Faculty of Philosophy and Education.
Lecture on British Culture and Civilization.
POPULAR CULTURE: A REFLECTION OF HIGH CULTURE.
(By Leyla Oliveros Concha)
Most of the time, those who are involved in academic contexts, try to figure out or establish which elements “deserve” being members of this essential part of the society called culture. You may think that it sounds completely normal, however, guess what? Houston, we have a problem. The problem is the fact that society tends to associate culture with concepts, such as fine arts, literature, classical music, philosophy, etc. All these are manifestations which belong to a subdivision of culture known as high culture. Nevertheless, what about other signs of culture, such as television, movies or magazines? Are they not cultural signs? To my mind, evidently they are. In fact, high and popular culture are closely related, due to the fact that nowadays, most of the manifestations of popular culture are originated in signs of high culture, certainly, the UK is not an exception. For that reason, through these lines I would like to prove my point by two examples (one from literature and the other from music) and finally, I will give you a contrastive perspective with examples of the same fields of study.
The first example is related to literature. From time immemorial, this field of knowledge has been related to erudite people, simply because at very ancient times in history, literature could be known and studied by literate ones. Clearly, they were not too many; in fact, they were a sort of elite. Just wealthy people had access to formal education and knew how to read and write properly. However, time went by and being an educated person became more affordable. In most of the constitutions worldwide, being educated is compulsory; it is a right for everyone. For that reason, in relation to this area, that is to say literature, little by little people started to know the classics such as Homer, Plato, Tolstoy, Verne, among others. In these terms, with no doubts one of the most emblematic figures in British literature is Mister William Shakespeare. Among their master pieces we can find “Romeo and Juliet”, “A Midsummer Night’s dream”, “Hamlet”, “Macbeth”, and “King Lear”. Most of them are recognized all over the world for thousands. But, are Shakespeare’s works presented in low cultural manifestations? Indeed, there are multiple references of Shakespeare in popular culture. For instance, there are several movies based on his works like: “Gnomeo and Juliet”, “Shakespeare in love” or “Warm bodies”; which is inspired in the classic tragedy of the lovers. Also, we can find direct quotations of Shakespeare in “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”; a popular television program in the nineties. Moreover, we can recognize the Shakespearean influence in Disney movies like “The Beauty and the Beast”, in which Belle reads to the Beast a quotation from “Romeo and Juliet” or in the movie “The Nightmare Before Christmas”, in which the main character Jack makes a clear reference to the scene of the skull in “Hamlet”. Finally, we have the “Lion King”, which is entirely based on Hamlet’s story since: Scar kills his brother (as Claudius kills his brother, the King); then Mufasa’s ghost visits Simba (as the King’s ghost visits Hamlet) and at the end of the movie Simba is encouraged by Timon and Pumba to take revenge for his father’s death (exactly as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern did in Hamlet).
The second case is located in the field of music. This is the case of “Queen”, in particular, the case of its vocalist, the great Freddy Mercury. Perhaps, now you are wondering, how this rock and roll musician can be influenced by high culture music? At the very beginning, when he was a child, he was formally trained on piano; in which he was quite skilful. In addition, some people who were closed to him, said that he used listening classical music; like Chopin and Mozart, moreover, he was even pretty interested in opera; having a large collection of opera recordings. Other example of it was a comment of one his friends named Chris Smith, who said that Freddy’s piano style was very Mozart. In fact, in my point of view, this influence is clearly noticeable in songs of his band like “Bohemian Rhapsody”; in which there is an exquisite mixture of rock music, touches of classical piano and the magnificent contributions of the lyrical choir; or in the song “Love of my life”, in which we can listen features of classical music as the arpeggios, which are not very common in rock and roll style.
The last two examples are valid according to its own perspective. Nevertheless, there is a different point of view, which is related to a social system known as “Mass society”. People, who have studied this system, have established that high culture has been replaced by low culture. This cultural replacement has been helped, enormously, by mass media or the widespread of popular education. These ones have caused a progressive deterioration in population’s tastes, that is to say, that year after year people’s tastes are more unsophisticated and that is the reason why they replace high cultural elements for those which are part of the popular tradition. For instance, a quite clear example of this situation is the amount of people who listen to classical music. In fact, a survey of ‘The Reader’s Digest’ says things like a thirty three percent of people have never listened to classical music, or that a thirty nine percent of the survey respondents, assure that they do not like listening to this type of music. Other good evidence of it could be the preference for some books, especially, ‘Best sellers’. The best example is “Harry Potter”. This saga is one of the most successful in the UK and in the whole world; adolescents were avid to read every single word. However, would have they the same desire to read the classics of literature by themselves? According to this, we could confirm that popular culture is not reflected in high cultural manifestations, there is not a kind of legacy or continuity from one to the other, there is just a substitution process; sadly, high culture has been left aside.
As a conclusion, through the development of the present document and taking into account the examples which were presented previously, it seems to be undeniable that elements related to the field of high arts such as: literature, classical music, visual arts, etc. are manifested in expressions of popular culture like: movies, television programs, newspapers, magazines, among others. Even though, it is important to take under consideration, that there is not just one perspective in relation to this matter. In addition, we have the point of view according to the phenomenon of “Mass society system”, which indicates that, progressively, low culture is replacing high cultural manifestations; reducing population’s taste. Although, both positions are extremely different, in the end, the verdict in this case is totally up to you, the reader.
http://kids.britannica.com/comptons/article-203955/literature http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/themes/writing/literacy.aspx http://www.cliffsnotes.com/sciences/sociology/culture-and-societies/culture-and-society-defined http://shakespeare.mit.edu/
http://www.shakespeareinaction.org/blog/category/shakespeare-at-the-movies http://www.queensongs.info/the-book/queen-the-four-of-them-as-musicians/freddie-mercury.html http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/livinglearning/school/overview/1870educationact/ http://sociology.about.com/od/M_Index/g/Mass-Society.htm
http://www.newrepublic.com/book/review/high-and-popular-culture http://www.theguardian.com/music/2010/aug/23/classical-music-survey-britons-clueless http://childrensbooks.about.com/od/harrypotterplus/ss/New-Cover-For-Harry-Potter-Books_2.htm