Tuesday 7 April 2020

Between the Lines: Pop Culture vs. High Art - Why Should You Have to Choose?

I believe that one of the great myths of our current age is the distinction between popular culture and high art, or, more importantly, the suggestion that loving one means rejecting the other.

I will be the first to admit that I was once something of a culture snob. In my teens I was reading the classics and attending the theatre, and I looked down my nose a little at modern fiction and films.

But all that changed during my university years.

In the second year of my BA I had to attend a compulsory film studies class, and this awakened in me a new appreciation for the artistic side of filmmaking. At the same time, I encountered some excellent works of modern literature, which challenged my assumption that old is always better.

These days, high culture is often equated with the rich and snooty. Unfortunately, high ticket prices for plays and operas often contribute to that. I have had to forgo many a theatre trip in recent years due to lack of funds. They say audience numbers are declining, and young people aren’t attending, but is that surprising when ticket prices keep rising? No one can afford to go!

Nonetheless, I think there is a stigma around high art that makes people assume it’s not for them. Opera is seen as an upper-class obsession, while boring school lessons have ruined many classic works of literature, putting some readers off them for life. Don’t even get me started on what the classroom does to Shakespeare. And it’s a shame, as people are missing out on some wonderful experiences because of it.

Does that mean I want everyone to abandon Strictly Come Dancing in favour of classical ballet?


What I would like to see is us embracing both, and accepting each for what it is.

I adore the opera, but I am also an MCU fangirl. I love the classics, but I also read YA fantasy stories. I enjoy a good symphony, but I also listen to modern singer-songwriters. Of course, there are still the odd things I reject. You’ll never catch me watching shows like The Bachelor, for example. However, that is simply due to personal taste, rather than a debate of highbrow versus lowbrow.

I’d love to see a time come when liking opera doesn’t make people think you’re stuck up, or when enjoying a paranormal romance TV series doesn’t make others think you are lacking in culture. I have discovered it is possible to enjoy the best of both worlds. Why should we have to limit ourselves to one or the other?

What do you think? Where do you weigh in on the high art vs. pop culture debate?

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