Many years ago it was the sign of middle class propriety to explain to enquirers that in order to be seen as part of “high culture” you did not descend into admitting to owning a TV, in fact if you were found out with one you would say, “Oh, but I only watch Channel 2”.Nowadays admitting to not owning a TV either brands you as a recluse or an old hippy, or if stretched, one of those people who don’t understand the media. I have always believed that there is a fourth explanation – the upholding of a model of “high culture” that existed when one was a child (generally if you were born, pre 1965) that your parents upheld and filtered down by accultration to you as an absolute value of retaining the spirit of high culture.This is the spirit of the middle class model of valuing the elite and it’s elitist culture.
To me the whole thing is laughable as the “high culture” model does not exist in the form they want to upheld today.In fact, it is a residual form of the post-enlightenment tradition of the absolute value that requires the individual to not be “contaminated” by popular culture in any way. This requires the people who protect high culture to ‘seal off” their mediums from the genral popular culture , which is downright impossible because many of these people own computers (today) and are surrounded by popular culture which they are “absorbing”, if not unwittingly, into their own definition of culture, without really understanding the medium of its transmission and, in fact, trying to create a boundary between themselves and it.
I wish I could expand here the notion of the post-enlightenment tragedic theme that highlights these opinions on “high culture”,because it is a complex historical problem, but, at its base, it is an alienation from the values of the everyday, as this is the culture that tends to deny the tragedy of living (as exemplified by the tragic heroes of Goethe and Schiller and just about every “classic” novel since)and just lives it ,as Henri Lefebvre points out.The “high culture” advocates try to water down popular culture by always stating that “high culture” stands both in opposition to and seperate from the culture that surrounds us.This means that an absolute value can be ascribed to their reception of culture – only, of course, in the form of “classic” novels, “classical” music and “classic” thetare.However, they are also open to the trends or movements by the high culture itself, which, over time absorbs what is editorially considered as “correct” culture.
The problem, as we saw above, is that these value systems are now, basically, defunct except as an economic system of culture, and as an economic system it is charged by the motor of supply, demand and profit. So theatres, concert halls, publishers and the media supply an “ideology” of high culture that is based purely on the ability to purchase such culture.
I suppose I get really annoyed at the “oh, I am a better person because I don’t own a TV” not because it affirms the supremacy of high culture but more an ignorance of what “high culture” has become.