"Low culture" is a derogatory term for forms of popular culture that have mass appeal. Its contrast is "high culture", which can also be derogatory. It has been said by culture theorists that both high culture and low culture are subcultures. Popular culture is mass produced by what has been called by socialist culture analyst Theodor Adorno the "culture industry".[5]

From a series of woodcuts (1545) usually referred to as the Papstspotbilder or Papstspottbilder in German or Depictions of the Papacy in English,[1] by Lucas Cranach, commissioned by Martin Luther.[2] Title: Kissing the Pope's Feet.[3] German peasants respond to a papal bull of Pope Paul III. Caption reads: "The Pope speaks: Our sentences are to be feared, even if unjust. Response: Be damned! Behold, o furious race, our bared buttocks."[4]

Standards and definitionsEdit

In his book Popular Culture and High Culture, Herbert J. Gans gives a definition of how to identify and create low culture:

Aesthetic standards of low culture stress substance, form being totally subservient, and there is no explicit concern with abstract ideas or even with fictional forms of contemporary social problems and issues. ... Low culture emphasizes morality but limits itself to familial and individual problems and [the] values, which apply to such problems. Low culture is content to depict traditional working class values winning out over the temptation to give into conflicting impulses and behavior patterns.

— Herbert Gans, [6]

Culture as classEdit

Herbert Gans states in his book Popular Culture and High Culture that the different classes of culture are linked correspondingly to socio-economic and educational classes.[7] For any given socio-economic class, there is a culture for that class. Hence the terms high and low culture and the manifestation of those terms as they appeal to their respective constituents.


Physical artefacts from low culture are normally small, cheaply and often crudely made, in contrast to the often grand public art or luxury objects of high culture. The cheapness of the materials, many perishable, generally means that survivals to modern times are rare. There are exceptions, especially in pottery and graffiti on stone. An ostracon is a small piece of pottery (or sometimes stone) which has been written on, for any of a number of purposes, among which curse tablets or more positive magical spells such as love magic are common. Wood must have been a common material, but only survives for long periods in certain climatic conditions, such as Egypt and other very arid areas, and permanently wet and slightly acid peat bogs.

Once printing (and paper) became relatively cheap, by the late Renaissance, popular prints became increasingly widespread, and cheap texts of street literature such as broadsides and sheets with broadside ballads, typically new topical words to a familiar tune. These became extremely common, but were treated as ephemera, so that survivals are few.

Much traditional folk music was only written down, and later mechanically recorded, in the 19th century, when nationalist sentiment in many countries made it of interest to middle class enthusiasts.

Mass mediaEdit


All cultural products (especially high culture) have a certain demographic to which they appeal most. Low culture appeals to very simple and basic human needs plus offers a perceived return to innocence,[8] the escape from real world problems, or the experience of living vicariously through viewing someone else’s life on television.[9]


Low culture can be formulaic, employing trope conventions, stock characters and character archetypes in a manner that can be perceived as more simplistic, crude, emotive, unbalanced, or blunt compared to high culture's implementations—which may be perceived as more subtle, balanced, or refined and open for interpretations.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Oberman, Heiko Augustinus (1994). The Impact of the Reformation: Essays. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 61. ISBN 978-0802807328.
  2. ^ Edwards, Mark U. Jr. (2004). Luther's Last Battles: Politics And Polemics 1531-46. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Fortress. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-8006-3735-4.
  3. ^ In Latin, the title reads "Hic oscula pedibus papae figuntur"
  4. ^ In Latin mixed with some Italian at the end, the caption reads "PAPA LOQVITUR. Sententiae nostrae etiam iniustae metuendae sunt. Responsio. Maledetta Aspice nudatas gens furiosa nates. Ecco qui Papa el mio belvedere."
  5. ^ Lane Crothers (2021). Globalization and American Popular Culture. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 48. ISBN 9781538142691.
  6. ^ Gans, Herbert (1999) [1958]. Popular Culture and High Culture: An Analysis and Evaluation of Taste. New York City: Basic Books. p. 115. ISBN 978-0465026098.
  7. ^ Gans, pg. 7
  8. ^ Tomasino, Anna (2006). Discovering Popular Culture. London, England: Pearson Education. p. 211. ISBN 978-0321355966.
  9. ^ Mazur, Eric; Koda, Tara K. (2000). "The Happiest Place on Earth: Disney's America and the Commodification of Religion". In Mazur, Eric; McCarthy, Kate (eds.). God in the Details: American Religion in Popular Culture. Abingdon, England: Routledge. p. 307. ISBN 978-0415485371.