Stop calling it “pop culture.”
There was a time when we made the distinction between pop culture and high culture. The highbrows went to the symphony and the lowbrows went to the armory for professional wrestling. But there is no more high culture. It is defunct. We need to stop making a distinction that no longer exists.
It isn’t pop culture, it is just culture.
One of the problems is that we don’t really understand what culture is. Most people think of culture as synonymous with taste in entertainment. If some people are entertained by a Bartok string quartet, others are entertained by South Park. But neither the quartet nor the cartoon are culture: They are two tastes in entertainment.
Culture — real culture — is the software we run our society by. It is what we collectively believe is “true.” More it is the sum total of what we believe is true, turned into rules to operate by. At one time, we believed in a bearded sky-god who told us what was right and wrong. Some people still believe and they are now a “subculture” within the larger one. The larger culture now believes what it hears on Oprah or Jerry. We run our lives accordingly. We look for closure, we seek the inner Atilla the Hun and his management strategies.
Everything we do is based, at some level, upon culture. Whether we spank our children, allow divorce, execute criminals and outlaw abortion. It is all based on culture, and culture all based on what we collectively think is true. At a time such as now, what we believe is rather jumbled. It is not coherent or unified. Religion becomes a buffet menu of attractive options. There is not a single unified belief system. The closest thing we have is the widely held belief that all cultures should be respected. But such a belief, at its heart, acknowledges the absence of a single believable system.
So, the argument isn’t between so-called high culture and low culture. It’s all culture. But, much worse, what we’re developing is a system of two opposing cultures — two vision of what each side believes is “true.”
One side calls itself “conservative,” although that is really just a convenient handle — it isn’t really conservative. It is a primarily rural culture, insular and cut-off from the rest of the world and the time it lives in. And, what is more, happy to be so cut off. It eyes the rest of the world with suspicion, even hate. Like the dragon in his cave, with his arms circling his horde, and scowling at anything outside in the sunlight.
The other culture is more cosmopolitan, but not necessarily more intelligent. It tends to believe in the goodness of humanity and the brotherhood of man, forgetting that brotherhood is Cain and Abel. It is more open to progress, but doesn’t always recognize good progress from bad ideas.
If one side is hard and miserly, the other is soft and gushy.
A curse on both your houses.
(One is forced to accept that the ironbound statistical truth that fully half the American populace has an I.Q. below average. It takes only one person with an I.Q. only one point above average to join and make a majority in this so-called democracy. And if you’ve ever met anyone with an I.Q. of 100 — the midpoint and the average — you know that is no great shakes. Overall, humans are just dumb monkeys.)
Anyway, these are two immiscible cultures, and the fact that Congress seems unable to compromise derives from the two cultures, and not from mere policy disagreements. Two umwelts, two completely different understanding of the nature of the world.
And both sides claim pop culture: that messy, energetic, imbecilic, entertaining system of rock-and-roll politics and television theology. It’s just that on one side the television theology comes from Kenneth Copeland, and on the other side it comes from Oprah.
In Victorian times, the symphony and ballet were seen as truer than the dime novel and music-hall comedy. The hoity-toity ran society according to the standards they learned from Tennyson, Carlyle or John Ruskin. The hoi-polloi followed along, reading crime stories in the popular press or sentimental novels.
The new bifurcation of taste and culture is not so vertical. Instead, everything is horizontalized; nobody is any better (or in this view, smarter, or wiser, or more fitted to solve a problem) than anyone else.
The old bifurcation is dead. It was a legacy of those awful Victorians. The last vestige of it is the tails and white tie our symphony conductors wear, and the gowns and dinner jackets symphony patrons wear to the concert hall.
But let’s face it. The symphonies are all near bankruptcy all across the nation. Art museums attempt more and more dumbed-down populist exhibits, hoping to boost attendance.
In a way, they are both irrelevant to the new split.
So, roll over, Beethoven, and tell Tchaikovsky the news.