Project Good taste (work in progress)

In this project I have reviewed the Dick Hebdige essay The Bottom Line on Planet One (Evans, J. and Hall, S., 1999, pp 99). The aim of the project is to present my answers to a series of questions:

Does Hebdige make a clear distinction between ‘high’ and ‘popular’ culture?

He does not specifically do this. Instead he compares two magazines Ten.8 and The Face. He constructs two imaginary Worlds, one to represent each of these magazines.

In the  First World the relations of power and knowledge are ordered so that priority is given to the written word. There is a strict hierarchical system system wherein a priestly caste of scribes proscribe the form and content of all legitimate discourse and control the flow of knowledge. These priests are served by technical operatives who produce engravings of images to supplement the texts of the priests. The scribes also have responsibilty for placing the engravings within an historical and theoretical frameswork. At no point does Hebdige specifically mention ‘high’ culture but the First World is a clear parody of it. The structures and activities of First World  fall squarely into the ‘Sphere of Legitimacy’ as defined Bourdieu in his hierarchy of legitimacies.  (Evans, J. and Hall, S., 1999, pp176). This is the world of Ten.8.

In the Second World, which is a much larger planet, images take precedence over words. The use of language is to supplement the image by describing the moment it embodies. It no longer has the role, as in the First World of presenting the image in its historical or theoretical context. There is no explanation of  the origins of images, their functions, effects or meanings. There is no hierarchical system of priests and scribes. Knowledge and information is disseminated by a motley crew of disparate sources. It is as if the Bourdieu’s hierarchy of legitimacies has been collapsed into the Sphere of the Arbitrary – the domain occupied by ‘popular’ culture (Evans, J. and Hall, S., 1999, pp176). This is the world of The Face.

So indirectly it could be said that Hebdige makes the distinction between ‘high’ and ‘popular’ culture in the way in which he contrasts the two worlds. However, his real intention is to contrast Modernism with Postmodernism.

What are his arguments against the ‘People of the Post’?

Hebdige’s argues that the ‘Posts’ ‘have been working to liberate the signifier (image) from the constraints imposed upon it by the rationalists’. What he means by this is that they have challenged whether it is possible to analyse images to decode what they mean – in their view it is not- or if it is possible for an author to create a unique work which is not just a series of references to other sources – again they believe it is not . They have launched a multi-facetted attack on authority (which provides the structures to decode representations) and authorship (which claims originality for particular works). The consequence of all this is that what is left is a world devoid of meanings, history or structure. Hebdige describes the results of the actions of the ‘Posts’ as a ‘drift into autism’.  (People with autism say that the world to them is a mass of people, places and events which they struggle to make sense of).

Explain my views on the difference between high and popular culture today?

‘High’ and ‘popular’ culture are essentially defined by the cultural activites which society has determined fall into each category. What falls into each category has over time been strongly influenced by class and educational divisions. ‘High’ culture activities are those which are deemed of high value by the higher social and better educated classes. They are generally surrounded by an establishment of learned societies, universities, colleges, art historians, curators, art critics and such like. ‘High’ culture events tend to be eliteist. Access to them is difficult and can be very expensive. Given the mystique surrounding the activities in ‘high’ culture those who are not ‘in the loop’ may avoid participating, seeking to avoid appearing foolish.

‘Popular’ culture is the set of cultural activities which are readily available to all. There is no establishment structure and access is relatively inexpensive – it is the domain of the mass market. In order to attract people there is a tendency for those promoting ‘popular’ culture events to sensationalise and to appeal the the more lurid aspects of society. .

Sources

Berger, J. (1972) Ways of Seeing  London: Penguin

Evans, J. and Hall, S. (1999) Visual Culture: the reader London: Sage

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