Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Convergence of High and Popular Cultures

Many, especially scholars and critics, insist on a clear distinction between high and popular culture. The division of cultures is attributed to the different levels of socioeconomic status of a society. However, factors, such as the increase of disposable income and the rise of education level, contribute to the blurring of high and popular culture. Herbert J. Gans asserts that people do not limit themselves to just one culture; they indulge in choices from both cultures. Peterson has term the participants of more than one culture as “omnivores.”

Gans has said that culture can also be seen as information. A great example of the convergence of cultures is shows like Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert’s The Colbert Report. Both of these shows are catered through a popular culture format since they are broadcast on Comedy Central and are marketed as comedies. However, the content of the shows are infused with social commentary that deem worthy to be published in The New York Times (undoubtedly seen as part of high culture). Can these shows be seen as popular culture mocking the high culture for taking themselves too seriously? Or can it be seen as high culture infusing their influence and opinions in popular culture?

On a side note, I tried looking for the clip I mentioned in class about the “bothersome” (well, I did not think so) clip from a children’s cartoon and its depiction of Asians. However, after about an hour of search, my efforts were wasted. The clip was nowhere to be found on the Internet. Apparently, many are also trying to locate the same clip. I guess Nickelodeon must be very protective of this cash cow of a show!

The clip was featured on The Soup. It is from a Nick Jr. cartoon called Ni Hao, Kai Lan. It is apparently the new Dora the Explorer, where the main character, Kai Lan, teaches children to speak Chinese. In this particularly controversial clip, Kai Lan holds up a sign that says “Can you find someone that looks like this?” However, behind her is a bunch of people that has the same facial features as her but with different hairstyles. I have attached a photo of the characters in this cartoon. As you can see, the people are drawn with similar features.


  1. truthfully... I always thought that all these Asian cartoons from like the late 90's and early 2000's were extremely racial....
    I mean... they always portrayed Asians with the same exact features: big eyes, spiky hair, and these ridiculous, unnatural smiles. I guess that (sadly said :() our world is so used to these, that we don't even realize anymore.

    Also, I know that a lot of these Asia cartoons actually originated somewhere in China or Japan.... so I think it is also worth noting that the people who create these stereotypical characters are basically thinking the same exact thing about themselves.

    Any thought??

  2. Hm! I didn't realize this show existed. I think it's awesome that there's a Chinese Dora the Explorer-type show. I don't think I'm offended by Kim's example, but at the same time, why perpetuate the stereotype when they can stop it with the young audience?

    But yea.. I've always thought it was weird that Asians would be doing that to themselves. But I think it's more of a commercial appeal they're going for, not necessarily as an opportunity to correct the Asian stereotype, unfortunately.

    I especially hate the stereotype of Asians in Breakfast at Tiffany's (played by a white man) and even the Asian man in this summer's The Hangover (played by a Korean). Specifically, I wish I knew why Asians would let the stereotype of broken Engrish be the center of their jokes..