High and Low Culture

Living, eating, and hanging out with the same people mean that one eventually learns a lot about the interests of others. When we really enjoy something, we want others to enjoy it as well, probably out of some instinct of community. And sharing interests makes it easier to enjoy the company and avoid awkwardness.

For example, I’ve been a huge “30 Rock” fan ever since I randomly turned on the TV my senior year in high school. My current drawmates would make fun of me for constantly listening/watching to the same episodes over and over, but now, I have them to share the jokes with. On the flip side, Jordan (a drawmate) happens to have the DVDs for “Firefly,” which almost all of my drawmates have seen and thoroughly enjoyed. I myself am currently watching it at a very slow, but very enjoyable pace.

But the most interesting part to me has been the destruction of my belief of culture classes. It’s very easy to understand the nuances within one’s own tastes, but I think we also tend to generalize others into groups. The classic example is the typical response to “What sort of music do you like?”. Most people will respond with something like, “I listen to a lot of different things,” perhaps pointing to their iPod with its many genres. We might similarly ask what type of movies someone watches, or their favorite tv channel, but that’s no easier. (I think it’s funny, though, that while we often can’t say what we do like, most people can rattle off a couple genres which they absolutely hate).

By the time I got to college, I had gotten over my snobbish high school phase and realized that not all TV is junk, though I certainly had my same perceptions about the junk. For example, I had thrown a lot of animated comedies off as trashy gutter humor (though I hypocritically had enjoyed a lot of “Family Guy”). I certainly hope that I’m not wrong in believeing that the typical population sees a lot of these shows as low culture. And maybe I’m just a sucker for good targeting by advertisers, but I soon became much more impressed with what the writers are doing. Last year, I spent a good bit of time sitting in Tom’s room, usually doing a combination of watching “Futurama” and playing Magic. I had never thought much about “Futurama,” but after watching it, I was somewhat more impressed. Granted, a large amount of the humor isn’t particularly complex, relying on a combination of slapstick and profanity, but I was impressed by the parody they actually managed to mix in. We might’ve been laughing at the absurdity of a giant trashball coming back to destroy Earth, but it’s even better when we realized that the absurdity was really a reflection of our current environmental policy.

I think one of my bigger turnarounds has been my attitude towards “South Park.” I had heard about the show since elementary school, and perhaps it was the comprehension level of my peers and me that locked me into a belief that it was a pretty contentless show. So it was a minor surprise to me when I found out that Ben (who has what I consider a few pretty classy tastes) was a huge “South Park” fan. Again, a lot of the show is mindless comedy, consistent with what a 4th grader can and does understand. I certainly was laughing much harder, though, at the “Cloverfield” and “World of Warcraft” parody aspects. I guess that Peabody wasn’t a mistake.

Just like the writers for Disney movies, I have realized that the writers for a lot of shows are smart enough to have those two tiers for high and low appeal, and it’s hard to just lop all of some group into one or the other for that aspect. We’re all hopefully good enough to be more discerning than that, whether that’s Ben not liking “Family Guy,” Jordan not liking “30 Rock,” or my shift away from “House.” And while I certainly don’t know any better exactly what goes into those groupings, it’s not as easy as I once thought.

As a final point, I figure I’d bring up the topic that motivated this. As I mentioned before, my draw group loves “Firefly,” so we knew about Joss Whedon’s new show, “Dollhouse.” The premise is that there’s a “dollhouse” where the “dolls” are people who have their personalities erased and are sold to customers after being imprinted with any mental image desired. Particularly, Echo (played by Eliza Dushku of “Buffy” fame) is one of these dolls who has been programmed so far as a date, a backup singer, and negotiator, yet also seems to have a real consciousness manifesting between imprints.

The show is certainly more “Buffy” and less “Firefly,” but 9:00 Fridays is certainly now reserved for “Dollhouse” watching between us. Two years ago, I probably would’ve never watched it, throwing it in with the rest of the tv dramas like “Lost” and “Heroes” without much value. But it’s a great little event for us from week to week, and there really isn’t a better classifier for culture than whether you enjoy it.

3 thoughts on “High and Low Culture”

  1. As a different view on high culture and low culture, you might also consider the perspectives of long attention span and low attention span.

    Books require a long attention span. Classical music, designed to fill an evening, is considerably longer the average pop song (which in the 1960s, had to be under 3 minutes).

    Some people think that in order to be serious, a work requires concentration and a deep mental process. An alternative is to watch the Cannes Ad Festival, where the greatest productions under a minute are celebrated every year.

  2. Kevin, I searched “UT Honors Quad” and this came up at the top of the search results. I saw “warsstekkid” and knew it was you. Hahaha.
    -Dina

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