The Invention of Popular Culture  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The invention of popular culture[1] by John Mullan is an article on the origins of popular culture first published in The Guardian in 2000.

"Perhaps there has always been popular culture. Preserved in the amber of high literature and art are the traces of the lower amusements of the past. Look into Shakespeare, Hogarth or Dickens and you can see the remnants of popular diversions: ballads and songs, fairs and pantomimes, sports and ingenious forms of cruelty to animals. Yet the idea that 'the common people' might have a culture (rather than just habits of rowdyism) dates from precisely the time when our idea of high culture was being invented. Popular culture has always been its ill-mannered twin.
"The 18th century first saw the development of a culture that was available to anyone prepared to buy a ticket. Before this, the aristocracy had kept all that was best in culture for itself. Now culture was there to enrich and fill the time of the newly affluent, and genteel consumers could polish themselves by visiting art galleries or museums, attending concerts or performances of Shakespeare. As pleasure became 'culture', it became increasingly important for the polite classes (many of them nouveaux riches) to distinguish between high and low entertainments. Then, as now, those most insecure about their own refinement were likeliest to be most hostile to all that might be thought 'low' or 'vulgar' (until the mid-19th century the words most commonly used for what we might call 'popular'). "
"When culture can be bought and sold, taste becomes an increasingly useful social marker. It was commerce that gave 'culture' to the middle classes, but commerce could also sully it. So the Georgians set about building a national culture - from the plays of Shakespeare to the music of Handel - that only the qualified could properly enjoy. As this culture widened, paradoxically the separation of high and low ('polite' and 'vulgar') sharpened." -- The invention of popular culture John Mullan

See also

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