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Monday, January 21, 2013

When did pop become the dominant culture?

There was an interesting irem on the Today Programme this morning in which James Naughtie talked to a couple of politicians about the remarks of Liz Forgan, outgoing chair of the Arts Council. She said nowadays politicians are reluctant to let their constituents know they've been to classical concerts or the opera, for fear of being seen as elitist. Whereas, she said, they're happy to be seen going to rock festivals.

This was followed by a very good Start The Week which featured America's foremost classical composer John Adams talking about where "serious" music stands. Adams described popular culture as a behemoth flattening everything in its path. "You can't try on a pair of pants without listening to hip hop," he said.

Of course Adams is right. Pop is now culture's default position. It's unimaginable that a new arts programme or supplement could be launched today without an interview with Damon Albarn or a think piece about Scandinavian detectives. It wasn't always like this. When did this change take place? Some of us grew up in a world where pop was still the sub-culture. It was always being chased up trees by the dominant culture of serious music and serious books and serious people. Pop was the brightly-coloured alternative world into which you could momentarily escape through "Top Of The Pops" every Thursday or every other Wednesday with "Smash Hits".

About fifteen years ago I realised there had been a war between serious culture and pop culture. It had ended and Pop had won. Clearly. Trouble is I have no memory of that war taking place.