Monday, September 14, 2009

Blurring the Line Between High and Low Cultures

In brainstorming an appropriate response to the reading by Gans, I realized that there isn't much in culture that is more current than the 2009 VMAs. Given that Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi" was important enough to screen and presumably discuss on the first day of class, it seems fitting to mention it here as well.

Although I was at work on Sunday night and didn't watch the show, I got quite a few texts about the Kanye West drama and about Lady Gaga's performance. The latter intrigued me, and upon arriving home, I immediately went online and found a link:

The performance was fascinating, awkward, and unexpectedly beautiful. It began with an understated lead-in of "Poker Face," which was sung in a greater classical or theatrical sense, chock full of vibrato. For a public who is only used to hearing a sound with heavier distortion and processing, it was certainly quite unexpected. That lead into "Paparazzi," which included dance, live piano, and additional theatrics (presumably, commenting on the deaths of one or more celebrities or public figures, thanks at least in part to the flashbulbs). It was a performance I would have expected from a more refined artist, and certainly not from someone who specializes in dance music that has become a staple of any mainstream club or party--one who appeals to the masses.

In his book, Gans said: "In popular language, there are three taste cultures: highbrow, middlebrow, and lowbrow...popular terms rather than concepts." Further, "people do not limit their choices to one culture."

I would argue that last night's performance successfully blurred the line between high and low cultures. Certainly, the MTV Video Music Awards are considered low culture to begin with. The demographics for the network, presentation, and artists featured all skew on the low end of the spectrum. Hell, many of the people watching probably didn't even obtain the music featured through legal methods. That said, Lady Gaga's performance featured elements of higher culture--not so many that she wasn't true to herself, but enough to pique the interest of some older members of the social elite. The final moments of her performance certainly fall into highbrow commentary, while the costuming was lowbrow and on par with just about any other female artist who doesn't mind showing flesh.

The performance exposed her to an entirely new demographic. Only time will tell whether or not she's able to maintain the cultural duality, but irrespective, I've gained a great respect for an artist whose career was previously based on generic (albeit incredibly catchy) dance songs.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the link! I tried to embed the video from the MTV site but it did not work at all (see my post "How Do I Start Blogging Here?" to learn how to make links/embeds).

    It's also interesting to see the icons of high culture that Lady Gaga plays with - chandeliers, diamonds, the piano, the huge, gilded mansion backdrop.