MacDonald on Instagram

Evelyn Liu

Mariafe Ponce


Macdonald’s(1953) “A Theory of Mass Culture”, touches upon the difference between High Culture, Mass Culture and Folk Art, and the different values they each have. He has a strong believe in Gresham’s Law, which speaks about how the compartmentation between Mass Culture and High Culture has been broken down, causing them to compete with each other and possibly converging into a single thing. Because of this, Mass Culture is threatening High Culture, since it provides the people with easier, simpler, predigested content. Consequently, this generates a homogenized culture, since Mass Culture breaks down class, tradition and cultural differences, mixing everything together. Furthermore, Mass Culture has caused people to idolize those who consume as opposed to those who produce, making us all victims of whatever is in front of us, accepting what is offered to us, as opposed to having own views and products – there isn’t that much outwardly directed energy, but instead we are passive receivers.

Instagram, is a social media platform where people can post photos or videos online and share them with their friends or other public followers. Instagram content is generated by two groups of users: 1) normal everyday people, and 2) celebrities or famous people. While a lot of the videos or photos uploaded onto Instagram, may be original sometimes, there are a lot of them that are not created by the users themselves, but just re-shared from another source and circulated by everyone. On top of that, even the original content found on Instagram is subject to Mass Culture, given that the users producing those particular images or videos are posting them according to their perceptions of what may or may not be successful, which is already predetermined by the types of media being produced by Mass Culture – users already know what the Mass Culture wants, therefore they aim to fit that target. Even taking into consideration the more artistic sides of Instagram, such as images posted by artistic photographers for the purpose of capturing art and beauty, that one might consider high art, these posts are lost among the several other less meaningful photography posts, such as food pictures, that people take all the time, making High Culture and Mass Culture once again compete and converge with each other.

Furthermore, while Instagram may provide the Folk culture a medium to express, the reality is that the most popular users on Instagram are Idols of consumption, such as Kim Kardashian, and as such we are mostly participants of Mass Culture.

Macdonald would probably argue that Instagram is a platform where Mass Culture, High Culture and Folk Art converge, causing the values and classes to break down. While we could feel like Instagram is a free space for art produced by the people, Macdonald would argue that it is in fact a result of Mass Culture taken control, since we all conform to Mass Culture – we decide what we follow and what we post from what is predetermined by Mass Culture as ‘good’, our impressions of what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ have been previously influenced by Mass Culture. The posts that are most successful are those with more likes and more followers, the posts we produce are judged by how many likes we get, thus making us tailor our future posts to please the ideology of Mass Culture. Furthermore, he would think of the popularity of users such as Kim Kardashian as an example of an Idol of consumption, making us passive receivers, as opposed to actual producers.

We partially agree with what Macdonald would have to say about Instagram, since it is indeed mostly driven by Mass Culture – we do in fact tailor our works to fit the ideal of Mass Culture. Yet Instagram is still a place of art produced by the people to thrive like High Art would, since you still see some users posting unique pieces of art, or unique photographs. Furthermore, it allows art to transition from Folk Culture to Mass Culture, since many of the famous Instagram users started off being common users, and they only became famous because other users, ourselves, the people, chose to follow them, consequently making them famous – the bottom-up sensation of Instagram where the common people contribute, is also a channel where those same people become authoritative figures that act in a top-down manner, similar to that of Mass Culture. In other words, we are not entirely passive consumers of the Mass Culture on Instagram – we are subjects to the culture industry related to Instagram – but we do participate actively by choosing what we like or what we share and follow, which in turn molds what the Mass Culture of Instagram looks like.

Macdonald, D. (1953). A theory of mass culture. Diogenis, 1 (3), 1-17.