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“New Introduction” from High Culture and Popular Culture
One version of the culture wars: High culture vs.
◦High culture: educated, elite, sophisticated, smart.
◦Popular culture: mass, lowbrow, crass, simple.
Culture wars are "really a debate about the
nature of the good life" (4).
◦High vs. popular culture is a variation of class
◦It's also a debate about the role of the market.
Should market forces, such as consumer choice,
decide what kind of culture gets made, or should
an educated elite make these choices?
The Concept of Culture
Culture: "practices, goods, and ideas
classified broadly under the arts..., whether
used for education and aesthetic and spiritual
enlightenment or for entertainment and
diversion," (5). Also, information, wisdom,
values. Focus on public culture, shared in
the public square rather than in the privacy
Key Issue: Meaning!
Taste cultures: a variety of popular cultures which Gans uses to
replace the idea of a singular mass culture.
◦ The usual breakdown is highbrow, middlebrow, lowbrow.
◦ Aesthetic: standards and values that shape how we express ourselves
and how we judge art.
◦ Creators of taste cultures: artists
◦ Users of taste cultures: audiences
◦ Suppliers: Orgs and their leaders who help to shape and distribute
culture goods (products/content).
◦ Taste publics: groups who share taste culture.
What factors shape class? Education. Occupation. Income.
Class explains only a portion of cultural choices.
Other issues besides class?
◦ 1) age, gender, and race.
◦ 2) Many people consume multiple cultures. Peterson's omnivores for
Some tastes and preferences cut across groups. For instance,
the overwhelming preference for landscapes cited by Halle.
However, there are few universals.
Important changes in recent decades:
◦ 1) Convergence: some cultures are common together and some
distinctions have faded. Ex. More lower middle class museum
attendance. More overall TV consumption. Sometimes involves
gentrifying: elites take up lower brow cultural forms.
◦ 2) Divergence: New tastes emerge and other shaping factors evolve.
Sometimes a factor of new market groups.
◦ 3) Omnivorousness: More and more people who like all kinds of
culture. Young people in particular.
Supply and Demand
Supply side changes:
◦ Increasing tendency for supply to generate or re-direct demand.
◦ Increasing need to adapt to higher costs and shifting market.
◦ More production of culture than ever before, making supply side more
◦ More channels, more movies, more music than ever before. But some
sectors face significant decline, newspapers especially.
◦ Distributors of culture are increasingly corporatized, and thus shaped
more by business decisions than aesthetic ones.
Demand side changes:
◦ 1) more disposable income, paired with an increase in economic
◦ 2) Increased in the median educational level.
◦ 3) decline in the significance of culture as a status indicator.
Increasing role of gender cultures, racial and ethnic cultures,
and gay and lesbian cultures.
New Media: 1) Expansion of television 2) The internet.