Let’s Talk About Class: Hierarchies of Taste and Gender

Posh man: I ain't one

Posh man: I ain’t one

Recently, I found myself at a wine-tasting session with a friend, only to be confronted with the embarrassing reality that I had no idea how to act “appropriately” in the situation. The whole thing wasn’t helped by the fact that I was wearing an outfit much like Julia Roberts circa Pretty Woman, as I sometimes care to do (it’s a great look). Trying to “be myself” rather than affect a more refined countenance turned out to be quite the faux pas in terms of the disdainful/pitying/embarrassed looks I got from other patrons. While on the one hand I was rather “f*** you” about it, it also later resulted in me crying into my pillow.

Ladette to Lady: teaching us how not to be working class

Ladette to Lady: teaching us how not to be working class

Later, I came across this article about the UK’s Education Secretary Michael Gove, and his comments that working class children must learn to be middle class to get on in life. The basic gist of Gove’s sentiments is that upper-middle class kids are mostly the ones in charge and working class kids need to develop more refined cultural tastes so they can fit in with the elites and get a leg up. The whole thing reminded me of my wine-tasting misadventure. I thought, should I read the ancients, learn Latin, listen to classic music, learn what the f*** foie gras is, so I too can run the world one day? I’ve spent much of my life trying to dress and appear more middle-class than my background would suggest and I definitely understand the mobility that this has afforded me. This is not to mention the fact that the (relatively free) education system of Australia has allowed me to work my way up to doing a PhD and now I have the privilege of education giving me a leg up to even comment on all this. 

Struggling with this issue, I showed the Gove article to my first year sociology classes yesterday. They rightly pointed out that while Gove brings to light the important issue of cultural capital, his solution reinforces the same hierarchy of inequality he’s talking about (<3 my students those smart little beans). 

In Australia we refer to working class people with "unrefined" tastes as "bogan"

In Australia we refer to working class people with “unrefined” tastes as “bogan”

The idea of cultural capital comes from sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, and as this handy quote from McLaren (1994) suggests, cultural capital is “the general cultural background, knowledge, disposition, and skills that are passed on from one generation to another. Cultural capital represents ways of talking, acting, and socializing, as well as language practices, values, and types of dress and behavior.” So, the whole wine-tasting biz revealed my lack of cultural capital in this arena – probably owing to the fact that I was raised in a single-parent welfare-dependent family in a rural area and wine-tasting was something we had no access to, let alone interest in. But cultural capital isn’t just about etiquette, it’s about taste, as Bourdieu (1984) himself states, “…art and cultural consumption are predisposed, consciously and deliberately or not, to fulfill a social function of legitimating social differences.”

Pro-tip: don't mention Miley at your next wine-tasting event

Pro-tip: don’t mention Miley at your next wine-tasting event

I talked about the hierarchy of taste with my classes and asked them what was at the top versus the bottom – i.e. if someone loved and knew lots about X what would make them seem really sophisticated, but if they loved Y would be looked down upon? People had some difficulty identifying what would be at the top – Mozart perhaps, Kafka? But when I asked them what was at the bottom, they all knew instantly – pop music, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, basically anything that was seen as the stuff of the masses. I joked with my students that I decide what I like based on what carries the least cultural capital, because f*** that sh**. When I came across this article in The Guardian about how horrifying it is when “pop and rock collide” I couldn’t help thinking it might be because pop is seen as such a low art form that it contaminates all “true art” that it comes in contact with.

Game of Thrones: So sophisticate. So amaze (for reals).

Game of Thrones: So sophisticate. So amaze.
(FYI I do love it also)

You may be thinking, well hang on, rock is also the stuff of the masses isn’t it? Why would rock be above pop in this crazy hierarchy of taste? Jimmy Hendrix ain’t no Mozart…right? Here we come to the gendered aspect of this culture war. I can’t help but see how within evaluations of “good” versus “bad” taste, often what is seen as of interest to women (or made by women) is way down the ladder. For example, what ridicule do writers or readers of romance fiction face compared to those of crime novels? How often have you heard someone bemoan how problematic Girls is, but how amazing Game of Thrones is? Or how Kanye West is some kind of genius and gets played on alternative radio stations, but Beyoncé stays within the realm of commercial radio (unless she’s featured by Kanye)? It’s as if something carries more cultural value if it’s seen as belonging to the realm of men’s taste, men’s stereotypical areas of interest like action-adventure, if it’s made by men or simply features men being awesome.

While Kanye is a world away from the cultural capital Michael Gove is talking about, the gendering of taste also plays a huge part in what counts right at the top of the hierarchy. The ancients, classical artists and musicians, the writers of classic texts and operas…predominately men (well, at least the ones we value/know about – the erasure of women from history in all this is another story). 4916523Feminists and cultural theorists have been fighting this for years, to try and turn the tables around. That’s at least part of the reason why you see university courses geared toward taking popular culture more seriously, particularly that which is seen as “women’s interest” areas (like romance).

Of course none of this means we shouldn’t critique popular culture for its downfalls and the way it reproduces other problematic norms around sexuality, bodies, consumption, race, ability, etc. But it does mean we need to hold ourselves to account when we’re critiquing these things. When we judge “popular” culture who are we judging along with it? The working-class? Women? The under-privileged? And we might also ask ourselves: what are we going to do about it?

89 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Class: Hierarchies of Taste and Gender

  1. Pingback: Nostalgia, Taste & Looking Backward | BINARYTHIS

  2. brilliant post! how sad that Michael Gove is in charge of education in this country. He states that we need to be middle class where as the opposition are telling us that the middle class are being squeezed. The politicians like to keep up the class system when most of the population would really state any kind of class. I was brought up by a single parent and some would suggest that I am from a working class background although maybe now I have worked my way up to middle class? it’s all pretty ridiculous really.

    Pop of course is for the masses hence it’s name and there are many who look down on this type of music and i would suggest that it spans all classes. There are some who like rock and look down to the inferior pop because they see little talent in it and then there are those on the pop wagon will see rock music as inferior. It is seen as music for the people who wear dirty clothes and have long hair and beards.

    As for the wine tasting, well i wouldn’t have a clue where to start, how to hold a glass or what i would talk about when drinking it. I look at the dining table and see more then a knife and fork and it sends me into panic. what do you wear to posh events? I don’t know? I rarely get the chance, its strange as i write this feeling that yes i do fit into a certain type of group in some ways, but i would still be able to converse with those considered inferior..

  3. Thought this was a very interesting read. Currently finishing my English teaching certificate and facing the orders of Gove! Shakespeare is the only author prescribed by the National Curriculum, believed to be the ingredient to cultural capital. I agree with given all students the same chance, but an obsessive with cultural capital is at risk of denying students from other great works.

  4. Enjoyed your intelligent post and think you make a valid point re: sexism, agreeing in the big-picture entirely, though not agreeing in every specific.

    (For example, the quality of writing in the few romance novels I’ve attempted has been so poor I couldn’t finish them. Most crime novel writing is of a higher caliber–sometimes quite high, offering opportunities to learn about a wide range of topics.)

  5. Thank you for this article. Too often I hear men (and some women) scoff and refer to reality tv or romantic comedies as trash tv or their guilty secret yet when watching shows like Game of thrones where the plot is basically violence, power struggle, violence a long discussion takes place about the brilliance of the production. It is pleasing to see that I am not alone in my acknowledgement of this issue and that people are talking about it. In conversation about entertainment I hold my head up high and talk about the movies and shows I like and ad my thoughts (and scoffs) on the violent, power struggle, violent boredom. Oh and don’t even get me started on the continuous endless stream of robot movies or movies where men are turned into machines that are continually being made… really do we need more…

  6. You know, I’m not sure I’ve ever really thought about the subliminal ways that sexism (in the way you just mentioned) is factored into popular views of popular culture. Thanks for your post, it’s given me quite a bit to think about!

    Flux: Encountering Adulthood

  7. Reblogged this on The Maroon Colony and commented:
    “…upper-middle class kids are mostly the ones in charge and working class kids need to develop more refined cultural tastes so they can fit in with the elites and get a leg up. The whole thing reminded me of my wine-tasting misadventure. I thought, should I read the ancients, learn Latin, listen to classic music, learn what the f*** foie gras is, so I too can run the world one day?”

  8. As for the comment on children needing to become middle class to succeed, here in the US we had this great study done by a great educator, ended up becoming a book: Unequal Childhoods. Ultimately the author argues that there are positives and negatives for anyone in any socioeconomic situation and we should pick and choose. Education systems must also stop valuing middle class ideals when many working class ones aren’t bad themselves. Think you should check it out if you haven’t!

  9. You make interesting points! I also take issue with the constructed hierarchy of tastes people force down our throats.

    Someone previously mentioned how boy bands are looked down on. I think this is because boy bands as we know it (such as from the ’90s) are generally well-liked by girls. I notice that anything typically popular with girls is immediately undermined as trash by disdaining guys. This includes both boy bands and girl bands – a feature of the ’90s pop scene. Unlike a lot of the mainstream hip-hop/R&B singers today, boy bands sang songs that were romantic in nature and respectful to their female audience. A lot of male singers nowadays rap about banging ho’s and bitches. I would like to point out that both mainstream trends feature songs that are manufactured and edited to the same degree, so it is not even a question of which song is more authentic/acoustic. Tell me why I should respect a misogynist like Kanye West more than the Backstreet Boys?

    It is also ironic that genres are gendered to begin with, and then given value based on these gendered expectations. I actually never liked romance films – they are just not my thing – but I have some male friends who do. However, they are made to feel bad about it because they are supposed to be ‘girly’, and consequently, ‘lame.’ I don’t think action/mystery is any more high-brow than romance, but people dismiss chick flicks as trash while hailing the next Hangover film – or anything starring Will Ferrell – as witty comedy.

  10. Australia has been instrumental in changing wine culture and overturning it’s snootiness. Alas pockets remain. No longer is it protocol for red wine to go with red meat and white wine with white meat. Personal taste rules. Australia made it an international acceptance that one of the best drinks to go with seafood is actually beer.

    Game of Thrones is like ‘Days of our Lives’ only with adventure and blood. The highly complex personal intrigues is why just as as many women like it as men, if not more.

    What I find fascinating is the genderising of education and culture in schools. It’s not cool for boys to be good in english for example, and the predominance of sport over literature awards.

  11. “… Why would rock be above pop in this crazy hierarchy of taste? …”

    Because in general rock music is composed, performed and recorded by skilled *musicians* with their own artistic vision expressed through their instruments, amps, pedals and other music gear. Even rock videos, and stage shows are usually part of that artistic vision. In other words rock bands create, and perform their own content.

    By contrast pop is often centred around a good looking singer who may or may not have good technical ability and something original to say. But more often than not the music and lyrics are written by a team of writers hired by the label, and performed / recorded by session musicians. The storyboard of pop videos, the singer’s image and the overall theme of a pop song are often created by teams of stylists/ directors/ advisors hired by ‘the suits’ at the record label to create a brand specifically tailored to appeal to the target demographic (10-16 year old girls for example).

    So even though pop music can be made by highly skilled writers and session musicians (writing a catchy pop song is a lot harder than you’d think) the fact that it is all kind of made-to-order means it has less artistic / cultural authenticity than rock.

    Of course these are massively over simplified categories ……. rock bands can also be just as bland and contrived….. and there are plenty of pop groups out there who have full artistic control and shed loads of talent and musicianship.

    “…. Jimmy Hendrix ain’t no Mozart…right? Here we come to the gendered aspect of this culture war. …”

    Actually Jimi Hendrix was a once-in-a generation virtuoso on the guitar. To imply his fame has anything to do with being a man is just plain silly.

    “…Of course none of this means we shouldn’t critique popular culture for its downfalls and the way it reproduces other problematic norms around sexuality, bodies, consumption, race, ability, etc. But it does mean we need to hold ourselves to account when we’re critiquing these things…”

    Yes totally… and the first step in holding ourselves accountable is to become as informed as possible as to where popular culture actually comes from….ie who is making it and why. In other words ‘follow the money’ and also analyse messages and themes being consistently promoted. For example why are girlie pop stars like Rihanna, Beyonce, GaGa constantly being depicted in videos which promote militarism, torture, rape, mind control, dissociation, sacrifice, police states, the occult and freemasonry. What’s up with that?

    Currently we have about five major corporations injecting their content into popular culture. And so I don’t think we should feel we are attacking ordinary people when we call out popular culture for what it is ….. vile, offensive, demoralising, propagandising, anti human, excrement (for the most part at least!)

    “….When we judge “popular” culture who are we judging along with it? The working-class? Women? The under-privileged? …”

    We are judging the giant corporations and the cults which create / control / finance most of the mainstream content being produced.

    “…And we might also ask ourselves: what are we going to do about it?…”

    Get informed for a start….. remember popular culture is defined (normalised) for us by the mainstream media which are owned and run by the same corporations which also produce the content. This is like having MacDonalds also in charge of producing restaurant guides and guidelines on nutrition.

    A good starting point for research – just in terms of developing a good eye for pattern recognition – can be found HERE. It a fascinating subject once you start to see popular culture in terms of *information*, rather than mere ‘entertainment’.

  12. Opera and all other kinds of classical music would be included in any one’s list of things considered ‘high’ or ‘elitist’ culture. Yet here in New Zealand, where I live, the classical music concerts I have been to are attended by an audience that is mostly female. Attending the ballet is an even more female-dominated affair here. In my area, it is women who engage in ‘high’ culture to a much greater degree. I don’t think that female pop singers are look down on because of gender bias, but rather because they use sex to sell their music in a way men do not. Sure, some male artists use their looks to shift CDs, but their sexuality is dignified and dominant. Women pop singers’ sexuality often is suggestive of a lap dancer or sex worker- women who are among society’s most exploited and disempowered.
    One of the reasons I love classical music is that it is dignified and respectful of both male and female performers- and I can listen to a woman performing in concert without having to watch her do some erotic dance whilst dressed like a hooker. As a heterosexual woman, the performance style of the likes of Madonna has no appeal for me.
    That said, there are plenty of things ‘high’ culture that I don’t like- modern art consisting of trash arranged, or paint thrown at a canvas, for starters. I’m no fan of wine tastings either.
    I don’t think ‘high’ culture can be seen as the preserve of a wealthy elite. I grew up poor, but we always had books and listened to classical music. A classical CD costs no more then a pop one, and many concerts cost very little to attend.

  13. I’ve noticed this myself. I love “girly girl” things. I love pink and all things feminine. I am female and I never wanted to be anything else. Yet even the term “girly girl” is meant to me an insult. As if my main priority should be trying to me more like a man?

    • I don’t think that is true at all.

      If a man is obsessed with being masculine and spends all his time indulging in his masculinity I think it’s fair to say society judges him much more harshly than a girly girl indulging in her femininity.

      It’s hard to claim being girly is an insult when the high street is full of shops selling pink glittery sparkly girly things, and the media is full of girly girls being shown in a very positive light.

      In what way does society look down on girly behaviour – can you give an example?

      • No. It was just a comment. I’m not interested in starting a debate on somebody else’s blog. It’s rude and unfair. I also just don’t have time time to defend. Y experience with a total stranger.

    • “…No. It was just a comment..”

      Yes it was a comment which contained a claim (that the term ‘girly girl’ is an insult)

      “.. I’m not interested in starting a debate on somebody else’s blog…”

      It was just a simple question. Not an invitation to start a debate.

      “.. It’s rude and unfair…”

      Some people would say you making a sexist claim and then refusing to back up is rude and unfair.

      “… I also just don’t have time to defend…”

      It was just a simple question. You could have answered it by now. Are you sure people get on your case for being girly? ….. could it be because you go around making unfounded claims which you refuse to back up, playing the I’m-just-a-sweet-innocent-and-fragile-girl card as an excuse to avoid being straight with people?

      Being genuinely girly and hiding behind a smoke screen of girly-ness are two very different things.

  14. I think that you’re right saying that what is considered ‘sophisticated’ in culture is usually favoured by men. However, I would say that this simply results from the historical fact that men had always better access to education, therefore it follows they might be culturally more sophisticated than women – because of evolution. I think this is not right for sure but let’s admit it – people who read romantic Harlequin books and listen to Miley Cyrus don’t usually make any effort to become more sophisticated. I think one of the ways how to change the situation would be to motivate these people to at least attempt to listen to Mozart and read Kafka.

  15. Your article was very intelligent and I enjoyed it a lot. The masses drive pop culture with their dollars. Miley learned from Alice Cooper, Madonna, Lady Gaga that being outrageous gets people’s attention and eventually some of their money. So to be rich and famous, the easiest way is to be ridiculous. I admit, I succumb to that temptation from time to time, you can probably tell from my picture. haha

  16. This is a fantastic post, and I really identify with the issues you bring up regarding class and gender. It’s a shame that a lot of people don’t seem to realise that this issue exists in the first place, or worse – they recognise it and continue to buy into it just to “scale the ladder” as quickly as possible.

    One or two things I would comment on though, just personal opinion:

    Firstly, I think MIA rather than Beyonce might be a better comparison to Kanye, since MIA and Kanye’s work deals with issues like race, equality and international politics in a somewhat deeper way than Beyonce does (in my view). While I fully understand why an alternative radio station would consider Beyonce somewhat superficial, there’s really no reason that MIA gets such little airplay in comparison to Kanye when they’re both making very incisive and valid observations about society.

    Secondly, I would love to see your take on how race ties in with class and gender, since that issue is also very close to home for me and seems to be neglected somewhat in these kinds of discussions.

    I really loved this post, I’ll definitely be following your blog from now on! Can’t wait for more.

    • Yes I completely agree about the question of race here as vitally important- so often the blind spot in feminism/queer theory/cultural studies (and my blog unfortunately). Definitely want to rectify this. If you have any suggestions for talking points let me know! I’m thinking perhaps something about the intersection between gender and race when it comes to representation (particularly sexual representation)

      • You’re definitely on the right lines there, I’d be extremely interested to read that post. I think it’s important to recognise that the burning feminist issues of today vary hugely from culture to culture – here in the UK, I’m mainly concerned with uncovering subtle and institutional sexism in higher education and the workplace, but in India (where I’m from) the main issues are getting girls into education, giving them the freedom to marry and work, educating the population on rape and birth control, etc. It’s just such a different life for women in different countries.

  17. Fascinating article. As someone who generally tries to act more “middle-class” than I actually am. (I come from a family that makes less than 10k per year) I have had many encounters such as the one that you shared. The funny thing is, no one really seems to care once I shatter their illusions. Yeah, I have friends that go on exotic vacations, make insanely dispensable income, and listen to a very diverse range of music, but they don’t judge me for how I live, despite my apprehension sometimes when it comes to sharing details about my life.

    Do I believe that sometimes it is important to be able to fake a certain cultural status in order to make it in life? O course. Is this for better or for worse? I couldn’t tell you, that depends greatly on each individual’s outlook on life.

    I do hesitate to judge and divide media and people by the vibes they give off as less “classy”, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying it. While I think that Industrial Metal and Alternative Rock are the superior musical genres I will still indulge in the occasional pop song or hip-hop song if it appeals to me.

    But then, I’m the type of person who’s blunt but shameless.

    Again, great article.

  18. I genuinely think that a lot of creativity by men is better simply because it is practical, fierce and goes above and beyond. songs/ films by women are for the most part emotional but just on the surface. They do not force you to think beyond, they do not take you too far away from your usual self. exceptions are of course there. Women are very emotional and that can go against them as creative beings because emotion clouds a lot of things. Listen to Hozier’s song ‘Take me to church’ and then compare that to any of Beyonce or Miley Cyrus songs. you will see what I mean 🙂 Brilliant article by the way !

    • No. And no. One of the most masculine and minimalist writers in the American canon, Ernest Hemingway, was mercilessly edited by his wife. Vladimir Nabokov – a similar thing. These men are lauded as some of the best writers of all time. Many of Beyonce’s songs are written by men who are some of the most talented artists in their generation – Ne-Yo, Future, Frank Ocean. In fact, Beyonce’s latest monster hit, “Drunk in Love” was written by a man – Future. Your premise is limiting, defeating and perpetuating extremely dangerous stereotypes.

      • extremely dangerous stereotypes? Are you joking? Simply stating my preference of Men’s creativity over Women’s. Future wrote Beyonce’s latest hit..for a woman..proving all the points in my prior comment. Do you think Future would write a similar song for a man?.

      • Yes, your comments are dangerous because you’re validifying extremely baseless opinions about an artist’s craftmanship – on gender. Pointing out that Future wrote Beyonce’s latest hit is not confirming any emotionalism about women, nor does it prove your point about “men’s creativity”, whatever that means. The song is not emotional, but rather a very upfront and at times, explicit “discussion” about sex – note the furor over the “eat the cake Anna Mae” lines and others. Frank Ocean’s “Miss U” was written for him and Beyonce asked for it – now that is a song that’s extremely emotional. “Love on Top”, written by the Dream was originally slated for Justin Timberlake. Again, your comments are uninformed, uneducated and more than annoying, dangerous in the confidence on which you base your baselessness.

      • haha you are annoyed by my thoughts and experience about pop music? you have issues I don’t listen to either Future , Beyonce or Justin Timberlake ..who the hell is future? so yeah maybe that THOUGHT was ‘uneducated’ (high horse much?). I’m out.

  19. I have ongoing arguments with “friends” about the gendered, racist, class-based behaviors and gatekeeping functions that pass for “manners” in “polite company” in the USA, which IMO serve to expose those of us working-class or poor or otherwise “outsider” category people for the upstarts we are. I claim these to be the arbitrary, exclusivity-maintaining shams that they are; s/he claim them to be “necessary” and “universal.” I call them ignorant, they call me rude, and on we go. Thanks for writing this.

    • I loved your comment. More than anything, America hates The Poors (though race and class have a complicated dance) and will do almost anything to keep them from the corridors of powers – and taste.

  20. Such a fascinating post – so interesting to look at the differences in popular culture through male/female roles and I couldn’t agree more with the way that certain types of music/programmes etc are favoured over others. Perhaps part of the reason that so many women seem to go for over-sexualised and shock tactics (e.g. Miley Cyrus/Britney Spears/Madonna the list goes on…) in order to make the top 10 and the newspapers – perhaps it is the only way to get ahead in what is essentially a male-driven world? Fantastic article and raises so many further questions. Perhaps the discussion on gender/sex links well with my post on The Sexy Lie and the prevalence of sexual objectification in modern society – http://absolutelylucy.wordpress.com/2014/03/21/facing-up-to-the-sexy-lie-we-women-are-living-every-day/ would love to know your thoughts!

  21. To be fair, which outfit from “Pretty Woman” were you most closely representing? Also, I don’t think being refined is necessarily the key, I think learning to read people gives the ‘biggest-bang-for-the-buck’

  22. Very interesting article. A lot of contemporary visual art, which the snobs gather to appreciate with their wine and crackers, is for the constructed taste of nouveau riche collectors like the Saatchi. The idea of nobility in the arts, which was common in seventeenth century treatises, has gone the way of the Dodo. On the other hand people are desperate to find something “pure” and “original”. I must be pretty low down all of these pecking scales because I like the vulgar, the common, the dirt under the nails and the frequently repeated rituals of life. But then I would have no problem going to a cheese and wine party and talking about Miley Cyrus either.

  23. Interesting blog. I have noted that there is a current trend to make woman into a stand out person with skills. I recently saw Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She was strange to my set of values. But in her world that is the way it goes. Tough and violent and little love. I am old school I like women to be gentle, sophisticated and smart. A Katherine Hepburn comes to mind. She to me was outstanding.

  24. Reading what Michael Gove said had angrily erected my middle finger whilst thoughts of meticulous swear words took over me. I’m entirely against the idea of the existence of a middle class/working class culture, and definitely against the idea that if it did exist that one is better than the other. Everyone lives within their means and the way they live is influenced by their circumstance (belief process, financial ability).

    When it comes to popular culture, it seems directed at the middle class whilst at the same time marketed to cause envy for the working class. Not alienated, but just not really involved.

    And yes, GoT is 100% a “male” show. objectifying of women is prominent, and extremely evident, throughout the show.

  25. You make an interesting point. Who is it that decides what is “good” and “bad” in terms of music, tv, novels etc?
    I generally think I have a “good” taste in music, but I do love a bit of Wham and Jackson 5, and I’ll defend that right!!

  26. Popular culture is largely uninteresting because it’s mostly stuff everyone will have forgotten about in a year or two. It’s entertainment. Now, in fairness, most culture starts out as entertainment, but some of it sticks because for, whatever reason, it maintains value long after all the other contemporaneous stuff was forgotten about. High culture is just the culture that survives, it’s “The best things that have been said”, it’s a distillation of everything that has happened in the past two and a half thousand years; it’s our cultural memory. What the Qu’ran is to muslims or Lao Tzu or Confucius is to the Chinese or what Bedouins are to Arabs, classics are to westerners.

    After all the entire point of Western Civilisation is partly to explore the human condition, and partly to transcend culture, and high culture is collection of cultural artifacts which have best achieved that.I’m looking at my bookshelf now and I have the memories of Julius Caesar, I have, amongst many others, the memories of Xenophon, Cicero, Seneca, Plato, Aristotle, Sappho, Machiavelli, Darwin, the memories of the Greeks that fought at Troy. I have access to how Mozart and a range of other composers felt with a few clicks of my mouse. My memory is maybe three thousand years long and comprised of the experience of hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals, the context that popular culture exists in, for me, is huge.

    Sure universities are running courses to look at popular culture, great. Will anyone care what any of these academics say in a thousand years, or will they be as transient as the subject matter they lecture on? Well see, but as Machiavelli said he would work all day and then go and converse with the ancients in his library and learn from them the answers to all the questions he had, the ancients and their successors speak to us, they tell us how they solved problems, how they faced situations which are usually the same problems we face. Popular culture seldom does that in anyway that is worth remembering, it’s the background noise to our civilisation.

    So what’s this got to do with class? Well in rough terms class is just success, the acquisition of power and people who can draw on three millennia of experience are naturally going to have an advantage over people who don’t have that experience. High culture is the collection of cultural artifacts that our whole civilisation is built on and our civilisation spans the globe like a colossus, and is giving serious thought to expanding into space, you ignore high culture and the people it produces at your peril.

  27. I live in a middle class neighborhood straddling an unincorporated no man’s land between high tech noveau riche and downtown old school power. Despite it being part of a homeowner’s association ruled by an iron fist, there is a heavy white trash contingent in spots.

    It’s not what these people do with their spare time, what they listen to, what they eat, or what they watch on television that makes them white trash. It’s the complete disregard for their own neighbors’ enjoyment of life while they do it. It’s the dickishness.

    Their spare time is spent running chainsaws until late at night on a weekday because they’re feelin’ artsy with a block of wood, knowing the rest of us have someplace to be at 7 AM tomorrow. Ditto on the effin’ music. I don’t give a rat’s ass if they listen to Metallica or Mozart but the rest of us don’t throw open our windows and blast it around the neighborhood like a low-grade frat house like they do. It doesn’t matter whether they eat gourmet food or not, but seeing pieces of their trash constantly blowing down the street because in ten years, they haven’t figured out how to secure their own trash can lid is just stupid. And worshiping “Jackass” and “Duck Dynasty” is legal–it’s a free country–but mimicking them by sitting in a lawn chair on your front porch while you yell drunk orders down to your children setting off illegal fireworks in the middle of a busy street is not the best way to instill a sense of self-worth and nobility in your offspring.

    On the other hand, Darwin Awards.

    I’ve read sociological research that asserts this Neanderthal noise-making among those feeling unempowered is akin to a toddler throwing a fit. I believe it. But I’ve been poor, too. And I still remembered to think about how my actions might affect my neighbors. Now, I have a successful consulting business with many high-end clients. Moral of the story: if you want to elevate out of the mud puddle, stop acting like swine.

  28. Interesting read. As someone who lives in wine country and goes to tastings (and not a connoisseur by any means) I see all types–yes, the snooty ones, and then others like me just out to have a good time, and some are there for the first time and looking bewildered but not particularly intimidated. My point is that I think wine-tasting is becoming popularized and losing some of its cultural capital, which I see as a good thing. Those low-brow and high brow distinctions are losing cache, don’t you think? I read and write literary fiction, but enjoy a good slutty romance once in a while, and have been reading as well as watching GoT (thanks for the tag-line, never used it before). I do hold my nose when it comes to Beiber-mania, and mud-wrestling, and the Kardashian Kraze, but I’ve been known to tune into American Idol, which I watch with equal parts disdain, glee, and emotional attachment toward contestants I really like–but do not vote for. I’m truly a mutt when it comes to culture. But aren’t we all by now? Who are the arbiters of taste these days? Great questions at the end. Thanks for the ponder.

  29. This is a really interesting topic and an interesting post too! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    I think all forms of culture have value (although I’d struggle to equate Miley with Mozart 😉 ) but there is definitely a lot of snobbery surrounding popular culture. You make a very insightful point in that we have to be careful when we critique a certain type of culture, in order to make sure that we are not critiquing the stereotyped group which we associate with that culture.

    Stephen Fry sums it up wonderfully: “I will defend the absolute value of Mozart over Miley Cyrus, of course I will, but we should be wary of false dichotomies. You do not have to choose between one or the other. You can have both. The human cultural jungle should be as varied and plural as the Amazonian rainforest. We are all richer for biodiversity. We may decide that a puma is worth more to us than a caterpillar, but surely we can agree that the habitat is all the better for being able to sustain each. (from The Fry Chronicles)

  30. I haven’t really thought about popular culture …for ages. I just go ..cycling on my personal time outside of my job.

    But social capital is probably something anyone who ever wanted to move from one job/organization to another, is something worth pondering or at least figuring out how many different facades we might put on..just for the sake of earning of money/keeping a job.

  31. I was doing research on this topic it is very interesting. I found 2 contrasting theories. One being that the avenues in which media , the arts , etc are consumed are controlled largely by the elite. There is a theory that these ” popular culture outlets ” are intentionally disseminated to keep the lower classes preoccupied with fluff to distract from what is really going on. … Which I argue to be true .popular culture perpetuates all types of stereotypes . The Demagogues that have increased in number then use popular culture to

  32. At school, I remember learning that the novel was originally looked down upon as being ‘women’s literature’. I never considered applying that binary thinking to modern culture. Thanks for the insight!

    • You’re welcome Laura! In relation to your point, I also wonder about how what we call “popular culture” changes over time – isn’t it funny that previously novels were seen as low culture and deeply problematic! It’s good to keep this in mind when we hear people lamenting how bad certain forms of entertainment are now. In other words, there is usually a judgement of taste going on that is very historically specific and often gendered!

  33. It took me so long to see this and to relearn the way I see pop culture. The gender part is always upsetting to me. I’ve seen people group “female-led bands” or “female singers” together as one giant blob, as if women’s music was a genre in and of itself, regardless of the actual genre of their music. And the same goes for authors, movies, etc. I rejected “girl stuff” as guilty pleasures for so long, because I was taught to see no value in it…which is terrible, because those things are the best! I hope the general perception changes, so we can all enjoy our pop culture in peace.

    • I couldn’t agree more! Thanks for your thoughts – I think it’s really important we encourage each other to speak up about the intersection between gender and cultural taste.

    • I don’t think I have every looked down or thought less of any singer just because of her gender. My approach towards disliking a singer or a genré is not based on such simple and ultimately limiting criterion. I reserve very similar disdain for boy-bands. And I am a guy. Spice girls, Boyzone, Atomic Kitten (even though I absolutely love Beyoncé), Backstreet Boys. They’re all the same to me. Garbage.

  34. To be fair, Game of Thrones benefits immensely from its group of complicated, interesting, strong women. Arya Stark>Hannah Horvath all day every day. But GoT is definitely a “men’s” show.

    • I have to disagree about GOT being solely a “Men’s show”. I have read all the books and seen the television series seasons 1-3. The TV program is more focused on men but the books themselves are really about the women: Circe, Caitlyn, Denarius, Sansa, Milassandra and my favorite Arya are all trying to make it in a world that does not promote gender equality, all of these women have managed to work around these barriers to become the real power players in the battle for the throne of the seven kingdoms. K. Courtney Franklin

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