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The idea that popular culture consists of distinct ‘taste cultures’ was developed by Herbert Gans (1974) as an alternative to the then dominant theory of mass culture (Horkheimer & Adorno 2001) which viewed popular culture as a commercial enterprise that represented a debased form of high culture. Gans argued that popular culture exists in various forms that appeal to audiences with different educational backgrounds and tastes. Gans developed a typology of “taste publics” that consume taste cultures appropriate for their educational level and social background.
A taste culture consists of values and aesthetic standards for culture, cultural forms that express those values, and the media in which they are expressed. Five principal taste cultures, stratified by social class, represented American culture in the 1970s. High culture comprised both classic and contemporary styles in literature and the arts. Its taste public included creators and highly educated upper- and upper-middle-class people. Uppermiddle culture was associated with an uppermiddle- class taste public, who were uninterested in the relatively esoteric aspects of high culture, preferring forms of culture that spoke to issues that were relevant to their personal lives. Lower-middle culture was America’s dominant taste culture. Its taste public provided the major audience for mass media and sought content that confirmed its worldview, particularly its moral values. The taste public for low culture consisted of older, lower-middle- class people who preferred entertainment that dealt with traditional working-class values. Quasi-folk low culture was a simpler version of low culture. Its taste public consisted of unskilled bluecollar and service workers with little education.
Bourdieu (1984) developed a theory to explain how social class and education influence cultural choices. Recent research reveals that many people do not restrict their attention to a particular type of culture, because of the enormous variety of cultural choices now available. Differences among lifestyles within the same social class as well as across social classes are anticipated.
- Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A social critique of the judgment of taste. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Gans, H. (1974). Popular culture and high culture: An analysis and evaluation of taste. New York: Basic Books.
- Horkheimer, M. & Adorno, T. W. (2001). The culture industry: Enlightenment as mass deception. In M. G. Durham & D. M. Kellner (eds.), Media and cultural studies. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 71–101.