or lowlife is a term for a person who is considered morally unacceptable by their community. Examples of people who are often called "lowlifes" are the dregs of society: drug dealers, drug users, alcoholics, thieves, liars, thugs, hustlers, con artists, prostitutes and pimps.

Often, the term is used as an indication of disapproval of antisocial or destructive behaviors, usually bearing a connotation of contempt and derision. This usage of the word dates to 1911.

Repudiation

Upwardly mobile members of an ethnic group, committed to schooling, education and employment prospects, will often repudiate as lowlifes those who opt instead (willingly or unwillingly) for street or gang life.

Attraction

The lure of the low-life for those in established social strata has been a perennial feature of western history: it can be traced from the Neronian aristocrat described by Juvenal as only at home in stables and taverns - “you'll find him near a gangster, cheek by jowl, mingling with lascars, thieves and convicts on the run” (Gilbert Highet, Juvenal the Satirist) - through the Elizabethan interest in cony-catching, up to William Burroughs' obsession with the hobo, bum, or urban outlaw, and through to the anti-heroes of Cyberpunk.

Such interest may have a sexual component, based on the subconscious equation of socially low with lack of inhibitions, as with the Roman ladies described by Petronius: “Some women get heated up over the very dregs and can't feel any passion unless...among the lowest of the low” (Satyricon).


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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Low-life" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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