Culture or Culchure


This article written by Nick Lacey sets out to try to answer the question:


Points from the article:

  • low vs high culture debate is fuelled by politicians, education ministers, cultural critics and the media.

If someone was asked who are the greatest writers of all time we may hear names such as Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens and TS Elliot. In music names such as Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. But why is it that this is the case, some of the people who answer that question may not have even read or heard these writers or composers work so how would they know.

According to the French philosopher Pierre Bourdieu by knowing “great works of art” people believe they have cultural capital which would enable them to become part of the ‘elite’. There is this idea that knowing the ‘classics’ means that you are somehow better prepared in the world and if for some reasons you aren’t knowledgeable on something that is classed as a ‘classic’ then it is a very bad thing indeed. However why should someone have to have read a certain book to be allowed in the ‘elite’ group, I feel this group is a little bit clicky. However this distinction in classes is said to now be far less important that in the past as both high and low culture is available to all classes in some way, shape or form. All classes have a high range of media available to them and can decide what and how they want to experience it.

There is now also the idea that age, gender and ethnicity also have a part in determine what texts are for cultural capital. For example I have had little experience of the ‘classics’ during my time at school however have broadened my knowledge of TV Drama, Arthouse films and music videos. In a time of postmodernism there is no reason why as a media student I can’t compare a soap opera and Shakespeare’s pieces.

There is a problem with having such a high range of texts available to us, how on earth are we going to find out what is worth experiencing? If we only read, watch, play etc what is most popular we may be denying ourselves all the niche texts, we could be missing out on the ‘long tail’. There are many lists and polls of “the greatest [insert media here] of all time”, if I haven’t seen many of these things on these lists does that mean I’m missing out or have I made my own list that is more important to me?

Quentin Tarantino films don’t really fit into a category but are a combination of things such as  high-end French New Wave and low-end Grindhouse trash. He has entered into contemporary cinema with a combination of intertextuality of the greatest of cinema history and a new incredibly unique take on narratives. He has blurred the line between high and low culture, the clever narrative and contemporary style and camera work caters for the high culture while the comedy and action caters for the low culture, not that both could be admired by either culture it’s just what you decide to love about his films.

Tarantino’s films are discussed in all circles of people, whatever class. He saw cinema as one, not being put into any groups. He became familiar with all type of film for his job at a video store and you can see this knowledge of films from different genres, different artistic movements and different periods shine through in his films.

‘It’s like a wax museum with a pulse”

We see lots of intertextuality in Pulp Fiction:

  • In the restaurant Mia and Vincent visit, we see the staff impersonating iconic figures such as Marlyin Monroe and Buddy Holly, both figures of popular culture.
  • Jules deciding to “wander the earth” like Kane in televisions Kung Fu.
  • There are also very small references such as the scene where Butch is deciding which weapon to use, we see a chain saw (Texas Chain Saw Massacre).

The term ‘nobrow’ has now been introduced into the film world, used to define the less direct reliance in high/low distinctions and a greater leaning towards the notion of one, all encompassing, cultural recognition.


There is an argument that all of these post modern films are merely just a grouping together of references to past work with no innovation of their own. However the creativity involved in a postmodern text such as Pulp Fiction is so great that it makes these type of films a whole new movement that cleverly integrates the old and new. Tarantino “is not degrading, but reclaiming culture” and then adding his own, fresh, flair.



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