The culture and civilization tradition
As this is a little confusing I will use simplified definitions set out by John Storey, 1 the ability to know what is best. 2 what is best 3 the mental and spiritual application of what is best 4 the pursuit of what is best (10) Arnold used this way of seeing culture in his work; the study into the systems of society of the country. He sees popular culture as a means to prevent anarchy, but that allowing the working class to develop culture and politics separate from the elite of society is to promote discourse. Throughout his work Arnold has very clear views over society, he separated it up into three distinct groups.
First there is the Barbarians (aristocracy) second the Philistines (middle class) and last the Populace (working class). He also sees society as a whole possessing ‘ a common basis of human nature’ (11) however he seams to think that the Barbarians and Philistines have a better developed basis of human nature than the Populace. As john Storey says, ‘Arnold seems to be suggesting that the aristocracy and middle classes are further along the evolutionary continuum than the working class’ (12) This follows through that everyone has a place in society and that all should look to their betters for guidance.
So Arnold, although being the pioneer of modern cultural thinking, seems to have been restricted by tradition and his place in society. Therefore his outlook on today’s popular culture simply could not work without some adaptation. He appears to have a fear of the working class and really doesn’t try to understand their culture other than from the view that it must be controlled to some extent. If their culture was left to develop alone it would be unchanging; ‘the mass of mankind will never have an ardent zeal (to better themselves), very inadequate ideas will always satisfy them’ (13)
Arnold’s view lasted for nearly a century until the 1930’s when F. R. Leavis and his wife Queeny Leavis picked up the baton with their publications Mass Civilisation and Minority Culture and Fiction and the reading public. Their ideas were developed in the period between the wars, a time in which they had seen the Wall Street crash in America, along with the building up through the press of movies and film stars, and to some extent American subcultures.
This contrasted with the disillusionment of the British public with their government over the handling of the war. There was a general, mainly in the middle classes, worry of society falling into chaos. The public was dissatisfied with the upper classes and religion because of their involvement and leadership during the war – a style of command that resulted in many lower class men loosing their lives in the trenches. It was this at time that great developments were made in democracy and a move was made away from the direct rule of the monarchy.
It wasn’t so much that the working classes were able to get into authority or government, but they did have more of a say over proceedings. Leavisism is based on the idea, created by Arnold that the ruling class minority of society dictates the rituals of the masses. Since the Industrial revolution a wish and an ability of the lower classes to follow their own desires had eroded this dictation. Leavisism believed that steps must be taken to bring them back into the fold.
Where Arnold is remorseful of the falling of the feudal system, Queeny is nostalgic for the time when the masses exhibited an unquestioning ascent to authority. (14) She and her husband believed that Arnold’s feared anarchy had already come to pass and that through education the lower classes should be instructed out of their subversive culture. Their suggestions for this education included the ‘reading’ of adverts in terms of ‘them and us’, the masses and the educated respectively. F. R. Leavis promoted his own form of education and examination in popular culture with reference to media.
He suggested that pupils in the final years before higher education looked at adverts in terms of questions, some of which would be relevant and helpful today, as well as some questions that confirm the status of the elitism. Questions such as “What do you think his attitude would be towards us, how would he behave in situations where mob passions run high? ” (With reference to a Tobacco advert and the subject therein). (15) Q. D. Leavis believed that products of popular culture such as Films and trash novels have an almost hypnotic effect over their audience that people became de-educated by them.
They evolve an under culture which detracts from high culture. She therefore sees the modern media as an enemy to the idealist vision of a national culture, where the only option of theatre provided a unilateral version of culture. Leavisism could be said to be anti-capitalist as it dislikes the commercial interests of the 19th and 20th centuries where the rising middle classes were attempting to use the working classes wish to escape by selling them dreams in the form of cultural products.
Leavisism tapped into a train of thought of the time which was nostalgic for a more settled time before the rising up of commercial interests, when the working classes were directly answerable to the their land owners. The culture and civilization tradition was a way of looking at the changing world and trying to put it back to how it was. The Culture and Civilization tradition was used as a tool for a nai?? ve community to try and understand how the media effected society. Arnold developed his theory to explain societies social order and authority, and the importance of cultural subordination to the maintenance of this.
Leavisism used is it to explain how media products were contributing to an unsettled system of authority. This way of looking at media studies died out during the 1950’s when society as whole changed with wider expectance of new things and the evolution of thought towards individuality.
(1) John Storey, Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: an introduction (third edition), Pearson Education, 2001, p. 17 (2) Mathew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy, London: Cambridge University Press, 1960, p. 6 (3) John Storey, Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: an introduction (third edition), Pearson Education, 2001, p.
18 (4) Mathew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy, p. 42 (5) Ibid. p. 89 (6) Ibid. p. 179 (7) Ibid. p. 163 (8) Ibid. p. 164 (9) John Storey, Cultural Theory and Popular Culture, p. 19 (10) Ibid. (11) Mathew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy, p. 105 (12) John Storey, Cultural Theory and Popular Culture, p. 19 (13) Matthew Arnold, poetry and prose, London: Robert Hart Davis, 1954 p. 364 (14) Mathew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy, p. 23 (15) Leavis and Thompson, Culture and Environment Greenwood press, 1977, p. 17?