Elitist Pop Culture or The Need For Content
e-lit’ist /belonging to a group or class of persons or a member of such a group or class, enjoying superior intellectual, social, or economic status
pop-u-lar / fit for, adapted to, or reflecting the taste of the people at large
cul-ture / 1 the totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought; 2 intellectual and artistic activity and the works produced by it
1 The traditional avant-garde
Avant-garde arts have always played an important role in the Western society. Through introductory and innovating research in form and content artists developed new ideas that later found there place in society at large. Since the beginning the avant-garde distinguishes itself through:
-a militant and activist character;
-radical ways of expression;
-a non-conformist attitude;
-a battle for the future combined with a heroic attitude;
-the redefinition of the relationship between high and popular culture;
-a critical attitude towards (artistic) institutes;
-the production of anti-art (the avant-garde is against the past in all its forms and only interested in destroying the old values and traditions. Through this an anti-art came into being, an art form that has no relation with the aesthetic tradition. Even to the avant-garde tradition itself no honor is paid.).
2 There is always a need for an avant-garde
The avant-garde lost most of her value when after the Second World War the term and the concept got a broader exposure and became popularized. Before the avant-garde was the vanguard in the arts with a style of their own (the anti-style). As a movement the avant-garde fought against the stagnating powers in society. The traditional enemy was the bourgeoisie.
At the end of the nineteen-fifties and the beginning of the nineteen-sixties the avant-garde became unexpectedly and unintentionally successful. This didn’t mean the ideas ventilated in the expressions got more exposure and became widely spread. The contrary happened.
Pop art as an avant-garde style was both aesthetically and in content acceptable to the public at large, despite the fact that it was a reaction against the consumer society. Pop art expressions reflected and criticized popular culture, which consisted of symbols without value and content.
The critical aspect of Pop art missed its aim and the term avant-garde became popularized in mass culture. This marks what you could call the decline of the true avant-garde. Style and content were bend into acceptable forms.
This process of decline was possible and accelerated due to the use of the term in the mass media and the incorporation of the avant-garde aesthetics in popular culture. Exposure of the deformed style to the public at large through mainstream channels led to acceptation.
At the same time the position of the artist in society changed. This partly due to the rise of state regulated public art education (which meant a centralization of ideas and technical formulas and procedures of what is “good art”). Next to that the position of the artist in society changed due to social acceptation of the artists as an occupation. This was accelerated of course by the rise of the state institutions of art education.
Despite that after Pop art there were a few more radical movements the overall mood around art, and therefore also avant-garde art, had changed. Art had to be funny and accessible. This tendency is still present.
However, from the end of the nineteen-seventies a new avant-garde movement took shape. This is what we, the Elitepop platform, call Elitist Pop Culture. Elitepop thus sees itself not as the originator or the only exponent of this movement. But, we are responsible for giving it its name, the definition and the establishment of a new platform for associated art expressions.
Elitist Pop Culture makes use of forms of popular culture that are made artistic again. This takes shape during a conversion which can be done in two ways.
– Forms of popular culture, or popularized artistic expressions, are made artistic through adding content and/or applying different ways of production, distribution and/or promotion as is used in popular culture. Thus the content and context of the original forms and expressions are changed.
-Unpopular content is used in popular forms. So-called politically incorrect (socially unwanted) symbolism is used in popular cultural forms.
The result from this conversion of cultural forms is that the newly created expressions cannot be popularized because of their radical and elitist nature and/or nonconformist character when it comes to content, production and/or promotion.
This doesn’t however mean that all expressions need to be a progressive or shocking. They can be conservative and Neo-Romantic as well. Essential is that all Elitist Pop expressions articulate an uncommon idea or feeling. It has something to say that is not heard everyday.
Thus, popular cultural expressions are made artistic and are meant for a selective group of interested people. These people understand certain codes and are able to decode the piece of work and by doing that understand the meaning of the work and give value to the work.
Summarizing this makes clear that Elitist Pop Culture is a combination of avant-garde attitudes and popular culture elements. The avant-garde has an orientation on solving technical and aesthetical problems. Popular culture works with formulas and standardized procedures.
Elitist Pop Culture brings forth deviating artistic expressions and/or technical and aesthetical renewal through the use of formulas and standardized procedures.
This way the artistic work expresses:
-social and political values that are critical, deviating from and/or defying the dominant culture;
-a redefinition of the relation between high art and popular culture;
-a critical attitude towards (artistic) institutes and their way of working.
We like to call this the revenge of the avant-garde as there is a conversion of popular culture into artistic expressions. Meaning and symbolism is brought back into art. Ironically this is done through the same ritual that was applied by Pop art expressions, and which had turned avant-garde art into something acceptable in the past.
Next to that Elitist Pop Culture is produced, distributed and promoted in niches. There is a protective attitude towards the expressions and the exposure of them in society at large. All activities take place within a specific network that is set up by the people involved in the creative process themselves. Also all activities are financed with private money. No use is made of established institutes and organizations in the production, distribution and promotion process. Everything takes place outside the common artistic spheres to secure true independence.
Just like the traditional avant-garde the Elitist Pop Culture should be seen as a movement, this because it is about more then just artistic expressions. It is about a creative process that articulates a certain perception on reality and in doing this it articulates an explicit view on the world and mankind.
Elitist Pop Culture differs on the other hand on some points with the traditional avant-garde movement as it:
-has respect for the aesthetic tradition and the values of the Old World (awareness about its own past is important to be able to create and develop something new for the movement);
-(therefore) doesn’t reject, and doesn’t use satire to defy, the aesthetic tradition;
-doesn’t display and reflect dominant values but truly defy them;
-doesn’t enfeeble the content from symbols and signs but emphasizes this.
3 The artistic world is characterized by disinterest, conformism and commerce
Original ideas and styles in the arts find their origin more or less spontaneous and are discovered, cherished and valued by a select group of people. These ideas and styles are later taken over and popularized by the culture industry and made a standard by established institutions in the cultural field. At the same time new ideas and styles are taking shape that try to reject and rise above this dominant standard.
Through this a cycle of innovation and establishment of a new style and a set of ideas, and the rejection of that, has come into existence. This cycle is all but a natural one as it is heavily influenced, and shaped by, economic powers and control over markets by a few big players in the field. Monopolies are being formed (think for example about major record labels) which develop into diversified organizations. These organizations are a network on their own and can thus control a complete market cycle of creation, distribution and promotion by themselves. That way they are able to exclude other players in that market.
This cycle is a classic economic cycle that can for example be found in the development of the music industry that started in the United States from the nineteen-fifties and is still present now on global level.
Thus resulted in the situation that major record companies not only take over a certain fashionable sound or style and popularize this but also take over complete labels that served as platform for this style before it became widespread. Due to this a once independent label becomes a division of a large diversified organization. It looses control over the process of creation, distribution and promotion (and thus content). Still the major company will use the original labels independent image to sell the music. A lot of so-called independent labels are in reality not at all independent but mere marketing tools of major companies.
4 Due to the increase of hollow and shapeless cultural consumption products there is a growing need for authentic artistic cultural expressions
Due to the undeniable presence of a large number of uniform commercial cultural products on the global market there is a tendency that more and more people experience the dominant culture as being imposed.
The homogeneous powers that are connected to globalization triggered on a completely different level the interest in deviating cultural expressions from these for the mass manufactured products. Thus, the dominance of the omnipresent and the general has created a demand for the obscure and the specific.
Next to the dominant culture there came in to being more interest for alternatives, the small, the local and the authentic. Authentic, traditional and local cultural expressions have gained a renewed exposure through this. There is a demand for knowledge about (ones own) history, a new unity and a need for a clear identity.
This counter reaction has to be seen in a larger context as part of the resistance against modernity. Modernity is seen here as in the sense of an endless stream of each other swiftly succeeding developments, new trends and technological discoveries.
Artistic cultural expressions appeal to people on a different level as only on the material (satisfaction) or a produced artificial emotional. A true and authentic expression, and the experience of that work, is connected to real emotions. The person experiencing this has the feeling to be part of it and to belong to a select group that is also experiencing that work. It gives direction to existence and provides, or consolidates, ones identity. These are characteristics that cannot be found in products manufactured for the masses, simply because these lack the personal touch of a true artist.
Elitist Pop Culture is a way of resistance against hollow uniform global culture and a way of resistance against the industry and cycle that feeds the world with these products.
An important part in this resistance is the Internet. The Internet is a space that allows different worlds to exist next to each other. With different worlds is meant here different perceptions on reality and the manifestation of these perceptions in everyday reality.
In everyday reality deviating visions on the dominant perception, and the manifestations of these, are being marginalized. On the Internet these different ways of looking at and thinking about reality can exist. They cannot as easily be averted and suppressed as in traditional media.
Next to that the Internet is a world in which one can escape from the dominant (cultural) expressions that are omnipresent in everyday life. The Internet is not a mass medium for passive consumers but an interactive medium for active participants. It is a place for people who know what they want and what they don’t want and who are searching to fulfill their needs in an active way.
5 All art is political / Elitist Pop Culture
To choose for artistic autonomy and true independence on a business level is a political choice against the hollow and shapeless culture industry and against the dominant and tunnel vision perception and manifestation of reality.
If an expression has not adopted an explicit or implicit position on the above described situation it may not be defined as art.
Elitist Pop Culture has the aim to expose a way of looking at and thinking about reality that is often invisible in everyday life. Elitist Pop Culture also has the aim to create and expose all possible alternatives on the perception of the world around us, and how and by whom this world is given shape. Elitist Pop Culture wants you, the observer and participant, to think about this and take action. That is a political act. Elitist Pop Culture is here for those who want and dare to experience this and who want to help giving shape to this act.
Elitepop Manifesto 2005