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Low culture


Low culture is a derogatory term for forms of popular culture that have mass appeal. Its contrast is high culture. It has been said by culture theorists that both high culture and low culture are subcultures. Today, this would mean things like 'take-away' meals, gossip magazines, and books that are current best-sellers.

The boundaries of low culture and high culture blur, through convergence. Many people are "omnivores", making cultural choices from different menus. The 1990s artwork of Jeff Koons appropriate low art tropes of kitsch and pornography. Rhys Chatham's musical piece Guitar Trio (1977) is an example of incorporating (low culture) primitive punk rock aesthetics into (high culture) contemporary classical music.

Romanticism was one of the first movements to reappraise "low culture," when previously maligned medieval romances were taken seriously and influenced literature.

In his book Popular Culture and High Culture, Herbert J. Gans gives a definition of how to identify and create low culture:

Aesthetic standards of low culture stress substance, form and being totally subservient; there is no explicit concern with abstract ideas or even with fictional forms of contemporary social problems and issues. ... Low culture emphasizes morality but limits itself to familial and individual problems and [the] values, which apply to such problems. Low culture is content to depict traditional working class values winning out over the temptation to give into conflicting impulses and behavior patterns.

When applying that lens to mass media, it often includes shows that do not go too deeply into abstract ideas, or that do not address head-on contemporary social problems.

Herbert Gans states in his book Popular Culture and High Culture that the different classes of culture are linked correspondingly to socio-economic and educational classes. For any given socio-economic class, there is a culture for that class. Hence the terms high and low culture and the manifestation of those terms as they appeal to their respective constituents.



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