In the war between the High and Popular cultures, neutrality belongs to the omnivorous. Maybe there is an advantage to taking one side or another, namely comfort, but I think you get more out of discomfort.
Are you really better for dismissing something that someone else has found value in? Or are you narrow-minded, short-sighted, ignorant or pretentious?
I mainlined Alpha House recently. It is one of those high/low culture chimeras, at once a broad, laugh-free comedy and something with “politics” in it. If you’re not careful, you might learn something. I might have missed the sermon of the West Wing where they explain what a Super PAC23 is, but thanks to Alpha House, I now know.
I saw Rory Mullarkey’s adaptation of the Orestia at the Globe recently. Aeschylus’s trilogy is my favourite set of classical plays, so I came in with “High” expectations. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more as a tourist.
There was much to like, much to raise an eyebrow at, but the experience was more than worth the price of admission for one golden moment.
At the end of the cycle (spoliers), the cast come out to do their katharsis-inducing “Globe jig”. Instead of the usual dance, the cast carried out a giant winged phallus, painted gold, and conga’d it through the crowd. The crowd were bemused at best. But that’s not the moment.
It might be fair to say the crowd were already wavering. The end of Eumenides is problematic, and Adele Thomas4 took a slightly unnerving, slightly downbeat direction that neither whitewashed nor really engaged with the ambiguities.
So the crowd were already uncomfortable.
We were sat fairly central, a couple of rows back, on ground level. On the parade’s second, wilful pass through a herd of skittish groundlings, one of the actors carrying the phallus, Dickon Tyrrell, turned to us with a cheeky grin and said, “What does it all mean?”
It was executed perfectly, and summed up the play, the performance, the struggle to find meaning and to find comfort better than I could hope to.
The cast could not be coaxed out for an encore.