When talking about culture, one often hears the term ‘High Culture’ and ‘Low Culture’. So what do these terms actually mean? Do they even have meanings or are people just using cool terms to sound smart? And is one somehow, somewhat better than the other?
First things first, high culture refers to a set of cultural products that are held in really high esteem by society. In the past, high culture may have existed for the pleasure of the elite or the aristocratic. Usually, they are in form of arts. From classical music to operas, from marble statues to illustrations in chapels, these are all considered high culture because they are associated with intelligence, finery, class.
This guy knows what I’m talking about.
Meanwhile, low culture refers to works of art that are more associated with the masses (non-elites). It may be more widely known as popular culture, and it is supposedly the complete anti-thesis of high culture. Afternoon gossip programs? Low culture. Icona Pop? Low culture. TV shows? Low culture.
So trashy, but so good amirite?
Point being, high culture is affiliated with the Aristocrats, while low culture is for the Philistines.
Or that was how it was in the olden times.
Nowadays, the distinction between the old standards of high culture and low culture are starting to blur, because who decides what is high culture and what is low culture anyway?
Sure, high culture has all that fancy art and literature and while I love the works of Dickens and Austen, I sure do enjoy The Diary of the Wimpy Kid and Goosebumps as well. Growing up, I read both kinds, even though I was not a member of the aristocracy (although I would like to be.) .
People no longer set borders between the two because everyone can enjoy works of culture now, be it high or low. Both are easily spread through education and through the internet. Some kid from the slums of Brooklyn may have a passion for ballet, and who knows, maybe Prince Harry secretly listens to Ke$ha.
This kid is reading the entire play of Hamlet on the internet.
So is one better than the other? Is high culture somehow fancier? More sophisticated? Maybe to some, but that’s really personal preference like if you prefer your tea with sugar, with milk and honey, or sugarless and strong because you like to live dangerously.
High culture may come with it a sense that you need to be intelligent to be able to truly appreciate it. Society with products of high culture may feel like it has an identity to be proud of, and with that may come a sense of supremacy. However, in terms of understandability and raw entertainment, low culture takes the ball. It is not called popular culture for nothing. Everywhere around the world, people listen to the same songs and watch the same movies and they enjoy it, and they are having fun doing it. Not saying that you can’t have fun with high culture, because again, it’s a matter of preference.
Beethoven or Lady Gaga? Up to you!
Poe or Gaiman? Your choice entirely!
The opera or to an Arctic Monkeys concert? Why not both?
There is no need to feel like you are a member of the elite group because you enjoy watching Hamlet more than Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and there is no need to go all “You’re so old-fashioned” on people who enjoy reading Elizabeth Barrett-Browning!
What I’m trying to say here is that just because high culture may be a wee bit more intellectually challenging and fancy-sounding does not automatically mean that it must be put on a pedestal above low culture, and that just because something is popular does not automatically mean that it is right for you. None is better than the other. Pick a product of culture that you like, and enjoy it. You don’t even have to stick to it. Taste changes after all.
Cynthia Natalia Ongga