Adam Wilson at Harper’s Magazine:
I’ll come back to The Sopranos, but first I want to discuss Bad-Good, an admittedly inelegant term for what the critic Dwight Macdonald called Midcult, which is not particularly elegant either. In his seminal 1960 essay “Masscult and Midcult,” Macdonald coined the word Masscult to describe popular forms—romance novels, Victorian Gothic architecture, the illustrations of Norman Rockwell—which he refused to dignify by classifying as culture. Macdonald’s chief concern was protecting high culture from the degradation of the marketplace, and to this end, he considered Masscult benign, too forthright in its motives to be mistaken for anything but commerce. He found a larger threat in Midcult, which was similar to Masscult except that it “pretends to respect the standards of High Culture while in fact it waters them down and vulgarizes them.” Midcult was Masscult masquerading as art.
Television began as a strictly Masscult medium, and for most of its history remained indisputably so. In the Forties, the soap opera came to TV from radio as an instrument for selling cleaning products to housewives. The shows were produced by retail brands such as Procter and Gamble, and product promotions were woven directly into their story lines.