Popular performance and the omnivore: the shifting cultural terrain

Price, Jason (2018) Popular performance and the omnivore: the shifting cultural terrain. In: IFTR 2018: University of Arts, Belgrade, Serbia IFTR 2018 International Federation for Theatre Research World Congress, 9-13 July 2018, Belgrade, Serbia.

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Writing in 1965, Susan Sontag identified an important change taking place in modern culture. Rooted in the experiences of mid-twentieth century life and assisted by the development of new technologies, this change – a ‘new sensibility’, she called it – was increasingly rendering the ‘Matthew Arnold idea of culture’ obsolete and weakening the very idea of ‘high’ and ‘low’ art categories (p. 302). By the 1990s, this shift (and capitalism’s global expansion) had re-formed social habits of cultural consumption, as well as attitudes and prejudices regarding social class that had been traditionally associated with the consumption of high and low forms of art. In an important study published in 1992, the American sociologist Richard Peterson showed that one’s social status could no longer be so easily determined by the type of culture an individual consumed, but instead by how much culture – high and low – they consumed. Cultural ‘omnivores’, as Peterson termed them, participate in and know many forms of culture, from popular music to opera, and as a consequence typically enjoy higher social standing. By contrast, the cultural ‘univore’, those who participate in fewer cultural activities, possess lower cultural capital and consequently have a lower social status.

As well as re-defining the terms of the low/high culture/class debate, the cultural shift that has been taking place over the last half century, and Peterson’s assessment of it, has important aesthetic consequences. While it was once unheard of for artists working in elite aesthetic modes to draw upon popular sources, in the current cultural environment, this has become commonplace. Popular forms of culture are no longer considered ignorant, taboo or vulgar: they are widely consumed, appreciated and appropriated into other cultural forms. In this paper, I explore this cultural shift in relation to theatre and performance over the last fifty years. In particular, I will consider how the popular has been (and is being) drawn upon, and into, Western stage practices, as well as the aesthetic consequences of an omnivoric audience for art more generally.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Schools and Departments: School of English > English
Subjects: N Fine Arts
N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
Depositing User: Jason Price
Date Deposited: 26 Nov 2018 13:02
Last Modified: 26 Nov 2018 16:00
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/80398

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