Thoughts on Popular and Elite Culture as Art

A couple of days ago, Alastair Roberts (for whom I have the highest respect) and I got into a Twittercation. More of a thoughtful, good-natured Twargument. (Sorry—too long on Twitter, I’ll stop…the tw- thing, not Twitter). The argument was over a Wall Street Journal opinion piece about how people are taking popular culture too seriously nowadays, when actually, it’s formulaic, shallow, too accessible, and can never aspire to be Art (with a capital-freaking A). Only high art can do that. (Link here: It kind of rubbed me the wrong way, and I told Alastair so. It represented the kind of fuzzy-headed elitism that postures as serious thinking about culture.

Alastair, being Alastair, pushed back. His argument was essentially (he said a lot more, but I believe this was the crux) that the patron-based funding structure of high art affords more imaginative freedom, whereas popular culture is driven by profit and concerns for public taste. It remains in an imaginative straightjacket, and therefore conforms our minds to the already existing vox populi.

I responded. A lot of shoot-from-the-hip stuff. I said his (and the WSJ’s) definition was far too narrow, equating it with commercial popular culture. There’s a lot more going on, amateur stuff on Youtube, for instance.

On further reflection, I found there’s more to say, and Twitter is a weird platform for saying it. So instead of a tweet-storm, here’s a paragraph or two:

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