discuss the relationship between mass and high culture during this epoch. Do the divisions still have validity today? Using examples and reasons, discuss why or why not. Humanities Ch. 20

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The division between high culture (art) and mass culture  (commercial products) has been thought to be clear cut. However, the distinction is not as obvious as might be thought and has become more problematic in the post - modern era.

Matthew Arnold defined high culture as 'the best that has been thought and said in the world'. He might have had in mind some exquisitely crafted sonnet with an uplifting sentiment. Mass culture meanwhile is not typically seen as having an uplifting effect; its critics might have had in mind workers in a factory on some mind - numbing assembly line, listening to equally mind- numbing pop music on the radio.

There is a problem with this division or distinction: how do we really know what the effects of mass culture (or high culture) are? In the example of the factory workers, does the music on the radio really numb their minds or does it make them think in some more positive way: "this music is an ironic soundtrack to my difficult life. i must change my life!". That seems quite uplifting to me.

Secondly, high culture is thought of as hidden away in some exclusive art gallery while mass culture sells loads of copies, reaches no. 1 or achieves massive viewing figures. So anything that reaches the masses cannot be considered high culture? No, because in his day Shakespeare was entertainment for the masses, the elizabethan public flocking to their local theatre to see his latest play.

Thirdly, high culture is seen as an individual's artistic creation in a moment of inspiration; on the other hand, mass culture is produced by a group for commercial reasons. Hollywood films for example are not art because they require actors, directors, editors, cameramen etc. and are produced under tight commercial constraints. So despite all its innovation and technical brilliance Citizen Kane is not high culture/art? I think it is art and this distinction does not bear examination.

If the distinction was shakey to begin with, postmodenism has virtually abolished it. Sky sports advertise their coverage with its presenters posing as characters from Jane Austen/ costume drama. What would postmodernism say about such mixing of high culture and low (mass) culture? It would say why build up a division between the two? It would say why give high culture more status than mass culture when we now question the ability of anyone or anything, be they high culture or mass culture, to adequately explain the world we live in?

So, a quick and easy distinction between high culture and mass culture is not valid in this epoch. 


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