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What is High Society?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 17, 2024
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Most people have heard of high society. Many different images may come to mind. Just about everyone has some vision of it, but the majority will associate the term with the upper crust of society, the social register of a town or city, and the movers and shakers who make up the favored and the elite in social situations.

For some people, high society is a concept that is considered to be archaic and ultimately nothing more than a false barrier between citizens in a community. As a means of making it possible to exclude persons who are not desirable because of race, religion, gender, or economic status, the inclusion in high society is often based on the possession of certain characteristics. Among these are family money, a family name that has come to be regarded highly in the community, and attending an acceptable house of worship.

In other instances, entry into high society may be achieved by working in a profession that is considered to be especially desirable or respectable, attending schools that are considered to be of higher quality than others, and living in the right type of neighborhoods and towns. Critics of high society note that the entire idea does nothing more than divide people into economic and social classes, and draw arbitrary lines that help to prevent communication and interaction between broad varieties of people.

Others note that high society is not a concept that is meant to exclude anyone, but rather a way to allow persons of like minds and background to interact with one another. It is a way of ensuring that certain social customs and graces are maintained from generation to generation. The cultivation and maintenance of these social graces is supported by the establishment of a social circle that may appear to be made of the social elite, but in fact is made of those who have worked hard to either gain admittance to the upper class economically and socially. From this perspective, high society is understood to be a reward for effort, rather than a means of building walls between people.

High society has been a fertile concept for entertainment over the years. Comedy productions often draw broad caricatures of snooty society men and women and their disdain for the common folk. Popular dramas have often used the concept for examples of a beautiful veneer that hides a great deal of corruption. In still other cases, it is portrayed as a set of values that ultimately saves the life and goals of young people, keeping them on the straight and narrow.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including America Explained, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By candyquilt — On May 08, 2014

The line between high society and the rest of society is blurry in the US and that's a good thing. This shows that people can move between social classes. Social mobility is one of the things that organizations look at when they are analyzing democracy and equality. If in a society, people cannot move from one social class to another, it shows that there isn't equality and freedom of opportunity in that country. But if people can move into our out of different social classes, that means that opportunities are fairly equal for all members of society, which is one of the trademarks of democracy.

By ddljohn — On May 08, 2014
@burcinc-- Bourgeoisie and high society may not carry the same meaning.

I'm not an expert on this topic but I think that bourgeoisie means a member of the wealthiest social class in a society whereas high society just means people of high social status. Of course, usually those with high social status often also have money, but "high society" is more of a cultural label rather than a financial one.

The meaning of these terms could even vary depending on the society and context. For example, a socialist would define high society or bourgeoisie as the people in control of factories and production. In a militaristic society, high society may be members of the armed forces of that country. In a religious society, high members may be the priests or those with the religious knowledge and tradition. So the definitions can be subjective.

By burcinc — On May 07, 2014

I think high society is the wealthy and powerful elite of society, such as politicians and businessman. They usually take part in decision making or dominate certain sectors, and they are also very wealthy. The other term for high society is "bourgeoisie," it's a French word carrying the same meaning.

By Viranty — On May 03, 2014

@Krunchyman - I definitely see your point. For example, do you remember the PBS Kids show called Arthur? There was a character on the show called Muffy Crosswire. She was friends with a lot of people, but at the same time, she thought she was better than most, and always had her nose up in the air.

By Krunchyman — On May 03, 2014

I like how the article mentions that high society can serve as a basis for entertainment from time to time. I don't know if this is exactly what the article is getting it, but for example - has anyone ever seen those high class snobs that are stereotypically portrayed in movies and TV shows? As the article says, that can be used for entertainment, and a way to poke fun at those kinds of people, directly or indirectly.

By Hazali — On May 02, 2014

In my opinion, high society can certainly be a rather harsh concept. The reason why I feel this way is because it all comes down to survival of the fittest. In other words, the strongest survive, and the weak perish, which is usually the case within society. In fact, take a trip to downtown Chicago if you want an example of that. Notice how homeless people are practically invisible, ignored by the the upper ranks.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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