Low culture refers to the habits, tastes, hobbies, and interests of the masses. It is contrasted to high culture which is the culture of the upper-class elite.
Often, low culture and ‘lowbrow’ are derogatory terms. They are used to highlight the lack of sophistication and of the tastes of people outside of the elite classes.
Examples of low culture come from food, entertainment, sports, and shopping. They can include fast food, football culture, cheap beverages, fast fashion, and trashy television.
Low Culture Examples
1. Mass-Produced Lager
Common, mass-produced lagers tend to be associated with lowbrow working-class people. This is even evident in where the common lager brands advertise: sports for the masses like Nascar and football.
By contrast, beverages associated with high culture include French wines and expensive cocktails.
2. Fast Food
Fast food culture is associated with an obese, diabetes-ridden, working-class culture. It’s often consumed by the working class because it’s a more affordable option than eating in restaurants.
However, it’s also considered to be lowbrow because:
- It is not served at a table, but is served through a window and even often eaten in the car.
- It is mass-produced and not custom-made by a chef.
- It is cheap.
- It is unhealthy.
By contrast, high culture food is generally eaten in a restaurant where there are servers, chefs, and several courses in the meal.
Read Also: Examples of Cultural Capital
3. Lad Culture
British lad culture is a masculine culture that revolves around heavy drinking and anti-intellectualism. Often practiced by the lower middle classes, it manifests as a shunning of high culture and embrace of low culture, debauchery, and incivility.
While lad culture peaked in the 1990s, it remains a significant subcultural behavioral trait among British men. It also manifests as extreme loyalty to other male friends whereby the group creates a strong ‘in group’ versus ‘out group’ mentality.
Furthermore, youths within the culture often like to be outwardly seen as abusive and causing a public nuisance.
4. Pick Up Trucks
Pickup trucks became popular among the working classes because they are used by blue-collar workers, such as tradespeople.
They subsequently became a working-class status symbol with young men wanting to buy pickup trucks to look cool.
For high culture, however, they portray a different message. Upper-class people see them as vehicles to be used by the working proletariat, not white-collar capitalists.
5. Country Music
Country music, which often contains imagery of the working-class such as images of pickup trucks, cheap lager, and rednecks, is often associated with low culture. It is music that is often derided as being less sophisticated and repeating themes and tropes about being a poor, working-class, or blue-collar person.
Compare this to high culture music like opera where people who see live shows often dress in tuxedos and embrace the complex array of instrumental sounds from an operatic orchestra.
6. Pop Music
Like country music, pop music is celebrated by the working and lower-middle classes but not the elite. Pop music stands for “popular music” and is, by definition, the music enjoyed by the masses.
Pop culture charts are usually full of music that has a simple beat and lyrics about love and youth. It is generally accompanied in film clips by dancers and good-looking young people. Evident here is the overall package, look and feel of the music that is designed for mass appeal.
It’s not music that is designed to impress people who are trained in musical theory or have knowledge of the history of music.
Historically, tattoos have been seen as lowbrow. They were associated, for example, with prisoners, criminals, and delinquents who were to be feared by the professional classes.
Sailors, in particular, were often associated with tattoos, who would enter ports to be rowdy and debaucherous before leaving on their ships.
Similarly, criminals were associated with tattoos because they would often tattoo each other in prison with insignia that shows association with particular gang groups.
Today, however, tattoos are becoming more popular and acceptable among the middle classes. People are less likely these days to miss out on a job position based on their tattoos.
Nevertheless, face tattoos may still be associated with gangs and thugs.
8. Meat and Potatoes
Traditional dishes of sustenance such as meat and potatoes or meat and vegetables are considered staple foods, but disinterest in branching out from those dishes is often seen as a sign of low culture.
By contrast, branching out to more exotic and complex dishes can be a sign of having a more developed palate and, therefore, having more sophistication.
9. Superhero Films
Superhero films have extremely wide box office fame, but their repeatable formula and lack of plot depth have caught the ire of many connoisseurs of film.
Famed director Martin Scorsese, for example, stated that the Marvel films “seem to me to be closer to theme parks than they are to movies.” For Scorsese, such films may have mass appeal, but they are so packaged and action-packed that there is a lack of nuance and deep storylines.
10. All-Inclusive Resort Holidays
Tourists have a range of options – from the rugged ‘authentic’ backpacker trick through to the all-inclusive hotel. Of these, staying at the all-inclusive hotel or resort is the low culture option for the masses.
You never see a person writing a book about their travels to a Miami all-inclusive.
Instead, you see the high culture travelers staying in boutique, old, Parisian hotels; or, you see them writing books about their rugged adventures to the lesser-traveled places to communicate with indigenous people off the beaten track.
11. Village Pubs
The local pub or dive bar is the place for the masses to meet up on a Friday night. You might see working men sitting by the bar drinking a lager after a long day’s work. There will be rock music, produced for mass consumption, playing on the loudspeakers.
But, you won’t find the upper classes there. Instead, the wealthy elites are out at cocktail bars or mingling at private, exclusive parties.
12. American Football
As one of the biggest sports in the United States, American football unites the masses. The Superbowl and Turkey Bowl are widely celebrated by the working and middle class.
At the Superbowl, football also meets another low culture – pop music – at the halftime show.
The elite classes, however, tend to enjoy more niche sports such as polo and tennis.
Soccer is the world’s most popular sport. It unites the masses across the globe and across the political spectrum.
In fact, soccer is a sport enjoyed by both the poor and the elite – it spans class divides.
But there is a “soccer hooligan” culture among the working class that is also widely seen as low culture. This culture often involves heavy drinking, lewd public behavior, and even brawls at matches.
Baseball is considered America’s pastime. This, alone, is a sign that this is a low culture sport. It’s consumed by the masses, not a small elite.
But it has other hallmarks of low culture as well. When you go to a baseball game, you’ll find low culture food and drink there such as hot dogs, nachos, and mass-produced lager.
You’ll also find that Baseball is sponsored by brands designed for the masses. You won’t see elite watch brands or fashion brands advertising at the baseball stadium. Rather, expect to see fast-food restaurants and pickup truck brands advertising.
15. Fast Fashion
Fast fashion attempts to mimic the elite, high-end fashion. But it is designed for the masses. The clothing is mass-produced and sold for a very low price.
The consequence of this is that the clothing is made from poor-quality materials and hastily put together.
This is built into the business model.
The clothing is supposed to be worn then thrown out, ready for the next fashion trend.
Compare this to elite fashion which, while perhaps worn just once, is also clothing from elite brands, high-cost, and made in small amounts in order to preserve its exclusivity.
16. Airport Novels
Airport novels are usually “trashy” paperback books designed to be easily consumed within a few hours.
They have the title “airport novels” because they’re generally sold at airport shops to people about to get on a long plane ride.
These novels don’t have the status or respect of classic literature. They may, however, be faster-paced and more enjoyable to consume.
The point of these novels is to entertain the masses rather than engage them in intellectual or philosophical thought.
Whereas once smoking was considered a classy activity, it’s increasingly become a pastime of the working-class.
In the mid- 20th Century, smoking was associated with Jazz clubs, partying among the elites, and appearing to be ‘cool’.
But today, there is an association these days between smoking and being a lowbrow person. It’s seen as an activity of tradespeople and gamblers rather than the cool James Dean tropes of the past.
18. Hot Dogs
Low culture foods are foods or dishes considered to be appealing to the masses but lacking in sophistication or complexity.
Hot dogs are, perhaps, the quintessential example. They’re consumed at ball games, eaten with hands rather than silverware, and are covered in ketchup and mayonnaise.
This is a far cry from the fine dishes of the elite that are served by chefs, eaten with fine silverware, and savored for their finely contemplated blends of tastes.
Like hot dogs, Tex-Mex is food for the masses. They are perhaps even more lowbrow than hot dogs because Tex-Mex is an intentional bastardization of Mexican food.
Tex-Mex is a portmanteau of the words “Texan Mexican”. It is food that has been adapted from Mexican dishes for a westernized flavor profile.
The spices and rich flavors found in ‘authentic’ Mexican dishes are extracted and, instead, replaced with blander western flavor profiles such as non-spicy cheeses, flour (rather than corn) tortillas, and mild salsa. A good example here is your typical Nachos dish from a pub.
20. Reality Television
Reality television is entertainment for the masses. Often, reality TV shows are designed to provide candid insider looks at dysfunctional people.
Examples include Jerry Seinfeld, a show offering a voyeuristic look into dysfunctional, fist-fighting families; or, Judge Judy, a look into the courtroom of a judge exasperated at the nonsense bickering that brings people into a courtroom to have their squabbles resolved.
The crassness of these shows and lack of insightful messaging has given reality television the nickname “junk food television” and attracted online listicles of the most lowbrow reality TV shows out there.
21. Gossip Magazines
Gossip magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Hello! and OK Magazine are trashy magazines designed to appeal to the masses.
These magazines promote insider gossip about celebrities, allowing the masses to get an insider look at the lives of people they see on television.
The mass appeal of these magazines and the apparent lack of sophistication or deeper messaging in them give them the feel of low culture junk.
Similarly, the fact they’re sold in the shopping aisles of the supermarkets of the masses – Walmart, Target, and so on – is an indicator of their target market.
22. Walmart and Target
Walmart and Target are the shopping centers of low culture shoppers. They’re designed to have mass appeal.
Products in these stores are less about taste and quality than price point which is the primary concern of the low-income masses to whom the shops appeal.
These stores stand in stark contrast to the niche stores for elites who want to find more exotic, less mass-appeal products. The US chain Trader Joe’s maximized on this by developing branding that looks hand-written and introducing niche products that are intended to appeal to upper middle classes rather than the working-class.
If Walmart and Target are the shops for low culture food and consumer goods, Ikea is the shop for low culture furniture.
Ikea revolutionized furniture shopping because it mass-produced cheaper furniture that could be picked up in-store and assembled at home.
While Ikea is great for getting cheap furniture, it’s also the case that Ikea furniture is made in a cookie-cutter style from cheaper goods, meaning you can often instantly identify a piece of Ikea furniture when you enter a room.
By contrast, people of the high culture choose to buy custom-made furniture that is far more expensive, assembled by professionals, and designed to last.
“Low culture” is often seen as a derogatory term for the perfectly okay and even enjoyable cultural pursuits of the masses. However, people who want to distinguish themselves as unique or culturally sophisticated individuals might intentionally avoid low culture pursuits in order to construct an identity associated with high cultural capital and proximity to exclusive, elite, groups of people with higher social status.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.