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Discrimination and Popular Culture by Denys…
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Discrimination and Popular Culture

by Denys Thompson

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When, as a direct result of the important NUT conference on Popular Culture and Personal Responsibility in 1960, Penguin books published their influential collection of essays, Discrimination and Popular Culture, Thompson was entrusted with the editorship and provided a focusing introduction, which whilst acknowledging some possibility of the media's having a more positive role within society ('They could keep to the fore matters of public concern-art, education, aid to needy countries, the regeneration of towns.') still reinforced the main themes of Culture and Environment:

'Though not all teachers are willing and equipped to give their pupils lessons in discrimination, schools can still pursue one central purpose, and many of them do, supremely well. That is, to bring their pupils into as much contact as possible with the first-rate in art, literature, and music, all widely conceived. The aim is to provide children with standards…against which the offerings of the mass media will appear cut down to size.'

In this book, serious attempts were made to arrive at evaluative criteria for different aspects of popular culture. The essays in Discrimination and Popular Culture adopt extremely varied perspectives on the collective objective of counteracting the debasement of standards resulting from the misuse of the press, radio, cinema and television. The themes are: the machine has led to a lowering of standards through mass production, the resultant decline in quality concealed by the dazzling production values, enhanced by advertising, that technology can bring. Education plays the vital role of teaching children how to discriminate, by providing fine examples of music, art, and literature 'against which the offerings of the mass media will appear cut down to size'

This movement received its official imprimatur with the publication of the Newsom Report in 1963. In words directly echoing Crowther, the report spoke of the need for schools to provide a 'counterbalancing assistance' to the mass media and of the necessity of discrimination:

'We need to train children to look critically and discriminate between what is good and bad in what they see. They must learn to realise that many makers of films and of television programmes present false or distorted views of people, relationships, and experience in general, besides producing much trivial and worthless stuff made according to stock patterns".

This book is, then, a guide to the saccharine world: the world of newspapers, films, radio, TV, pulp magazines, commercial design and rock & pop songs, with their attendant advertising. Must a dead-safe competence be the necessary result, they ask, of the search for big audiences? And is a squalid mediocrity the highest common factor of popular culture, the best we can expect? Is mass culture ultimately unhealthy, degrading taste and discriminatory abilities, and creating an imagination rooted in deprivation?

The jury is no longer out. We must answer all such questions in the affirmative.
2 vote antimuzak | Jun 6, 2006 |
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