Postmodernism: Popular Culture and Society Essay

Submitted By victoriacollins
Words: 1706
Pages: 7

What arguments do postmodernists put forward to justify their assertion that there is no longer a distinction between high culture and popular culture?
Throughout history, popular culture has always been understood as the mainstream, and opinion of the masses. Whereas high culture was the traditions consumed by the elite and the ‘superior’ of society; a postmodernist may argue that we can "no longer recognise the distinction between high and popular culture." Those who support this ideal may believe we are living in an age where there is no division between the two.
High culture is a term usually reserved for the elite of a society, i.e. something of worth: containing entities such as ancient art, literature and architecture. As high culture is understood to be the top-quality, it is then assumed that popular culture, being the opposite is indeed ‘low’ and of little worth. The reasons for these beliefs are simply because, with high culture there is a repertory of knowledge that is generally not appreciated by the majority, as high culture is considered too complex for them to grasp. For example, the majority of the public can’t understand the works of Shakespeare or Geoffrey Chaucer, or understand the concept of Quantum Mechanics – which is all considered aspects of high culture. Popular culture, however, is self-explanatory; it is culture which is popular. It is usually uncomplicated, undemanding and is typically reserved for the masses of society.
When the concept of popular culture was initially familiarised, various outlooks were proposed by a number of elitists, who simply thought that popular culture was mass produced for a mass market. They believed that popular culture was superficial, shallow and it placed no demands on its consumers, and that it was dangerous and morally corrupting. Many of these elitists deemed high culture as the ‘worthier’ culture in which it provided interests for people who appreciated it and would therefore enjoy it more as, within the 19th century, not many of society benefitted from high culture or had the money to participate in it. Additionally, the elitists thus tried to maintain the quality standard of high culture so they could forward these values down to the next generation.
Many postmodernists believe that popular culture is dominated by profit-seeking corporations and it is in fact the ‘elite’ which control what the masses consume, be that through the media or how we live our lifestyles. The other concern about what we, as a society, are consuming is the fact that modern popular culture is considered bland, lacking in talent and vulnerable to manipulation; it is also believed that it promotes rigid thinking and supresses individualism, whereas high culture promotes forward thinking, creativity and talent.
Other concerns postmodernists find with the concept of popular culture is that they feel it’s superficial and shallow. In a world where inner beauty is devalued, popular culture and the media is usually accountable for the obsession with appearances. Although, within each generation there disembarks a new perception on what is ‘attractive’; many people often debate that this shallow image obsessed society emerged only recently. However, each century offers a new perception on beauty. Oscar Wilde stated that “It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible...” Wilde, O (1890). 49. This suggests that even in the nineteenth century the ‘surface’ and ‘style’ was also judged by the masses. Again, it’s not only in recent years in which the importance of aesthetic beauty has become central to the populace, even as early as two thousand years ago the attractiveness of humankind had such significance to society. Matthew Arnold once explained “Culture [...] is a study of perfection” (Arnold, M. 1994:165). This suggests that even within each generation where there are different concepts of what is attractive,