I was involved in a recent discussion elsewhere in which the term Trash Culture was casually thrown about.
Now first the disclaimers. Of course there are good books and bad books. There are great paintings and there are lousy paintings. There are movies that are complex and sophisticated and there are movies that are mindless entertainment. Some cultural products really are trashy. Some really are great (although it has to be said that these judgments are essentially subjective).
But cultural judgments are not just judgments about culture. They are judgments about people. Trash culture is a term that means culture that I personally dislike, but more especially it means culture that is liked by people whom I personally dislike, or disapprove of.
There is also a very large class content. The type of culture that you like is a powerful class marker. “High culture” is popular with intellectuals and people with college degrees and people who are wealthy so it doesn’t get called trash culture. Only the stuff that ordinary people enjoy (including people without college degrees and even, horror of horrors, poor people) gets labelled as trash culture.
The term “trash culture” is a weapon that is used to denigrate anything that the wrong sort of people enjoy.
In actual fact most “high culture” of the past century (poetry, painting, “serious” music, “literary fiction”) is much more worthless, degraded, infantile, offensive and incompetently executed than most pop culture of the past century. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that “high culture” is liked by the right sort of people. Pop culture is liked by the wrong sort of people. When pop culture is liked by people who are especially reprehensible (for example working-class people) it becomes trash culture.
There’s also increasingly a political dimension. Trash culture is often culture that is liked by people with unacceptable political or social beliefs.
It’s not really acceptable even today for people to consider themselves to be better than other people because they’re richer or more educated but rich highly educated people do think of themselves as being better. Cultural judgments are a convenient way to express that belief.