Philip Roth Mourns the Behemoth of Pop Culture

from a 2006 interview:

“… television began in 1948, really, and Popular Culture just grew and grew and grew and grew, and by the time I was in college, or in graduate school at the University of Chicago, David Riesman was there, and he was writing The Lonely Crowd, you remember. And I used to go to his classes and audit his classes, and they were on Mass Culture. The assumption, I remember sitting in those classes listening, was that there was this thing, Popular Culture, which we could look at… [and inside it] there was great cheapness, and great shallowness, and stupidity, ignorance, etcetera, and that this Popular Culture was taking over American entertainment, they thought. They didn’t think at that moment that it would take over everything…. Back in 1955, say, in that classroom, we all thought that the University of Chicago would win…. I think that was the assumption, that there would continue to be an audience of discriminating consumers of entertainment, of books, of art, of thought, of thinking.”

Later in the same interview, Roth pushes back when the interviewer seems to deride “stuffy elites” and their love for “high culture”:

“Last night I was in New York, I went to see the third in a series of Shostakovich quartet recitals as being given by the Emerson Quartet. And these quartets of Shostakovich are unlike anything else in the twentieth century. And a third of the hall was empty. This is Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center. Now, that’s okay with me, it’s probably okay with the Emerson Quartet, and it’s okay with Shostakovich. But the people who were sitting there were not stuffy or elite, they were people who find great pleasure and sustenance in listening to Shostakovich….”

– Philp Roth, from his 2006 interview with Christopher Lydon, on Open Source Radio

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