General discussion

David Brooks: The decline of middlebrow culture

Jun 20, 2005 10:30PM PDT
From Joe Strauss to Joe Six-Pack
(New York Times login speakeasygang; pw = speakeasy)

>> Back in the late 1950's and early 1960's, middlebrow culture, which is really high-toned popular culture, was thriving in America. There was still a sense that culture is good for your character, and that a respectable person should spend time absorbing the best that has been thought and said.

...pop culture changed. It was no longer character-oriented; it was personality-oriented. Readers felt less of a need to go outside themselves to absorb works of art as a means of self-improvement. They were more interested in exploring and being true to the precious flower of their own individual selves. Less Rembrandt, more Me. Fewer theologians, more dietitians.

As a result, we are spared some of the plodding gentility that marked middlebrow culture. But on the other hand, serious culture matters less now than it did then, and artists and intellectuals have less authority. Today more people go to college. They may be assigned Rimbaud or Faulkner or even Hemingway. But somehow in adulthood, they tend to have less interest in that stuff than readers 40 years ago. <<

And some Times readers' comments

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I had the impression
Jun 21, 2005 6:38AM PDT

Watching bands change, that they were doing things to get attention. Hair got longer, pants got tighter, music got louder, behaviour got more rambunctious, drugs became the 'in' thing, and so forth. It seemed that people pretended to like all this stuff, whether or not they did, because they wanted to be part of the crowd and 'cool' or be left out.

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(NT) (NT) You've just described the career of the Beatles
Jun 21, 2005 10:09AM PDT
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I think the Beatles were a little better than many
Jun 21, 2005 12:25PM PDT

Im not suggesting every single song out there since 1975 is worthless. Some have sounded pretty good, or at least well done. I just wanted to suggest the general trend. I wonder if that kind of trend led to an attitude that paralleled that trend. Some seem to think 'loud' must equal 'good' and that there seemed to be no limit to how loud their speakers blasted. Their lives went downhill. people who followed them did the same thing. But I remember a number of singers who sang in a normal voice who were impressive to me. There are still people like that, thank goodness.

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Have to say I agree that most heavy metal, Madonna,
Jun 21, 2005 11:19AM PDT

Britney, Christina and most Rap artists seem full of sound and fury, or self absorption/self dramatization, and signifying nothing.

I'm fortunate in having a son who's taste I can appreciate and who doesn't mind my drawing parallels and introducing him to old music. He appreciates words and consequently goes for bands with lyrical, rather than stage, flash.

Don't know if you remember Ten Years After and Alvin Lee. His performance at Woodstock was the nadir of meaningless guitar licks learned and repeated by rote. It created quite a stir.

Pop culture isn't about good, it's about the lowest common denominator. Sometimes it becomes tolerable or enven enjoyable when it reminds you of pleasant times past but generally it's just pap. If I never hear Barry Manilow again it will be too soon (joke, sort of).


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Poor Barry was just a jingle writer
Jun 21, 2005 11:34AM PDT

forced into the spotlight.Happy But I totally agree about today's pop singers. I cannot take all the warbling, breathiness and screaming. What ever happened to those pure voices that could just hold a crystal clear note and who's every word was intelligable? What happened to songwriters who actually sounded poetic? Few are left. I'll name Andy M. Stewart and Karen Matheson but who ever heard of them?

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mainly agree with you
Jun 21, 2005 1:10PM PDT

madonna "you'll see"
christina aguilara "beautiful (radio)"
and eminen has some pretty good lyrics (for a white man that is Wink)


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I think he's speaking more of magazines and TV
Jun 21, 2005 10:37PM PDT

Remember when TV used to have award-winning documentaries on various things (notably CBS Reports, with that chilling music from Copeland's Appalachian Spring)? Now we have "Entertainment Tonight" and its clones (Extra, Insider, etc).

-- Dave K, Speakeasy Moderator
click here to email

The opinions expressed above are my own,
and do not necessarily reflect those of CNET!

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Its pretty much the fault of hippies
Jun 21, 2005 9:19PM PDT

"Free love" encouraged people to indulge themselves in selfish simple pleasures and to forget society's "restraints"- respect and responsibility. As the hippies grew up and entered the middle class, they brought their new sensibility (Me first) with them.
I had a nice chuckle at the first letter to the story at the Times... blaming the whole thing on the Right. Laughable.

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Some good points
Jun 21, 2005 9:28PM PDT

Me first. My kid's more valuable than your kid. My rights trump your rights. My rights also supercede my own responsibilities. I'm not ready to blame all of this on the "hippies" but something came out that era that seems like weeds that took over the flowerbed.Happy

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(NT) (NT) They were the apostles of the "Free Love" movement
Jun 22, 2005 6:38AM PDT
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It's Spiro Agnew's fault!
Jun 21, 2005 10:39PM PDT

Educated people became "effete intellectual snobs."

-- Dave K, Speakeasy Moderator
click here to email

The opinions expressed above are my own,
and do not necessarily reflect those of CNET!

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