Monday, August 25, 2008

Low Brow, High Brow, Shitty Stuff and Guilty Pleasures?

Is there anything of interest in popular culture? Is all popular culture "low brow"? Do you have guilty pleasures such as watching Jerry Springer or COPS regularily? (I used to watch Jerry Springer. I had friends who went on his show, they were part of an improv group and created a storyline and faked it on his show)

I love Lewis Black and he has an awesome show on the Comedy Network called "The Root of All Evil". The premise of the show has two people debating issues in front of a live audience. Topics under debate include: "Red States vs. Blue States" and "NRA vs PETA" and "Ultimate fighting vs Bloggers" and "Donald Trump vs. Rosie O'Donnell".

I think Lewis Black is high brow!



HighBrow LowBrow by Larence Levine contends that early 19th-century America was characterized by no rigid cultural divisions between elite and mass culture. By the later part of the century, however, a clear line had been drawn; Shakespearean plays, classical music, and art of the old masters increasingly became the property of the elite only. The pendulum has swung back now, he observves, as there is a lessening of cultural divisions in contemporary America. A well-written contribution to the history of American culture. Without hestitation, this book is recommended highly to all academic American studies and popular culture collections as well as to large public libraries.

From Lowbrow to Nobrow

Peter Swirski

A groundbreaking book arguing that pop culture is the driving force in the development of culture.

From Lobrow to Nobrow demolishes the elite argument that popular fiction and culture are the underside of civilization. In this innovative book, Peter Swirski goes beyond demonstrating that "high-brow" has been transformed to "low-brow," showing that nobrow art is the interactive factor in the relationship between popular art and highbrow art.

Swirski begins with a series of groundbreaking questions about the nature of popular fiction, vindicating it as an artform that expresses and reflects the aesthetic and social values of its readers. He follows his insightful introduction to the socio-aesthetics of genre literature with a synthesis of the century long debate on the merits of popular fiction and a study of genre informed by analytic aesthetics and game theory.

Swirski then turns to three "nobrow" novels that have been largely ignored by critics. Examining the aesthetics of "artertainment" in Karel Capek's War with the Newts, Raymond Chandler's Playback, and Stanislaw Lem's Chain of Chance, crossover tours de force, From Lowbrow to Nobrow throws new light on the hazards and rewards of nobrow traffic between popular forms and highbrow aesthetics.


low·brow (lbrou)
n.
One having uncultivated tastes.
adj. also low·browed (-broud)
Uncultivated; vulgar.


Low culture is a derogatory term for some forms of popular culture. The term is often encountered in discourses on the nature of culture. Its opposite is high culture. It has been said by culture theorists that both high culture and low culture are subcultures.
Kitsch, slapstick, camp, escapist fiction, popular music and exploitation films are examples of low culture. It has often been stated that in postmodern times, the boundary between high culture and low culture has blurred. See the 1990s artwork of Jeff Koons for examples of appropriation of low art tropes.
Romanticism was one of the first movements to reappraise "low culture", when previously maligned medieval romances started to influence literature.

Lowbrow, or lowbrow art, describes an underground visual art movement that arose in the Los Angeles, California, area in the late 1970s. Lowbrow is a widespread populist art movement with origins in the underground comix world, punk music, hot-rod street culture, and other subcultures. It is also often known by the name pop surrealism. Lowbrow art often has a sense of humor - sometimes the humor is gleeful, sometimes impish, and sometimes it's a sarcastic comment.

I watch a lot of low brow shows and read a fair bit of low brow literature. I watch Oprah and Regis and Kelly. I read pulp murder mysteries. I watch Survivor. I watch a couple of soap operas. I listen to a lot of mainstream pop music. I love some of the most overplayed pop music in the world like Bruce Springsteen and U2. I love Chris Brown, Beyonce. I watch Snoop Dogg's reality show "Fatherhood". And Tori Spelling's reality tv show. I watch hockey and football. I used to collect comic books. I follow the WWE ocassionally.

All of the above are considered by souls classier than me to be among the very banal of mainstream culture. Some people might say these are the lowest forms of entertainment designed to attract the lowest denominator in the popular imagination..."working classes" "lower education classes" (of which I am both).

Is there any artistic merit in various genre's marketed and designed to appeal to the widest demographic possible? And since when did making things that appeal to lots of people become a "bad" thing?

I know this stuff isn't Francis Ford Coppola, Stanley Kubrick, Proust, Shakespeare or HBO or other "high brow" art forms. I love them though...is there any thing you like about popular culture that is considered "low brow" or industrial pap for the masses? I never feel guilty about these pleasures except when my friends tease me about my mainstream bad taste. heh heh.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

So, three questions. 1) Is there any artistic merit in various genre's marketed and designed to appeal to the widest demographic possible? 2) And since when did making things that appeal to lots of people become a "bad" thing: a wide demographic of consumption associated with "shallow" or lowbrow quality and content? 3) Do you have any guilty pleasures in work designed by a seemingly industrial production geared for the widest demographic of tastes?

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yes but you might think all I see/do is lowbrow! Easy to defend: in my town we have public lectures that I go to at a physics think tank and a foreign affairs think tank, I am reading The Magnificent Ambersons, just watched HenryIV Pt. 1 with my son to get him ready for school, am listening to Yale open courseware lectures on astronomy and on modern poetry. But hard to defend so they are guilty pleasures: Young & the Restless, Judge Judy (because she has great crossexamination style and doesn't let the parties argue with each other), Dr. Phil, Regis & Kelly, The View; the superdogs, trick ponies, houdini person and food building at the CNE; driving instead of flying long distances and eating out of the trunk on the way instead of restaurants; enjoying hot coffee in the hospital basement and sleeping on the lone sofa in between hundreds of chairs in the hospital blood lab between tests; bowling; CNN, Fox whenever I'm in America; appliance repair phone in radio show, Dr. Laura (but can't get her here anymore); dim sum in any city I visit no matter how bad and it must be on carts because it's not about the food but the hope.
Thanks for letting me go on...
Muppie

Candy Minx said...

Wow!!! Muppie, thanks!!1

Now see, I love it that you first shared your "high brow" activities. I never worry about if I'm going to hell in a handbasket because of my enjoyment of WWE, or Tori Spelling's show. Sure, i read lots of stuff, and I love lots of so-called intelligent high brow stuff. Like Shakespeare.

But I get as much or as fun sometimes more!!! out of my low brow interests heh heh. I see it as all connected. A story or song is as good for me as it engages my imagination or my emotions.

Thanks for reminding me of court tv. I find it fascinating too. Actually,. last year I foun this one judge, I forgot the name of the show...nd he is like the "moral judge". He makes calls on people's moral or scruples. It was awesome. I also watch soap operas which are the Britney Spears of tv !

I don't care...it is a good way of following the human condition ans any other in my opinion. I like a lot of sit coms too.

mister anchovy said...

I watch SVU all the time. I know all the plots and I can predict the ones I don't know. We laugh at how bad the writing and the acting are, but I watch it anyway.

btw, I've been working on a button box version of Sugar Sugar by the Archies. I'm not sure if that's high brow or low brow. You pick.

tweetey30 said...

Before I started working every weekend we were watching Cops every Saturday night even the reruns.. Terrible I know..

Candy Minx said...

Mister Anchovy, your cover of Sugar Sugar reminds me of Richard Thompson's concert tour "1000 years of Popular Music" and I think he has similar sensibilities about popular culture as myself. I really admire his conception and execution of that concert concept.

Here is what Wikipedia says

'In recent years Thompson has devised and toured his show 1000 Years of Popular Music. The inspiration for this came when Playboy magazine asked Thompson (and many other music industry figures) in 1999 for their suggestions for the "top ten songs of the millennium". Guessing that Playboy expected most people's lists to start at around 1950, Thompson took them at their word and presented a list of songs from the 11th century to the present day. Perhaps not surprisingly, Playboy didn't use his list, but the exercise gave him the idea for a show which takes a chronological trip through popular music across the ages. Thompson acknowledges that this is an ambitious undertaking, partly because he reckons that he is technically unqualified to sing 98% of the material,[14] and partly because of the spare musical setting he restricts himself to: besides his acoustic guitar, he's backed by singer/pianist Judith Owen and a percussionist. A typical performance would start with a medieval round, progress via a Purcell aria, Victorian music-hall and Hoagy Carmichael and climax with Thompson's unique take on the Britney Spears hit "Oops!... I Did It Again"'

I am not very concerned with the lines drawn between "high brow" and "low brow"...I think academics and art historians kind of have that concern.

I adore Shakespeare and get lots of pleasure out of reading him or seeing a performance...and I have almost as much fun watching COPS.

I suspect most music and art critics, cultural historians etc.. would feel that the Archies "Sugar Sugar" was on par with Britney Spears efforts, same ballpark.

Tweetey, I have a sick enjoyment of COPS. I used to watch it with my brother in law when I stayed with my sister and her family in Vancouver one summer.

Candy Minx said...

Oh, Mister Anchovy, about two years ago an article in The Reader wrote about SUV. I too am a fan of the show, watch all three versions actually. This review criticized the content of SVU and in fact, Stagg and I call it what the Reader called it...

"Law and Order: Twisted Fucks"

They really thought it was over the top etc...but we now always call it "Twisted Fucks". I love Ice T and Belzer's characters. I also love Mariska Hatritigay (and even that she is Jayne Mansfeild's daughter is even cooler)

Gardenia said...

LOL, that's a good title for SUV - I love the show though - and also love Mariska....

I like both "low brow" AND "high brow" although I'm not sure I would know how to put some in each category - and sometimes I get a little resentful of some of the artists here who think they are high brow artists but have an attitude that those not in their cliques are "low brow."

mister anchovy said...

Indeed. I love how well the actors stick to formula. Ice T and Richard Belzer are my favourites, and it's also fun when they do the close-ups on Mariska Hartigay that distort up her face and show how heartfelt and sincere and serious she is. I also love the way they sort of turn some of the shows into real crime for dummies by echoing crimes we've all read about. They often come to an initial resolution, a false resolution within the show at about the 35 minute mark, and then they show how complex and sophisticated they are as the show gets to the heart of the matter. Harvey Atkins sometimes plays the judge, and when Marlo Thomas gets to be on it, it reminds me of "That Girl". Har! I think it's the predictability that I depend on. Curiously, none of the other Law and Order shows interests me in the least. I recognize SVU as being basically pretty bad TV yet I watch it all the time. Humans are so weird, eh?

Thee Mike Brown said...

the concept of nobrow is so twentieth century. highbrown is going to be big over the next few decades trust me.

Candy Minx said...

Well, I agree Mike , for me...I don't feel any difference in watching something that might be considered trashy when it engages my emotions and/or imagination. It's totally a constructed theory the idea of low brow and high brow at least in my observation or opinion. Trust me, if I like the characters in something..I'm hooked. It could be Star Trek, it could be Hamlet.

Mister Anchovy, the forumla's in tv shows, chaaracter construction usually don't distract me. Everything has a basis in nature and a natural contruction...sometimes I might analyse it or observe it, but usually I just am too busy enjoying the process. Even work that tries to be without constrcut, without beginning middle o ending...still is a product of nature and form. Law and Order:SVU doesn't seem any more formulaic than a Picasso a Shakespeare a aria or a ballad. Even when humans try to break these patterns...it is probably impossible. A fun attempt and goal but we can't step outside our nature...? Can we?

Stagg said...

I don't care what those who live in ivory towers say-highbrow and lowbrow are seperate worlds. Far too many white liberals with servants constantly live in the past of 1960 whatever wearing blue jeans pimp myself and others around me all the time!! Many sharp generational changes are coming. Many more things within our culture are becoming lowbrow.