I do not want to succumb to the elitism that makes sharp distinctions between popular and high culture.
[Footnote] See, for example the telling review of Kenneth A. Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture (Westchester: Crossway, 1989), written by William Edgar and published in Westminster Theological Journal 53 (1991): 377–80.
From Bill Edgar’s review:
Despite the many attractive features of this book, and the welcome emphasis on apologetics for the ordinary modern person, this reviewer has serious reservations about some of its basic assumptions. The most questionable is the concept of popular culture itself. Myers divides the cultural world up sharply between those things that belong to basically good high culture, and those that belong to basically problematic popular culture. He equates high culture with tradition, and attributes to it such characteristics as focusing on timelessness, encouraging reflection, requiring training and ability, conforming to the created order, referring to the transcendent, etc. (p. 120). By contrast, popular culture focuses on the new and instantaneous, is a leisure activity, appeals to sentimentality, is individualistic, and tends toward relativism.
This view has many advocates, including such strange bedfellows as C. S. Lewis and Jacques Ellul. But at best it is an élitism, and at worst it is Marxist or dialectical. Myers believes popular culture is a child of modernity in general, and of the Industrial Revolution in particular. His thesis is that modernity creates an atmosphere of boredom for society, and that in order to escape from the meaninglessness of technology, exciting distractions are needed (pp. 60–61.). While it is true that the Industrial Revolution affected art in various ways, the real picture is not so simple. Some high art was escapist, perhaps far more so than low art. And much popular culture is deep, rich, and full of meaning. Partly through technology, art of all kinds has been made available to all kinds of people. But this democratization does not lead inevitably to degeneration, as Myers contends.
One of the difficulties is an assumption that confuses the greater degree of density of high culture with depth of meaning, and mistakes the seriousness of high art with beauty. . . .
In his brief closing chapter, Myers anticipates the criticism of his being too negative. He reassures the reader that it is possible to enjoy popular culture without falling into its idols (p. 180). Yet he has not given us any positive elements to enjoy.
Update: Cf. D. A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 1:
Not very long ago, “culture” commonly referred to what is now meant by “high culture.” For instance, we might have said, “She has such a cultured voice.” If a person read Shakespeare, Goethe, Gore Vidal, Voltaire, and Flaubert, and listened to Bach and Mozart while reading a slender volume of poetry, all the while drinking a mild Chardonnay, he was cultured; if he read cheap whodunits, Asterix, and Eric Ambler—or, better yet, did not read at all—while drinking a beer or a Coke, all the while listening to ska or heavy metal and paying attention to the X-Box screen with the latest violent video game, he was uncultured. But this understanding of “culture” must, sooner or later, be challenged by those who think of “high” culture as a species of elitism, as something intrinsically arrogant or condescending. For them, the opposite of “high culture” is not “low culture” but “popular culture,” with its distinct appeal to democratic values. But even the appeal to “popular culture” is not very helpful for our purposes, because it appeals to only one part of “culture”: presumably there are various forms of “unpopular culture” out there too.