"Low culture" is a derogatory term for forms of popular culture that have mass appeal. Its contrast is "high culture", which can also be derogatory. It has been said by culture theorists that both high culture and low culture are subcultures.
The boundaries of low culture and high culture blur, through convergence. Many people are "omnivores", making cultural choices from different menus.
Standards and definitions of low culture
In his book Popular Culture and High Culture, Herbert J. Gans gives a definition of how to identify and create low culture:
Aesthetic standards of low culture stress substance, form and being totally subservient; there is no explicit concern with abstract ideas or even with fictional forms of contemporary social problems and issues. ... Low culture emphasizes morality but limits itself to familial and individual problems and [the] values, which apply to such problems. Low culture is content to depict traditional working class values winning out over the temptation to give into conflicting impulses and behavior patterns.
When applying that lens to mass media, it often includes shows that do not go too deeply into abstract ideas, or that do not address head-on contemporary social problems.
Culture as class
Herbert Gans states in his book Popular Culture and High Culture that the different classes of culture are linked correspondingly to socio-economic and educational classes. For any given socio-economic class, there is a culture for that class. Hence the terms high and low culture and the manifestation of those terms as they appeal to their respective constituents.
All cultural products (especially high culture) have a certain demographic to which they appeal most. Low culture appeals to very simple and basic human needs plus offers a perceived return to innocence, the escape from real world problems, or the experience of living vicariously through viewing someone else’s life on television.
Low culture can be formulaic, employing trope conventions, stock characters and character archetypes in a manner that can be perceived as more simplistic, crude, emotive, unbalanced, or blunt compared to high culture's implementations—which may be perceived as more subtle, balanced, or refined and open for interpretations.
- Bogan (Australia and New Zealand)
- Bread and circuses
- Camp (style)
- Chav (UK)
- Culture industry
- Dres (Poland)
- Flaite (Chile)
- Gopnik (Russia)
- Lowbrow (art movement)
- Mass society
- Off color humour
- One-Dimensional Man
- Outsider art
- Primitive art
- Raunch culture
- Redneck (United States)
- Toilet humor
- Yellow journalism
- Herbert Gans, Popular Culture and High Culture pg. 115.
- Herbert Gans Popular Culture and High Culture pg. 7
- , Anna Tomisino Discovering Pop Culture, pg. 211.
- , Anna Tomisino Discovering Pop Culture, pg. 225 (although this is an excerpt from "The Happiest Place On Earth: Disney" by Eric Mazur and Tara Koda.)