Saturday, December 03, 2005

Art and Mass Culture

Why is 'culture' counterposed to popular culture? Why do organisations such as the BBC have a 'merit goods' mission to bring an adequate diet of culture to the underconsuming masses?

One of the interesting paradoxes about the Myers-Briggs (TM) approach to personality typing is its emphasis that all types are equally 'good' and that IQ is orthogonal to type. Whatever one may think about the former proposition, the latter is plainly not true.

In 'Gifts Differing', Isabel Myers exhibits table after table (chapter 3) which show that as one goes up the educational ladder, specifically for more abstract subjects, the proportion of 'Intuitives' (Rational NTs and Idealist NFs) disproportionately increases, and the incidence of 'sensing' Guardian SJs and Artisan SPs declines. Since success in advanced theoretical subjects is clearly, IQ-related, this shows a strong IQ-N correlation.

The Myers-Briggs 'Intuition' dimension also correlate strongly with the 'Five-Factor Model' attribute of 'Openness to Experience', a trait with a well-known correlation with an interest in arts and sciences.

What this seems to amount to is that a kind of sifting process occurs. According to Myers analysis of high school students (both girls and boys) prior to any academic selection, 'Sensors' make up 70% of the population, and 'iNtuitives' only 30%. Education, often a pre-requisite for later advancement, systematically skews the successful towards a population far more dominantly N. Myers' science students, for example, were 83% N; Rhodes scholars were 93% N.

So we see that the educated, successful middle class (both male and female) are dominantly N. By comparison, Myers' non-college-prep boys were 85.5% S and non-college-prep girls were 87.3% S. These are the mass of the population who will grow up to form the consumers of 'mass culture'.

If you are educated and middle class, don't be surprised if the most popular channels on your TV seem pretty brain-dead. They are focused on Guardian and Artisan needs such as relationship-oriented soaps and action-oriented sport, and not on the 'high-concept' stuff which might grab you more. [cf. "Personality in Adulthood" 2nd Edition, McCrae & Costa, Guilford Press, 2003: page 217].

This raises two questions - first of all, why shouldn't (the fewer in number) iNtuitives arrange to have (read 'subsidise') more intelligent, conceptual programming in politics, current events, arts and sciences which suits their tastes and abilities?

And secondly, why do Rational and Idealist senior decision makers adopt the Pygmalion project of seeking to make the Guardian and Artisan masses more 'cultured like themselves'? Is the concept of merit good in these areas really so well-founded, or is it just patronising, as in 'Shakespeare-lite'?

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