Culture as a Process in Levine's Highbrow, Lowbrow Essay examples

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Culture as a Process in Levine's Highbrow, Lowbrow

In Highbrow, Lowbrow, Levine argues that a distinction between high and low culture that did not exist in the first half of the 19th century emerged by the turn of the century and solidified during the 20th century, and that despite a move in the last few decades toward a more ecumenical interpretation of “culture,” the distinction between high art and popular entertainment and the revering of a canon of sacred, inalterable cultural works persists. In the prologue Levine states that one of his central arguments is that concepts of cultural boundaries have changed over the period he treats. Throughout Highbrow, Lowbrow, Levine defines culture as a process rather than a fixed entity,
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Around the turn of the century, he argues that Americans lost their love of and patience with oratory. At the same time, those who read Shakespeare’s plays began to insist that the Bard’s talent as a poet went unappreciated when his plays were performed alongside farces, juggling acts, and other popular forms of entertainment. Theatres began to perform Shakespeare’s plays less frequently, and isolated from the other acts that formerly accompanied them. Parodies and alterations of Shakespeare became less popular and even seen as blasphemy. Shakespeare’s works moved from the body of common cultural knowledge to the realm of high art worthy of study by the elite and educated, not crude enjoyment by the masses. This shift in conception of Shakespeare’s place in American culture did not happen suddenly and was not fully accepted, as evinced by the conflict between Mcready and Forrest and the subsequent riots as the masses defended the rights of the audience and the popular theatrical styles while the elite insisted that “discreet” audiences should be privileged to view the plays enacted with more decorum. Those who wished to divorce Shakespeare from popular culture appear to have won in the 20th century, as Shakespeare is now viewed as an artist to be admired and studied but whose works aren’t accessible to the population as a whole, and are certainly not to be compared with popular entertainment, despite their origins as such.
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