Elite culture is widely studied by critics. Elite culture can be defined as those “high” cultural forms and institutions that were exclusive to, and a distinguishing characteristic of, modern social elites. It is a term that particularly references the cultural tastes of the established aristocracy, the commercial bourgeoisie, educated bureaucrats and political power breakers, and the professions in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Elite culture is considered to be a very “high” and “intellectual” culture. It has very closed cultural domains, more omnivorous and less free as compared to popular culture.
Elite culture prevails on very few scales and it has a bounded structure. It is sometimes marginalized by popular culture, but it always affects popular culture. In simpler words, we can say that elite culture means the literary and artistic culture of educated and wealthy ruling classes. Elite culture is institutionally expressed in universities, academies, coffee houses, libraries and Masonic lodges. These are some ways where elite culture can be recognized. And they become symbols of elite class and elite culture.
The culture of the wealthy minority section of the population was projected as the ‘standard’ or ‘true’ culture. So, academic studies would look at ‘great works of art’ or ‘classical authors’. The taste of the elite culture is concierge to be very high and standard. Some examples are classical songs, classical thought provoking intellectual documentary movies, picture and art galleries can be called as examples of elite culture. Thus, greatness, standardization and intellectuality are important for elite culture.
Popular culture Vs Elite culture: Comparison with an example:
Popular culture is a culture for the majority and Elite culture is considered and known as ‘high’ or ‘great’, ‘intellectual’ culture. Popular culture is considered as ‘law’ and ‘mass’ culture. Meanings are governed by power relations and elite culture. Elite culture controls the terms of the debate.
Elite culture, as known as great, is respected by popular culture. But elite culture rejects and insults popular culture. Non-elite views on life and art are rejected as ‘tasteless’, ‘useless’ or even stupid by elites. For example, hit films are always rejected by some elite critics and they always praise controversial and critical ‘high’ non-popular movies. Elite culture is of a literary and educated wealthy elite group. But popular culture is of common, simple, rural and unliterary people of mass or society.
Hence, elite culture is always expressed in universities, libraries, while popular culture is unwritten and oral. Folklores, fairs and entertaining television serials are examples of popular culture. Elite culture is always ambiguous and never simple. But popular culture is very simple and presents human emotions and human life as it is, in a simple, understandable way. For example, classical music, philosophical literature, grammar schools, critical analyses, poetry, encyclopedias are always liked by elites, and they show elite culture, whereas folk music, popular sports, movies, entertainer arts, news papers, novels are examples of popular culture.
Popular culture reflects a real mentality, portraying a true picture of the society. Elite culture reflects the highness or greatness of that society, not accessible to all. So, if we want to study real society and human nature, one ought to study popular culture. Elite culture is one part of popular culture but elite culture becomes different and separate from popular culture. Majority of popular culture never sees or studies elite culture but popular culture is a subject of study of elite culture.
But after studying popular culture, many times elite culture rejects it as stupidity. And popular culture always sees elite culture as respected though not having studied it or owing to the structural denial to study it. For example, the majority of society does not read the writing of Rabindranath Tagore or Shakespeare’s plays given that these are known as respectable arts. But any critic or elite does not study famous novels of contemporary writers seriously, considering these as art and relegating them to the realm of popular culture.
Thus, popular culture is graffiti, comic books, mass cinema as opposed to art cinema, popular music as opposed to classical music, the open spaces of the city as opposed to art galleries, sports, television serials etc.
Both cultures are important for study. Popular culture is the set of beliefs, values and practices that are widely shared. While popular culture is a true reflection of the society, elite culture reflects the intellectual level and poise of society profoundly.