chapter  2
21 Pages

Questions of value

It is frequently remarked, in our ironic times, that there is a crisis of value. This has several variants, including a disruption of stable criteria for cultural judgement. At one time, so the story goes, there was a fixed hierarchy of culture, stretching from the ignoble base to the apex of excellence. Clearly distinguishable forms and practices were allocated to their appropriate levels on the hierarchical shelving, each with its aesthetic valuation firmly attached. Now, in the postmodern vernacular, whereby recently innovative philosophical ideas enter into educated common sense, the situation is characterised by a collapsing or flattening of hierarchies, not only the cultural but also the organisational and the social; and, furthermore, by a blurring of boundaries. These collapsing hierarchies and blurring bound­ aries are held to obliterate older distinctions between, say, art and popular culture. If this really is so, then it follows that the foundational assumptions and functional rationales of much of what passes for public policy in the cultural field, particularly reasons for state subsidy and regulation, are called into question and perhaps rendered redundant. What is the point, it may well be asked, of making ‘good’ culture more widely available or protecting it from the cold winds of the market when it cannot be distin­ guished satisfactorily from ‘bad’ culture?