Jackson Tait


The Culture of High and Low.


We see high and low culture every day in our lives even if we may not recognize it.

What is high and low culture?

In order to distinguish between the two, its important to first define culture. Culture can be described as the consumption patterns, mannerisms, beliefs, amusements, leisure activities and presences of a group of people. With that definition in mind, high culture is for the society’s elite, and low culture is for mass society.

It is important to understand the difference of high and low culture and how it affects us as a society and why that matters.

There is high culture and low culture all around us today. With the restaurants that we eat at, with the vehicles we drive, with the jobs we have, the music we listen to, the movies we watch, the books we read, and so on. Variations of high and low culture surround us even if we do not realize it.

The media we consume can be a representation of how we live our lives. By distinguishing between the two cultures, we can make instant judgements of others about others and their interests and personalities, just by understanding what kind of media they consume.

An example of high culture is the genre of classical music. Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, etc. If we were to think of classic movies, we can imagine those on TCM, the ones our grandparents have playing in the corner of the room. In books it could be represented by an autobiography of Abraham Lincoln, or a book about philosophies of Socrates and Aristotle.

An example of low culture is the genre of rap music. Tupac, Biggie Smalls, Jay-Z, etc. In movies it would be classified as movies that are there for pure entertainment, like Hot Rod, or Napoleon Dynamite. In books it can be found in comics.

The distinction between the two is that high culture is something that takes a particular taste to be enjoyed. It takes someone who seeks out media that mass society may deem as boring. It is almost like an elite club, in order to join you must be one to understand what true art is in songs, movies, and books. You need to be educated in the art form to truly appreciate it. Low culture distinction is of one that you don’t really need an education to enjoy consuming the media. It is media that mass society enjoys and when consuming it they don’t really focus on the mechanics that go into it.

The question if high culture should exist or not is up for debate. High culture and low culture will always exist even if we tried to prevent it. It is ultimately an evolutionary process. When Shakespeare first began producing media, it was considered low culture. Flash forward to today, only a couple of centuries later and his works are mainly considered high culture. It is difficult to comprehend that what today might be considered low culture, may one day in the future be considered masterpieces of classical styles. High and low culture does have its negative effects though. Like stated before high and low culture can easily cause use to have prejudices and judge people instantly when we start to hear what culture they associate with. We begin to form classes. We begin to see any inner city to be a group of people that consume low culture media and that economically successful only associate themselves with high culture. The negative effects are apparent as some media begins to be only consumed only by the elite class or only by the mass society. It seems there is a massive divide between people, but in reality there are many people who enjoy both high and low culture.

Here is an example of low culture. It is the song “All-Star” by Smashmouth that has been remixed with using only sounds from the Windows XP operating system.

The reason it is low culture is because it doesn’t require that high of an attention span to be able to enjoy it.  It is only a minute long and it playing off two internet jokes of Windows XP and Smashmouth’s song “All Star”. Those who are familiar with these jokes will find this video humorous but even those that do find it humorous can say to themselves, “Well there went a minute of my life” as opposed to a high culture song where you feel you get value from it. There have been many studies done that show positive mental benefits that come from listening to classical music. A song that involves two internet jokes mixed into one probably doesn’t have the same “prestigious” mental benefits that comes from Beethoven’s 5th. It would be difficult to see someone that was to come out of an opera to be shown this invention of Smashmouth and Windows XP remix would be able to find the same joy the received while being in the opera. On the contrary who are we to judge if they would or wouldn’t? In one way or another we all enjoy some high and low culture.

Understanding the difference between high and low culture helps us understand that the divide between us in the media is not as large as we think. There may be large number of people in a certain group who enjoy a certain cultures but that doesn’t mean that they can’t enjoy the other culture as well. The more we are able leave judgements behind and focus on just enjoying and appreciating others, both cultures can be enjoyed and we can become closer as a society.

jackson tait