Conclusion

Another, simpler explanation for the fractal quality of aesthetic judgments made within popular culture is found in what several writers have described as a "cultural pessimism" that follows the aging process. Our most formative years for acquiring knowledge of popular culture are ages 15-25. It is then that our cultural tastes are shaped. In time, due to various commitments (marriage, children, jobs), the time we once had for reading books and browsing music in stores or online diminishes. In the view of economist Tyler Cowan, "In many lives the rate of cultural discovery starts at a high clip and gradually diminishes so that, to the individual, culture appears to be drying up and declining, creating yet another pessimist."51 Thus, the music and art of one's youth becomes normative, and everything that follows is mediocre or abrasive.

There is some merit in this common sense analysis. But that cannot be all there is to it. Popular culture is a market, and wherever there is a market, moneyed interests do contrive to increase their profits and maintain their control over the means of production behind the scenes. But there is a surplus of condescension in the Frankfurt view of the "masses," the duped consumers of what the culture industries produce. To better appreciate this, we turn now to one of the heirs of the Frankfurt School, the Cultural Studies approach to popular culture that originated at the University of Birmingham.

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