I do not necessarily disagree with you, but leaving aside the fact that "high culture" and "low culture" are eminently fluid concepts
I don't disagree that the difference between what is meaningful and what is meaningless, what is high culture and what is low culture is fluid and can't be considered something concrete. Personally, what I consider as "high culture" is something that tackles interesting subjects and has a certain level of complexity in either its aesthetics, themes or both and that doesn't have elements that play for the more "general" crowd (for example, NGE itself has elements of sci-fi and mecha anime, genres that it's at first content to follow and even at the end, doesn't really deconstruct as much as some people posit-something with the thematic and aesthetic complexity and maturity of NGE that would have been more akin to the realism of a Mike Leigh movie and that would not have the sci-fi mecha anime "trappings" of NGE would be more "high art" than NGE itself is. ) In short, it would be a complex artwork that tackles subjects head-on instead of avoiding actual discussion and that exists as something above the spheres of mindless entertainment due to its thematic and aesthetic complexity, while, most of the time, relying more on "realism" and other such traditionally "high culture" values than anything that can reasonably be expected to share leanings with works of "low culture".
"Low culture", on the other hand, is a low-level work without anything particularly interesting about it, that does not have a huge interest in either new aesthetics or in deep thematic complexity or really complexity in general. "Low culture" plays to the audience's expectations and escapist needs and is really far more akin to "mindless entertainment" than anything else.
Now, the problem, I think, is when and how the two intersect. Now, to once again take the example of our beloved NGE, in terms of its aesthetic and thematic complexity and its tackling of interesting subjects, is certainly akin to works of high culture-however, it also is unironically a sci-fi mecha anime, that for a couple of episodes, plays into what one expects from such a generic work and has elements such as fan-service and gratuitous fights. It's more akin to what could be considered high culture than low, yet it unmistakably has elements of what can be considered low culture. Shakespeare's works had serious aesthetic and thematic complexities as well, but also had elements designed to service the lowest common denominator. Breaking Bad
really goes to town with great, wonderful character development, but the makers themselves have pretty much said they just wanted to make good entertainment and did not particularly care too much about themes. Anno's Kare Kano
is more akin to entertainment than a "serious artwork", but it has a particular sort of juxtaposition between hyperstylism and emotionally mature depictions of human relationships not akin to most works of low culture.
So I think there are definitely great, masterful artworks that are more "high" than "low", but nonetheless take on some attributes usually considered to work for "the low". However, all the really great works are more "high culture" than "low", in my opinion and no matter the amount of fluidity (which is considerable, no doubt), works like 2 Fast 2 Furious
will never approach the same level of high culture as Shakespeare's weakest work or Breaking Bad
or Kare Kano
etc. So, in my view, as long as a work is higher rather than lower, it just about is high most of the time already. (I also don't mean to say that sci-fi or mecha anime or any such genre trappings are inherently lower than "muh realism" or whatever, simply that they're associated more with entertainment than intellectually stimulating material, in my understanding).
I remain unconvinced that this dichotomy is anything new or whether it's gotten worse.
I don't think I said this dichotomy to be new or having gotten worse anywhere, as a matter of fact I even stated that the majority being more interested in mindless distractions than interesting material is not a new phenomenon. And I wouldn't say it's gotten worse either, it's just adapted to the new world we've found ourselves in.
never before in History was "mindless entertainment" as willing to engage with the better angels of the audience's nature.
I don't know enough about the history of entertainment to adequately comment upon this, but I wouldn't be surprised if this was the case. Then again, I'd be more willing to posit this as a natural aftereffect of the current general cultural norms than anything else. There were probably mindless entertainment works in the Renaissance era that espoused with the norms of "good morality" at that time too. So if anything, the fact that most everything one sees on the TV screen is more or less in accordance with popular opinions is more a matter of changing moralities than this current era being specifically good in terms of entertainment daring to engage with the better angels of humanity.
And even then, if that engagement ofttimes takes the form of escapism, does it not still encourage the audience to not grow up and not do anything substantial, either?
I do think that the era of the Internet is cool in the sense that it's genuinely easier to get acquainted with cool artworks, and I guess that's something I hadn't thought of. However, I'm still not sure about the over-all picture having significantly improved, though I guess even little steps of improvement are good.
Point is, what is or is not "meaningful" entertainment is at the end of the day a reflection of class and social behavioral consensuses that oftentimes have nothing to do with the value of the work itself.
Yeah, I don't disagree with that notion.