What is the meaning of good or bad?  Words no longer mean what they mean, as the hipster, Donatari, in the funniest pastiche by far in a somewhat disappointing Zoolander 2, demonstrates.  Two hapless male models who have hidden themselves away from the world throughout the last decade emerge to find they haven’t got  clue what Donatari’s saying; A hilarious long introduction which is filled with phrases along the lines of, “That’s bad, man, dope!”  are signifiers in the flat World Two, where the “dominant (Platonic) regime of meaning” is replaced by an “anti-system”(109).

We are asked, ‘Who is to decide what is good taste in the first place?” Is Bach better than Hip-Hop? Are flying ducks bad taste? Are they kitsch? Is kitsch ironic good taste?

  • Does Hebdige make a clear distinction between ‘high’ and ‘popular’ culture?
  • Whether he does or not, what are main arguments against what he calls the ‘People of the Post’
  • Explain what you see as the difference between high and popular culture today.
  • In light of developments in the media and other branches of the arts and culture, which is ascendant today, the First or the Second World? Is it flat or round?
  • Find four of five examples of contemporary popular culture, the same of ‘high; round-round world culture and the same of high referencing popular culture. You might like to see if you can find examples of popular culture referencing high culture.

(Quotes, unless stated otherwise, are from Hebdiges essay.)

  • Does Hebdige make a clear distinction between ‘high’ and ‘popular’ culture?

Hebdige makes a distinction between an old societal existence and a new one. In each of those two paradigms there are dominant cultural positions – one that is reflective of the ‘old fashioned ways’ of being in World One and a subsequent cultural position, which is reflective of the new, of modernity. If culture is an expression of those societies which mirrors and informs them, but is also created by them, the whole process a continual back and forth interplay, then it is difficult to say Hebdige is simply discussing one aspect – culture. Rather, he is referring to more expansive, all encompassing seismic shifts – although focusing on two relatively marginal and possibly esoteric cultural objects.  World One is led by the educated few. In World Two the educated few have been shoved aside, and a more ‘populist’ reign has begun. He distinguishes between two modes of being – and very different cultures represent each of them.

He laments the old ways but also acknowledges the lack of democracy and dysfunction there, a place with rules that only a select few were ever lucky enough to be taught, leaving the rest forever outside the inner sanctum, which a tiny ‘priestly caste of scribes’ gain access to (103). He questions the sense of ‘hollowness’, futility, and facile habits which he sees as prevalent in World Two. He sees that whilst things needed to change, World Two offers a void-like, nihilistic alternative.

  • ….what are main arguments against what he calls the ‘People of the Post’
  1. “Truth, insofar as it exists at all, is first and foremost pictured” (105)
  2. They have built a world were “There is nothing underneath or behind the image and hence there is no hidden truth to be revealed”; (105)
  3. Where …”there are no stable systems, categories, or laws beyond the doctrine of the primacy of the image, there is no higher good to be served outside the winning of the game”; (105)
  4. Where “Sense… resides at the level of the atom”; (106)
  5. And …”consumer aesthetics and multiple style elites…” prevail; (106)
  6. It is ….”corrosive and infectious”; (106)
  7. It is a world where “your actual presence is unnecessary”; (107)
  8. Where everything is commodified in some way or other; (108)
  9. It is without norms.
  10. The disciples of the Post aim to render all that we see “meaningless” (making it OK to bully, deride and ambush others since they cannot feel anything of meaning);
  11. They set out to nullify any significance surrounding concepts of good/bad/legitimate/illegitimate; and (109)
  12. “..to replace the dominant (Platonic) regime of meaning – that is representation – by a radical anti-system which promotes the articulation of difference as an end in itself.”;(109)
  13. Making it possible to “erode” authority. (109)
  14. They see the “centralised source” of an “oppressive power” but what actually happens when you remove all meaning is a vast nothingness –empty of meaning leaving us free to “serve whatever gods we choose, to celebrate artifice, to construct ourselves in fiction and fantasy, to play in the blank, empty spaces of the now.” This sounds remarkably similar to the state of being utterly disconnected to any history as quoted in a previous project, explored by Frank Ferudi. (109)
  15. There is no “I”; (110)
  16. ..rendering life “a journey made by nobody to nowhere”; and where (110)
  17. “…Everyone can be …an amateur” “without education” but a little bit of training. (111)
  • Explain what I see as the difference between high and popular culture today

 Privately educated children are fewer and fewer – people can’t afford it and it’s actually thought by some people (well, maybe only a lone journalist) to be ‘trendy’ to send your children to state school nowadays. Those who do go, as they always were, are taught the full range of humanities in ways state education cannot hope to emulate. And in any case the state is continually narrowing the range of subjects and educational focus, even to the point where some schools chose to ignore National Book Day recently since dressing up as characters from stories apparently had no ‘educational’ value. Despite gallant efforts by helicopter parents amongst non-privately educated children there is still a very clear distinction between those educated privately and those who aren’t. High culture is absorbed into privately educated children’s lives. In extreme cases any form of culture, other than what goes on outside of school, is shunned in state schools. (Thankfully the Book Day story is not representative of all state schools but that it can happen at all is noteworthy.)

Conversely ‘high’ culture is often state sponsored, whereas popular culture is far more commercial, reliant entirely on advertising and ticket sales. Ballet, opera, productions at the RSC and National Theatre are funded by relatively large Arts Council grants but even those are under threat. Opera struggles and according to Darren Henly needs to make itself relevant to modern audiences. Even as I write there is a crisis surrounding funding at the ENO which is currently facing bankruptcy, and which receive an enourmous level of subsidy. Bill Bankes-Jones, artistic director of Tête à Tête, stated on Facebook that the sums amounts to £60 per visitor, which compares with less than £1 for other state funded arts organisations. (2016) Henly writes in The Guardian, “The fate of English National Opera’s chorus has stirred angry debate in the last week. Of course I feel concern for individuals in a company, but opera itself faces problems greater than ENO’s if it fails to make itself relevant to 21st century audiences. Arts Council England must keep its eye on the big picture.” (2016)

Popular culture on the other hand such as pop music, commercial TV, and cinema must rely on advertising revenue and the popular vote. Even the BBC although state funded is commercial nowadays – selling programmes and relying on revenue from non-BBC branded channels where they can advertise as well as rerun old programmes which cost nothing to make. Reality television, soap operas and light entertainment dominate the schedules. Over the last 20 years less and less high quality drama is made in relation to the number of channels available because production costs make it prohibitive, meaning less ‘juicy’ work for production crew and actors. That’s been quite a long ongoing trend which people were talking about when I graduated from drama school in 1994.

What’s most interesting and up to date is the culture emerging out of the Internet where names such as Pewdiepie, The Most Famous Artist and Cara Delevingne dominate and astound people with their self-promotion and level of following. I’m astounded anyway – how on earth do they do it? Whatever the answer, these digital-superstars have none of the problems of the ENO. “News that supers such as Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid and Cara Delevingne can charge up to $300,000 per post astonished many. But while few models can expect to earn anywhere near that amount, their posts can still prove lucrative once they establish an engaged following.” (Saul,2016)

How do I know about The Most Famous Artist? My 11 year old son told me. You too can visit his Instagram and see a wide style of paintings, many traditional, which he has picked up in flea markets, and then altered, sometimes simply by dipping them a bit of paint, often by stencilling something over them such as designer logo, and then he sells them onwards. He also posts photographs of his life, including ones where people have derided him in some way. One photograph shows where someone had scrawled “Asshole” on his van (perhaps it was him!). Watch the film about him here: http://www.widewalls.ch/the-most-famous-artist-meaning/. He has only been doing it a couple of years and was a PR digital entrepreneur who lost his business in part by getting naked for a video which went viral, leaving him looking apparently rather ‘foolish’. He attracts a lot of rage but when you consider his day as outlined in the video, he is a very busy, hard working, if not a little sad (and I mean that in the old fashioned sense, rather than the mean-spirited modern sense). The fact he has become so well known, (although most famous of all artists – perhaps not – just the name is evidence of the anti-system Hebdige describes) is thanks to his incredibly good marketing skills, which if you want to be a star via the internet you need to embody. Is he an artist? What he does with paintings isn’t original, whatever that may signify.  Famously Duchamp did it before him, for instance, “adding two small dots, one red and one yellow” to a landscape, as described in David Evan’s anthology, Appropriation. (Duchamp,2009:40) The difference being, Duchamp didn’t have the Internet to hand but also, he “realised very soon the danger of repeating indiscriminately” wanting to protect against such “contamination” (Duchamp,2009:40). Matty Mo (The Most Famous Artist) is certainly someone who is creating ‘art’ within and according to the social constructs of the time in which he lives, doing so indiscriminately and seemingly, although we can only surmise, with the sole purpose of selling; it is the marketing which makes his work qualitatively different to other artists who are primarily driven to explore the human condition. The sadness I touched on earlier is perhaps something I noticed, which relates to the lack of substance in his enterprise.  But then, maybe I’m projecting. Or simply being a snob.  Will he ever be more than a footnote in history, if that? Who on earth can tell how the future will preserve today’s work. And what will emerge as long-lasting. We have an unprecedented digital way of recording nowadays. And when you think about the past, it becomes clear that social mores have a huge influence over who has been lauded to date; and there is now a resorting, as we go back and unearth artists that have been missed thanks to the structures which dictated prosperity. Of course, I am alluding to women artists who weren’t considered valuable during the times they worked in, or even afterwards, and are only now coming to the fore. Hannah Hoch, who I’ve written about several times, being one of them.

Television is not irrelevant nowadays but we watch it mostly via the Internet

Other Internet stars include:

Personalities – Tyler Oakley, Casey Neistat, JennaMarbles, iJustine, Leafyishere (scandal re comments about an autistic person) Rhett & Link, Damn Daniel (given a life-time supply of Vans – shoes –because his friend filmed him and mentioned him wearing them, despite the fact that the video was on Snapchat and deleted within 24 hours)

Unboxing reviewers – TechSmartt, TechRax (tests products, mainly Apple, by destroying them in quite odd and violent ways)

Gamers – Pewdiepie, CinnamonToastKen, Jacksepticeye, Markiplier

Educational videos – Vsauce (philosophy, science, logic), CGP Grey (geography, science of Star Trek, politics) ColdFusion (technology)

Ranters – GradeAUnderA (discovered a mathematical formula but has a nihilistic anti-culture channel) JaclynGlynn, nigahiga

I have my wonderful, clever, funny 11 year old son to thank for this extensive list of Internet personalities (and a contribution or two from a very sweet eight year old who wants to be a YouTuber when he grows up). Both clearly spend far too much time in front of the computer. What they have shared with me though is that although many of these people would undoubtedly be described as coming from a ‘flat’ earth, some of them – particularly the educational ones are not quite so easy to categorise as such. Rhett & Link are funny, thoughtful, amusing and entertaining. Vsauce is filled with incredibly interesting, intelligent articles.  Although my oldest in particular could certainly do with less screen time, he can in no way be described as lacking in deep, complex and astounding thoughts and knowledge. He knows things about the world I would never have known at his age, and tells me things I had no idea about now (mind you – he has done since he could speak!) The other day, in an attempt to help me, he told my youngest, “I know it’s hard to understand, but Mummy has a life separate from us…” And shortly afterwards, “Seriously, Mum, I thought about it and when I think of history, it’s hard to image that it occurred without me. I cannot imagine it without seeing it through my eyes… but I watch people older than me when I’m on the bus and see that they were all my age once…and that a whole world has existed without me.” So, despite growing up in World 2, a flattened place, where it is apparently OK for The Independent*, a supposedly serious media outlet, to post an edited, constructed, article showing an actor feeling upset and openly laughing at his misfortune, which is nothing more complex or clever than small minded bullying, my son is thoughtful, bright, empathetic and interested in others. Presumably there are lots of other children growing up in the digital age just like him.

Our external modern world is interlaced with elements of ‘Kitsch’.  I have just spent the grand total of £3 on some tumblers with small pink flamingoes stencilled on them.  I shall drink my wine out of glasses my father would have been horrified by, rather than wine glasses.  That’s because I want to view myself as someone who is understanding and part of the Kitschiness, which it’s just as clearly “anti-system” as anything I’ve mentioned above (although not cruel to anyone else, perhaps only to any decent wines I might buy, which would be better served in a proper glass).

What artists such as The Most Famous Artist,and before him Jeff Koons, are doing is exploiting the language of “anti-system”.  And presenting it back to a world where all meaning is violently exploding from within itself.  “However, the consequences of the assault on representation for Écrivains and image makers are, on the whole, rather more mundane.  First the referent (the world outside the text) disappears.  Then the signified, and we are left in a world of of radically ’empty’ signifiers. No meaning.  No classes.  No History.  Just a ceaseless procession of simulacra.” (109)

*Perhaps they could sack the person who made the video on The Independent, and film him whilst doing so, and then publish that online too.  Why is The Independent making such things?  How extraordinary and horribly sad that we live in a world where that is not only acceptable but common place.

Hebdige, D. (1999) ‘The bottom line on planet one: squaring up  The Face‘ in Visual Culture: A reader (ed). J. Evans, S. Hall. London: SAGE Publications p 99-124

Henley, D. (2016) ‘English National Opera Singes to Vote on Strike Action‘ in The Guardian (online) http://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/feb/08/english-national-opera-choristers-strike-vote (Accessed on 26th March  2016)

Bankes-Jones, B. (2016) Bill Bankes-Jones (Artisitic Director). At: https://www.facebook.com/billbeejay/posts/10153475856621056 (Accessed on 27 March 2016)

The Most Famous Artist (2016) (Artist). At: https://www.instagram.com/themostfamousartist/?hl=en  (Accessed on 26 March 2016)

Duchamp, M (2009) ‘Apropos of Readymades’ in Appropriation (ed). D. Evans, London, Cambridge Massachusetts:White Chapel Gallery/MIT Press p40

Saul, H. (2016) ‘Instafamous’ on The Independent (online) At:http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/instagram-model-natasha-oakley-iskra-lawrence-kayla-itsines-kendall-jenner-jordyn-woods-a6907551.html (Accessed 27 March 2016)

Barlett, E (2016) ‘Ben Affleck’s face while listening to bad reviews is hilarious‘ on The Independent (online) At: http://indy100.independent.co.uk/article/ben-afflecks-face-while-listening-to-bad-reviews-of-batman-v-superman-is-genuinely-hilarious–WkG992FqWgb (Accessed on 27th March 2016)

Thank you to my two older children for their knowledge of Internet celebrity.

Also – worth saying, not sure I accomplished “notes” here.

Image (c)Sarah-Jane Field 2014


3 thoughts on “Project 2.3: Good Taste

  1. Very well thought-through. I felt quite depressed though! Thank goodness there are young people around like your son/s (and my grandchildren) who are open to the world and think deeply about what’s going on, even if they do spend a lot of time on the computer or iPhone. the other day my youngest grand-daughter told me that one of the teachers said her work flaw was ‘curiosity’. Can you believe that?
    Thinking sideways – and those different worlds – has the world actually changed that much though or are we just talking about different ways of transmitting a message. After all, people used to go and visit ‘lunatic asylums’ to view the inmates.


    1. Catherine, that’s so bizarre! I was been reading about Bedlam only yesterday and about people visiting to ‘view’. I also think about the state of the world, of humanity, the way we behave a lot and agree; there was never any time when people didn’t behave nastily towards each other. So I agree there is a different way of behaving – nowadays, some of which is better for humans than the ‘old way’, and some of which is not. We are basically all dangerous chimps inside, or even angry lizards – but some are more dangerous than others. How we structure our societies is fascinating.


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