Cultural studies are an innovative interdisciplinary research field that aims at investigating the role of culture in the creation and transformation of individual experiences, social relations, power, and daily life. It's studied in various fields ranging from anthropology, sociology, and literature among others which antecedes it as a stream of thought with certain hypothetical leanings and subjects. As such, culture studies according to this context lack origins. When viewed in an established expansive way, culture studies do not have certain antiquity apart from one that takes on the myth status. Besides, culture is also depicted as a field of doctrinally, hypothetically and empirically engaged cultural analysis that focuses on the fundamental dynamics of modern culture, its historical basis, possibilities, and engagements as well. The essay will explore the similarities and differences of Leavisites, Frankfurt Critical Theory and British Cultural Studies concerning their understanding of and approach to popular culture.
According to the English-speaking world, culture began as a way of growing crops then evolved into an individual whose mind is civilized and refined. In the 19th century, a more anthropological denotation of culture emerged and depicted it to be a way of life and further highlights the experiences of ordinary individuals. Certain pressures surround the idea of culture when it is being studied. In this case, three scholars explored the concept of culture when undertaking the studies. Matthew Arnold supported for high culture. According to him, only specific cultural products can be viewed as genuine works of art which have higher artistic quality as compared to other ordinary products. Besides, Matthew depicted that for human capabilities to think, reflect and even imagine that the world is superior, refined and moral, they need to encounter genuine works of art such as sculptures and paintings. Therefore, according to this context, high culture symbolizes moral perfection and social good.
On the other hand, Leavisites demonstrated that the 17th century England had an authentic, organic common culture of individuals and a minority culture of the educated elite before the occurrence of the industrial revolution. However, the authentic folk culture of England has been lost through normalization and equalization of developed mass culture. As such, individuals adopted a common form of culture that may further be depicted to be modern. In the process, the traditional cultural practices seemed to be forgotten as the majority of the people implemented modern forms.
It is vital to note that other scholars were against the notions raised by Arnold and Leavisites. The two focused on high culture or the reliable pre-industrial culture in their recollection for the organic community. On the other hand, other scholars such as Stuart Hall and Raymond Williams participated in educating the working class individuals at high learning institutions. The texts at the university level consisted of current literature that mostly reflected the cultural practices and perceptions of the upper-middle class. According to them, it was necessary for the study materials to connect with the working class learners and everyday knowledge. Also, it was vital to study popular culture and make artistic choices of the working classes as an object of academic analysis. Therefore, culture is considered an art and a whole new way of life, a description which is also used in the contemporary world.
The project undertaken by a scholar such as William was to dispute the points brought forward by Leavisites and Arnold. As such, he sought to expand and depict equality in the description of culture by redefining it as standard and ordinary ways of daily life. According to Arnold and Leavisites, high culture is creative, extraordinary, inspiring, intelligent and uplifting while conventional life is dull, customary and regular. Also, high culture constitutes and further expresses a higher and more transcendent element of human experience while daily life has various insignificant concerns such as money and how to survive. There is an indication of hierarchy according to Arnold and Levisties whereby sincere artwork cultivates individuals' minds and souls to higher imagining and thinking levels. However, William eradicated this aspect of hierarchy between high culture and daily life through creating a whole way of everyday life to appear as legitimate issues for culture studies.
The high and low culture debate can further be explored concerning whether value judgment is universal. According to cultural studies, a study of Black Panther would focus on representing black characters as well as its social and political consequence instead of evaluating whether the movie is good or bad. Moreover, high culture has been depicted to be a part of daily life since artworks are regularly produced, sold and distributed like popular culture. Also, some non-artists like journalists play a crucial role in the art world and assist in differentiating the good, great and ordinary artists. Therefore, their absence would mean no art which is very difficult to be accessed by the public. As such, high culture comprising arts has never been separated from the dominion of daily life.
Like Leavisites, Frankfurt Critical Theory noted the decline of high culture also defined as authentic culture and the dominance of popular culture which is produced and consumed in bulk. According to this theory, popular culture is a mass culture that inevitably obstructs individuals' capacities to think critically and even imagine other world experiences. It entails practices that were practiced since time immemorial and thus makes it difficult for individuals in society to adjust or even adopt other new practices.
British Cultural Studies emphasizes the normality of culture that includes the creative and active aptitude of ordinary individuals to create shared essential practices. They further insist on issues of democracy, class culture and socialism. For all these issues to be interconnected, it is vital for popular culture and the cultural selections of the working classes to be studied as a logical examination object. The studies express the elements of experience and culture of the working class which is similar to the way the Leavisites viewed the concept of culture. According to the Leavisites, popular culture is aimed at attaining moral perfection and social good. In this case, it can be compared to high culture and thus the working class individuals striving towards being morally upright and socially accepted. Individuals who work in society are viewed particularly in that they have resources to execute changes even in their families. As such, this is an aspect highly valued by ordinary people in the community as compared to the educated elite who strive for higher things such as power and wealth ("'High,' 'Popular' and 'Low' Cultures in Everyday Life," 4).
Frankfurt Critical Theory and Leavisites highlighted a decline of high culture and dominance of popular culture. Most ordinary people in the society prefer being habitual and repetitive instead of creative, inspiring, intelligent and uplifting. For instance, it is a norm among most Christians to go to church on Sunday and women to take care of children. As such, these are practices by ordinary individuals in the society who are mostly striving to make money and survive, an aspect of popular culture, unlike high culture that depicts human experience. The British Cultural Studies have further gone ahead to make popular culture legitimate by opening up the avenues of newspapers, television, dancing, football, and other daily items and practices as well ("'High,' 'Popular' and 'Low' Cultures in Everyday Life," 5). Hence, this analysis has demonstrated a similarity among Frankfurt Critical Theory, Leavisites and British Cultural Studies and their role in making popular culture entirely appropriate.
Arnold, under the Leavisites, indicates that great works of art are significant elements that make life worth living. Lack of art would make culture unexciting that would, in turn, be detrimental for the mind and soul. Also, the lack of great art from individuals' lives deprives them morally, aesthetically and intellectually. Hence, when high culture has been viewed as separate from ordinary life, it can, however, improve and expand daily existences. It is vital to note that this can occur when people nurture their tastes instead of opening up to the idea of passively accepting to be constant and exist in predictable popular cultural products. The viewpoint can be observed in an instance of performing activities such as listening to pop music or reading books that assist in diminishing the capability of an individual. Another author who shared these sentiments was Dwight MacDonald who depicted that most forms of popular culture do not require thought and give insubstantial pleasure. He further indicated that they are spontaneous and disposable. Similarly, Frankfurt Critical Theory demonstrated that under the popular culture, what occurs is the reserve of mass media by the imagination and freedom of consumer powers ("'High,' 'Popular' and 'Low' Cultures in Everyday Life," 4).
Popular culture is usually viewed in various ways. It may relate to the mass-produced culture of the culture trades. Popular culture may also be an aspect that is left after a decision has been made about the canon of high culture. These designations are in line with the work of the Leavisites and Frankfurt Critical Theory. Both of them consider popular culture to be mediocre to its partner in the dual detachment. When popular culture is critically studied, it depicts that cultural studies operate against the aspect of the definitions given by the elitist ("Questions of Culture and Ideology," 68). On the other hand, British Cultural Studies purported that popular culture is a ground of accord and opposition in the struggle over various other cultural denotations. It is also the site where cultural supremacy is either safeguarded or confronted ("Questions of Culture and Ideology," 69). Therefore, it is evident that the views of popular culture also vary between Leavisites and Frankfurt Critical Theory and British Cultural Studies.
British Cultural Studies has since time immemorial been extraordinarily political and concentrated on the capacities for conflict in oppositional subcultures. Initially, it restrained the prospective of the working class cultures as previously observed then proceeded to the youth subcultures to repel the hegemonic types of industrialist supremacy. As such, unlike the Frankfurt Critical Theory, British Cultural Studies opted for youth cultures to offer hypothetically new systems of opposition and social modification. By studying the youth subcultures, the British Cultural Studies depicted how culture came to encompass diverse identity forms. Through their analysis, cultural studies came to focus on the way subcultural groups' battle leading forms and identity of culture, thus developing their style and individualities. Popular culture also entails individuals who adapt to prevailing fashion and dress codes, political ideologies and behavior. Hence, they generate their personalities within majority groups as members of particular social groupings like the middle-class or whites ("'High,' 'Popular' and 'Low' Cultures in Everyday Life," 5). Frankfurt Critical Theory, British Cultural Studies, and Leavisites further emphasized that popular culture should be studied within the social relations and the system where culture is generated and utilized. In this way, it means that culture studies are closely tied up with the study of economics, politics, and society ("'High,' 'Popular' and 'Low' Cult...
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