Why Is Popular Culture So Incredibly Vulgar?

Presented in partial expiation of my sins of contributing to the culture of vulgarity while young (and that is a relative word!), here is the link to the video we can chat about (not mine). Since YouTube displays a vulgar image as the splash (and I can’t figure how to change it), I put a link instead of embedding the video.


Speaking of the Oscar-winning Ass (mentioned in the video), we met the Tate’s giant buttocks earlier. Idiocracy was, of course, inspired by CM Kornbluth’s “The Marching Morons“. An excerpt:

“TAKE IT AND STICK IT!” a voice roared in his ears.

He snatched off the helmet and gave the psychist an injured look. Tinny-Peete grinned and turned a dial associated with the pushbutton layout. The man from the past donned the helmet again and found the voice had lowered to normal.

“The show of shows! The supershow! The super-duper show! The quiz of quizzes! Take It and Stick It!”

There were shrieks of laughter in the background.

“Here we got the contes-tants all ready to go. You know how we work it. I hand a contes-tant a triangle-shaped cutout and like that down the line. Now we got these here boards, they got cutout places the same shape as the triangles and things, only they’re all different shapes, and the first contestant that sticks the cutouts into the boards, he wins.

“Now I’m gonna innaview the first contes-tant. Right here, honey. What’s your name?”

“Name? Uh-”

“Hoddaya like that, folks? She don’t remember her name! Hah? Would you buy that for a quarter?” The question was spoken with arch significance, and the audience shrieked, howled and whistled its appreciation.

It was dull listening when you didn’t know the punch lines and catch lines…

Tinny-Peete shook his head and pointed at his ears. The roar of air was deafening. Barlow frowned baffiedly and stared out of the window.

A glowing sign said:


He didn’t know what Moogs was or were; the illustration showed an incredibly proportioned girl, 99.9 percent naked, writhing passionately in animated full color.

Here, incidentally, is the solution Honest John Barlow, a man from the past, discovered.


  1. Dr. Briggs speaks of the culture of vulgarity, which all of us above a certain age have certainly noticed. He doesn’t say whether he’s for it or against it. For the record, I’m generally opposed. Donald Trump, his revolting family, the fetid swarm of hucksters that surround him — this is the limit point, the pure embodiment of the vulgarity and venality that oppresses us. Pluck any example out of any day’s newspaper; say, using the presidency to sell “fashion” merchandise. Since Briggs has been a steadfast supporter of Trump’s candidacy and presidency, one can reasonably conclude that the culture of vulgarity is something that he enthusiastically welcomes.

  2. Gary

    Because it’s easy.
    And natural in a defective world.

    “What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
    Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
    You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
    A heap of broken images …”

  3. DAV

    “Vulgar” originally meant characteristic of the masses — Common vs. Elite. Even the idea that today it means crude and coarse harks back to the original meaning since the Elites consider themselves to be refined and above the crude commoners.

    It’s not surprising that Never-Trumpers think themselves above the common man. Those commoners are merely pets of present day ‘Elites’ valued for their votes and means of virtue signalling. They must be helped because they obviously don’t know how to care for themselves. If these commoners favor Trump then he must be just another vulgar want arising from lack of guidance by Knowledgeable Progressive Elites. Right, Lee?


    Since ‘vulgar’ (along with words such as ‘mean’) once meant ‘common’ — and by implication still do — culture will always have some average. Substitute ‘money’ for ‘refinement’ and you will see that, if everybody had more money, there would still be those with less and thus poor.

    Society by definition is mostly vulgar. If you could plot it, it likely would resemble a normal curve.

  4. Sander van der Wal

    @Lee Phillips

    You should emigrate to Europe. Just one Trump picture a day in the newspapers, and none of that clothes advertising you appear to loathe.

  5. Ye Olde Statistician

    Makes one long for the good old days when trailer trash from Arkansas could get serviced right in the White House and reciprocate with their cigars.

    Populism: A method of replacing the sophistry of the wiseacres with the wisdom of the clueless, — P.J. O’Rourke

    What a choice.

  6. You shouldn’t turn to a vulgar, retarded child, as in that link, blaming the left and “Marxist” whatever, for a pop culture who’s taste-makers are giant multinational corporations marketing sleaze, anti-intellectualism, and simplistic “art,” using interchangeable “artists” who have no talent to leverage against these powers.

    Meanwhile, Donald Trump is President, a product of trash-culture himself, and he wants to get rid of PBS and NPR, the only universally accessible venues of higher culture and arts and thought in their mediums, ostensibly because there isn’t a market easily profitable enough for the sleaze machine in such programming. God forbid, some poor kid living in the sticks, both his parents out working if he’s even lucky enough to have two, can flip the dial and maybe find something of real cultural value along the way. No! There must ONLY be trash! Trash sells! ONLY the Invisible Hands knows what’s best for our kids! Retarded.

    Back when we had upward mobility and a growing and strong middle class, the culture was growing, expanding, changing, and politically, we were far more “liberal and progressive.” Economically, for the majority of Americans, we’ve been stagnant now for a couple of generations (that child in your link says it’s “20 years” because that’s about how old he looks to be), so it shouldn’t be a surprise our culture is stuck right along there.

    To blame marketing crap to the lowest common cultural denominators on the left is like blaming our disgusting American diet on Vegans. Just more anti-intellectual trash culture masquerading as mature “conservatism.”

    When “greed is good,” “money is speech,” “corporations are people,” “gub’mint bad!,” don’t be surprised the rest of the culture is immoral and debased as well. Why do you think the Russian oligarchs now prefer Republicans to Democrats? Because they have something in common: a complete lack of moral virtue.


  7. Jim Fedako

    JMJ —

    Thanks for adding the muddled rant of neo-Marxism. Seriously, there is nothing like the voice of the vanguard of the proletariat to clarify an issue. Well done, comrade.

  8. Ken

    Why is popular culture so incredibly vulgar?

    The answer should be obvious if one understands people — popular culture has ALWAYS been “incredibly vulgar.” That is part & parcel of human nature.

    The prudery of the Victorian Era and the “Leave it to Beaver” wholesomeness of the 50s & 60s merely camouflaged the vulgar reality lurking pervasively just below the surface. Those times were aberrations relative to the vast majority of human history relative to overt expression…but such vulgarity was expressed all along just the same, but discretely.

    Movies from that era, such as Peyton Place and Splendor in the Grass, are, at their core, a sort of rebellion/expose against the hypocrisy of the facade vs the social realities of that period. Things sure looked better then–especially to children that were more fully shielded from the reality–but so much evidence shows those appearances were of the Potemkin Village sort.

    Michael Lewis kicked over a bit of a “hornet’s nest” on this theme when he analyzed the worldwide real-estate “bubble” — identifying how national culture directly correlated with how a given country was impacted. Germany’s public vs private bipolar nature correlates with how they both came out relatively unscathed while simultaneously being a prolific enabler.

    That was illustrated by the [in]famous work, “Life is Like a Chicken Coop Ladder,” about how Germans, culturally, while outwardly clean and fastidious have a filthy hidden side. Read about that at: http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2011/09/europe-201109 (or in M. Lewis book, Boomerang).

    Such “vulgarity”, especially the scatological & sexual sort, is intrinsic to all cultures and its expression, overt and as an influence on other behaviors (e.g. German fiscal policies) is a matter of culturally-influenced style. Such expressions, historically as rampant and overt as anything today, and is arguably MUCH more rampant in correlation with the sophistication & wealth of the strata of society involved (for example, keyword search “Pompeii phallic symbol” and be amazed at how much was overt & pervasive in Pompeii [an ancient analog to modern Monaco] — that one never sees on contemporary TV documentaries).

    Civilization, education, wealth, and leisure all co-mingle to enable the expression of such vulgarity — that popular culture appears [to some] so vulgar is an illusion. It goes hand-in-hand with Gen-X’ers vs Baby Boomers & Millenials — the latest crop is not so enamored with formal hierarchy, for example, and think nothing of respecting, or not, leadership based on real talent rather than because of mere seniority (one can research that, if needed, to get the full picture). The old generation abides by hierarchy & organizational culture, the new is much less inclined to playing such games — bluntly expressing the vulgarity that the older generation pretended to conceal (aka Peyton Place) is just not in their nature.

    They are, in other words, making an older generation uncomfortable by making plain reality to the extent the pretense of wholesome civility, as a cover-up, cannot prevail.

    That brings to mind M. Scott Peck’s observation that a pretense is what he claims to have observed as one of the recurring features of people he classified as “evil”, with the pretense correlating for an individual pretty much exactly as it did in the so-called ‘good old days’ of the 1950s (where social pretense concealed all manner of sins such including numerous types of abuse). One can make the comparison themselves by reviewing Peck’s book, “People of the Lie.”

    Personally, I find the modern overt vulgarity curiously refreshing in at least some ways — with that comes other, broader, and overt recognition of so many other evils … and that means positive things are being done to remedy them. One can always look away (e.g. change the channel) to extreme gratuitous examples (and such always exist somewhere), that’s easy enough, and what’s left to observe is that overall things seem to be improving — I’ll take an improving reality, with some overt vulgarity, over any Peyton Place-like pretense of wholesomeness that conceals & preserves rot any day.

    Evil dwells in the shadows, bringing it into the open [into the light] gets it addressed. I find curious the pattern associated with those who’d like to preserve such evils in the shadows under a cover of pretentious wholesomeness — as if that pretense were reality itself.

  9. DG

    Eck! Who cares about pop culture…it’s boring anyway

  10. Ye Olde Statistician

    Ken certainly describes what the elites like to think about the vulgus. There certainly must be something filthy and scatalogical hidden beneath that respectable veneer! Because the vulgus cannot be better behaved than the elites (who actually do conceal that ugliness within their respectability. Remember, words like vulgus, populus, plebian, mob (mobile populus: jostling crowd) are all terms to distinguish those who deserve to be ruled from those who deserve to rule them. This has been especially important since universal literacy has eliminated reading as a marker for the distinction. (Sure, those people can read, but can they read?) Hence, the steady dumbing-down of education to create the technopeasant, the invention of the intelligentsia, the intellectualization of the arts, the replacement of “I think that…” with “I feel that…”, and the replacement of “scientific” with “sexy” as the Yay! word in advertising.

  11. Yawrate

    To answer your opening question, it’s easier to be vulgar than to be creative.

  12. DAV

    Not just the culture but our laws, too.
    The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 recently signed by makes a reference to “crewed missions” to Mars.

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