Letter: The lowdown on pop culture

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The Independent Online
Sir: I must congratulate Niall Ferguson ("Drivel that deserved to self-deconstruct", 5 June) for stating in print exactly what many of us have been thinking: that the Modern Review folded because it was a very bad magazine, and that the press coverage of the ensuing Punch and Judy show has been irrelevant at best, irresponsible at worst.

I would like to press Mr Ferguson on one point, however. The Modern Review was a bad magazine not because it dealt with popular culture, but because it enshrined that same high culture/low culture dichotomy ("Low Culture for High Brows") that Mr Ferguson himself seeks to invoke as a corrective. In fact, the spread of the word "pop" from the early 1960s marks that very moment when the concept of high/low culture became obsolete. Although I'm in sympathy with Mr Ferguson's diagnosis of the sickness epitomised by the Modern Review, a return to this archaic opposition is no solution.

Indeed, the Modern Review's idea of pop as "low" culture gives the lie to why it was so bad. Apart from the work done by a couple of young journalists, the Modern Review was marked by a deep contempt for its subject, its readers, and finally, itself. That's why it was such a sensation in Fleet Street and nowhere else: it provided anti-pop coverage, under the guise of being "young" and "hip" (a deep misrepresentation, I'd say) for editors who are at best uneasy with, at worse hostile to, popular culture.

Taking Mr Ferguson up on his own argument, it is possible to make a strong case for popular music in traditional high art terms - transcendence, resonance, social relevance. But I'd rather ask him to be aware of the distinction between (youth) marketing and the social and anthropological function of music, whether it be today's pop or the 18/19th century pop that we now call classical music. And please: to consider Hornby's baby- boomer banalities or Burchill and Young's self-destructive spleen as in any way emblematic of pop is to do all of us a real disservice.



London, W9

5 June