Friday, November 28, 2014

Lowbrow and Highbrow

You know I had actually thought that the old distinction between "lowbrow" and "highbrow" had faded completely from public discussion, largely because of the absurd underlying assumption that different kinds of "art" or music can be of different levels of quality (sarcasm alert). But Pacific Standard magazine is still talking about it in this article.
Pop culture is making us dumber, crasser, more immoral, and, especially, less adult. Such, at least, has been the claim of a number of articles over the last year or so.
Well sure, I don't think there is much doubt about that. Or perhaps we just are dumber and crasser, which is why we like the kind of popular culture we seem to like. What is interesting is that people, as in the culture as a whole, or at least the mass media/intelligentsia/political class, just don't seem to care. As long as some people get rich and other people consume whatever they want, then all is tickity-boo with the world. Right? The article continues:
All of these critics feel that pop culture, variously defined, is infantilizing and stupid. The writers also all share a sense that the ascendency of pop culture is new and dangerous. DeBoer’s language verges on the apocalyptic when he insists that “Pop culture such as comic book movies, sci-fi, pop music, and genre TV shows has become the most powerful force in the history of human culture. There has never been a cultural force of greater economic power, artistic hegemony, media ubiquity, or social enforcement than today’s pop confections.” He adds: “There is no such thing as high culture. There probably never was but even if there was it died long, long ago.”
This author at least, seems to have imbibed a bit too much pop culture himself. The article presents an odd, though fashionable, theory:
the sacralization of Shakespeare was also, Levine says, pushed along by highbrow critics and patrons, who wrote against lowbrow theater-going habits, and created venues where Shakespeare was presented seriously, without melodramatic advertisements or farces.
You see, high culture was "sacralized", that strange process by which something merely really good, becomes something sacred, to an elite at least. I have a simpler theory: Shakespeare (and Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn) were really good then and are really good now. But through a concatenation of technology and the debauching of taste, they are completely overshadowed by popular culture which is more flashy, louder and, of course, dumber.

These fancy theories are I think hypocritical attempts to defend spending one's time and energy writing about Justin Bieber instead of Bach because they pay you to do so, not because Justin Bieber's music is actually worth writing about. That's not really a process of sacralization, now is it? It is more a process of now I go cash my check.

Sorry, I didn't really pay attention to most of the rest of the article as it seemed to be rather askew of both ideas and facts. But let's end with some highbrow stuff. Here is Mendelssohn's Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream:

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