Research Paper-Influence of Fandom on novel and film production

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41 â?¡ Distinction & The
Aristocracy of Culture
Pierre Bourdieu
Bourdieu, P. (1998). Distinction & the aristocracy of culture. In Storey, J. (ed.), Cultural
Theory and Popular Culture (pp. 431-441). [Original source: Bourdieu, P., Distinctions:
A social critique of the judgement of taste, Routledge, London, 1984, pp. 1-7, 28-33.]
There is an economy of cultural goods, but it has a specific logic. Sociology
endeavours to establish the conditions in which the consumers of cultural goods,
and their taste for them, are produced, and at the same time to describe the different
ways of appropriating such of these objects as are regarded at a particular moment
as works of art, and the social conditions of the constitution of the mode of
appropriation that is considered legitimate. But one cannot fully understand cultural
practices unless â??cultureâ??, in the restricted, normative sense of ordinary usage, is
brought back into â??cultureâ?? in the anthropological sense, and the elaborated taste for
the most refined objects is reconnected with the elementary taste for the flavours of
Whereas the ideology of charisma regards taste in legitimate culture as a gift of
nature, scientific observation shows that cultural needs are the product of
upbringing and education: surveys establish that all cultural practices (museum
visits, concert-going, reading, etc.) and preferences in literature, painting or music,
are closely linked to educational level (measured by qualifications or length of
schooling) and secondarily to social origin.* The relative weight of home
background and of formal education (the effectiveness and duration of which are
closely dependent on social origin) varies according to the extent to which the
different cultural practices are recognized and taught by the educational system, and
the influence of social origin is strongest – other things being equal – in â??extra­
curricularâ?? and avant-garde culture. To the socially recognized hierarchy of the arts,
and within each of them, of genres, schools or periods, corresponds a social
hierarchy of the consumers. This predisposes tastes to function as markers of â??classâ??.
The manner in which culture has been acquired lives on in the manner of using it:
the importance attached to manners can be understood once it is seen that it is these
From Bourdieu, P., Distinctions: A social critique of the judgement of taste, Routledge,
London, 1984, pp. 1-7, 28-33.
Pierre Bourdieu
imponderables of practice which distinguish the different – and ranked – modes of
culture acquisition, early or late, domestic or scholastic, and the classes of
individuals which they characterize (such as â??pedantsâ?? and mondains). Culture also
has its titles of nobility – awarded by the educational system – and its pedigrees,
measured by seniority in admission to the nobility.
The definition of cultural nobility is the stake in a struggle which has gone on
unceasingly, from the seventeenth century to the present day, between groups
differing in their ideas of culture and of the legitimate relation to culture and to
works of art, and therefore differing in the conditions of acquisition of which these
dispositions are the product.^ Even in the classroom, the dominant definition of the
legitimate way of appropriating culture and works of art favours those who have
had early access to legitimate culture, in a cultured household, outside of scholastic
disciplines, since even within the educational system it devalues scholarly knowledge
and interpretation as scholasticâ?? or even â??pedanticâ?? in favour of direct experience and
simple delight.
The logic of what is sometimes called, in typically â??pedanticâ?? language, the
reading of a work of art,’ offers an objective basis for this opposition. Consumption
IS, in this case, a stage in a process of communication, that is, an act of deciphering,
decoding, which presupposes practical or explicit mastery of a cipher or code. In a
sense, one can say that the capacity to see {voir) is a function of the knowledge
{savoir), or concepts, that is, the words, that are available to name visible things,
and which are, as it were, programmes for perception. A work of art has meaning
and interest only for someone who possesses th6 cultural competence, that is, the
code, into which it is encoded. The conscious or unconscious implementation of
explicit or implicit schemes of perception and appreciation which constitutes
pictorial or musical culture is the hidden condition for recognizing the styles
characteristic of a period, a school or an author, and, more generally, for the
familiarity with the internal logic of works that aesthetic enjoyment presupposes. A
beholder who lacks the specific code feels lost in a chaos of sounds and rhythms,
colours and lines, without rhyme or reason. Not having learnt to adopt the adequate
disposition, he stops, short at what Erwin Panofsky calls the â??sensible propertiesâ??,
perceiving a skin as downy or lace-work as delicate, or at the emotional resonances
aroused by these properties, referring to â??austereâ?? colours or a â??joyfulâ?? melody. He
cannot move from the â??primary stratum of the meaning we can grasp on the basis
of our ordinary experienceâ?? to the â??stratum of secondary meaningsâ??, i.e. the â??level of
the meaning of what is signifiedâ??, unless he possesses the concepts which go beyond
the sensible properties and which identify the specifically stylistic properties of the
work. Thus the encounter with a work of art is not â??love at first sightâ??, as is
generally supposed, and the act of empathy, Einfiihlung, which is the art-loverâ??s
p easure, presupposes an act of cognition, a decoding operation, which implies the
implementation of a cognitive acquirement, a cultural code/
This typically intellectualist theory of artistic perception directly contradicts the
experience of the art-lovers closest to the legitimate definition;, acquisition of
legitimate culture by insensible familiarization within the family pircle tends to
Distinction/The Aristocracy of Culture
favour an enchanted experience of culture which implies forgetting the acqui­
sition.^ The â??eyeâ?? is a product of history reproduced by education. This is true of
the mode of ajtistic perception now accepted as legitimate, that is, the aesthetic
disposition, the capacity to consider in and for themselves, as form rather than
function, not only the work designated for such apprehension, i.e. legitimate
works of art, but everything in the world, including cultural objects which are not
yet consecrated – such as, at one time, primitive arts, or, nowadays, popular
photography or kitsch – and natural objects. The â??pureâ?? gaze is a historical
invention linked to the emergence of an autonomous field of artistic production, that
is, a field capable of imposing its own norms on both the production and the
consumption of its products.^ An art which, like all Post-Impressionist painting, is
the product of an artistic intention which asserts the primacy of the mode of
representation over the object of representation demands categorically an attention
to form which previous art only demanded conditionally.
The pure intention of the artist is that of a producer who aims to be autonomous,
that is, entirely the master of his product, who tends to reject not only the
â??programmesâ?? imposed a priori by scholars and scribes, but also – following the old
hierarchy of doing and saying – the interpretations superimposed a posteriori on his
work. The production of an â??open workâ??, intrinsically and deliberately polysemic,
can thus be understood as the final stage in the conquest of artistic autonomy by
poets and, following in their footsteps, by painters, who had long been reliant on
writers and their work of â??showingâ?? and â??illustratingâ??. To assert the autonomy of
production is to give primacy to that of which the artist is master, i.e. form, manner,
style, rather than the â??subjectâ??, the external referent, which involves subordination
to functions – even if only the most elementary one, that of representing, signifying,
saying something. It also means a refusal to recognize any necessity other than that
inscribed in the specific tradition of the artistic discipline in question: the shift from
an art which imitates nature to an art which imitates art, deriving from its own
history the exclusive source of its experiments and even of its breaks and tradition.
An art which ever increasingly contains reference to its own history demands to be
perceived historically; it asks to be referred not to an external referent, the
represented or designated â??realityâ??, but to the universe of past and present works of
art. Like artistic production in that it is generated in a field, aesthetic perception is
necessarily historical, inasmuch as it is differential, relational, attentive to the
deviations [ecarts) which make styles. Like the so-called naive painter who,
operating outside the field and its specific traditions, remains external to the history
of the art, the â??naiveâ?? spectator cannot attain a specific grasp of works of art which
only have meaning – or value – in relation to the specific history of an artistic
tradition. The aesthetic disposition demanded by the products of a highly
autonomous field of production is inseparable from a specific cultural competence.
This historical culture functions as a principle of pertinence which enables one to
identify, among the elements offered to the gaze, all the distinctive features and only
these, by referring them, consciously or unconsciously, to the universe of possible
alternatives. This mastery is, for the most part, acquired simply by contact with
Pierre Bourdieu
works of art – that is, through an implicit learning analogous to that which makes
It possible to recognize familiar faces without explicit rules or criteria – and it
generally remains at a practical level; it is what makes it possible to identify styles,
i.e. modes of expression characteristic of a period, a civilization or a school, without
having to distinguish clearly, or state explicitly, the features which constitute their
originality. Everything seems to suggest that even among professional valuers, the
criteria which define the stylistic properties of the â??typical worksâ?? on which all their
judgements are based usually remain implicit.
The pure gaze implies a break with the ordinary attitude towards the world,
which, given the conditions in which it is performed, is also a social separation.â??
Ortega y Gasset can be believed when he attributes to modern art a systematic
refusal of all that is â??humanâ??, i.e. generic, common – as opposed to distinctive, or
distinguished – namely, the passions, emotions and feelings which â??ordinaryâ?? people
invest in their â??ordinaryâ?? lives. It is as if the â??popular aestheticâ?? (the quotation marks
are there to indicate that this is an aesthetic â??in itself not â??for itself) were based on
the af&rmation of the continuity between art and life, which implies the sub­
ordination of form to function. This is seen clearly in the case of the novel and
especially the theatre, where the working-class audience refuses any sort of formal
experimentation and all the effects which, by introducing a distance from the
accepted conventions (as regards scenery, plot, etc.), tend to distance the spectator,
preventing him from getting involved and fully identifying with the characters (I am
thinking of Brechtian â??alienationâ?? or the disruption of plot in the nouveau roman).â??
In contrast to the detachment and disinterestedness which aesthetic theory regards
as the only way of recognizing the work of art for what it is, i.e. autonomous,
selbstdndig, the â??popular aestheticâ?? ignores or refuses the refusal of â??facileâ?? involve­
ment and â??vulgarâ?? enjoyment, a refusal which is the basis of the taste for formal
experiment. And popular judgements of paintings or photographs spring from an
aestheticâ?? (in fact it is an ethos) which is the exact opposite of the Kantian aesthetic.
Whereas, in order to grasp the specificity of the aesthetic judgement, Kant strove to
distinguish that which pleases from that which gratifies and, more generally, to
distinguish disinterestedness, the sole guarantor of the specifically aesthetic quality
of contemplation, from the interest of reason which defines the Good, working-class
people expect every image to explicitly perform a function, if only that of a sign,
and their judgements make reference, often explicitly, to the norms of morality or
agreeableness. Whether rejecting or praising, their appreciation always has an
ethical basis.
Popular taste applies the schemes of the ethos, which pertain in the ordinary
circumstances of life, to legitimate works of art, and so performs a systematic
reduction of the things of art to the things of life. The very seriousness (or naivety)
which this taste invests in fictions and representations demonstrates a contrario that
pure taste performs a suspension of â??naiveâ?? involvement which is one dimension of
a â??quasi-ludicâ?? relationship with the necessities of the world. Intelleduals could be
said to believe in the representation – literature, theatre, painting – more than in
the things represented, whereas the people chiefly expect represei^ations and the
Distinction/The Aristocracy of Culture
conventions which govern them to allow them to believe â??naivelyâ?? in the things
represented. The pure aesthetic is rooted in an ethic, or rather, an ethos of elective
distance from the necessities of the natural and social world, which may take the
form of moral agnosticism (visible when ethical transgression becomes an artistic
parti pris) or of an aestheticism which presents the aesthetic disposition as a
universally valid principle and takes the bourgeois denial of the social world to its
limit. The detachment of the pure gaze cannot be dissociated from a general
disposition towards the world which is the paradoxical product of conditioning by
negative economic necessities – a life of ease – that tends to induce an active distance
from necessity.
Although art obviously offers the greatest scope to the aesthetic disposition, there
is no area of practice in which the aim of purifying, refining and sublimating primary
needs and impulses cannot assert itself, no area in which the stylization of life, that
is, the primacy of forms over function, of manner over matter, does not produce
the same effects. And nothing is more distinctive, more distinguished, than the
capacity to confer aesthetic status on objects that are banal or even â??commonâ??
(because the â??commonâ?? people make them their own, especially for aesthetic
purposes), or the ability to apply the principles of a â??pureâ?? aesthetic to the most
everyday choices of everyday life, e.g. in cooking, clothing or decoration,
completely reversing the popular disposition which annexes aesthetics to ethics.
In fact, through the economic and social conditions which they presuppose, the
different ways of relating to realities and fictions, of believing in fictions and the
realities they simulate, with more or less distance and detachment, are very closely
linked to the different possible positions in social space and, consequently, bound
up with the systems of dispositions (habitus) characteristic of the different classes
and class fractions. Taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier. Social subjects,
classified by their classifications, distinguish themselves by the distinctions they
make, between the beautiful and the ugly, the distinguished and the vulgar, in which
their position in the objective classifications is expressed or betrayed. And statistical
analysis does indeed show that oppositions similar in structure to those found in
cultural practices also appear in eating habits. The antithesis between quantity and
quality, substance and form, corresponds to the opposition – linked to different
distances from necessity – between the taste of necessity, which favours the most
â??fillingâ?? and most economical foods, and the taste of liberty – or luxury – which
shifts the emphasis to the manner (of presenting, serving, eating, etc.) and tends to
use stylized forms to deny function.
The science of taste and of cultural consumption begins with a transgression that
is in no way aesthetic: it has to abolish the sacred frontier which makes legitimate
culture a separate universe, in order to discover the intelligible relations which unite
apparently incommensurable â??choicesâ??, such as preferences in music and food,
painting and sport, literature and hairstyle. This barbarous reintegration of aesthetic
consumption into the world of ordinary consumption abolishes the opposition,
which has been the basis of high aesthetics since Kant, between the â??taste of senseâ??
and the â??taste of reflectionâ??, and between facile pleasure, pleasure reduced to a
Fierre Bourdieu
pleasure of the senses, and pure pleasure, pleasure purified of pleasure, which is
predisposed to become a symbol of moral excellence and a measure of the capacity
for sublimation which defines the truly human man. The culture which results from
this magical division is sacred. Cultural consecration does indeed confer, on the
objects, persons and situations it touches, a sort of ontological promotion akin to
a transubstantiation. Proof enough of this is found in the two following quotations,
which might almost have been written for the delight of the sociologist;
What struck me most is this: nothing could be obscene on the stage of our premier
theatre, and the ballerinas of the Opera, even as naked dancers, sylphs, sprites or
Bacchae, retain an inviolable purity.â??^
â??There are obscene postures: the simulated intercourse which offends the eye.
Clearly, it is impossible to approve, although the interpolation of such gestures in
dance routines does give them a symbolic and aesthetic quality which is absent from
the intimate scenes the cinema daily flaunts before its spectatorsâ?? eyes. … As for the
nude scene, what can one say, except that it is brief and theatrically not very
effective? I will not say it is chaste or innocent, for nothing commercial can be so
described. Let us say it is not shocking, and that the chief objection is that it serves
as a box-office gimmick. … In Hair, the nakedness fails to be symbolic.â??*
The denial of lower, coarse, vulgar, venal, servile – in a word, natural enjoyment, which constitutes the sacred sphere of culture, implies an affirmation of
the superiority of those who can be satisfied with the sublimated, refined,
disinterested, gratuitous, distinguished pleasures forever closed to the profane. That
IS why art and cultural consumption are predisposed, consciously and deliberately
or not, to fulfil a social function of legitimating social differences.
The Aristocracy of Culture
THE AESTHETIC DISPOSITION Any legitimate work tends in fact to impose the
norms of its own perception and tacitly defines as the only legitimate mode of
perception the one which brings into play a certain disposition and a certain
competence. Recognizing this fact does not mean constituting a particular mode of
perception as an essence, thereby falling into the illusion which is the basis of
recognition of artistic legitimacy. It does mean taking note of the fact that all agents,
whether they like it or not, whether or not they have the means of conforming to
them, find themselves objectively measured by those norms. At the same time it
becomes possible to establish whether these dispositions and competences are gi …
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