For a country that prides itself on its democracy, as America does, there is a long train of literature that is passionately anti-democratic, and not just from the unreconstructed right wing. Sometimes the enemy was democracy itself; sometimes the enemy was the system, as when the Frankfurt School expatriates and other neo-Marxians blamed not the masses but the mass culture industry through which devious capitalists manipulated people – dumbing them down. And sometimes the enemy was just plain obtuseness, which is why critic Dwight Macdonald coined the terms "masscult" and "midcult" to revile not only low culture but also a middle-class culture that had ridiculous pretensions to be higher than low. Today critics are less likely to excoriate popular culture as a whole than its various components – from reality TV shows to popcorn movies to Justin Bieber – but the sentiment remains. Culture needs gatekeepers to protect it from the hoi polloi.
That's important because there may be no more powerful public emotion in America than the contempt for contempt. In this theoretically egalitarian society, condescension is practically un-American, which is why ordinary Americans always seem to yearn for some form of redress against those who seem to think they are above the so-called masses. (This is also, by the way, one of the primary features of American politics, and it helps explain folks like Joseph McCarthy, Richard Nixon and Sarah Palin, who understand how to nurse resentments.) To take it one step further, it is so powerful an emotion that it may have been the real fuel for the internet, one of the central functions of which has been to challenge authority – to provide a democratising voice against the custodians of official culture. Thus the old spent war between high and low seemed to reconstitute itself into a war between traditional media and new media.