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English 2017 Final: English 2017 Final Notes

Course Code
English 2017
Nigel Joseph
Study Guide

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Lecture 1
Two ways of approaching Pop Culture: historically, by noting that it comes into existence when
technology permits mass reproduction of text, images, and sounds; and by contrasting it with what is
sometimes assumed to be its binary opposite, high culture (or sometimes just culture).
For many theorists, technology is the crucial element in the genesis of popular culture:
Popular culture is inextricably linked to technology. It is [… the hild of ode teholog, holl
dependent for its extension on modern techniques of duplicating and multiplying materials (high speed
presses, cheaper paper, new ways of graphic representation) along with much more effective and less
costly methods of production and distiutio ‘ussel B. Ne.]
The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936) Walter Benjamin
[I piiple a ok of at has alas ee epoduile. Ma-made artifacts could always be imitated
by men. Replicas were made by pupils in practice of their craft, by masters for diffusing their works, and,
finally, by third parties in the pursuit of gain. Mechanical reproduction of a work of art, however,
represents something new... Around 1900, technical reproduction had reached a standard that not only
permitted it to reproduce all transmitted works of art and thus to cause the most profound change in
thei ipat upo the puli; it also had aptued a plae of its o aog the atisti poesses.]
High art vs. popular culture
One of the most enduring cultural distinctions has been that of high vs. low, or high vs. popular. High
culture is assumed to be difficult, complex, demanding, and, ultimately, deeply satisfying. It is assumed
to have a moral effect on the listener: it makes him/her a better person, more disciplined, focused and
restrained. Popular culture, on the other hand, is assumed to be easy to absorb, simple, formulaic,
repetitive, unchallenging and shallow. It can be consumed with little effort: in fact, it encourages its
own passive consumption. It is also (especially in its musical manifestations) overtly sexualized, claim
many of its critics, its pounding rhythms imitating suggestively the rhythms of the sexual act (though
Adorno, interestingly, claims that the rhythms of popular music both imitate and prepare us for the very
different rhythms of industrial mechanized life). The conservative critics of popular culture are united in
arguing that most popular culture makes us into passive consumers of inferior, interchangeable, art-
The following listing suggests a fairly typical way in which the high culture vs. popular culture binary is
set up, usually by critics who value the former:
High Culture
Low Culture/Popular Culture
Difficult pleasures, challenging, intellectual
Immediate and easily pleasurable
Intended to stay in your consciousness
Intended to be consumed at once
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In class we watched and listened to a recording of Mstislav Rostropovich playing the Gavotte from Cello
Suite No 6 in D Major by Johann Sebastian Bach. We discussed the way the audience is encouraged to
espod i etai distitie as to a lassial, high at pefoae. We also athed the Beoé
Super Bowl performance, as an example of typical popular culture.
Rostropovitch playing Bach cello suite, Beyoncé performing at the Super Bowl
- Solitary performer, introspection, religious undertones
- Formal clothing, asexuality
- Demands on the listener
- Pleasure: differently evoked
- Different relationship with the audience
- Different kinds of community
It is tempting to read the Beyoncé “upe Bol pefoae as staged, ee oeheligl staged.
But in reality, both performances are equally staged, equally shaped to send us certain messages. If the
Super Bowl performance is overtly sexual, acrobatic, loud, and celebratory, the Rostropovitch concert
addresses us (and constructs us) as quiet, reverential, highly cultured and disciplined viewers and
listeners. In the Beyoncé performance, we are invited to enjoy the co-ordination of the various
performers, the sexuality, the agility and expertise of the dancers, and the vocal skills of the singers. The
classical concert, on the other hand, also exerts a kind of ideological pressure: the absence of any sign of
recording devices or an audience (and the connotations that a church always carries) suggest that the
performance takes place in an idealized space, outside the influence of commerce and industry.
How might one approach an analysis of the two performances? Below is one possible response.
Analyze the two performances (Rostropovitch playing a movement from the Bach cello suites and
Beyoncé performing at the Super Bowl in 2013)
Perhaps the most significant difference between the two performances involved the relationship
between the musician and the audience. The cellist made virtually no eye-contact with the audience
(that is to say, he did not look at the camera), while Beyoncé went out of her way to engage with the
audience, frequently making eye contact, reaching out physically, kneeling on the apron close to the
fas ad epeatedl ugig the audiee to ig thei hads togethe. “he also eouaged the
audience to sing along. We may say that she actively tried to create a community of performers and
audience, while the cellist created a different kind of community: perhaps of like-minded aficionados of
the difficult music that was being played.
Another significant difference was in the multi-sensorial assault of the Beyoncé performance. The
audience was overwhelmed by sounds of various kinds (voices, multiple instruments, applause) while
the backdrop featured bright lights, smoke, multiple images of the performers, and the choreographed
bodies of the chorus of dancers, singers and instrumentalists. In the Rostropovitch performance, the
audiees attetio is foused o a sigle elod, ad o the tehiue of the ellist the aea
registered his fingering, and occasionally panned away to the walls and windows of the church in which
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the performance took place). If the Beyoncé performance celebrated the noisy glamour of triumphant
capitalism, sports, and personal sexual appeal, the Rostropovitch performance attempted to suggest
that the listener/viewer was privileged to hear a spiritual communion between a solitary, talented artist
and his Creator (the church, the music). The Beyoncé performance evoked immediately gratifying
sensual/sexual pleasure, while the Rostropovitch performance encouraged a contemplative and
introspective mood. The Rostropovitch performance probably fed into a feeling of the elitism of the
viewer/listener, while the Beyoncé performance celebrated a kind of equality (though it is noticeable
that Beyoncé, like all celebrity performers, was never in any danger of being in too much physical
proximity to fans, some of whom may have been dangerous).
The Beyoncé performance also clearly involved considerable group work and co-ordination, while the
Rostropovitch performance seemed to rely on the expertise of a single dedicated performer. This also
seems to feed into the idea of a community demonstrating its solidarity and oneness.
I tes of politis, the Beoé pefoae as delieatel stutued to shoase Beoés
feminism, with an all-female chorus and instrumentalists (as one commentator put it, the show signified
a oe fo dad ok to gil-poe, ad efeees to Blak Poe.
There was also a crowd-pleasig effot to eoke ostalgia, ith the Destis Child siges eig iefl
re-united. Such nostalgia serves to reinforce audience oneness, by evoking a shared past. The
Rostropovitch performance perhaps drew on a more covert politics, one which claimed an apolitical
eae of eautiful usi ut atuall eouaged a etai kid of elusio ol soe people a
appreciate the complex melodies and harmonies of Bach?).
The Beyoncé performance used technology openly: the cello performance carefully concealed signs of
technology-use. This pehaps eflets pop ultues taspaetl sioti o depedet elatioship
with technology.
My personal preference was for the Beyoncé performance. The coming together of singing, dancing and
the lights was spectacular! What it sometimes lacked in technical excellence it made up for in
excitement and sheer bodily vigour. Watching it was exhilarating: I felt close to the other people there.
The cello concert made me feel alone and isolated. Also, I responded strongly to the feminist and anti-
racist subtext of the Beyoncé performance, while watching an elderly man play slow music on an old
instuet didt eall egage e…
I personally liked the Rostropovitch performance. It did not have the superficial razzmatazz quality of
the Super Bowl performance. The music was deeply engaging at an intellectual level, while the Beyoncé
performance was much too sexually suggestive, crude, and seemed to be mainly a vehicle for Beyoncé
to poote heself. The lights ad souds ee oepoeig, ad I didt feel I had tie to think or
espod adeuatel
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