We've all got taste now

High Pop
October 31, 2003

This collection takes what it identifies as the popularisation of elite tastes for mass audiences as its starting point. In the introduction, editor Jim Collins talks about "a new stage in the ever-shifting relationship between 'high art' and popular culture".

The main body of the book breathlessly includes opera, signature and the brand, television cooking, home improvements, museums and department stores over nine chapters. There is an emphasis on cinema with silver-screen Orientalism, blockbuster films and celluloid literary adaptations.

Unlike many books of this nature, which include boasts that they are "essential reading for all students of..." followed by a cut-and-pasted list of academic disciplines, High Pop claims that its principal function is "to issue a challenge to the project of cultural studies to focus on all-but-ignored forms of mainstream culture".

So how useful would this volume be to the average cultural or leisure studies student? It is probably too specialised to be of wide application on general reading lists of core courses. It is also trying to make a statement rather than to restate classic positions. The book's US-centredness is noticeable. Brits are in there, such as John Storey whose examples of opera betray his UK moorings (for example, Pavarotti's free Hyde Park concert in 1991). But the chapter on TV chefs overlooks the Jamie Oliver phenomenon; Toby Miller of New York University gets only as far as Delia Smith and Keith Floyd.

Studies of taste in popular culture are not new: the late Pierre Bourdieu's on "distinction" was probably the most influential. In the final chapter, Celia Lury makes the bold claim that "the vocabulary of distinction is... momentarily at least, inadequate", citing what she calls "the disorganisation of taste" by which objects become more specialised. Her lack of cross-referencing to earlier chapters reinforces the impression that High Pop is really a series of discrete chapters rather than a real book.

This collection contains some thought-provoking material but will not set the bestseller lists afire.

Rupa Huq is lecturer in leisure management, University of Manchester.

High Pop: Making Culture into Popular Entertainment

Editor - Jim Collins
Publisher - Blackwell
Pages - 230
Price - £55.00 and £15.00
ISBN - 0 631 22210 3 and 22211 1

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