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With the powerful influence of mass media, cultural levels are not so easily described because what is known as the popular culture has cut across all levels of society, providing everyone the symbols, norms, values, and beliefs in the icons of this group. Sometimes, though, popular culture is defined sarcastically as what is left over after high culture. On the other hand, the postmodernist approach, which breaks many barriers in the arts, takes the position that there is no clear distinction between high culture and popular culture.
Notwithstanding this modern condition, High Culture yet retains much of its essence as a set of cultural products in the arts that are held in the greatest esteem by a sophisticated, aristocratic and/or educated class (many middle-class educated people are now included in this culture). Such things as symphonies, operas, the theatre, fine art, and architecture, high fashion, and haute cuisine are considered part of this culture.
Popular Culture pertains to what is current and interesting to the general masses. Thus, in contrast to High Culture in which art of this level withstands the passage of time, trends, fashions, visual arts, etc. are temporal in their popularity. Although there are some representatives of popular culture, such as Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley in America who still recognized and listened to, most singers of popular music are forgotten after a certain amount of time. Likewise, the pop culture artwork of Andy Warhol has lasted and is displayed in museums, but many other popular trends in art have become obsolete. Folklore, too, is an element of popular culture as is the "urban legend," a development of a person or thing or incident into something passed on by word or mouth through a culture that may not necessarily be true.
Also referred to as "subculture," low culture is a disparaging term for some forms of popular culture that have appeal to the masses. Examples of this are pulp fiction, reality television, "camp"--an aesthetic popular from the 1960s to the present that contains ostentatious and exaggerated artistic performances that become humorous-- toilet humor, yellow journalism, pornography, and exploitation films.
In his book Popular Culture and High Culture, Herbert J. Gans defines low culture:
...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.
This is a mixture of cultural elements from two or more cultures. Many people, for instance, enjoy high art and classical music, but they also find camp funny or watch some of the reality shows and listen to popular music. Nowadays, symphony orchestras often incorporate popular tunes into their performances. For example, composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein gave concerts that incorporated popular music within classical; also, an American composer and multi-instrumentalist who experiments with hybrid music, Rhys Chatham, wrote Guitar Trio in 1977, a piece which incorporates primitive punk rock aesthetics into modern classical music.
The prevalence of hybrid culture may well be why postmodernists contend that there no longer is real distinction between high culture and low culture.
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