High Culture, Popular Culture: The Long Debate

High Culture, Popular Culture: The Long Debate

High Culture, Popular Culture: The Long Debate

High Culture, Popular Culture: The Long Debate

Excerpt

On the day in early 1994 when I heard the reporter on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's current affairs program '7.30 Report' speak about 'Australian beer culture'--he was discussing patterns of consumption of low alcohol beer--I began to fear that the word 'culture' might have entered a terminal phase of uselessness. I have nothing against beer, of course, nor the discussion, serious or otherwise, of its production and consumption; but the glib use of a word with such a history as 'culture' in connection with it is very disconcerting.

In recent times, 'culture' has become one of the most common words in all kinds of public discourse, constantly on the lips of journalists and politicians, not to speak of academics from almost all disciplines of the Humanities. 'Police culture', 'welfare culture', 'enterprise culture', 'research culture'--there seems almost no limit to its applicability in almost any context. At the same time it has become an increasingly empty term. The more frequently it is used, the more regularly it seems to need another word to prop it up and define its field of reference. Is this because qua culture, there is almost nothing in common between the police force, the welfare services, business and the universities? The word promises much in these contexts but delivers little; it poses as a noun but it is really an adjective. In the examples I have given, 'culture' itself hardly means more than 'group behaviour', 'practice' or 'shared assumptions'.

The other side of this is that while 'culture', defined in context by another term and spelt in lower case, is used more and more to mean less and less, 'Culture', standing on its own and spelt (on occasions) with a capital C, is used less and less but seems to mean something more and more specific--for those rash souls game enough to use it at all in this way, that is. While 'culture' seems to take place everywhere, 'Culture' seems to happen only at the Sydney Opera House . . .

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