Wednesday, April 26, 2006

High Brow Low Brow


Lots of “low brow” culture going on.

You know, most TV and conservative talk radio and Hollywood product. Online kitsch is pretty popular too.

Stuff like Dancing with the Stars and American Idol lead the pop Neanderthal wedge:^)

But low brow is definitely old school too.

Goes back at least as far as the groundling humor in Shakespeare and the rural Proverbs in the Bible.

I think there’s a difference now though.

Back in the day your only choice was low brow unless you were wealthy.

For thousands of years the unwashed had street magic and fart jokes and tellers of tall tales. Religion was pretty much your only source for something deeper and more varied.

In the mystical 7 channel broadcast universe of the more recent ancients your main choice was some iteration of Gilligan’s Island or horror movies or game shows. That was true no matter how much money you had. Somebody said TV in those days was a vast wasteland. From the point of view of an eyewitness that's an overstatement but basically accurate.

It was Gilligan's world. No cable. No computers. No internet. No interactivity. Movies only in theatres.

Sedating Gilligan: Coconut-Based Pharmaceutical Lab

But now--for the first time--pretty much anybody who can afford a cable TV hook up or a dvd player or an online connection can see and hear a lot of the best of the world’s cultural best.

Music, art, stories, visuals. Whatever.

The poor here in the US still can’t manage some of that. But most people can.

That’s remarkable—even amazing—from an historical point of view.

Here’s my question.

With that kind of multi-faceted access to the best stuff, why do so many highly educated folks in their 20’s and 30’s seem to spend so much blog and convo time on stuff that can only be called the current dynamic cultural equivalent of Gilligan’s Island :^)?

To expand that out, why would so many educated middle and upper class people savor the shlock when we've finally got a choice?

Maybe I'm just trying to figure out why I have every word of the Gilligan's Island theme song memorized when I can't remember the names of some of my relatives.

But hey, I had to watch that stuff. I had no choice :^)

13 Comments:

Blogger jon said...

Using your brain is hard. People don't want to deal with the fact that life is good when it is hard. It is very sad, but it has just been my experience that most people will avoid "hard" at any cost, no matter how much it keeps them from "good".

And veeeerrrrry few poor people in my neck of the woods go without cable. That's the urban poor though - I still think most of the rural poor go without (my family had to give it up when I was 4 and never had a chance of getting it back).

11:40 PM  
Blogger jon said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:41 PM  
Blogger crank57 said...

the high the low people like what they like it often has nothing or little to do with education. In fact education, most of the time exposes you to more low brow entertainment than you could ever want.

11:41 PM  
Blogger TPB said...

While I find American Idol kitschy, I disagree with your assessment of Dancing with the Stars as leading "the pop Neanderthal wedge".

Ballroom dancing has traditionally been an elitist (at least in America) and I find it wonderful that this discipline/sport/art is starting to transcend classes.

After watching a season with Ana and Gladys, they have a social mobility tool. Not many girls their age know what the difference between the Rhumba and the Tango.

As a believer, I try to be up to date on popular culture to be relevant when talking about the Gospel. But I admit that at times my pop culture prowess is for my own self-centered amusement and not to serve any higher purpose.

And yes, I watch CSI. It's embarassing, but hey, I am what I am.

7:13 AM  
Blogger 3wishes said...

Interesting, my mother, a new octagenerian will leave the TV on all day. Dosnt want to miss a thing, from weather to day soaps to night soaps. My kids, 20 somethings, would give you their TV if they had one. They dont, they dont want one, dont watch it, claim it is pollution for the masses. Me, I like the Docu channel, the BBC and great football and maybe those home shows about gardening. Enjoyed Survivor, suffered through Kelly Clarkson (local hero here) and said no more reality shows. Boring. Couldnt give a rat about Trump,Dancing the the whatevers, Lost, ( I think they lost the script and the point)and the rest of it. Give me a great film and some popcorn otherwise Im outside living. (But I always liked Gilligan) :)

12:06 PM  
Blogger Matthew Pascal said...

I'm not really into watching TV as I hadn't owned one for the past 7 years. However, my wife and I are currently the proud owners of a JVC Television from the early 80's that gets (insert drumroll here) and entire ONE STATION (and that's with the rabbit ears!) So if I really really want to, I can watch Bob Barker and The Price is Right in the morning - haven't quite made it to that point as of yet though.

So, seeing how I'm apparently a bit out of it when it comes to current TV culture, I don't really have to much to say regarding this post. But if I had a TV that got more the one station (oh ya - I forgot to say that if we really tweak the rabbit ears properly, we can sometimes also get TBN really late at night and be inspired to send in our "love offerings" to those great faith-filled peeps...) so back to what I was saying - If I had a TV the got more then one channel, I would watch National Geographic Explorer.

I remember when I was younger I would be so excited all week long because each Saturday morning from 9:05 - 11:05 on TBS I got to watch National Geographic Explorer. All the other neighborhood kids thought I was a wierdo 'cause I would come out to play afterwards and tell them all about the different places from that Saturdays program, but they were more interested in talking about the cartoons they had watched. Personally, I thought they were the strange ones - I mean what normal person would prefer watching bugs bunny instead of a show about Bedouins in the Sanai, or a pygmee tribe in the Congo... Anyways, I always dreamed of going to those far away places when I was younger and experiencing other people and cultures. It was absolutely fascinating to me back then and it still is today!

1:55 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:16 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

great comments everybody.

Yes, using my brain is difficult :^)

Very true Crank. We do like what we like and I got enough silly stuff as an undergrad and in grad school to last a lifetime.

I actually took a number of ballroom dance classes back at the Farm, Tina, so maybe we can go for it at somebody's wedding. But I still think the show is shlocky. George Hamilton's tan alone takes it into "Gong Show" territory :^)

You're right that it's good to stay on top of what lots of folks are watching. Actually, I often wonder if that's the main reason why many folks savor the shlock. Things are so fragmented into micro audiences now that its pretty rare to have a wide common experience that everybody shares. That kind of universal cultural experience was pretty common back in the day. Maybe lowest common denominator cultural stuff just gives people something common to talk about. If so, maybe it contributes something beyond brain candy.

I've seen one of the CSI shows a couple of times and I think its pretty good. Not high brow but not "The Man Show" either.

Yeah, you've gotta like Gilligan, 3. I didn't mention I've got whole plots memorized. I miss Thurston and Lovie Howell terribly now that they're in shlock heaven.

We're similar MP. I watch very little tv, but pretty much everything I do watch is on channels like NG, Discovery, History, etc. And sports. And comedy stuff like Conan O'brien, etc. But that's about it. Incredibly, I've never seen an episode of "Seinfeld" (not shlock by all accounts) or "Friends." By the standards of pop TV I've lived in a Tibetan monastery for about 20 years :^)

Couple more quick "high brow" thoughts on high brow low brow--feel free to comment:

No bulletin that we're in the middle of post modern culture. Pomo thinking tends to deny the distinction between high brow and low brow culture. In effect, pomo deconstructs the "pretentions" of high brow culture as simply a way for political and economic elites to distance themselves from non-elites and to control them and put them down. As I interact with a lot of my younger friends, I see that play itself out in the cultural sensibilities of a lot of people whether they can tell the difference between pomo and potato chips. At times it almost seems like folks are defiantly committed to "American Pie' culture simply to make a generational statement of their solidarity with non-elite culture and the lower classes.

A slightly different twist on that same theme:

Some of my artsy friends take that sensibility to the next level. They don't try to pretend that shlock isn't shlock like some younger pomos do, but they still revel in it. It's a way to call pretty much any restrictive concept of good taste or aesthetics into question. Sort of a "Dada" thing where you celebrate a common urinal as a piece of art while still recognizing that you're dealing with a common urinal. So savoring "Idol" can become a sort of 'in your face' way to affirm the absurd and get a good laugh at the same time.

2:50 PM  
Blogger 3wishes said...

Are you contrasting American Pomo with an international movement like Dada? Is the "American Pie" you refer to the film or the song? Is the TV show " American Idol" a way for Americans to hold onto one of the last straws of national unity? Is the refusal to watch Seinfeld or Friends considered contra-modernism? We can leave the question of whether America is repressed sexually for another discussion I guess.

3:10 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

The film not the song (you date yourself there :^)

Not contra-modernistic. Semi-post modernistic. Let's keep our terms straight here....

4:07 PM  
Blogger 3wishes said...

Yes, contra-pomo. I wondered if you made it a point not to watch Seinfeld or did it just happen that it was not conveinent to watch at that time? I missed some great stuff in the early 80's while raising children not because I chose to, it just wasnt the right time. Guess I just cant imagine not knowing about Elaines yada yada yada, Georges shrinkage, Kramers man-bra or Jerrys' dates' "man-hands". Matthew, we took a vote, we still think your a weirdo :) j/k :^

4:54 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

No, it was never about purposely avoiding that stuff. I just had other things I was more interested in doing. Then all the sudden you realize you've missed ten years of a whole tv phenomenon.

5:22 PM  
Blogger 3wishes said...

Yes, I got weird looks when I didnt know who Quentin Tarantino was lol

5:49 PM  

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