The Uses of Literacy: Changing Patterns in English Mass Culture

The Uses of Literacy: Changing Patterns in English Mass Culture

The Uses of Literacy: Changing Patterns in English Mass Culture

The Uses of Literacy: Changing Patterns in English Mass Culture

Excerpt

This book is about changes in working-class culture during the last thirty or forty years, in particular as they are being encouraged by mass publications. I imagine that similar results would be gained if some other forms of entertainment, notably the cinema and commercial broadcasting, were used for illustration.

I am inclined to think that books on popular culture often lose some of their force by not making sufficiently clear who is meant by 'the people', by inadequately relating their examinations of particular aspects of 'the people's' life to the wider life they live, and to the attitudes they bring to their entertainments. I have therefore tried to give such a setting, and so far as I could, to describe characteristic working-class relationships and attitudes. Where it is presenting background, this book is based to a large extent on personal experience, and does not purport to have the scientifically-tested character of a sociological survey. There is an obvious danger of generalisation from limited experience. I have therefore included, chiefly in the notes, some of the findings of sociologists where they seemed necessary, either as support or as qualification of the text. I have also noted one or two instances in which others, with experience similar to mine, think differently.

It will be seen that two kinds of writing are to be found in the following pages: that of the kind described above, and the more specific literary analysis of popular publications. The two may seem at first glance uneasy companions, and the change of approach in the second half is certainly sharp; but I hope the two approaches will be found by the reader, as they seem to me, mutually illuminating.

I have thought of myself as addressing first of all the serious 'common reader' or 'intelligent layman' from any class. By this I do not mean that I have tried to adopt any particular tone of voice, or that I have avoided using any technical terms and all but the most obvious allusions. But I have written as clearly as my understanding of the subject allowed, and used technical terms and allusions only when they seemed likely, once known, to prove helpful and suggestive. The 'intelligent layman' is an elusive figure, and popularisation a dangerous undertaking: but it seems to me that those of us who feel that writing for him is an urgent necessity must go on trying to reach him. For one of the most striking and ominous features of our present cultural situation is the division between the technical languages of the experts and the extraordinarily low level of the organs of mass communication.

R.H.

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