High vs Popular Culture

High culture refers to the amusement, leisure activities, reading habits, tastes and preferences of a society’s elite, defined by advanced education, personal power and economic success. Popular culture is the same thing – but for the majority of people in society (standard education, limited power and less economic success).

Think about food as an example. Do you like to eat burgers, pizza, curries, kebabs, noodles and other ‘popular’ dishes? Or do you prefer foie gras, escargot, oysters, marrow, or foods with exotic sounding names and unusual origins? The second list tends to be more expensive – so people with more economic success tend to consume these in order to project their success through the restaurants they choose.

Think about the live music events that you might attend. Do you go to a small gig, listen to folk, pop or rock ‘n’ roll? These events tend to be open, friendly, welcoming – and cheap (often folk music events are free). Or do you like to listen to classical, opera, or jazz? These events tend to be highly produced, involved larger numbers of performers, are almost always performed in large theatres or exclusive clubs – and are expensive to attend. High culture can be defined as culture that excludes the mass of people, because in order to participate one needs to have a certain amount of economic ‘clout’.

The study of high and popular culture involves the study of the things people say and do – how they use culture – in order to open doors or set up barriers with other people in order to say things about themselves: this is who I am, this is who I am not. When things get really interesting is when people try to break down barriers by mixing elements of high culture and popular culture together in a meeting of different art forms. As in the piece of art shown above, this mixing often involves taking a piece of culture that is exclusive – reserved for the few to enjoy, whether because of price, location, sophistication or taste – and mixing it up in some way so that it becomes more popular.

Class Activity

Examine and identify the elements of these texts (settings, colours, characters, postures, symbols, words and so on) that come from high culture sources and those that come from popular culture. What new meanings are generated by the collision of high and popular culture motifs in the same text?

Learner Portfolio



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s