Popular Culture and High Culture  

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

Popular Culture and High Culture: an Analysis and Evaluation of Taste (1974) is a work by Herbert J. Gans in which he --among other things--distinguished between low, middle and high culture.

From the publisher

"Is NYPD Blue a less valid form of artistic expression than a Shakespearean drama? Who is to judge and by what standards?
In this new edition of Herbert Gans's brilliantly conceived and clearly argued landmark work, he builds on his critique of the universality of high cultural standards. While conceding that popular and high culture have converged to some extent over the twenty-five years since he wrote the book, Gans holds that the choices of typical Ivy League graduates, not to mention Ph.D.s in literature, are still very different from those of high school graduates, as are the movie houses, television channels, museums, and other cultural institutions they frequent.
In this revised and updated edition, Herbert Gans extends his classic study of the roles popular culture and high culture play in American society. Gans argues in favor of all peoples' right to the culture they choose. He also looks at "dumbing down" and other examples of the new mass culture critique and lays out changes in America's taste cultures. Gans has added a new introduction and new postscripts to each chapter updating the original analysis to incorporate recent trends."

Low, middle and high culture

In the book is a chart on the difference between low, middle and high culture. It is displayed below as it was adapted by Stephen Bayley in his 1991 Taste: The Secret Meaning of Things.

High culture

  • Interest in creative process and symbolism
  • Preference for experimentation
  • Introspection preferred to action
  • Accepts different levels of meaning
  • Expects consideration of philosophical, psychological and social issues

Upper middle culture

  • A less literary verbal culture
  • Figurative and narrative art preferred, especially if illustrative of individual achievement or upward mobility
  • Enjoys nineteenth-century art and opera, but not early music or contemporary art

Lower middle culture

  • Form must unambiguously express meaning
  • Demands conclusions
  • Unresolvable conflicts not made explicit
  • Interested in performers, not writers or directors
  • Influenced by word-of-mouth judgement

Low culture

  • No concern with abstract ideas: form must be entirely subservient to content
  • Demands crude morality with dramatic demarcations, but usually limited to family or individual problems
  • Performer is paramount: enjoys vicarious contact with 'stars'
  • Considers ornateness attractive

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Popular Culture and High Culture" 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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